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Monday, August 13, 2007

Hiring an AdWords Professional

From time to time I am asked how someone should go about finding (and hiring) a professional to manage their AdWords (and PPC in general) marketing. While there isn't a "one size fits all" approach I recommend there are a few places to look and things to ask a potential AdWords professional if you are considering using them to manage your AdWords account(s). In no particular order:

- Check sites like this for qualified individual and company listings. Mainstream sites like this tend to have a number of potential candidates as well. Google Maps can also help you locate AdWords Professionals.

- If you have identified someone you are interested in using look for the AdWords Qualified Individual or Qualified Company logo/status page. While the requirements to be a "Qualified Individual" are fairly light someone holding that qualification has at minimum demonstrated a basic understanding of the fundamental elements of managing an AdWords account.

- Ask for references. AdWords management is pretty cut and dry - objectives are either met or are they are not. That's the beauty of direct marketing, it's very measurable. While to me references are not a deal breaker (no one would give you references that would say anything bad about them anyway) they are none the less still important.

- Look for an AdWords professional with EXPERIENCE IN YOUR INDUSTRY. This one's important. You don't want to pay for someone to learn what works in your industry - you want someone who already knows what works and can get your campaign into the black at light speed. If you sell products and the AdWords account manager your are talking with has done nothing but lead generation kindly thank them and move on the next candidate. Sales & lead generation are not the same....not even close. Look for a professional that knows your market. It's important. Really important.

- Read the point above this one one more time.

- Ask what technology (if any) they use for bid management. Once you get tied into someone who's using bid management technology to run your account it can be a pain to move out of that relationship into a more manual operation. I'm not a huge fan of bid management but to each their own.

Related - pros and cons of bid management.

- Ask them some specific questions about AdWords. What are the types of keyword matching? What is your assessment of the viability of the content network? What type of results have you seen with Google's PPA platform? How many campaigns can I have? What type of geo targeting options are available? Do you use the AdWords Editor?

You don't need to ask complicated questions, just the basics to see if the person you're talking with is yanking your chain. A few years ago when I was looking for a part time PPC manager to help with some overflow work I asked a potential candidate (who indicated they had 3 years experience) what they thought of using dynamic keyword insertion. They had never heard of it. End of interview:-)

- Of course there's the issue of money. Odds are your AdWords Pro will want some:-) There are a number of methods out there for pricing AdWords management.

Percentage of spend - usually 10 - 20%.
Performance based.
Flat monthly fee (usually tied to number of keywords).
By the hour.

There really isn't a one size fits all method here either. How you pay will be based primarily on your business and the expectation set for the management of your account. For example, I won't work on a performance based contract unless I have full (or close to it) control of the landing pages that will be used for the campaigns. Most people are working on the % of spend or performance based models at the present time.

- Have a trial period. If you're being asked to sign a long term agreement right from the get-go that cold be a bad sign. Look for initial agreements to be 90 days or less depending on the industry. In most cases 90 days is sufficient for both sides to feel each other out and make sure they are comfortable with the performance and associated expectations.

- Google them by name / company name. While Internet reviews can easily be faked you may some information about the company or person your are considering that is helpful is in your decision making process.

- If you do end up at the contract stage of an agreement, make sure ownership of the account and it's related pieces are clearly established. When possible seek a non-compete clause. If your relationship at some point ends with your account manager the last thing you want is for them to (legally) share your keywords or other strategies with your competition.

- It just needs to feel right. If you've ever bought something from someone you know what I'm talking about. You should "feel good" about the person or company you are working with.

Everyone is different and I'm sure many people have criteria not on this list that would be important to them when seeking a paid search pro. Take your time, use your judgement and run any potential candidates through your own process to find a person or company you feel comfortable with. If you have things you look for in an AdWords (or other PPC) account mananger feel free to share in the comments.

Good luck!

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Getting the Top Spot - Google AdWords

Earlier this week Google announced they are changing the way ads are promoted to the top spot above the search results (not the top spot on the right of the results). Here's a snippet of the announcement:

"Quality Score is the greatest determining factor in top ad placement, which means no one will ever be able to pay their way to the top. We have, however, been working on an improvement to the top ad placement formula that will soon offer advertisers more control over achieving top placement while increasing the quality of our ad results for users.

