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Supporting image for How to Win at Paid Search – @abarks99
How to Win at Paid Search – @abarks99
The Agents of Change

In digital marketing, there’s an ongoing battle between organic search and paid search. Which one yields better results, which one is more cost effective, which one tracks ROI better, and more importantly which one works faster? 

 Honestly, it depends on what your goals are, and of course all good long-term web marketing strategies should include SEO. But PPC can show results fairly quickly and has a proven track record of bringing in quality traffic that is more likely to convert. PPC advertising is also easily measurable and provides great insight to assist in making educated decisions about your PPC campaigns. And for all the small businesses out there, PPC advertising allows the Davids to compete with the Goliaths in a way other advertising options do not.





Rich: Founder of Spectacle Marketing, Adam Barker is an SEM expert with a focus on helping B2B companies. He’s sat client-side as an in-house marketer nearly his entire career for a variety companies in the Boston area, including some of the fastest growing: SmartBear, Continuum Managed Services, Tracelink and WorldStrides. He fully understands what it feels like to be that marketer on an SMB’s small team with a number on their head. He helps clients big and small, managing budgets of $500/mo all the way up to $100,000/mo.


Having a passion for PPC has dovetailed nicely into the launching of his own agency, Spectacle Marketing, where he considers himself the “anti-agency.” He helps clients set up PPC the way he would if he worked there; learning their product, aligning to their business KPIs, communicating to management, and setting up closed loop reporting in their CRM.


He has trained dozens of in-house marketing teams to run their own PPC campaigns. He looks forward to spreading his holistic view of PPC management and helping more and more marketers harness the power of SEM. Adam, welcome to the show.


Adam: Hey Rich, thanks for having me.


Rich: So how did you get started with paid search, how did you find that that was your passion?


Adam: So I actually started out as a graphic designer at a school and I was a part of some small marketing teams in the early goings and they really just didn’t have anyone on the team to do it. So I just sort of cautiously raised my hand and said, “I’d like to try it”. They supplied some training and I had some wonderful training from another fellow PPC-er – sort of one-to-one training – but then ever since then it’s been trial and error on my own and just learning as I go and staying with all the trends.


It’s always something I sort of kept going with every role that I had. I’ve had roles going from graphic design and marketing management director, demand gen, and those types of roles, but I’ve always done the PPC for every company that I’ve gone to and in my head I knew this was what I would eventually do. And I eventually got the opportunity and I jumped on it and it’s been great every since.


Rich: That’s very cool. And also a good reason why you should always raise your hand and take on new challenges, because otherwise you might just be a graphic designer somewhere and not have this cool company.


Adam: Right. And I mean, the graphic design is a cool thing to have as well because it always helps with landing page conversion rate optimization and all that fun stuff, too. But yeah, when I first started I had no idea what I was doing, but this just seemed like a really cool thing to have in my back pocket wherever I go. And it hasn’t let me down yet.


Rich: Nice. Now why do you feel that paid search is important, when there’s so many things like Facebook ads and promoted pins out there these days?


Adam: So with paid search people are coming to you. They’re putting their problems and questions and queries into Google and Bing to ask questions and they’re literally coming to you. And just speaking of raising your hand, they’re raising their hand and saying, “Me, I have a problem”. So being able to fine tune the mechanisms in Adwords that point your ad right to that hand raiser, that’s hugely valuable.


I’m a big believer in Facebook, Instagram, and all of display as well, but there’s a time and a place for it, and there’s some inherent challenges there because you’re getting in front of somebody and you’re trying to disrupt what they’re doing. They’re going through their Facebook feed, they’re just doing their socializing on social media and your ad jumps in front of them. So you’re already at a disadvantage there because they’re not ready to convert. Whereas in search, they’re coming at you and saying, “I want to convert.” So you just have to figure out based on what they’re searching what sort of problems they have and offer up something to that and that’s sort of the magic to it.


Rich: With paid search people are definitely showing you their pain points right off the bat and you don’t have to guess them.


Adam: Correct.


Rich: So give me a breakdown of Google Ads if you’re just getting started. I understand there’s keywords, and ad groups, and campaigns. What can you tell me about these things and what am I missing in terms of that framework of what is Google ads?


Adam: It’s a vast, vast tool. I think what you want to try to do for your company is to try to figure out what a qualified customer who wants to buy from you would be putting into Google that your product solves, and start with just that. I feel like people get overwhelmed and they put every single keyword that’s on their website into Google Adwords, but really you just want to get in front of those hand raisers that have a problem that your product solves or you sell a piece of merchandise that somebody is looking for. 


So I think the key is to start very small like that rather than try to target the entire Googlesphere. Just go after those ones where people are ready to buy, and when you win that market, then you layer in all of these other things like going for the top of the funnel keywords, going after Gmail, going into Facebook. Like I said, people are coming to you with their wallet open – so to say – get in front of those, win those, and get positive ROI there, and then branch out from that.


