You don’t need me anymore, or do you?

This post by Larry Kim of Certified Knowledge got me thinking about the disparity between PPC budgets, and how much time people spend obsessing over their PPC campaigns and what it all means for me, a third party PPC consultant.

I mean, it’s all about me, isn’t it?

Or is it?

To sum up: Larry states that not all AdWords campaigns are created equal (budget-wise). As such, you can’t expect that PPC best practices for a huge six figure/month campaign will automatically apply to a four figure/month campaign. Larry makes an excellent point about the diminishing returns of spending obsessive amounts of time on your 3K/month PPC campaign.

I often work with clients that have miniscule PPC budgets. They come to me because they want to maximize the ROI they get from paid search and they usually suspect they can be doing something better. If you are spending less than about 3K/month on paid search, then you probably can’t afford (and don’t really need) to hire a dedicated PPC staff member or consultant. On the other hand, you will probably benefit from some training which also includes a healthy understanding of what you can expect from your campaign.

Let’s start with setting expectations. Here are some uncomfortable truths about small advertisers and Google (these same truths are becoming a reality on Adcenter as well):

  1. If you’re spending less than $30,000/month on Google, you’re considered a small advertiser until Google says otherwise. That means you don’t get a dedicated rep, or a t-shirt, or a mini-fridge emblazoned with Google’s logo (as one of my agency buddies once got…for free). In short, you’re on your own.
  2. If your budget is between 3-6K/month and you are in a highly competitive keyword space (think finance, beauty, health, exercise and certain retail categories) then you will have to be a WHOLE LOT more creative with your PPC strategy than Victoria’s Secret, Target or Best Buy all of whom have bottomless vats of money. This is where working (briefly) with a PPC expert will likely help you.
  3. Paid search is not what it was five years ago. Or even three years ago. Or even 1.5 years ago. It’s growing and the cup runneth over with advertisers. Forbes recently quoted a Forrester study which states that paid search currently represents 47% of the web ad market and that AdWords grew about 20% last year alone. This means small advertisers have even more competition to contend with. The space is cluttered which boils down to one thing – higher CPCs. So what am I getting at here, you ask? A couple of things – the first is that paid search might not actually work for you if your budget is really small so you should start thinking about alternatives (Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.). The second is that this is where it may become too time consuming to be worthwhile. If a space is too cluttered and your budget is too small, it’s just very hard to get noticed in the search results. This is where having a good organic SEO strategy can really help – you have to ask yourself if your time is better spent building online reputation, good solid web site content and relevant reciprocal links – or constantly obsessing over the 1000 clicks/month you get from AdWords.
  4. With paid search, your traffic volume is not only limited by your budget, but by the volume of keyword searches in your given category. If this is a small, niche B2B category in, say, a growing but under represented market – then (and I do not say this lightly), search may not be the best place for you to spend your ad dollars (and it shouldn’t be the only place).

Here’s the thing. You ABSOLUTELY can spend too much time on your PPC campaign. If you find yourself checking your total clicks at midnight, freaking out when your ad appears at #3 instead of #2 and obsessively trying to deconstruct your competitor’s keyword strategy, you probably need to detox. This is particularly true for small advertisers. I’m not saying that it’s not important to optimize your campaign, test ad copy, revise your landing pages and monitor/improve your account and keyword quality, but if you’re spending more than a couple of hours a week managing the account, then you have to wonder what else you’re neglecting.

One example is your web site. You can only do so much with keywords and ad copy, particularly in the search space. We’re talking about 95 characters of text which competes with 10-12 identical-looking ads, and that’s not including the organic search listings. You also can’t anticipate every single search query, so please stop trying to do that. That’s what match types are for!

I often advise my smallest clients to monitor their campaigns regularly (but in a systematic way) and work with a consultant (me) occasionally to ensure they’re getting the most out of AdWords. It’s never a good idea to leave a campaign running on its own for months at a time, but at some point you need to realize that you may not achieve perfection (or all your aquisition goals) from your paid search campaign. PPC works best when it’s part of a mixed strategy that involves your web site, other marketing initiatives (even offline initiatives!) and really good sales people. It can augment your success as a business, but is not necessarily the only path to that success. And what it really boils down to for most small advertisers you want to give one tactic ALL that power?