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SEO Step Seven Of Ten: PPC
Welcome to step seven in this ten part SEO series. The ten parts of the SEO process we will be covering are:
- Keyword Research & Selection
- Competitor Analysis
- Site Structure
- Content Optimization
- Link Building
- Social Media
- Statistics Analysis
- Conversion Optimization
- Keeping It Up
The Three PPC Environments
Before we launch into the tactics that should be applied to a PPC campaign it's important to understand why you're engaging in it. When one reads about a PPC campaign it is natural to think of a Google AdWords campaign geared around making a sale. While this is generally the main use there are definitely other aspects of PPC, the environment you are in will have a massive impact on how you manage your campaign. This will likely make more sense after they are outlined. So let's do that:
Environment One: For It's Own Merit
A lot of PPC campaigns are runs purely for the benefits they themselves provide. That is, the goal of the campaign is to produce a lead or sale independent of any organic campaign. The main issues you are going to face with this type of PPC environment involve budget, tracking, conversion and targeting. We will delve further into this shortly.
Environment Two: Just Testing
When you're considering launching into a major organic SEO campaign it is sometimes wise to launch a PPC campaign first. When you're conducting your keyword research for your organic campaign you'll get a good idea of the volume of traffic you can expect from each keyword but that doesn't really tell you what you can expect as far as conversions. To give you an idea - I myself learned this lesson the hard way back at the launch of the Beanstalk site. Our primary phrases was "search engine positioning" with "search engine positioning services" as our main secondary phrase. Within about 5 months of the launch of the site we were on the first page for the secondary phrase and it took another four months to get on the first page for our primary. After a month of stats analysis it became very clear - we had just wasted 4 months.
What we discovered was that even though the phrase "search engine positioning" had many times the traffic of the services phrase - it converted at virtually 0%. The services phrase converted in the double digits (note that we consider a conversion any communications with our company). After watching it for another month it was clear - we needed to adjust our primary phrase.
Had we launched a PPC campaign first for these phrases we would have discovered in a couple weeks that the non-service based phrases didn't convert and weren't worth targeting for our site. This would have cost us a few hundred dollars and saved us 4 months of work which we could have put into focusing on additional, tested and converting phrases. It would have been well worth the few hundred dollars to gain that time back.
Environment Three: Tied Together
There are also those that run PPC campaigns in conjunction with successful organic SEO campaigns. These are companies that want to be found in both sets of results and/or who want to use PPC to target those phrases that they aren't ranking for in the organic results. Again, for people engaged in this type of promotions the metrics and the focus are very different than those running campaigns in a different environment. We will discuss this further below.
Welcome to the below. Let's now get into the tactics shall we? Getting to know why you're running the campaign (or maybe becoming aware of some uses of PPC that you might now have thought of) is an important step one but once we're launching into the campaign the steps we need to go through are virtually the same - it's how we do them that's fundamentally different (in many cases). Now every author needs to note the limitations of their writing. While we're going to be covering the main steps in a PPC campaign, every campaign is different. We're going to cover the main steps but the specifics of your campaign may well stray from points covered directly here. For this reason, at th end of the article I'm also going to include links to some great references where you can learn more and ask questions. PPC campaigns can be expensive and if done wrong - can cost you and your company A LOT of money. It worth taking the time to read the resources and other links provided here.
Just like organic SEO campaigns - PPC campaigns logically begin with keyword research. It is wise to use the keyword tools provided by the engine you are engaging in a campaign with. While all tools have their pros and cons - if you are launching an AdWords campaign with Google - the data provided by Google will be that which they've gathered from their own searchers and thus is far more likely to be more accurate than data gather from any other source. The same can be said for other PPC engines.
One can also take advantage of their competitors' campaigns. When we're conducting our own keyword research one can sometimes fall prey to the limitations of their own imagination. Looking at what your main competitors' are bidding on and what they're bidding can give you insight into other avenues. Unfortunately calling them up and asking isn't likely to result in great success. Since discovering them during the writing of the first article in the series on keyword research from a primarily organic angle I've been impressed by AdGooroo's keyword suggestion tool. They provide an awesome set of tools and vast information on your site, rankings and more importantly here - they provide a ton of data on your competitors, what they're bidding on, what their ads look like and more. This is arguably one of the best third party tools for keyword research I'd recommend when considering PPC campaigns. For those interested they also offer a free trial.
