Five Signs Your Paid Search Manager Is An Imposter

You know the type, in any industry. Someone who talks a good game, but turns out not to be a professional? The ones who think a collection of tips from forums are equivalent to years of job experience?

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to look into many paid search marketing accounts. Lately, I’ve seen a disturbing number of accounts characterized by busywork of little value, dated strategies, and worst of all, accounts that completely disregard analytics and reporting in general and rely on arbitrary decisions disconnected from statistically significant data. Enough is enough! In this article, I’m calling out various fake PPC tactics.

Be afraid if you notice these tactics in your account. They usually go hand in hand with underperformance. And they are likely signs that your account manager is merely doing an impersonation of a true paid search professional.

Too much broad matching

In many accounts, there’s an over-reliance on broad match terms. This is limiting as there are tremendous opportunities with other match type options. For example, with the correct bidding strategy, phase match terms tend to convert well in paid search. Here’s an example from an account that sells a home related service (data below is from June 26 to July 10 2010).

Broad match term (two word query)

  • Ad spend = $1848
  • Conversions = 110
  • Cost per conversion = $16.80

Phrase match term (two word query)

  • Ad spend = $1211
  • Conversions = 108
  • Cost per conversion = $11.21

A new matching option in Google called modified broad match is converting well for some of our clients. The new match type places restrictions on how broad match ads are triggered and is a good alternative to regular broad match. Take a look at the following example (same home related service as above):

Broad match term (two word query)

  • Ad spend = $1848
  • Conversions = 110
  • Cost per conversion = $16.80

Modified broad match term (two word query)

  • Ad spend = $2150
  • Conversions = 177
  • Cost per conversion = $12.15

Daily budgets set wrong

In many accounts, budgets are set incorrectly. Based on conversion data, budgets are either set too low or too high in particular campaigns and/or countries. Take a look at the following example. For a particular product, sales in Austin, TX were significantly better than they were in Dallas, TX. In Austin, there were more conversions and the cost per conversion was significantly better:

Austin, TX

  • Ad spend = $34K
  • Conversions = 700
  • Cost per conversion = $49

Dallas, TX

  • Ad spend = $20K
  • Conversions = 315
  • Cost per conversion= $63

In this account, bids were set uniformly across the board. At a minimum, adjustments should have been made to reflect higher conversions & cost per conversions in Austin, TX. Adjustments were certainly necessary in other geographic regions of the account.

Not managing account to ROI

In some accounts, paid search managers take an “all or nothing” approach to account management like bids are set high or bids are set to “off.” Managers can be prone to pushing the panic button instead of using bid levels to manage ROI. This can stem from numerous sources like poor tracking, or tracking insignificant conversions.

For example, in one account, an imposter manager was tracking prospects who reached a lead form, with no measurement of weather they filled out the form. If managers are not using Google Analytics (GA) or customizing goals in GA, they are missing significant opportunities to optimize accounts. In an even worse example, an imposter manager had not even installed conversion tracking in Google. And, in this particular case, the client was metric-driven and wanted the data! I’m not sure how the manager got away with that! I repeat – client goals should be tied to specific and relevant account metrics.

Using outdated paid search assumptions

Many PPC impostors work with outdated assumptions like total avoidance of the content network or putting too high a priority on second-tier engines that were knocked out of the game long ago. There are significant opportunities in many new online advertising areas. Failing to take advantage of the diversity of tools available today—whether it be modified broad match, YouTube advertising, local advertising, or product extensions—cheats accounts of new opportunities. True account managers need to be in the loop with current-day digital advertising strategy and tactics.

Lots of reports but no substance

Some impostor PPC managers run huge reports and try to impress with workload and keyword volume to mask a lack of insight. Instead, a considerable portion of the reporting should focus on performance metrics. Depending on the project, some sharing of experiment designs or progress towards agreed objectives should also be part of this discourse. Generic platitudes like “phrase match is good and we’ll use it more in the account” is not good enough!

Failing to use readily available reporting tools to make more accurate decisions is a sad commentary on the commitment level of the impostors. They’d rather work on the appearance of work rather than on building a business. In the indisputably frank words of Avinash Kaushik: getting actionable analytics insight is as easy as pressing a button. So, I have a grand idea—press the button!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: was recently voted the 2013 Most influential SEM. She is the Vice President of Online Marketing Strategy at Page Zero Media where she focuses on search engine marketing strategy, landing page optimization (LPO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO).

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  • George Michie

    Give ‘em hell, Mona! Great piece. I wrote a piece last week complaining about the volume of misinformation in the paid search business that touched on some of these themes. Thanks for beating the drum!

