Explaining Paid Search to Everyone’s Mom, Including Mine (Updated for 2018)

Search engine home page with search bar on a browser window, a user is entering a query, collage and paper cut composition

When I’m in mixed (non-search-geek) company, the question of work occasionally comes up. The conversation generally goes something like this.

Me: Hi Kristine, I haven’t spoken to you in so long! How have you been?

Kristine: Great – I’m just finishing up my degree in [insert tangible career choice here]

Me: How wonderful that you’re studying [something concrete and easily relatable]

Kristine: Thank you! I’m very excited! [awkward pause]. So, how are you doing?

Me: Great! Business is good – you know, busy, as usual.

Kristine: [clearly fighting an internal battle with herself about asking me what I do for a living…again] I’m sorry, what is it you do again?

At this point I have the option of making my job sound like something tangible and easily understood. For example:

Me: I’m a marketing consultant! (an attempt to sound less like the computer nerd I am)

At which point Kristine will nod politely and move away, immediately dismissing me as a failed novelist who edits dry, corporate blurbage for insurance companies and real estate conglomerates. So, I hate using that answer and try to save that response for extreme Luddites and the elderly. Here’s another approach I often take.

Me: I’m a digital marketing specialist.

The word “digital” makes ALL the difference. People LOVE digital stuff, especially the internet. They sort of get what “digital” means by now so this generally provokes one of three responses 1) [knowing smile] oh, YOU’RE responsible the reason I get all those Facebook ads!
2) It’s your fault I get so much that spam in my inbox
3) (If I’m lucky) I’m trying to promote my website – any tips for me?

But, since I generally get the first two responses rather than the third, I’ve just been stating it as it is:

Me: I’m a search marketer. [pause & search the other person’s eyes for some shred of recognition]

Kristine: [demonstrating not one shred of recognition] Oh. I don’t know what that is.

So for Kristine, my mom, your mom, and everyone else who really doesn’t get how I can possibly make a living being a search marketer (e.g., “is that even a REAL thing?”) this post is for you.

What is a Search Marketer?

Search marketing is dominated by an insulated cast of “rock stars,” cyber geeks, early adopters and industry insiders who thrive within a vast echo chamber of acronym-riddled, slightly contemptuous tweets, blog posts and proprietary conferences. Thus, it’s difficult for me to explain what it is because within this insulated world (navigated via Google-colored glasses) I don’t have to.

But for you, mom, (and Kristine) I’m going to try.

Search Marketing encompasses two very specific internet marketing tactics. The first, search engine optimization (SEO) is not actually what I do. But for the sake of those who do it, I’ll briefly define it.

SEO is the act of optimizing your web site for specific keywords so that when a user searches for something on Google, e.g., (“Ariana Grande Tickets”), your web site shows up at the top of the search results (assuming you sell Ariana Grande Tickets).

Search Marketing also includes paid search – and this is what I do. I help my clients manage ad campaigns on Google, Yahoo, and Bing so that when their customers type in a relevant search term (e.g., “tummy tuck”) their ad will show up in the search results.

When you do a search on Google, you probably don’t think about how everything works on the back end. You just see a bunch of results and you click on the most relevant or interesting one link. But the search results are actually broken down into three sections of results on the page – top, middle and bottom of the page. The the top and bottom results are are paid ads.

Image shows paid and organic search results for the term “tummy tuck” with two callout boxes to the left explaining the difference between the two.

Okay, all very interesting (or maybe not) but it still doesn’t help my mother understand what I do all day. I’ll get to that in just a second, but first I want to throw some statistics at you because you’re still probably wondering how it is I can make a living from this one tiny sliver of advertising.

Well, as it turns out, it’s not so tiny. In terms of scale, Internet search is enormous.

    • Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. (source)
    • There were 3.4 global Internet users in 2016, 40% of the world’s population
    • Advertisers spent 37 billion dollars on paid search in 2018

(yes “billion” with a “B”)

With numbers this big, most companies HAVE to appear on Google or one of its many properties (gmail, YouTube, AdSense) in order to reach their customers.

So, getting back to my job…

I mainly deal with Google, so I’m going to focus my explanation on this engine which seems only fitting since Google controlled about 78% of the U.S. search market as of March 2017.

Google’s advertising platform is called AdWords. It is a self-serve platform that enables web site owners to sign up, add a credit card number and begin creating ads. You can be up and running with your Google advertising campaign in a matter of minutes, but that’s really an oversimplification because – like all things Google – there are many things to consider. That’s where I come in.

I help clients develop a keyword marketing strategy specifically for Google. This includes working with them to create a list of keywords they want to bid on. Keyword advertising is a pay-per-click bidding model (“pay-per-click” means that advertisers only pay when you click on their ad).

Advertisers, quite literally, bid on keywords. The higher the bid, the higher the position of the ad – except it’s not really that straightforward (of course). Google’s system suppresses ads that are not relevant to a user’s search query even if they are the highest bidder. By suppressing ads that aren’t relevant to a user’s search query, Google prevents advertisers from bidding on terms like “shoes” when they sell “toasters.” This suppression is accomplished via a complex and dizzying formula which Google calls “quality score.” The higher the quality score (on a scale of 1 to 10), the more relevant the term.

In addition to creating keyword lists for my clients, I also categorize the keywords so that the words are grouped in a meaningful and intuitive way in the AdWords system. I also write the ad copy and assist clients with setting up tracking of their campaigns. My typical client has anywhere from 1500 to 10,000 keywords in their AdWords accounts.

Once the campaigns are created and launched, it is my job to manage all of the campaign elements – including the keywords and ad copy. I also help my clients manage their budgets by keeping track of how much they spend each day, week and month, and ensuring the stay within their planned budget.

