The 8 Pillars Of Paid Search Success

This is the last introductory post for the PPC Academy course. We’ve covered some frequently asked questions about paid search, a brief history of the medium and some common terms to know for PPC advertising. Starting next week, we’ll dive into the immersion phase of paid search and then onto the finer details of campaign management.

In this post, I want to share a few of the important pillars of success before going into detail about what it takes to run a paid search account. These points are vital to the winning at PPC and will put you in the right frame of mind to excel at this important marketing channel. Sometimes it may take years for these concepts to sink in, but my hope is that by knowing these tenets at the beginning, you’ll be able to better understand how all of the pieces fit together throughout the training.

Your keyword list is a valuable asset. Your paid search ecosystem is only as good as your keyword list. Guard it, feed it and give it water. Make sure you’re constantly finding good terms to add and pausing and deleting outright poor keywords. Tweak your campaign and ad group structure to be optimal for your needs.

Know your keyword landscape. Bottom line, PPC is an auction based platform. Because of this, tracking your competitors is absolutely vital. Look often at your average positions on your keywords to make sure you haven’t fallen or risen too quickly. What new terms or products have entered the space—and have you reacted accordingly?

Get in the mind of the searcher. This separates the great search advertisers from the good ones. Understanding the intent of the users who are exposed to your keywords will help you bid properly, implement the right settings, write the best ads, send them to the best landing page, etc. For example, if someone searches for “Sony digital camera offers” what insights about this user can you test? Well, they specify Sony so they have a reason for that. What about the fact they search for offers? Are they looking for deals? SEM pros are constantly looking for insights into the intent of the searcher who has triggered their keyword ads and finding trends to test.

It’s all about the data, but don’t get caught in it. Campaign reports, keyword reports, query reports, creative reports… there is a lot of data generated by paid search accounts. And in this data lies the path to perfect PPC optimization. You can literally spend hours in Excel pruning away the budget wasters and bidding up the keywords that seem to drive the most sales. But also remember there are many unknown variables influencing your campaign that you’ll never be able to account for, such as the effect of a bad economy, competitors lowering their prices, etc. To win at paid search, you have to be great at analyzing data but also great at putting it into context.

Master the tools. Paid search is a technology-heavy marketing channel and since you will work with the same software every day, I urge you to really get to know your tools, in-depth and intimately. There are hidden settings and tiny powerful functions that can be godsends—but also plenty of traps that you can fall into. Put the time in on the front end and you’ll be rewarded daily for your efforts. Above all else, get to know Excel better than anyone else you know.

Test. Optimize. Then test again. This is the absolute mantra of the industry. What we do is find trends and act on them. We don’t know if the new creative will work or the bidding experiment will be a big waste of money. However, it’s the only way we can fine-tune paid search accounts. Just make the best analysis as possible and test your hypothesis for long enough to know if it’s working but not so long to disrupt the entire project. Over time, you’ll have enough insights to keep your account humming.

Internalize the Tiny Percentages Rule. For the most part there is no golden bullet that will guarantee positive results in paid search. What experienced search engine marketers know is that tiny adjustments to an account will lead to tiny optimizations which eventually provide lifts in performance.

For example, if you could just get your click-thru-rate from 2% to 2.1% on a keyword that drives sales for you, that would mean one thousand more revenue-driving customers for every million impressions you run. Or, if you could drop the cost of your terms down from an average of $1.00 cost-per-click to $.95, then you’d be able to buy almost five thousand more clicks (visitors) for the same $100K in spend! By knowing that these tiny improvements will pay back dividends is what will keep you hungry and never stop optimizing.

Proven best practices should be followed, but… There are a lot of tips and tricks we’ve learned in the last decade of paid search that have risen to the level of best practices. For example, sending users to the most relevant landing page based on their query has proven to be a very successful tactic. Don’t send them to the home page if they are specifically asking about a product—instead, send them to that product’s page, right? I will be sharing a lot of these best practices in PPC Academy but not all of these tips will be useful to you. You will have to test them all and make new ones for yourself. Keep that in mind.

This week’s question: What are some things you have been told about paid search? Have they proven to be true or not?

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | PPC Academy


About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

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  • Bradd Libby

    “For example, if you could just get your click-thru-rate from 2% to 2.1% on a keyword that drives sales for you, that would mean one thousand more revenue-driving customers for every million impressions you run.”


    Unfortunately, differences in clickthrough rates (or conversion rates) that are this small are extremely difficult to see. Jen Syverud of the Rimm-Kaufman Group has a great blog post on this topic Recognizing Signal & Noise in Paid Search.

    Download her spreadsheet and have a look at the variance in conversion rates for 1000 clicks. (The same principle holds for your example with impressions and CTR, though the specific numbers would be different.)

    If I have 2 ads, one of which has a 2.0% CTR and the other a 2.1% CTR and want to be 99% confident which is which, believe it or not, it will take more than 1 million impressions (evenly divided between them) to tell them apart.

    You have a great list of tips here, but I’d say “Above all else, get to know math better than anyone else you know (or team up with someone who does).” Doing otherwise could be expensive and painful.

  • Josh Dreller

    That’s a good point, Bradd. The key takeaway for that tip was that over time, results sometimes plateau after deep optimization. I want to let beginners know this may happen and to not get discouraged because even tiny lifts will work together to continue towards positive gains. Winning at paid search means CONTINUAL testing and optimization even if you’re not getting 20% lifts anymore. It’s just a pain point I’ve come across with junior SEMers and I wanted to address it before this column really starts cranking up with the PPC creation and management.

    That’s a good article by Jen. I just downloaded the spreadsheet and I’m playing with the numbers now.

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