PPC – The 10 Golden Lists

The second entry to the 10 Golden Lists is on pay-per-click (PPC), on average the most effective and widely used type of advertising on the Internet. I have only recently started using PPC and am definitely a newbie. I will add to this post as I acquaint myself and test out the different platforms.

The most widely used PPC platform is Google’s AdWords but for a holistic approach to the topic, I have divided PPC into three categories:

  1. Search Engines – Google, Yahoo, Bing
  2. Social Networks – Facebook, LinkedIn
  3. Content-related – potentially any website on the Internet

As it remains the most important, lets start with the key things to remember about Adwords:

the listings in the red boxes are the one people pay for

Three things decide how good your AdWords campaign is:

(a) Competition: A far greater number of companies will want to have their advert appear when someone searches for a short-tail keyword like “hotel” – just because its a very popular search term. Because AdWords is based on the principles of an auction, the cost to be number one in Google’s search results for “hotel” will be much higher than “luxury hotel in Manchester”, because competition for short-tail keywords is far greater than for long-tail keywords (like the one above). Google has a keyword research tool which can help you find long-tail keywords.
(b) Quality Score (QS): This is a measure Google uses to decide how good and relevant your advert is for the keyword(s) searches you would like for it to show. The most important factor affecting quality score is the historical click-through-rate (CTR). This makes sense now that I’ve done a bit of PPC marketing. What better indication of an ad’s relevance to the search than how many people click on it. The problem with this is the catch-22 of how to you increase your CTR if your QS is low and you’re low in the results – therefore not being able to get a high CTR?

The official info on Quality Score can be found on Wikipedia.

Both ‘competition’ and ‘QS’ establish your cost-per-click (CPC), which is the average amount it costs you every time someone clicks on an advert to your site. Obviously you want to get your CPC to be as low as possible and to do this you need to find keywords that DECREASE the competition. To INCREASE your quality score you need to create well-written ads which point to a landing page that is relevant and uses the ad’s keywords. Here’s a bit more about how to do the latter:

  • 10 ways to increase your AdWords quality score (thanks to RedFlyMarketing):
  1. Split keywords into smaller, more targeted ad groups. Used the in-built keyword grouper tool in the AdWords editor to group keywords into 15 groups of 20 related keywords.
  2. Create relevant ad copy for each group. Create an ad creative for each keyword group using the common grouping keywords.
  3. Optimize Creatives. Keep changing the ad copy, be creative in use of verbs, adjectives and structure; then test to see which ones work best to increase the CTR
  4. Experiment With Matching Options. Check to see if you get a higher QS and lower CPC by using the the ‘broad’, ‘exact’ or ‘phrase’ match for your keyword.
  5. Link Building And SEO. Deep linking on your site using the highest performing keywords (Volume & Conversion Rate). This also helps with the organic SEO campaign. Submit a Google sitemap, make the site semantically coded and correct any navigational issues.
  6. Implement Keywords. For each page implement most of the keywords into the copy.
  7. Split Test Landing Page. I think this refers to A-B testing where you send different adverts to different pages to see where the highest conversion was achieved and then eliminating poor performing pages/ads.
  8. Meta Tags. Add the best performing keywords to the meta tags on each page. Also use the exact ad copy from the best performing ads in the meta description. Use the best performing and most descriptive keyword as the title tag.
  9. Essential Site Pages. Link the site’s privacy policy in the navigation (header or footer). Also add an informative “about us” page, a “terms and conditions” page and a newsletter page if you do not already have them.
  10. Make Sure Google Thinks You’re Relevant. Use the Site-Related Keywords tool to make sure that Google thinks the landing page is related to the keywords being targeted.

However, after doing all this, the only number or metric you really care about is Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA). This is how much it costs you, on average, to make a sale using AdWords. Even if you have a 10/10 QS, using keywords which have little or no competition, if people are not buying enough on your site to cover the cost of using AdWords, then PPC is not a viable option (and perhaps think about whether your business is viable as well)

To decrease the CPA you need to test, a lot. Change things on your site, sometimes being subtle, other times with major changes, and observe if they affect your CPA.

E.g. Heat tests to see where people move the mouse on your site, A-B testing and so on. 

(c) CONVERSION: this is another topic for the 10 Golden Lists altogether as it applies not only to adverts coming from AdWords or any other PPC channel; increasing your site’s conversion is key to success regardless of where the traffic to your site is coming from.

Bing and Yahoo, I have yet to use, but I am sure the subtleties between each one in terms of how they work, are small. Will update this section once I use them or learn more.

In recent times Facebook and LinkedIn have also developed an interesting and unique PPC advertising platform. Interesting because unlike search engines, where relevant ads show based on the phrase searched for, Facebook allows you to target people (500 million or so) based on demographic data. This data includes, A LOT:

  • age
  • gender
  • relationship status
  • place of work
  • interests
  • location
  • place of study
  • …and several others


I have used Facebook (although not LinkedIn) and would recommend the following strategy:

  1. Decide on your target market – or even better several different ones so you can test each one.
  2. Create a Facebook page for your brand – unfortunately studies have shown that conversions on your site for clicks coming from Facebook ads is low, so your CPA might be too large to justify Facebook PPC. However, clicks to an internal Facebook page are cheaper and help you to build a community to which you can hope to sell in the long term.
  3. Change your ads often, especially your images. Research has shown that because with Facebook PPC you target a specific group of people, they tend to subconsciously (and consciously) see your advert quite often. People then start to resent or just ignore your ad.
  4. Be creative, you know a lot about the people you are targeting, giving you a unique opportunity to surprise them.
  5. Test, test and a little more testing. Facebook ads are new and the platform is still widely regarded to be inferior to Google for measures such as CTR and CPA. However, Facebook is hiring loads of awesome engineers and it wont be long before they improve the service offering, so being an early adopter could mean that you get to use it while CPCs are still low (like the good old days at Google).