Some clients come to me with existing campaigns that they need help with. When this happens, I provide an extensive audit of the campaign and submit a written plan of action for helping them improve it or providing training so they can improve it themselves.

What I do isn’t so different from other marketers. It involves planning, strategy, extensive client communication, performance reporting and a lot of follow-up. The main difference is that I am hyper focused on only a few vendors: Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Also, there is no down time with paid search. There are always new competitors entering the space (it is an auction model, after all). Google is always rating my clients’ ads and keywords and penalizing the poorest performing keywords and ads. It is my job to monitor this and adjust the campaign on a near constant basis so that my clients get the best return on their investment possible.

Gosh, mom, I feel like there’s so much more to say but I don’t want to overwhelm you. I also help my clients optimize their landing pages, test new copy and incentives and try  other digital marketing tactics that are only peripherally associated with paid search (like Facebook and LinkedIn ads).

If you’ve read this far, you probably understand why I’m tempted to say I’m a “marketing consultant” and be done with it. Thanks for hanging in there.

Posted in AdWords, PPC, Search Marketing | Tagged , | Comments Off on Explaining Paid Search to Everyone’s Mom, Including Mine (Updated for 2018)

5 Classic Signs Your AdWords Campaign Suffers from Neglect

In 2002 when AdWords was still a relatively new phenomenon, Google’s revenue was roughly 400 million dollars (as reported by Statista). Now, thirteen years later, AdWords is practically a household name (if your house happens to be an ad agency). In 2015, Google’s revenue was over 74 billion dollars – and that number will likely increase this year. This revenue is made up largely of ad sales.A

So, since 2002, there are a lot more of you (or your clients) advertising on Google and spending a lot more on AdWords than at the turn of the century.

Thus, even if you started playing the AdWords game late (e.g., 2010 or beyond), it’s very likely you’ve been running ads on Google for years out of the same account, or have been outsourcing the management of your campaign to an agency for years. At some point or another, your account is bound to get stale, which is usually when people call me in to take a look. I’m here to tell you that even though Google keeps adding new features and changing the rules of paid search, there are still a few basic best practices you can do (or delegate), to ensure your account doesn’t suffer from neglect, particularly since it’s easy to forget all about your AdWords account when there are newer, shinier online marketing tactics to play with (I’m looking at YOU paid social).

Your AdWords account may suffer from neglect if:

  1. You’re not really paying attention to quality score. Are more than half of your ad impressions are coming from keywords with a quality score of 5 or lower? Google determines quality score using a secret sauce of factors including CTR, keyword relevance to ad copy, ad rank (bid amount, expected CTR, landing page experience, the position of the moon on the fourth Thursday of the month, and the proximity of your ad agency to the equator). But, really, it’s mostly about CTR. If your account is serving up a lot of impressions with a 5 or lower quality score, then the CTR for these keywords is likely poor and this is going to have a negative impact on your quality score. Pause anything with a QS of 3 or less. Do it now. Rip off that bandaid. If your agency isn’t doing this – ask them why the hell not. It’s their job to manage quality along with everything else.
  2. You’re bidding too high on your brand terms. It’s common practice to set bids higher than you really want to spend when you first launch a campaign – and this includes brand terms because you want to establish a high position and a good quality score. However…after a couple of weeks it should be pretty clear that your brand terms have a good quality because 1) the quality score on most brand terms (assuming you own the brand), should be above 6 (and I’ve seen 9 and 10 for brand terms for many of the campaigns I’ve managed) and 2) the first position bid should be pretty low compared to generic terms. If you’ve set that bid to $10.00 and the first position bid is $.35 – then you, my friend, are paying far too much for your own brand term. For the love of all that’s holy, lower that bid. And while we’re talking about brand terms – ONLY terms that have your brand name in them are brand terms. Get everything else the hell away from you brand campaign and add negatives LIBERALLY.
  3. Nobody’s noticed that 30% or more of traffic is now coming from mobile devices. How can you tell no one’s noticed? There aren’t any mobile-specific bids and/or mobile-optimized ads (or worse, you’ve set your campaigns to bid higher for ads appearing on mobile devices, but you haven’t created any mobile-optimized ads), location extensions haven’t been implemented and the landing page isn’t mobile friendly. If your campaign suffers from any of the above, it’s time to create a mobile strategy. I have to play Pokemon Go now. You’re welcome.
  4. Your ad copy hasn’t been updated in months, maybe even years. Are your ads turning yellow and curling at the edges? That means it’s time to refresh them. Also take a good hard look at your ad extensions to make sure you’re implementing them as effectively as possible (hint: CUSTOMIZE THEM BY CAMPAIGN, DAMMIT!) Strong ad extensions are particularly helpful on mobile, so it’s really important to keep looking at these and updating them – make sure they play well with your actual copy too – no need to repeat what you’ve already said in your ad.

The account has “set it and forget it syndrome.” Google has a handy report called the “Change History” which shows all changes made to an account during any given time period. Take a look at it once in a while (or ask your agency to pull it for you). If your changes have dwindled down to the occasional landing page update and budget adjustment, then you’re not doing enough to maintain quality score or manage bids and keywords. Even if you have automated bidding rules set up, it’s important to audit the account monthly to ensure that an egomaniacal keyword or two haven’t taken over your campaign (for example).


Posted in AdWords, PPC, Search Marketing | Comments Off on 5 Classic Signs Your AdWords Campaign Suffers from Neglect

The Futility of Overwork

 photo 640px-Tiziano_-_Siacutesifo.jpg

My 13-year-old daughter approached me a few months ago and said she was having an existential crisis. Apparently she’d been binge watching The Office to such an extent that she had seen Pam go from a single receptionist, to a married sales associate with two children, in the span of three months – all at the same job. Our conversation went something like this.

