Hey, PPC Managers: Stop Being So Lazy!

When I do PPC webinars, I always like to open with a quick poll. In a recent webinar, I asked attendees to fess up to how much time they spend working on their AdWords account every week. The results were very promising:

How much time do you spend doing PPC management per week?

Almost 9 out of 10 (87%) of respondents said they do at least some work in their account every week. Sounds pretty good, right? Everyone is diligently working in their PPC accounts!

Not so fast – it doesn’t take a genius to realize that self-reported activity isn’t always reliable. Few people exercise as much or eat as little as they claim to. I wondered if PPC marketers were overestimating the amount of time they spend in their AdWords accounts — to the detriment of their results.

How Much Work Are PPC Managers Really Doing?

To test these claims, I decided to check the Change History logs in some live AdWords accounts. For this informal study, I looked at around 400 accounts of advertisers who recently became WordStream customers, setting the date range for the 30 days prior to their signing up with the software and essentially just counting up the number of changes in the account.

In the following graph, “Activity Index” is a count of the number of changes in an account weighted according to the types of changes being done within an account. For example, it takes longer to create a new text ad than it does to change a keyword bid, so I’ve weighted ad text changes more heavily. Finally, I’ve plotted the activity vs. monthly spend to get a sense for how activity varies with account size.

It’s important to note that there is already some selection bias going on here. Advertisers that would proactively sign up for an educational PPC webinar or start using PPC management software are already more likely to be actively engaged with their accounts than the average AdWords user — so you’d expect this group to be on the more active side.

Here’s what I found:

PPC Account Optimization Activity By Month

Sadly, even these proactive advertisers aren’t doing regular, consistent work in their AdWords accounts. On the contrary:

  • Weekly activity – Not so much. Over half of advertisers did nothing at all in a given week.
  • Consistency – Only 1 in 10 advertisers consistently worked on their accounts over a 90-day period.
  • Agencies – You’d think that agencies would do better given it’s their full-time job; but, I found there was very little difference on average in activity between agencies and advertisers.
  • Big Spenders – The chart above shows that having a larger monthly budget correlates with more regular PPC optimization work — but still there are still a lot of big companies spending millions on PPC that are doing next to nothing in their account during the month!

As I suspected, most advertisers and agencies have a drastically inflated view of the amount of time they spend working to improve their PPC campaigns.

Why You Need To Be Doing More

In my experience, consistent account activity is the number one indication of whether or not your AdWords account succeeds. Advertisers that log in and work to optimize their campaigns at least once per week inevitably do better than those that ignore their accounts for months at a time.

So, if you want to log better results from paid search, resolve right now to log into AdWords at least weekly and focus on at least one of these areas of account optimization:

  • Keyword Expansion – Stagnant ad groups won’t help your business grow. Regularly comb your search query report for relevant new keywords to add to your account.
  • Bid Optimization – Raise bids on top performing keywords and lower bids on weaker, more costly keywords to be sure you’re making the most of your budget.
  • Negative Keyword Research – If you’re not using negatives you could be wasting up to 30% of your ad spend. Google is greedy, so you need to filter out terms that don’t work for your business.
  • Ad Text Optimization – The first ad that comes to mind is probably not the best you can do. Try sensational, emotionally charged ads or new features like Offer extensions. Ads can make the difference between a 0.3% CTR and a 3% CTR!

And so on. There’s always more to do, but you don’t have to do it all at once – you just have to make steady, iterative progress. Something is better than nothing — which is what your competitors are thinking as they work on their accounts.

I think most in the industry already understand that “set it and forget it” is not a viable PPC strategy; yet, the majority of us are failing miserably when it comes to actually executing. So, what the heck?

PPC Managers: Stop being so lazy!  :)

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is founder and CTO of WordStream, provider of the AdWords Grader and 20 Minute PPC Work Week.

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  • Jeff Lesser

    I think your study may be just as flawed as the self reporting. You analyzed the change history of people who signed up to have you manage their account for 30 days prior to signing up. Don’t you think they hired you because no one was managing the account?

