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That Sound You hear? It’s Not Holiday Bells. It’s The Dangerous Sound of Money Being Wasted on PPC Ads

More and more of our clients are asking us about pay-per-click advertising – sometimes called “SEM” – and where it fits into their inbound marketing + content marketing plans.

For us, this is a little like the holiday bells in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Instead of hearing an angel getting its wings visualize hearing the robot in “Lost in Space” shriek “Danger Will Robinson”.

PPC in the wrong hands can be – well a waste of money. Which makes it dangerous. Here’s why and what you can do about it.

1. PPC Ain’t Easy
Google Adwords accounts are deceptively easy to set up and almost impossible for people who don’t specialize in PPC to optimize over time to get good results. Successfully managing a PPC campaign is difficult, and if you don’t invest in skilled staff/agencies, your ROI will be poor, or even negative. Additionally, the competition for popular search terms is high. This means you need to be even better at PPC management to generate decent results.

Recommendation: Use a skilled PPC expert to manage your campaign. We feel so strongly about this here at Open Marketing that we work with outside specialists to handle all of our PPC needs. We could build the capability in house – we simply feel we are better served by working with an outside agency like ROI.Works that specializes in handling PPC for agencies like ourselves.

2. First things first. And Organic Search (SEO) always comes first.

Of all clicks made on results pages, a whopping 75% go to organic results and not paid ads (Source: SEOMoz and Hubspot 2012). This clearly shows that having a good organic search ranking will generate more traffic than a paid ad. However, generating good organic search rankings takes time and effort: a huge reason businesses turn to PPC as some kind of short-term fix that will lift results.

PPC means you are paying for your brand to be placed in front of an audience. But equally, good content will be shared with relevant communities, containing personal endorsements and recommendations along the way – for free. Quality content encourages trust from visitors as it allows you to demonstrate understanding and expertise.

Additionally, Google’s new algorithm updates in 2012 emphasise the importance of social sharing and engagement and builds your organic search ranking over time, whereas PPC Ads are a one-off investment that lasts as long as the advert is displayed. Think buying vs renting a home.

Recommendation: Invest in building your organic search rankings first. If resources allow consider PPC as a secondary strategy.

3. Put your PPC efforts together with a strong call-to-action and landing page program

Just because you have allocated budget to PPC, doesn’t mean it will provide good results. Stop thinking ‘our site traffic is low – we’ll just do some PPC’. With the complexity of the buyer’s journey, this is especially important.

Not incorporating paid search into an overall marketing plan will limit the amount of success you can generate using this tool. Not linking paid search traffic to a landing page with a CTA lets all the leads generated (and the $$ spent doing it) slip through your fingers.

Recommendation: Make sure your PPC traffic directs to a relevant landing page instead of a generic page like your home page.

4. Targeting Makes a Huge Difference

The more targeted the PPC ad campaign, the better the results.

In the consumer sector, paid search ads can be highly targeted. This is particularly true in the ecommerce realm. When it comes to ecommerce, the majority of the time the searcher knows exactly what they want. For example, if a searcher types in ‘Canon 1100 DSLR’, and an ad stating ‘Canon 1100 DSLR’s On Sale Now!’ appears, it is easy to see why this would be appealing.

In other categories, say where your company is carving out a new proposition or where the buyer’s journey is more complex, the searchers may not know what it is they are looking for, so broader keywords will be used, making it much more difficult for to create highly targeted ads.

Additionally, a lot of prospects search goals are purely informational, where they come in at the top of the funnel, with no intention to buy. This would suggest that a user would be more inclined to click on informative blog posts than direct advertisements, meaning if you focus too much on a CTA you could be missing out on a whole chunk of potential prospects. This is where display advertising and re-targeting can shine.

Display advertising to put your brand in front of targeted prospects when they are visiting their favorite websites across the web and/or interacting with content that is relevant to what you are selling.

Re-targeting to keep your brand top of mind after they have downloaded a white paper or signed up for a free trial. (Sadly, its not enough to get people to try your product. With the explosion of free applications, we now must continue to nurture the lead through the trial period, so as to encourage and maximize conversion.)

Recommendation: Make sure you are combining inbound marketing, content marketing, PPC, display advertising, and re-targeting, as needed to capture top of funnel traffic. One great way of doing this (whilst increasing your organic search rankings) is by producing blog content that helps solve your buyers’ problems. This allows you to use broader keywords to get found in organic search results, and capture your potential audience early on in their buying cycle.

5. Put the right metrics in place

The length of the buying cycle makes measuring results harder when it comes to B2B products and consumer products that are considered purchase. In many consumer categories – particularly ecommerce – the majority of searchers know exactly what they are looking for and intend to buy within the next few hours. This makes the link between ad clicks and sales pretty easy to track.

With B2B PPC, it is highly unlikely that a prospect will search, for example ‘email archiving solutions’, then click on an ad and buy a solution for their business that day, or even that month! In fact, this process can take around 12 months for some B2B companies, making the results more difficult to track.

Recommendation: Using PPC as a short term solution is challenging for the long and complicated B2B buying process. Since each decision-maker will need input from their peers before they can proceed, they are most likely not interested (yet!) in anything near the bottom of the funnel. Use an appealing, top of funnel CTA. The most appealing offers are those based on content that help the prospect save time or reduce the personal risk in making a difficult purchase decision. And don’t forget to make your offer emotionally appealing, relevant, and compelling. No one ever bought anything because you bored them to death™.

Conclusion

Yes, Will Robinson, PPC Campaigns can be a valuable part of your strategy – but only to the extent that they are managed by an expert and fielded as part of an overall marketing strategy. Using PPC as a ‘quick fix’, as many do, is fraught with problems for B2B marketers.

Ranking through organic search should be your number one goal, though it can take a while to see results. If you are already using PPC to generate traffic make sure you first max out your investment on organic search. That way, you can eventualy wean yourself off PPC and rely on your robust organic search strategy.