“She’s still there – at a paper company. I mean, it seems so boring and pointless.”

“It’s just a show.”

“You used to work in an office. Is it really like that?”

“Um. Yes. Especially when you’re first starting out. But it’s good to get that experience and move on.”

“But they don’t move on.”

“No…some people don’t.”

“You did.”

“I had to – I got laid off and started freelancing. Otherwise I’d be stuck in a typical job just like Pam.”

Let me step back for a moment and tell you about my daughter. If anyone is entitled to have an existential crisis, she is. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was eleven and nearly died. A liver transplant saved her life. She was incredibly sick for a year, but the transplant saved her and it looked like she’d get to resume the business of growing up almost normally (except for having to take anti-rejection medication forever), but then her cancer came back. Two more operations followed to remove more tumors, and more. Now she’s got too many tumors in her lungs to be a good candidate for surgery. Her cancer is rare, and shown to be resistant to chemotherapy. Her disease is slowly progressing. She was on an oral chemotherapy drug that stopped the progression for a while, then it didn’t. She started a different drug in January which wasn’t as effective, had more side effects but is currently her only option – besides the five rounds of radiation she received last month.

She is constantly reminded of her own mortality with each CT scan she gets – but she continues to talk about going to high school, going to college, getting a job.

And now she’s wondering, what’s the point of working in an office? A place where people clearly aren’t happy, advancement is tenuous, and there is a constant fear of losing your job? Admittedly, Dunder Mifflin (the fictional paper company in The Office) is a miserable place with a particularly miserable work environment. As a self-employed entrepreneur, my first instinct is to tell her to run the hell away from jobs like this. Run as fast as you can. But where should she run to? Does she have another option? I believe she does.

I didn’t start freelancing just because I got laid off. I’d dreamed about working from home, being self-employed and spending more time with my then 2-year-old daughter on a near-daily basis. It had been a very hard transition going back to work full-time when she was six weeks old, and trying to keep up with my mostly childless colleagues (or the men whose wives stayed at home). Even though I liked the work, I now had something way more important in my life -my daughter.

Now, twelve years (and another child) later, I’m sad that things seem to have gotten even worse for young families, particularly in my industry. I mean, we occasionally had to pull an all-nighter at the agency where I used to work, but now it seems to be the rule rather than the exception. It’s expected. If you complain about it, you’re ridiculed and told to find another job (check out the comments on this article about former Apple managers citing Apple’s 24/7 work culture).

And forget about it if something goes wrong. If I was working in a regular salaried job within my industry, I would’ve been fired – or had to quit – when my daughter got sick. She spent the first forty days after her diagnosis in the hospital and after that she was hospitalized regularly until her liver transplant. This is just the tip of the iceberg, really. There was so  much work involved with her care – hours on the phone with insurance companies and doctors, hours and hours of research that replaced sleep, and her life truly depended on it. There was no room for THE COMPANY – not even my own.

When I read stories about people dying at their desk , or struggling to keep up with longer and longer hours in order to prove themselves, I am baffled. It feels like we’re getting it all wrong. From my perspective out here in my home office, the priorities seem pretty screwed up. When did we stop working for our families and start working for THE COMPANY? Where are our C-Level executives learning this? Don’t they know we don’t have an endless amount of time – and neither do they?

My daughter mentions Google sometimes, or Apple – dreams of working at these shiny new companies where she’s heard they have coffee stations and free food, laundry on the premises and nap nooks. And I tell her, sweetie, they do that because they don’t want you to LEAVE. They recruit young college kids and divert their lives, make them all about THE COMPANY, discourage things like parenting and sleeping. And she points out that I make most of my money from Google – I am a Paid Search Marketing consultant. Yes, I say, but I don’t work there. I make my own hours. No one is grading me on my ability to pull in an all nighter, work through lunch, stay conscious on the free coffee they provide and proudly call myself a Googler (which is creepy and dystopian, if you ask me).

But getting back to the existential crisis here…what’s it all for? Is it worth cutting your life short to put in fifty or sixty hours a week when studies have shown that anything above forty hours is basically useless? It’s you staring tiredly at your screen, or listlessly working through your to do list, or robotically checking and rechecking your email, when when you should be home unwinding with your spouse, or eating dinner or, I don’t know…RESTING…so that you can be productive the next day.

I’ve worked with literally dozens of companies over the last twelve years and can safely say that the best companies, the ones with the most dedicated and intelligent staff, are the companies that value work-life balance. They don’t email me over the weekend, they don’t launch campaigns at midnight on a Friday, they plan things out in a thoughtful way and give people the benefit of time – both time on and time off – so that their minds are fresh, and their motivation remains strong.

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All We Are Saying, Is Give Bing a Chance…

Sweet Bing Cherries on Tree

w A crop of delicious Bing cherries

I’ve recently found myself in the not-so-unique position of trying to convince a client to test out keyword advertising on Adcenter (Bing & Yahoo). After over a decade running campaigns on all three of the top search engines (remember when Bing and Yahoo were two separate platforms?), I know that it works for some people some of the time. I feel it’s at least worth a test.

So how can I support this recommendation? The old “give it try!” and “don’t put all your eggs (or cherries) in Google’s basket” seem like weak arguments. I needed data!

The first thing I did was pull up the latest Comscore Share of Searches report. This is a report that’s been around for YEARS. The March 2015 report gives Google 64.5% of market share, Bing 19.8% and Yahoo 12.8% (so 32.6% for Adcenter as a single platform). Okay…*YAWN* – do these numbers ever change?

Comscore Share of Searches - March 2015

Not only have these numbers remained very similar year after year, but  I suspected (correctly) that my client’s Google Analytics would tell a different story.