  • seoseattle

    I find this article very distasteful.

    First, it calls out un-named PPC managers as “imposters” and incompetent, based on dissociated third-person inspection of account status. Seriously?

    Any experienced consultant would know that client-consultant dynamics often result in sub-optimal account management, especially if you look at an account after the client has gained initial experience with PPC. Clients don’t always tell prospective new vendors the real story behind their active, managed accounts, especially when they are seeking a better deal. The easiest factor to highlight is cost. What do YOU charge to manage a PPC account? Are you going to split on geo location every time there’s an ROI advantage? How would you know there was an advantage to do so, if you didn’t first research into the data? Who paid for that research? Many clients start out on a budget, and do not allocate enough to allow their PPC manager to work so diligently on the account. Clients also shop other vendors for advice before giving their own vendor a go-ahead for more aggressive (and more expensive) management.

    I wonder, do you bid manage everything, all the time? Sift through the cesspool of the content network to find the gems, all day long? Test every campaign for broad vs phrase vs every new way Google invents, every time? Immediately?

    I have to assume Page Zero Media is a very expensive PPC manager, if they consider anything less to be the work of an imposter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to note that more careful management can lead to higher ROI *once the campaign has been optimized*. But until we get there, are we paying a premium for more aggressive management, and how does that overall cost factor into overall ROI?

    It’s great to highlight how more work can result in better managed campaigns, highlight winning tactics with examples, and even pitch your companies services in a SearchEngineLand “article”. But this would have been way better without the lame attack on un-named PPC managers. Go ahead and show us how great you are at managing client PPC accounts, but consider that you might look much more respectable without the assumptions and name calling.

    Everyone spending serious coin on PPC should consider increasing their investment in real, strategic organic SEO efforts. A good organic SEO effort can eliminate a significant portion of the perpetual recurring PPC spend and management costs that you describe here.

  • surftrip

    Isn’t the correct spelling “impostor?”

    But, yup. Agree with seoseattle {above}

    Maybe blame it on bad writing, but this author doesn’t really say anything.

    I guess I’m an impostor, because yea, I avoid the content network like the plague and recognize it for what I believe it to be, a money-maker for Google. I have never found content network to be ROI positive. Never.

    Most likely, a manager’s type of client base will dictate whether one uses content match, straight search, youtube …whatever. Certainly, there are not many B2B clients that I’ve seen that have any business posting up on YouTube videos.

    If a manager can continually develop a track record for improving client performance in search, using just search, does this make him an impostor?

    As seoseattle mentioned, we need to be paid for our time, and research into more and more paid search branches takes time. If the client is not willing to fund these branches and incur the “testing costs” of these additional branches, does that make the manage an impostor for staying within the confines of budget and compensation?

    To me, this article is pompous, and really seems to show inexperience in and of itself. Anyone who has been around search since th GO days, or Overture, …and then Google and modern Yahoo and Bing, know that there are so many factors involved and as managers we do the best we can to balance time spent managing campaigns, compensation for such, and getting good results for our clients.

  • Andrew Goodman

    You can look up the spelling of “impostor” and you’ll find both spellings. FWIW, since I saw a draft of the article, I understand an editor here changed the spelling. Clearly the word “impostor” was meant as a light-hearted play on words. Using terminology out of a spy movie wasn’t meant to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I guess some people are super-sensitive!

    And I think you do need to drop your dogmatic attitude about the content network! Things change. If you’ve never seen a single ROI positive content campaign, that sample is definitely unrepresentative of current reality. You’ve never heard of content bidding, managed placements, exclusions…?

    @seoseattle, your conclusion is that people should really be doing SEO! This is the PAID SEARCH channel! Priceless! Only on SEL!

  • ChadSummerhill

    Really enjoyed this Mona! Especially the comments. You even made me feel a little guilty about not pushing my geo-targeted campaigns as far as I know I should.

    There is nothing wrong with telling it like it is. It’s too easy to hide behind a big, complex adwords account complaining about how busy you are without really ever doing much–especially if the person/ people you report to don’t take the time to understand paid search.

    I inherited PPC about 3 1/2 years ago for my current job. The first thing I did (without any real PPC training) was go into the account and turn off hundreds of poor performing ads (set to rotate evenly for the past year+) and to un-pause several keywords that had been paused for some unknown reason (quality score I think).

    Keep in mind that the person running the account previously was considered an expert (internally). They went to the conferences, traveled to Google by special invitations, etc.

    Anyway, immediately conversions were up 70%+ YoY and CPA’s were down–we were growing again.

    Thanks for the push! We can all do better.


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