  • Larry Kim

    Thanks Jeff! great point. as i said, it’s not scientific, which is why i so explicitly disclosed survey methodology. though, it could be the opposite. meaning the people who we sign up as customers *want* to to do better.
    they’re engaged and it’s a priority for them – you’d expect them to be a bit more active. there are other advertisers/agencies out there who don’t even care or have stuff on autopilot and are asleep at the wheel.

    In any case, there’s a huge gap between what is being reported vs. what is actually happening. keep in mind that i surveyed the same bunch of people for both questions. “how much work do you do” question was put to wordstream prospects in a webinar, and the customers which are a subset of prospects, so that cancels out at least some of the survey bias.

    Jeff – In your experience do you think it’s the opposite? that the average PPC account is getting attention every week? (not just your PPC account – i’m talking about the industry as a whole here).

  • Ronnie’s Mustache

    I agree, most accounts get neglected….and that is exactly what Google wants- IMO.

    Look at the top Ecomm advertisers. Many of them spent a lot LESS in 2012 than they did in 2011. When you pay attention, you often reduce costs.

    Amazon, Walmart, Target, B&H, US Auto, Barnes and Noble, Newegg, Crate y Barrel, 1-800- flowers.

    Those are $1MM+ per/month advertisers.

  • http://trung.tran.com.au/ Trung Tran

    If you setup the Adwords campaign correct from the start then half your work is done. As a minimum I would agree that negative matches and ad text optimization should be done weekly. The other activity that is not tracked is landing page changes which should also be done in conjunction with ad text changes so that the message is consistent.

    Over optimising can also be a bad thing. Continuously making daily changes to the same keyword, adgroup, campaign will make it difficult to analyze the performance.

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  • http://www.swydo.com/ jeroen maljers

    It’s an interesting study. Unfortunately the Adwords API is a but shaky on the change history front, otherwise we could define a Change KPI in Swydo . And do not forget that a lot of optimization work can also be done outside the Adwords interface (so without any registration in the change history):
    - Keyword research
    - Competitor research
    - Defining ad copy /usp’s/ tag lines
    - Configuring conversion scripts
    - Working in other interfaces (adwords editor) and uploading once a month etc.

  • Larry Kim

    the adwords api for change history works if you can figure out how to work around some of the (many) quirks. I’m guessing you’re hitting the *too many changes* exception – try splitting your timeframe in a recursive way (a bit like merge sort) until you find a small enough time frame for which changes can be returned, then add up all the pieces.

    Keep in mind that any changes made outside of adwords (3rd party tool like wordstream or adwords editor) will show up in change history when posting to the account.

    PS – i happen to think that change/activity is a great KPI for PPC. it’s only through thoughtful PPC optimizations over time that any gains can be made.

  • Larry Kim

    Hi Trung, thanks for this note. agree that over-optimizing can be a bad thing. However the data i have shows that people doing nothing far outweigh people who are over-optimizing (by 50:1)

  • http://www.swydo.com/ jeroen maljers

    Thanks Larry. I agree. That’s why we tried to build a KPI for account activity in the dasbhboard.

    We will try that splitting it up in chunks trick.

  • Ronnie’s Mustache

    They certainly do.

  • Dan Butcher

    Interesting article Larry. However, I feel there is another caveat that you need to add here for the readers. It’s all well and good making these points if the Adwords accounts are high-trafficked accounts – but if they are low budget accounts, or indeed accounts with very little search volume – optimizing on such a regular basis can be harmful to the account. For example, should you really reduce bids on a poor-performing keyword if it’s had just 10 clicks in a month? I would argue no. Statistical significance is key to any test, whether it’s in PPC or otherwise.

  • Larry Kim

    And that is why I graphed the activity by spend level. You can see there are lazy account managers across the entire spectrum of small to large advertisers.

  • http://www.fourstepstraining.com/customer-service-training/ps_exceptional-customer-service/ Tom Phillips

    As a small scale user of adwords I would try to review it at least every week. I find changing things too often actually makes campaigns worse. We get around 400 clicks total per month across a range of campaigns – some with maybe only 10 clicks per month. So we need to let the data build up before a decision is made to change it. When I have made changes on small amounts of data I have almost always regretted it later.

    The negative keywords is probably the area I put most regular focus on.


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