It was time to investigate.

I looked at the client’s Google Analytics stats, pulling organic search referrals for March 2015 to see how they stacked up (percentage wise) with the Comscore numbers. I also hoped to see what the conversion rate looked like. The findings were pretty interesting. Sixty percent of my client’s traffic in March came from Google, but 34% of that was from their PPC campaign and 31% from organic search. A mere 3% came from Yahoo and 1% from Google. The rest of it was direct traffic (this client does a lot of PR).

4% of referrals is fairly significant for this client in terms of volume and Analytics showed that the Yahoo/Bing visitors converted at a higher rate than the Google visitors (both paid and organic) – 6% versus 4%. My argument was starting to come together, but the last thing I needed to look at was CPA. Luckily, I had run a test campaign on Bing for a couple of weeks which gave me a good idea of what the client’s CPC would be on Bing, compared with Google. Now HERE is where the biggest impact can be made, particularly with a competitive market (I’ll be vague about it, but let’s just call it the beauty industry).

My client’s CPCs average roughly $8 to as high as $13 on Google – and that keeps going up as more of their competitors scramble for a premium position in the paid search results. But the Bing test we ran in December showed the CPC averaged $5.00 at the #1 position (thus it was very likely we could get that CPC even lower). Lower CPC plus higher conversion rates equal lower CPA. I plugged the data into a comparison table that looks something like this.

budgetforecastMy recommendation was to take $1500 from the client’s $11,500 budget (not really the budget) and move it from Google to Adcenter. Using the numbers I painstakingly researched, I forecasted that this would lead to 18 more leads (conv.) at a CPA of $83, versus $212 (if you’re screaming in horror at the high CPA, don’t worry. Each lead that turns into a sale is worth ALOT).

The final row in the above table which I shaded in pink shows what kind of leads the client can expect if they keep 100% of their $11,500 in AdWords at the same conversion rate and at an $8.50 CPC (average). They end up getting less leads at the higher CPA of $212.50 for the same budget. Now I know what you’re thinking. These numbers come with lots of assumptions – conversion rate stays the same, CPC remains at $5.00 or lower, volume from Bing can be achieved, etc. etc.

But also keep in mind that this table is only tracking web leads (contact forms) and doesn’t include phone leads. The risk is low at this level of spend, and the payout is high if my predictions come true.

In conclusion: I’m right. Listen to me, and shower me with praise when the campaign becomes more efficient.



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The Benefit of Planning

SuccessWhen I first started out in the digital marketing world, there was a disconnect between the agency side of the business and the client side. The agency was frenetic, fast paced, and burn-the-midnight-oil intense because of deadlines (real or imagined) that HAD to be met no matter what (I still cringe at the concept of arbitrary deadlines). Clients seemed more relaxed, prone to leaving work at a luxurious 5 or 6 p.m. and less stressed (from our perspective anyway), even though they were eager to launch whatever it was we were launching. Back then, I used to dream about working client-side as much as I dreamed about working for myself.

Yet..even with the long hours, tight deadlines, and endless to do lists, there was always a planning process for each and every project. This involved long meetings, elaborate timelines and two levels of account management (the account executive and the project manager). Launch day was typically months away – even for online media – and everything was carefully coordinated to a painstaking QA process (you didn’t want your banners linking to a dead page, after all!)

Even so, the process of developing any type of online marketing deliverable (with the exception of an entirely new web site), was fast compared to the old fashioned offline marketing channels. The creative team could write and create banners, landing pages, white papers (for lead generation) and email copy within weeks, not months. My primary responsibility involved planning out the media – where would it run, when would it launch, how would it be tracked, and how much would it cost? This often involved doing extensive research into the online competitive space, pulling data, and getting a good understanding about what was going on in the client’s digital media universe right at that moment. We wanted to be prepared when we made recommendations to spend the client’s money – and that took time.

See what I just said there? It took TIME. Even online marketing and, in particular, building a new web site, TAKES TIME. If an agency takes three months to properly build and launch your web site – a site you’ll likely use for years – that’s okay. That’s actually pretty good. Yes, it is possible to launch a web site in a month (or a week, or a day), but, and I really don’t say this enough…just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Seventeen years into my career as an online marketing strategist, I’m struck by the lack of strategy an thought that can sometimes go into developing and launching paid media, or even unpaid media like SEO and Social Media.

The first questions new clients often ask me is, “When can we launch?” I mean, if they ask at all. Many times they want to launch immediately, if not sooner. But a sixty minute phone call often proves that they aren’t ready for an influx of new visitors.

Ask yourself this question before you launch any new web marketing initiative:

Is my web site ready to welcome new visitors?

Here’s another one: What do I want them to do when they get here?

If you want to sell a product or service that’s not BtoC (easy breezy retail) like shirts or shoes, then is it realistic to expect sales from online media? What would a better strategy be? (Lead generation, email newsletter signup, Webinar signups, etc.) For a lot of B2B campaigns – or high end retail purchases (exercise equipment, travel packages, cars…) the best role online media has to play is in generating leads and building an internal email list.

What does the competitive landscape look like? Have you spent time researching where your competitors are advertising online, what their ads look like, what their landing pages (not necessarily just their web sites) look like and what the industry looks like as a whole? A great place to start with this type of research is Google Trends and a handy tool I love to play with called Keyword Spy.

Do you have web analytics in place? Nine times out of ten prospects will have some sort of web site analytics tool in place when they call me (great!), but then I ask another series of questions. Have you looked at your analytics? Where is your most valuable traffic coming from? Are they configured to track goals?