The key change to the formula will be how we consider price. Today’s formula considers an ad’s Quality Score and actual cost-per-click (CPC). The improved formula will still heavily weight Quality Score, but instead of actual CPC, it will consider an ad’s maximum CPC. "


Basically what that is saying is that instead of using your actual CPC, they will now use whatever you have entered as a max CPC. The old model for the top spot(s) looked like this: Ad Rank = Actual CPC X Quality Score. The new model is Ad Rank = Max CPC bid X Quality Score. It was explained in the AdWords FAQ/help as follows:

"For the top positions above Google search results, we use a slightly different formula. First, only ads that exceed a certain Quality Score threshold may appear in these positions. Second, for ads that do surpass this Quality Score threshold, we use the actual CPC rather than the maximum CPC when determining their ranking in the top spots. This ensures that Quality Score plays an even more important role in determining the ads that show above the search results."

So who wins here (besides G' of course)? I say it's the advertisers with the largest budget - theoretical or actual.

For example let's say I sell cars. I have a small dealership and I compete with a number of larger local car dealers in the paid search space. I've been holding the top spot for years. I have great ads that are well received by users and my site provides a phenomenal user experience. I've had my max bid set at $3.00 CPC and actual has been coming in around $1.80 for the past 12 months. All my competitors, despite their larger advertising budgets, have always appeared below my ads in the search space. They have max bids that are 10X mine - they can afford to pay for some tire kickers - I can't.

Now when I check my ad position after this update who do you think will hold the top spot? My "quality" has always surpassed my competitor but now they are getting credit for a $30 max bid even though their actual bid probably comes in at around the same CPC as mine. Is having a max bid that's 10X my max bid going to push them above me? While it's just speculation at this point I would say it will, and I think this will be proved out in the coming weeks.

As a small advertiser I suppose I could just up my max bid to $50 knowing that at least for now, I'll still pay a much lower CPC...at least until my large bank rolled competitor ups their max bid to $75. At some point the small advertiser will be forced to accept positions 2 - 10...the tops spot will indeed be for sale, despite what's posted here. Why would I say that?

The only real variable here is the Max CPC. Everything else is an even playing field. Ads, landing pages, keyword selection, etc can all be built to the highest standards by a guy in his basement just as easily as they can be by a large team of paid search pros. So what's the real variable? What separates the little guy from the big players?

Money.

The big guys will always be able to significantly out bid the little guy. It's not even so much what they actually pay as what they are willing to pay. The guy in his basement can build a perfect landing page, get all the right keywords and write perfect ads and he'll still have to settle for positions other than #1 if big money moves into the space.

I don't fault Google for this change....they are a public company and have obligations to their shareholders. Putting the top spot up for sale should have a nice impact on their bottom line.

The bright side for the "little guy" in all this is the fact that most who have tested have seen that the top AdWords spot is rarely the best converting position. Combine lower conversion rates (top spot gets tons of curiosity clicks) with an ever increasing CPC and spots 2 - 10 just became a lot more appealing.

Some related reading:

AdWords Help Center - Top Ad Position Formula Change

Google AdWords "Promotion Algorithm" Will Change @ SER

Want Top Ad Position on Google? The Rules are About to Change @ SEL

AdWords Top Placement Formula Changing @ The Lonely Marketer

AdWords Top Placement Formula is Set for a Face lift @ PPC Hero

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Google PPA Update

In my last post about Google's PPA program I presented some metrics I found highly disappointing. Even while writing that post I realized the landing pages I am using will most likely have to undergo some changes to play nicely in the Google's PPA program. I'm ok with that, but wanted to see what I could do without tweaking the landing pages in order to increase valid conversions and filter out the junk.

Here are a few tips for using Google's PPA program...without touching anything on the landing page/site. I'd say these tips apply more to lead gen/e-mail capture type conversions that actual product sales.

1. If you're willing to pay 2 - 3 X what everyone else in a certain segment is paying the publishers looking for a quick buck will fill your forms with junk in order to get paid. Advice - don't start with bids that are much, much higher than the rest of the advertisers in that space even if you can afford it.

2. I personally haven't seen text link ads perform that well...in terms of impressions, clicks and conversions. The "classic" style AdWords ads tend to work the best. Image ads seem to be working well too. Test a bunch of them.

3. Site filtering is your friend. Watch your campaign like a hawk and filter out the low performing sites.

4. Don't count on the geo targeting settings you specify in your AdWords campaign to do much at all.

5. Load up your keyword list (the keywords publishers can use to find your offer) with the max. I think it's 50 at this time.

6 Send your feedback to the Google team. They are listening. (when logged into your AdWords account use the send feedback link at the top of the PPA section on the campaign summary screen)

7. Read the whole Google PPA FAQ/Help section.

8. Look at some of the top performing ads in your vertical and copy them.

9. If you think you deserve it, ask for a refund.

10. Your tip here.


Hopefully you'll find 1 or 2 of those to be helpful.

Have any more Google PPA tips that don't involve changing the landing page? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

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