High-Priced Talent Letting You Down? PPC Moneyball Revisited

baseballAs the summer weather haltingly makes its appearance in my neck of the woods, thoughts turn to on-base averages, fielding percentages and all of that Moneyball stuff.

My theme for this column is the woeful underperformance of the team known as the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite a wave of off-season signings and by far the highest payroll in their history, the Jays are sitting dead last in their division, playing .435 baseball.

In a couple of ways, baseball underperformers and paid search underperformers tend to exhibit similar characteristics.

They try to run before they’ve proven they can walk, though everyone knows you must learn to walk first. They also represent poor asset allocation — all the money sucked up by these costly underperformers might be better used for other things: lower ticket prices, a better stadium, or dividends for Rogers’ – er, PPC account – shareholders.

Year in and year out, via an audit service we offer, we have the opportunity to review paid search account managers in action. There is often no correlation between the size of the agency (or the size of the take-home paychecks) and the account managers’ ability to get the job done for clients in terms of bottom-line performance.

What Are PPC Managers Doing Wrong?

So how do underperforming PPC managers compare to the Toronto Blue Jays? Let’s think in terms of baseball errors.

Swinging For The Fences Instead Of Putting The Ball In Play

Too many strikeouts chasing expensive, core PPC terms? Focusing on the “long ball” instead of the long tail? Planning extensively for the “big push” “spring campaign” (spent on any keyword click or display impression willing to serve), rather than incrementally improving profits through the drip-drip-drip of detailed, “always-on” optimization? Maybe a trip to AA ball will cure your hotshot of this habit.

Can’t Bunt

There are fundamentals, and there are fundamentals. If your PPC manager doesn’t appear to know the difference between a query and a keyword, and her/his only encounter with the Search Query Report is to dump in long lists of boilerplate negative keywords “for show,” then no amount of time spent at the charity BBQ event is going to save the account. Your company will have more funds available for charitable donations if they stop handing it all over to Google.

Can’t Make Friends In High Places

José Bautista is a top hitter, but stripping off all your equipment and threatening the umpire with death after a questionable strike call probably won’t get him any favorable calls during a pennant race. Analogously, are you truly providing “big agency” value if your account managers — however talented — have no industry experts or major search engine representatives in their network?

Can’t Play On A Team

Brett Lawrie, a brilliant 23-year-old third baseman, thinks he’s bigger than the game — despite flirting with a batting average so low that he may soon need to shop for a recreational Slo-Pitch league in his native British Columbia. He recently made news by screaming at teammate Adam Lind and third-base coach Luis Rivera for safely holding slow-footed Lind at third on a shallow fly ball.

In PPC, team play may not be the norm, but it’s important to draw on team resources as well as share ideas across your team. The end result should be a relatively consistent standard of execution along with great morale and confidence in one’s teammates.

It’s amazing to audit multiple accounts across a single team and to discover that the players are deeply siloed, not learning, and not improving. Even worse, though, is a shared culture of complacency — if one or two account managers think it’s okay to let proper conversion tracking slide (blaming client inaction for two years of flying the account blind), then everyone learns to make up the same silly little excuses for mediocre execution.

Teams matter — and team play means sharing expertise and letting mentors do their job of teaching and leading. Screaming 22-year-olds probably should not apply.

In Last Place, But Making Money Anyway

In sports, you can develop a cult following even if your greatest days are in the past. Merchandise, for example, is a never-ending revenue stream for bad teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and this season’s Toronto Blue Jays.

To take the analogy over to PPC: is the account grossly distorted in its approach, lacking fundamentals and spending half the budget on brand terms? In all too many PPC accounts, the manager takes the easy way out and reassures the client that aggressive lead generation isn’t all that important, since the brand terms are really the most effective.

And on top of the obvious (over-)bidding on brand terms, if you look inside Search Query Reports, you just might find this manager smuggling in more brand queries even when they appear to be bidding on new, demand-generating keywords.

Brand terms are great, but they’re just ways of harvesting the other investment the business has made. Brand terms, like Joe Carter jerseys, are a form of living in the past. Anyone can bid on brand terms! If your manager has been spending most of the budget on brand keywords without your being aware of it, maybe it’s time to rethink your asset allocation, play a little Moneyball, and create a winning season through strong fundamentals.

When it comes to PPC, don’t forget to touch all the bases. Let’s play ball!

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column | SEM Industry


About The Author: is the founder and principal of Page Zero Media and author of Winning Results with Google AdWords.

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  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    This is sooooooo goooooooood, Andrew. Your baseball metaphor is perfect. Clearly your knowledge of baseball is almost on par with your expertise in search. Well done, sir.


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