Even though I primarily focus on managing paid search campaigns – a tactic that can be launched within 24 hours – these questions are important. The only way to measure success is to define what success means. It’s also important to understand where you stand in the online landscape, how does your site or offer compare to your competitors? Where is the best place to spend your media dollars (maybe it’s okay to invest some offline too). Never underestimate the benefit of planning, even if it adds a month (or two) to your timeline.

The last question I ask my new prospects when they set a deadline for launch, particularly if it’s a very fast turnaround, the “we need it yesterday” approach is: Why? What’s the huge rush? Often there’s a reason, but many times there’s nothing more tangible than, “Well, we should be doing this particular tactic (*cough* search marketing) or (*cough* *cough* social media marketing). And, yes, most companies should – but the approach can still be thoughtful, and taking the time to plan, launch in a thoughtful way and properly QA every element of the media will pay off in the end with a more successful campaign.



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An Army of (not) One


An article by Saya Weissman titled, “Why it’s not such a bad thing to get fired from your agency job,” caught my attention today. I read it with a lot of snorting and nodding (good thing I work from home).

I’ve been self-employed for twelve years which (as I gaze out the window of my home office at the rapidly receding snow on my lawn) feels like kind of forever.

But that wasn’t always the case. I was laid off from an digital agency that I’d poured my heart and soul into but, alas, suffered the same limitations as all agencies (e.g., it was a victim of supply versus demand.) And 2002 was a particularly rough year for online marketing agencies because it followed 2001, the year of the almost-apocalypse. After September 11, many advertisers pulled back and the first place to cut budgets (back then) was the relatively new tactic of online marketing. That long-ago agency I worked for suffered from multiple problems that plagued the digital advertising space – it grew far too fast, it had too few clients funding too much revenue and it had a bad case of we’re-cutting-edge syndrome (that’s when an agency is first into a particular space and thinks that means they’re cutting edge, but really they’ve stagnated in one spot – in this case, that spot was 1998).

Ms. Weissman’s article definitely struck a chord with me because even back in good old 2002, online marketers were agency hopping. And, actually, more than one of my colleagues got out of the business altogether and changed careers because it was all so volatile and unstable (and soul crushing). But not me! I wanted to strike out on my own and figured that this industry was a great place to do it because of all the job hopping/layoffs/instability. I chose to stick with SEO and paid search at the time, although now my focus is exclusively paid search (Google has grown quite a bit since 2002…)

So it all worked out in the end. I built a solid consulting business, didn’t have to leave the industry that I really loved and got lots of freedom with my schedule (which came in handy since my kids were 1 and 0 at the time I went out on my own).

But after about seven years of going it alone, I realized something. Working for yourself is…well…it’s kind of lonely. And something else interesting began to happen. As I gained experience and loyal clients, I noticed that I was often the most stable person on a given account. I had one client who went through three marketing directors over the course of about five years until they finally got someone who wanted to bring their own agency in on the project. I was able to recap the entire history of that clients’ AdWords account to the agency (thus making the transition much smoother than if it had been bumped to three or four different agencies over the course of five years).

I’ve crossed paths with many clients of all shapes and sizes and I can honestly say that no one is particularly happy with the phenomenon on agency-hopping. Agencies are always scrambling to find good talent, then turning around and laying them off when things got slow. On the other side of the coin, all that instability has created an (accepted) culture of job hopping from young, hungry online marketers who realized that the only way to move up in the industry was to get a job with a better title, higher salary and more prestige at a different agency (or they’d simply defect and move to the client side of the coin – where things have always been much stabler). I mean, can you blame them?

And yet, agencies do blame the people who leave even though they create the culture of instability in the first place. This hurts clients because there’s no one person (or team) that lasts long enough to provide strategic insight (and oversight) to an account  – the kind of oversight that was likely lavished on the account in the first place. But it also hurts agencies, because when the lay off their experienced people then their overall work suffers and they lose even more clients.

It’s a cycle of stupidity!

But let’s get back to me being lonely. In order to circumvent the above cycle, I went out on my own and lavished attention on my own clients. I paid for my own industry education (mainly conferences) and wrote my own rules of engagement with clients. I offered supreme flexibility to direct clients and agencies alike. Do you want to work with me for three months to see how it goes? That’s fine. Do you need me to fill in over the holidays while half your staff is away? No problem. Do you want me to work on this account forever and ever and be ultimately responsible for it until you say otherwise? Can do, thank you very much! This worked out really well – when I stopped being afraid to call myself a freelancer or a consultant, and started embracing these terms as viable solutions to clients who desperately needed expertise – I found that I’d unexpectedly filled a much-needed niche. I was a resource that wasn’t going anywhere.

But…(you knew this was coming)…I was doing it all on my own. I had developed a streamlined process for managing search and a style of communication that clients liked (I’m here when you need me) – but I could only take on so much work, and there were only so many hours in the day. It was also unstable – if it was only me then there was no one to check in on campaigns and get back to clients when emergencies cropped up during weekends, or vacations, etc.

So three years ago I became an army of two and hired someone else who was sick to death of the agency hopping bullshit. She had a baby and another on the way. She couldn’t put in scores of hours on accounts each week and still stay sane. I love babies – and people who are really dedicated and good at their jobs. It was a perfect fit. It became even better when we brought in a third person, trained him up and became a full-fledged team.

All three of us have kids. We have crazy schedules and sometimes we nap in the middle of the day because we’re sleep deprived and it’s not unusual for us to do most of our work in 90 minute bursts in between feeding, naps, driving to/from school and doctors’ appointments. But we’re stable. None of us are going anywhere. It’s been three years and I have many of the same clients as I had when my team first came on board. My longest running client just hit six years last month.