If you're launching a PPC campaign for the traffic and business it can provide itself then you will likely want to go with a large array of keywords targeting various aspects of your products and/or services. This varies significantly from what you would be doing if you were running a campaign to test keywords for an organic campaign. If you are running a campaign simply to test where the efforts are best spent on an organic campaign the keyword list you will be working with will likely be much smaller but the bids will be much higher. Which brings us to ...
Setting Up Your PPC Campaign
When we're discussing setting up a campaign we're going to look at some of the most common configurations, managing your bids, setting up your ad copy and determining your landing pages. We'll get into the optimization of these aspect a bit further on.
Assuming you've already got your account setup the first thing you're going to need to do is add your keywords. Once your keywords are added you're going to want to customize where they're pointing. As with organic SEO campaigns - the ideal goal is to land visitors on the most relevant page. If you're a more advanced PPC client you'll have specifically designed landing pages for your PPC campaigns. These are pages designed and optimized to convert PPC visitors. Unencumbered by the content and backlink requirements of organic SEO - PPC content optimization focuses solely on visitor actions. For most PPC advertisers however, their current site and pages within it are the landing page options. In this event you'll want to land them on the page most relevant to what the keyword implies they are interested in.
If you are using the PPC campaign to test for an organic SEO campaign you will of course direct the traffic towards the page you will be optimizing for the keyword phrase in question. Landing pages would not be used in this environment as you want to see which keywords convert best on the actual site you'll be optimizing.
The next stage will be the writing of the titles and descriptions. You'll have the option to create more than one advertisement and doing so is sometimes recommended if the bid prices are low and you're focusing on clickthroughs. If you have a limited budget and are more focused on conversions you may want to test your campaign with a single title and description and change it periodically to give you complete control over what your statistics (covered shortly) tell you. When you are writing your titles and descriptions you'll have completely different goals for each of the three different environments.
When you are writing titles and descriptions for a PPC campaign being run purely for itself my personal preference is to go entirely against the old marketing saying, "don't sell the steak - sell the sizzle." Other PPC managers may have different approaches but unless you have an enormous budget to throw away my preference is to sell the steak and to put the price tag on it in great big red letters.
Remembering that you're going to have to pay for each and every click to your site you don't want to pay for high school students doing research and you don't want to pay for people who are just so curious about your description that they just have to click through to see the site. You want people who know what you offer and roughly the cost. The only exceptions will be if you've somehow found good keywords for a dime and if a sale represents a significant amount of revenue so a 1% conversion ratio is affordable.
If you are running a PPC campaign in conjunction with organic SEO rankings you'll likely have different goals. As was best illustrated in a couple white papers by 360i back in 2006 where they found that conversions increased on organically ranking sites when the site was also found in the paid results - you won't be able to measure the campaign's success but the direct sales you make from it. Even the title and description will be more for branding than to try to pull clicks. In this case you don't so much want to attract a click as to attract attention and make the searcher remember you when they see the site again in the organic results.
If you're writing titles and descriptions to test keywords for an organic campaign, now's when you want to sell the sizzle. As you'd write the page titles and descriptions to attract clicks when your site appears in the organic results, so too you must when testing keywords for an organic campaign. Here you're looking to attract clicks in the same way you will when the site ranks organically so that you can look at the stats and compare apples to apples.
Here are examples of three different titles and descriptions I would write for the Beanstalk site if I were running PPC campaigns in the three environments.
For the traffic itself:
Title - Expert SEO Services
Description - Beanstalk offers guaranteed SEO services from $3,790.
In conjunction with an organic campaign:
Title - Beanstalk SEO
Description - Beanstalk SEO - expert SEO services from $3,790.
To test keywords for an organic campaign:
Title - Guaranteed SEO Services
Description - Guaranteed SEO services at affordable prices. Be found.
There is no specific golden rule to bid management. There are a number of effective methodologies however if you've got a modest budget then you'll likely enjoy my own personal preferences.
If you're running your PPC campaign in-and-of-itself then I generally like to start out with low bids and slowly increase them. My mission when I'm dealing with a fixed budget is to slowly increase the bids until the budget is exhausted at as close to the 24th hour as possible. What this tells me is that we've gotten the maximum number of clicks possible with our daily budget. Of course, as stats start pouring in you'll figure out which keywords are generating what money and thus can make adjustments to your buds based on ROI but before this data is available and "all else is equal" I generally treat all the keywords the same so I don't make potentially incorrect assumptions.