Rich: Alright, so if we’re a furniture company and we’ve got bedroom furniture and we’ve got dining room furniture and kitchen furniture. And within each of those groups obviously there are king size beds and queen size beds and bedside tables and armoires and all these other things. If I’ve got all these things do I just start by advertising some of them, or maybe just one room? How might you – because I know you like to put yourself in the shoes of your client – how might you approach this if you’re starting from scratch?


Adam: Ok, cool question. So it all depends on where the revenue is, and also what the search market volume is. If you find out dining room sets are much more valuable to your company because they’re cheaper to make and you can sell them for more, that’s really interesting to know compared to bedroom stuff. But also you want to look at the search volume around dining room sets in your area, maybe it’s not as good as bedroom sets.


But in a perfect world the thing that’s going to get you the most revenue – dining room sets, in this example – then that’s where I would focus. The biggest needle mover with the biggest search volume. And as it relates to Adwords and Bing, I would bucket them out – the dining room sets – in campaigns. So I would have a dining room set campaign and I would have a bedroom campaign.


Rich: So explain to me the difference between an ad group and a campaign then, I’m a little confused there.


Adam: Sure. So an ad group is a set of keywords, and you’ll know when you need a new ad group when you can’t serve the same ad to the same product. So if you’re going through and you do “dining room wood tables” as one of your best keywords, that’s an ad group. And all of the variations of wood dining tables would show up on there. You know you need a new ad group when you get to the next keyword that’s “metal dining room tables”, because you don’t want to serve up a wood ad to a metal search phrase.


Rich: Ok.


Adam: And those two things are ad groups that live underneath a campaign, so ad groups are a subset of keywords underneath the campaign. And the campaign is really just a way to organize everything and it houses a bunch of core settings like how fast your ads show up, how your ads rotate, when during the days they show up. So your campaign houses a lot of those settings, but the group is the subset of that, it sort of tells Google which ad to serve up.  


Rich: Ok, makes sense. Alright so we figured out what our revenue is , search volume is, and we decided we’re going to start with “dining room” and maybe we go with “dining room steel”, “dining room tables wood”, “chairs”, all that sort of stuff. How are we measuring this, what’s the next step in the process? And maybe I’m jumping the gun, do we send people to the page about those products, do we create a landing page, what have you seen as best practices out there?


Adam: Totally, yeah. The best practice in my book is always to send people to a landing page, especially if you’re serving up merchandise like this where you have umpteen different versions of products that you sell, you have to send them to a landing page. I’ve seen a lot of campaigns where people just send them to the homepage and they just rely on them to navigate through the site. It won’t happen. The secret sauce to search engine marketing is matching up the search phrase with an ad that has the same search phrase that’s in it, and then taking them to a landing page that has the same search phrase in the title of that page.


And if you line those three things up, that’s the best practices for the best conversion rate you can possibly get, because you’re actually showing that person you’re in their head, even though you’re not. And so to get that sort of customization you have to be sending people to landing pages.


And then on the measurement front, you just have to be able to track everything down to revenue. I know it’s really tough with a lot of smaller businesses, but there are tools out there that can help you. Most clients that I work with have a CRM where they can manage their customer relationships and anytime a lead goes in it gets appropriately tagged using UTM parameters on the conversion that follows that lead through the lifecycle and  you’re able to tie that revenue back to the ad spend and you can easily calculate ROI from there. Sorry, that was kind of a lot.


Rich: Alright, so let’s break that down a little bit. So let’s first focus on the landing pages because I know this is a big problem. So different people use the term “landing page” differently, so when you’re thinking about a landing page, let’s stick with the furniture store for a minute. So I probably already have a product page for my wood tables versus my steel tables. But some people might suggest you want to create almost like a squeeze page, where it might be the same type of content people can still buy, but there’s no navigation, there’s no distractions on the page. Do you recommend that, do you recommend staying away from those kind of squeeze pages or is that a good idea?


Adam: Sorry, this is kind of a middle of the road answer, but I think you’ve got to test it because I’ve seen it work both ways. And me as a consumer, I actually prefer when the navigation is there because then I can jump around and see if I actually trust this website before taking out my credit card. But you just have to test it. And the sort of difference between a product page and a landing page, a landing page is an area where you can do all of this testing without disrupting the organic mojo that your product page is doing. And I use a landing page as sort of a test ground to try putting images in different spots, and then I use that to enhance my organic product page. So it’s a testing ground where you know the tracking is air tight because you know only paid traffic is going there or you know that a certain type of traffic is going there. So it just simplifies it even though it is an extra step of creating another page.


Rich: Yeah, although if you’re going to be in this for the long run it certainly makes sense to work these problems out earlier rather than later.


Adam: Absolutely.


Rich: So landing pages for sure, and test whether or not you should keep navigation or get rid of it, that’s a good A/B split test. And measurement, of course you’re going to be doing Google Adwords, you’re going to have Google Analytics set up, I certainly hope so. If I’m a furniture store I’m guessing that I will have ecommerce enabled on my Google Analytics so I can literally find out how much money I’m spending on ads and whether or not that ad is actually providing a positive ROI.