I guess what I’m saying is that while job hopping and getting fired may be the norm in agency life – it’s not the only way to things. Don’t give me that crap about building it into the business model. Maybe it’s time to CHANGE that model. There can be a better way – maybe by embracing the freelance consultant model (on the agency side) rather than shunning it. For agency employees who are caught up in the crazy merry-go-round of job hopping, remember that you will eventually get to a point where you can get off the wild ride. You’re taking your experience with you, after all – and that’s what clients want in the first place.





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Dear Doctor, You’re Doing it Wrong – Paid Search for Physicians

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-confused-male-doctor-looking-digital-tablet-mature-isolated-over-white-background-image32062138The changing healthcare landscape has contributed to the need for more and more physicians to reach beyond their advertising comfort zone (namely print media and occasional radio spots), and try to find people online.

To this end, search engines are a logical venue for physician advertising. According to PewInternet.org’s latest healthcare study, 85% of U.S. adults use the Internet and 72% say they’ve looked for health info online within the last year. I mean, where else do you go for healthcare information these days? Personally, I find that Google is way more informative than my family physician has ever been, particularly when researching complex health issue such as surgery and treatment options for serious illnesses (and, unfortunately, I HAVE had to deal with that in the last year). Dislaimer: Always consult your physician before following any healthcare advice you read on the interwebs.

I’m in a unique position to manage campaigns for my physician clients – all of whom are surgeons – because not only am I an expert in paid search, but like many of us I’m also a healthcare consumer and a BIG one. Trust me on that.

It is, however, deceptively simple to launch a search campaign on Google or (possibly a little less so) on Microsoft’s Adcenter (Bing & Yahoo). Google even has a program called AdWords Express which I advise you to stay far, far away from.

Physicians face a lot of the same problems in finding new patients as most small businesses do in finding new customers. They face competition, particularly certain specialties in certain metropolitican and geographic regions, lack of name recognition, the rising costs of running the business and the need to continually reach new healthcare consumers while keeping their existing patients happy. They also have the added complexities of healthcare billing and insurance to deal with, so mistakes can be even more costly because even qualified leads (e.g., patients who are really motivated to choose a doctor and read to begin seeing him or her) can be turned away due to lack of insurance, lack of the correct insurance, or the fact that they’re on Medicare.

Here’s a summary of some mistakes that can end up being very costly:

Mistake Number 1: Using your existing Web designer/company to build, launch and manage your paid search campaign. This really is mistake NUMBER ONE. You have a relationship with your web design agency. You trust them. They offer all kinds off add-on services to help you promote your web site including SEO and something they call “web marketing” and you’ve been wanting to try out paid Google ads, so you figure why not? But the problems I run into when taking over campaigns that have been built and managed by Web design companies are many. They really don’t understand how to build and manage paid search campaigns and, as a result, by the time my clients come to me they’ve already diagnosed paid search as an abysmal failure.

Mistake Number 2: You’re not tracking leads and calls properly, or at all. You can easily track phone calls coming in from search (or any other advertising  venue) and, if you’re a physician’s office, you should. If you’re not doing this right and just going by your gut (e.g., new patient calls seemed really slow this week), then you’re doing it wrong. You can diagnose a patient based on your experience, but the only true way to diagnose a search campaign is through statistics. Track, track, track your results! Did I mention you need to track?

Mistake Number 3: You used a Google rep to help you build and launch your campaign, and then never looked at it again. This can be a very expensive mistake. Google will happily build and launch a campaign for you, then they tend to disappear but your credit card keeps getting charged each month. When I look at these campaigns (and I’ve seen a lot of them), they tend to be well-built to an extent, but the campaign parameters are often on what I call the “bleed money” setting. Auto-bidding, broad match, display network, 100% all-in for all devices, etc. etc. The first two are the most devastating in terms of how much you’re paying per click – if a campaign is set to auto-bidding and you have broad match keywords in the account, then Google will regulate your bid based on what it perceives as good performance for a given keyword (e.g., it will force the bid higher so the ad appears prominently for a given keyword). This can lead to clicks that cost $10, $12, $20 or more. That’s a lot of money for one click!

Take the term “plastic surgery” – maybe you’re a plastic surgeon and you really want to show up in the top spot for that keyword in your region. That’s fine. It’s even fine to bid high for the term (e.g., $10.00 per click) because it will tend to convert well for you and bring you new patients. HOWEVER, if the campaign is set to auto-bidding and the the term is set to “broad match” then the term “breast augmentation” might very well trigger your ad. But maybe you don’t do breasts. Maybe you’re strictly a nose and face guy. That means you’re spending upwards of $9.00 or more per click for terms that aren’t even relevant to your business. You see? Bleeding money.

Mistake Number 4: You or, more likely, your agency is not paying enough attention to the campaign. Paid search requires some amount of manual labor. All of the automated tools in the world can’t replace an experienced paid search manager’s eyes on your campaign several times per week. An example of this the simple act of filtering out keywords from your campaign by adding them as “negative” match terms. You may have set up a bunch of standard negatives when you launched the campaign, but it is really critical to monitor all of your search activity (particularly if you’re bidding on “broad” match terms) and add negatives on a weekly basis. This way you’re not showing up for terms like “michael jackson’s plastic surgery” when you bid on the term “plastic surgery” (for example).

Mistake Number 5: You’re not paying enough attention to the campaign. I know this was also mistake number four, but it’s THAT important. I am not ashamed to admit that I have a team of three people (including me) managing all of my clients’ paid search campaigns. We cover each other, have unique skills and between the three of us we are always looking at, managing, optimizing and pulling reports on the campaigns. It can be a full-time job for one person, but for three people, it’s manageable and very effective. This is another reason to stay away from your web design agency for paid search – the person who is running your campaign likely has a lot more on their plate then just your campaign OR they’re trying to “manage” 40 different campaigns…meaning, no one is looking at your campaign.