If you're running your campaign as a test for an organic campaign you'll need to bid all your keywords into good positions so you can pull enough clickthrough data to determine the conversions per keyword. Saying you have a 25% conversion ratio for a phrase when you only converted 2 out of 8 visitors may well be chance but if you can convert 50 out of 200 visitors then the conversion ratio really is 25%. These types of campaigns are generally expensive however they are short term campaigns and can save you enormous money and time down the road by avoiding bad decisions (see my own example from earlier).
Next you're going to want to setup your filters. By filters I'm referring to settings such as location filters, time of day and budget restrictions, etc. By default you're going to want to start with location filters to include only those regions you can physically serve (and wish to). You'll also want to setup your budgetary restrictions out of the gate. Obviously you don't want your advertising getting away on you.
As you pull in statistics and establish when the conversions are coming in you'll be able to tinker with filters such as time of day that the ads are running and, if/when applicable, demographic targets.
Tracking & Statistics
To an even higher degree than with organic SEO - tracking your statistics and conversions is crucial with all PPC campaigns. What you are looking for is different depending on which environment you're working in. Here are some of the fundamentals:
When you're running a PPC campaign for just the traffic you're looking at conversions per keyword and/or per dollar spent. If a keyword isn't converting you need to either drop the keyword, make adjustments to it in terms of the title and description or landing page or perhaps determine a different desired action for the phrase (a newsletter signup for example) and and test again.
If the problem isn't that you're getting no conversions but that the phrase is costing more than it makes then you'll need to take a look at your bid price but again - the price specifically may not be the issue and you'll need to also take a look at the other factors of the ad to make sure you're maximizing the effectiveness of the ad before simply dropping your bid (though admittedly - you may want to drop your bid price while you figure it out or make adjustments and then increase them again when you're ready to test those adjustments).
Additionally you're going to need to watch for click fraud. While the engines themselves have been very proactive of late in addressing this issue, using a third part tool for verification and reporting is always recommended. One tool I've used and found extremely good is PPC Assurance. It provides advanced statistics and click fraud detection and even provides simple mechanisms to report click fraud to the engines and to request a credit for the monies lost. It's highly recommended if you have any significant budget tied up in PPC advertising.
If you are running the campaign in conjunction with an organic campaign you'll need to make all the considerations that you did above and monitor the same set of stats however you're also going to have to monitor your statistics on the organic side looking for higher conversions per click for keywords you're ranking for organically.
If you are running the PPC campaign to test keywords for an organic campaign you are looking for straight conversion data. If you recall from above, we're not concerned about adjusting positions,etc. So we don't need the fine-tuned data from other campaigns. Here we want to see how keyword phrases convert on our site. Once you have the conversions percents you can then apply those numbers to the organic estimates to get an understanding of how your campaign will perform when you're not paying per click.
Landing Page Optimization
I'm not going to pretend to be an expert at landing page optimization. I am personally more comfortable in the wold of algorithms and statistics than making pretty things. My role in the process is to root through statistics and campaigns and advise good web designers on which areas need to be addressed and then test the changes.
As I can provide the feedback I feel is necessary in any PPC article here are some good resources on landing pages and landing page optimization that you'll find helpful:
- Landing Page Usability - An article by W3 EDGE's Frederick Townes on landing page optimization.
- 7 Rules - 7 rules of landing page optimization by Jonathan Mendez.
- Wikipedia - Wikipedia's entry on the subject with some good links.
What you have read above is a Coles-notes of PPC. Hopefully enough to whet your pallet but books with hundreds of pages have been written on the subject and here we're only at about 2,800 words. The information also applies mainly to the major PPC engines and of course, there are alternative engines that you may want to consider.
Because of the limitations of covering such a huge topic in such a relatively short number of words I also feel the need to include links to additional reading. Here are some other resources you'll want to visit to get more information on PPC and PPC campaign management:
Of course there are many other great articles and sources of information out there and I'd invite you to keep searching and asking questions in the forums. Remember: information is power and lack of information, in this case, will undoubtedly end with yet another voice in the forums crying that PPC advertising just doesn't work.
Be sure to catch Jim Hedger and I discussing this issue at 2PM EST on WebmasterRadio.fm's Webcology on March 27. If you miss the show you can download the podcast here. We'll be discussing PPC campaigns as part of our 10-part cross-media series on Webmaster Radio and WebProNews. Next week we'll be covering statistics analysis.
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