The final place where PPC ads can be show is on any website that has used a service like Google’s AdSense to display ads. These adverts are only shown where there is content relevant to the ad, but I do not know that much about this just yet to suggest a strategy.

PPC is easy to set up, measurable, works well for short promotions or to steal traffic from competitors who rank well for certain searches. So it should definitely be a part of your digital marketing arsenal.

As a final thought, while Google is clearly the market-leader in PPC, if you are targetting an emerging economy or countries such as Russia or China, you might want to consider each country’s own search giant (Baidu in China and Yandex for Russia)

Case Study Competition in Seattle

This post is well overdue, and that is surprising because my experience in Seattle this April with Marc, Mili and Richard (three people who have since become good friends) was one of my best experiences while at university.

The story goes back more than a year ago when after an assessment centre selection process, the four of us were fortunate enough to be chosen for the team that would represent the Manchester Business School in Seattle for the Global Business Case Competition.

We endured an entire semester of having our Wednesday afternoons dedicated to training with two of MBS’s top lecturers (Paul Cousins and Brian Squire). Training included analysing case studies, watching videos of other competitions, and presenting, presenting, presenting – so much of it that today I can proudly say I actually enjoy it. I still get the adrenalin and the nerves before presenting but I channel them in the same way people do when sitting on a roller coaster or just before a bungee jump – you know it’s scary but you love it!

The time-pressure of having to produce a twenty-minute presentation, sometimes in three or four hours, was at first a little too much for us to handle. Working as a team was a nightmare. Marc and I would shout at each other, Mili would question every suggestion we made and poor Richard barely managed to get a word in. Six months later we were still doing all these things, but we had also learnt some valuable lessons about team work, which, had we been a little luckier, could have even won us the trophy. So here goes:

  1. People don’t really change or completely overcome their weaknesses – but as humans we are extremely good at adapting to other people’s peculiarities and I think that is how we ended up working well together in the end.
  2. First impressions matter but should be readily abandoned as you find out more about the people you work with.
  3. Know your team members’ (and your own) strengths and spend 90% of your time utilising those, and only 10% trying to improve their weaknesses.
  4. Always drink with your team – to the point where each of you has an embarrassing story to laugh about the next day. Knowing the social side of your team makes them much easier to work with and even be friends with.

Our training also made us research so many different industries and companies that by now, I think we are all fairly competent at having an opinion or decent conversation about:

  • Bulmers and the cider market
  • Disney and the animated movie industry
  • Tesco and supermarkets in the UK
  • The low cost airline industry – especially in India
  • Los Angeles Times and the struggling press industry
  • Boeing, Airbus and aviation in general – our case in Seattle (slides here, executive summary here)

Then there are the personal lessons, of which there are so many I don’t think one blog post will suffice, so I’m going to keep it short and practical, with the hope that future teams may find some useful.

  1. Use Doodle for scheduling team meetings – works like a charm.
  2. Use your slides to support what you are saying – they are an aid. If they have everything on them people will stop listening to you while they read, or give up altogether.
  3. When it comes to presenting, Paul had us repeating the same line a hundred times, presenting another team’s slides, he would sometimes clap through our entire presentation to pace us and made us read ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ in an empty lecture theatre to get our emphasis right. But other than that we also learned to:
    1. Speak slowly! I always used to think I was talking slower than I actually was, so its OK to slow down, because trust me, once you see yourself on video, you will realise how nervous talking fast makes you look.
    2. Use pauses to cement a point you have made or to make the audience think about a question you have asked – but it also helps you gather your thoughts.
    3. Watch as many YouTube videos of good presenters as possible and make notes on what they do well – Steve Jobs is a good start.
  4. Use SlideShare to get ideas for slide design – this “you suck at PowerPoint presentation” is a good start.
  5. Make a slide just after your conclusion which has an index of your back-up slides (hyperlinked) so you can easily navigate through them during your Q&A. A logo or symbol on each slide is a good way to link back to the index page as well.
  6. The only part of your presentation worth learning off by heart is the beginning and the end – to make sure you go in and out with a well-prepared BANG… everything else should be rehearsed in such a way that makes you comfortable enough with the content to be able to express it in different ways. This helps if you are under pressure for time or if you forget something, you are flexible to move on without anyone noticing.

Seattle has so many amazing memories. The extra week of “holiday” we got because of the ash cloud was one of the best ever. Another post recalling some of the most legendary moments is going to follow soon…

Additions from the other team members:  
Have someone in your team create (what Marc calls) a sheet of lies. This is a very controversial, dubious and yet very effective Exel file that can somehow produce any profit or NPV you require.
Here’s an example to illustrate this: After several hours of hard work, Marc tells me we can achieve a $5 million NPV. Disappointed I say: “Can’t we somehow have an NPV of $1 billion?”; to which Marc replies: “Nik, I can make you any number you want!”.
The sheet of lies was born. The inventor now works in investment banking and to protect his identity, the alias Marc has been used. 😛