There are a few things I didn’t touch on – landing pages, ad copy and properly incorporating display into your search campaign, but alas, my time is short. I just may need to do a part-two for this post.

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FAQ: How much should you spend on paid search?

PPC BudgetWelcome to the first post in my new blog category, “frequently asked questions.” Aren’t you excited? I know I am! My very first question comes at me at least twice a week from various sources, so it makes sense to address it once and for all.

How much should you spend on paid search?

It pains me to write this on my blog almost as much as it pains me to say it aloud whenever anyone asks me this question – but the answer is…it depends.

First of all, your paid search budget can really be anything you want it to be. What I mean by that is that there is no required minimum spend for running ads on Google or Yahoo/Bing. You need $5.00 to get started on AdWords and you can then allocate whatever you want towards your ads. You can create your account and build out all your campaigns and keywords without adding a funding source (e.g., your credit card) so your ads will remain offline until you decide how you want to pay.

BUT….(and you knew this was coming, I’m sure), there are a few things to consider when setting a paid search budget, particularly if you’re trying paid search marketing out for the first time. Here are some things to consider before getting started.

  1. It’s helpful to know how to structure budgets in your account. Paid search budgets are set up at the campaign level as daily budgets. You can have multiple campaigns in your account, so if you have a monthly budget of $1000 and two campaigns, then you would set the budget for about $16/day each. Now, this is really important because if the CPC is very high in your industry (e.g., $10/click) then a daily budget of $16 isn’t going to get you very far. Which is why it’s helpful to understand…
  2. How competitive your keywords are. You can figure this out by performing some searches on Google and also using Google’s Keyword Tool which provides volume of competition and average CPC amounts. How does this help you determine budget? Well, if you are in a highly competitive industry like personal injury law, you will likely find that CPCs are very high (between $8.00 and $30.00 according to Google’s keyword tool). Now, compare this with something less competitive like “electric radiant heat” which averages from $2.00 – $4.00 and you will start to see why the budget requirements should be very different for the two keyword categories.
  3. Once you’ve got a sense for your CPC, then you plug it into a formula to help you determine a sufficient monthly budget by estimating the monthly clicks you can expect based on your budget. The formula looks like this Budget/CPC = Total Clicks. So, if your CPC is $3.00 and your monthly budget is $500, you can expect to get 166 clicks/month. This may be fine for you – 166 clicks/month with a 2% conversion rate = 3.3 leads/month. If you are selling electric radiant heat installation, this may be more than worthwhile. However, if your average CPC is $10 or higher, than a $500 monthly budget is likely too low to be worth your while. That translates to 50 clicks/month which may further translate into very few conversions.
  4. Keep in mind that if the CPC is under $2.00 then a preliminary test budget of $500  – $1000 is enough for advertisers to gauge whether or not paid search is an effective lead generator. This may not be the case if you are an e-commerce site unless your site conversion rate is very high (above 2%) and your average sales value is also relatively high (above $100). Low ticket items ($50 or less) generally do not perform well on paid search in terms of ROI if the CPC is above $2.00.

I tell my clients to set aside about $1000/month to as much as $5000/month (depending on the industry) as a place holder budget for paid search. For most businesses, this is enough of a budget to determine if paid search will work for them. I also think it’s important to get actual data from a live campaign because Google’s estimation tools are just guidelines. A live campaign can go in a very different direction from industry averages, particularly if you are careful to establish good quality score right from the start.

Also, a word of advice for small, local businesses. If the monthly budget numbers scare you, don’t worry! You’re not out of the game yet. Local businesses that cater to niche market and community members (e.g., small clothing boutiques, private music instructors, orthodontists, restaurants, catering services, car dealerships, etc. etc.) can target their campaigns down to the zip code level and, for this reason, do not have to allocate as much money to the testing process.

And there you have it – my answer to a question that really can’t be answered. You’re welcome!


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Prepare for Landing

Landing Pages A recent post on Search Engine Land titled, “Death to the Cliche Landing Page” by Scott Brinker got me thinking about a few recent conversations I’ve had with business owners who are interested in testing paid search, but haven’t put much thought into creating an ideal landing experience for their site visitors.

In his post, Mr. Brinker notes that great content does not necessarily translate into the optimal conversion generating experience and, likewise, pages created simply to push people to convert (e.g., “landing pages”) tend to drive people away in disgust.

I agree with Brinker’s assessment that your visitors’ landing experience – whether they’re coming from a paid source or wandered onto your site from a particularly juicy image on Pinterest, should be just that – an EXPERIENCE, not just a page meant to push them to an all-too-tranparent desired end goal before they are ready. And let’s face it, some advertisers’ landing pages look downright are so lackluster and insincere, they barely attempt to answer user’s questions. (I’m talking to YOU, LegalZoom!)

bad landing page

As such, I’m a proponant of the multi-page landing experience. This is the Web, after all. You don’t need to squeeze every single selling point and call-to-action into one single page. People who are shopping online want to learn more about you. They love to do research. In fact, over 80% of U.S. consumers go online to research products such as computers, books and movies before buying. (source: InternetRetailer.com). One of the Web’s greatest strengths is the ability to elaborate on your message and provide in-depth, robust, comprehensive and, dare I say, even EXHAUSTIVE content.

I’m not saying to send people to a page with acres and acres of text and very little direction. I’m just suggesting you think it through a bit. Break up the content into snack-sized chunks of content while simultaneously leading visitors to the desired outcome – be that lead, purchase or otherwise. Here’s an example of a great landing page experience (in my opinion):

good landing page

I like this page because it captures the essence of the site – stock photography, but isn’t afraid to use some content to list some of the site’s key selling points (stock videos, instant downloads, money back guarantee). There’s enough information to keep me interested, but not so much that I’m overwhelmed. I can click further into the site to learn more, or perform a search for images to see what they have.

The Web is about language, that’s why search marketing is so effective. We don’t need to turn every web site into a commercial, or a one-line billboard, or a 30 second sound bite. We can actually take a deep breath and think about what we want to say, then say it clearly, compellingly all while taking great care to provide the information that our visitors want to know.

Brinker puts it like this, “There are so many possible ways to engage your audience once you embrace the creative license of using more than one page.” His post focuses on using micro-sites (fully functioning Web sites which contain a hand full of pages devoted to one product or service) as an alternative to the traditional single-page landing page. I agree that micro-sites can be compelling selling tools that enable customers to learn more about you before making a purchase decision (they function kind of like like multi-page brochures or pamphlets).

However, micro-sites can be limited when it comes to content, particularly with companies that have complex conversion goals. I’m thinking, in particular, about non-profit organizations that seek to raise money and reach out to volunteers. These sites do well with robust content which explains their mission, features stories about their cause and seek to educate people by providing detailed articles, videos and other content to site visitors.

I guess what I’m saying is this – don’t be afraid to use content as a selling tool. Good content which offers sincere, in-depth information to prospective clients and consumers goes a long way towards building consumer confidence. This is particularly true when you are considering testing paid search because people are actively seeking you out using keywords. If you don’t have content on your web site that supports the keywords you’re bidding on, visitors will just bounce away.

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Five Things You Should Do Before Launching a Paid Search Campaign

Paid search is a do-it-yourself medium. It takes literally five minutes to set up an AdWords account, fund it, create your first campaign and launch. Google, in particular, has been aggressively targeting small businesses by providing $100 coupons and vouchers through hosting companies and ISPs, as well as reaching out directly to small businesses.

For all of the above reasons, as well as the continued pressure to find new leads and generate new business, many of my small business clients are confused about how to move forward. They feel a sense of urgency to launch an AdWords campaign (everybody’s doing it!) but they aren’t sure how to approach it. Add to this that it’s so easy to get started with AdWords – just register, plug in your credit card and GO! – that the temptation to launch before you develop a thoughtful strategy can be overwhelming.

Don’t worry! I’ve put together a short list of five things you need to consider before launching a paid search campaign. These really extend to launching any paid media initiative where you plan to significantly leverage your web site. Without further ado..

  1. Set Your Expectations: Put some thought into why you’re launching your search campaign, and what you expect to get out of it. Are your expectations realistic? Do you have a sense of how much you’re willing to pay for a lead or a sale? Are you vastly over or under estimating the traffic volume from paid search (hint: Google’s Traffic Estimator can help you answer this)? Does the majority of your audience find you via search engines? Do you know if you want to focus on a regional, national or global target? Figure out where you think your campaign should take you before you launch it so you can establish some benchmarks.
  2. Web Site Due Diligence: Make sure your Web site is ready to receive visitors BEFORE you launch your search campaign. Paid search is paid media and even if it’s just a small fraction of your overall budget, do you really want to send people to a Web site that isn’t prepared to receive them? Your landing page should provide clear direction to all your visitors, but paid visitors cost you money so you need to pay extra special attention to guiding these people. Don’t send people to a product specifications page (for example) with lots of charts and a long list of specs, but no clear actions or next steps. Rather, provide a page with one or two clear paths to the next step and a brief overview of the product or service you are selling. Also, make sure your landing page contains your contact information and a visible privacy link. It doesn’t hurt to review what other people in your industry are doing, which brings me to the next item on my list.
  3. Competitive Intelligence: Most advertisers have to deal with some competition in the paid search results. Many advertisers have to deal with a RIDICULOUS amount of competition. It’s very easy for prospective customers to click back and forth from various ads and compare products and services against each other. It’s therefore critical to ensure your landing page rises above the clutter, just like you need to ensure that your ad copy rises above the clutter. Take some time to perform competitive research for both of these variables so you can refine your ad copy and landing pages and make them stand out.
  4. Keyword Strategy: The language on the site should reflect the keywords you’re bidding on, but also the language of your customers. Don’t get hung up on corporate-speak or industry jargon when bidding on keywords. You may think of yourself as a “housecleaning expert” but I may be looking for “maid service” – be sure to bid on both terms. Performing some preliminary keyword research by looking at competitors and using tools such as KeywordSpy and Google’s Keyword Tool, will help you compile a preliminary list of keywords. But don’t stop with the list – do some actual searches on these keywords to see who is bidding on them, what their ads look like, and what their landing pages look like. Visiting competitors’ web sites is also a great way to come up with new keywords.
  5. Tracking: Figure out what you’re tracking and how you’re going to track it. This may include all or some of the following: sales, leads, specific actions (e.g., coupon downloads, newsletter subscriptions), user engagement, phone calls, subscribers, etc. Many of my clients use Google Analytics to track goals and user engagement. You can also track straightforward conversions (like sales and sign ups) directly in AdWords and Adcenter. Make sure that tracking is set up BEFORE you launch. Get your programmer involved – it’s really not that time consuming and it will give you critical information for campaign optimization.
  6. Reporting: Okay, I’m throwing this one in as a bonus. There’s a lot of up front work in creating and launching a search campaign, but the work doesn’t stop when the campaign is live. Even though you can log into Google or Adcenter and look at your results anytime, it’s extremely helpful to create a dashboard-type report which pulls your performance metrics in from all sources (e.g., Google, Adcenter & Analytics) and ties them back to your original goals. Monthly reports should be kept as simple as possible and while you may find the act of compiling the data tedious, you’ll soon learn that it’s the best way to keep tabs on your campaign and plan your next steps for the coming month.
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