I feel that it might be trickier if you’re in a business like mine where it’s like I might do paid search on web design or something and I drive people to a landing page and they convert in terms of they say they’re interested in talking to us. But Google Analytics isn’t going to know how uhc business we get out of that or how long it takes or anything like that. What are some of the ways that we might measure beyond that so that we really can find out is our ad spend being well spent?


Adam: So this gets into a pretty advanced, multi touch attribution model where you might find that just getting somebody to subscribe on your blog actually isn’t as valuable as you think because it takes them so long to go through the funnel. Whereas when you  blast those people with an email 6 months later, that’s actually the thing that wakes them up out of the woodwork and gets them to raise their hand, jump on the phone, and become a client of yours.


The way I’ve done tracking, I don’t know how many of the audience members use Salesforce or big complex CRMs like this, but you have to be able to put every conversion into a campaign of sorts or tag it. That’s basically what a campaign means. But you have to be able to tag it and say, ok this conversion happened, and then you’re able to look at their customer journey and say what was the touch right before they became a customer. And with certain CRMs you’re able to zoom out and say what is the touch that’s driving the most people to raise their hand and causing them to become clients. That’s sort of how I would tackle it.


Rich: Ok. Now we’ve talked a lot about text ads, what are some of the things that we can do to enhance these ads, how do we go beyond just having two-line text ads with Google Adwords?


Adam: I always map text ads to a pain point or a question that they’re asking. I normally start by saying what is it that I want to learn as the marketer. Do I want to learn that people are interested in pricing or do I want to learn that people are interested in features? Or back to the dining room set, are they interested in the wood type, are they interested in the style, and I write an ad that satisfies each of those. And what I do is I put a Google Adwords label on each of those, so I’ll have an ad for every label on my account that says this is an ad for features, this is one for pricing, and this is an ad for wood type, or something like that. 


Then I put them all out there and I let them rotate evenly to start. And in the dimensions area in Google Adwords, at any point you can zoom out and look at all your ads in the campaign and say what types of text ads are doing the best. Are they the ones focused on pricing, are they the ones focused on features? And then you’re able to start to understand how people are searching.


Usually it’s normally pretty clear what people want, and once you start to learn these things then you can say, ok people aren’t interested in features they’re interested in pricing. And you can turn those ads off and keep the other ones going and then come up with a variation on the original pricing ones that explore another thing similar to pricing.


And then you fast forward 6 months down the line of doing this and there’s that much more equity built into your account and you’re sort of moving the process of your account along, and your account is smarter now 6 months later because you’re asking questions and you’re getting answers out of it and you’re baking them into your own ads.


Rich: So if you’re paying close attention to the ads you’re running and you’re doing some of these tactics that you’re discussing, like putting labels on so you start to see the driving forces behind people clicking through these ads and then perhaps converting, your account is getting better over time. So you might be getting better results after 6 months of doing this than you would right out of the gate.


Adam: Totally. I think that’s a common misconception, too, is that we’re just going to turn Adwords on and we’re going to kick back and watch the revenue come in. But really those first weeks and month or two is very much about data gathering and learning how your search market interacts with your ads. And the real magic happens in the 3-6 months following the launch where you’ve optimized. 


Rich: That is really interesting. Ok, so good to know. I’ll tell people to just chill out and give it at least 3 months before they’re really going to start to see things. Now a lot of people I’m sure are Davids going up against Goliaths. If we stick with this furniture store, maybe  we’re either going up against Amazon or Staples or Pottery Barn. What’s your play at that point?  These people can obviously outspend us so what can we do as maybe a local furniture store to be able to even appear in these paid searches because people are able to throw so much more money at the problem than we can?


Adam: Exactly. So just like David and Goliath he used his strength against him being slow and sort of immobile, that’s how he beat him and that’s how you have to beat them as well. But before I get into that your tracking has to be there, it just has to. Because you have to be able to say after…you know, you might only get one crack at this. If your CEO or whatever says you’ve got 6 months to show positive ROI, you’ve got x amount per month, go to town. So your tracking has to be there so you’ve got to definitively say  we spent $10,000 over 6 months and this is what we got for return. And then you decide whether you want to keep going and fighting Goliath.


But back to the question about David vs Goliath, so your local, smaller and agile, you’re crafty, those are the things you have to show. You might be a mom and pop, you might be able to have better customer service because of that, you have to show local as much as possible because that’s what’s going to beat them. They can’t say “best furniture store in Portland, Maine”, so use all those things against them. They will just blanket you with budget, but again, if you go back to trying to aim and win very small to start, that’s how you build this thing out.


You start very small and you do Uber local. So in your ads you’re mentioning where you are and local landmarks around you, use the sitelinks and the callouts, those are great ways to get more local flair into your ads that will get clicks and they also make your ad look bigger. Bigger ads get more clicks than smaller ads. Use the location, there’s an ad extension for Google My Business so you can put your location in there. Sometimes you see ads with a little GPS moniker on there that shows that they’re actually local, so set that up. Put your phone number in there, your phone number shows that you’re local, too. Just be as local as possible.


So that’s the ad, but then also do it on the landing page ads well where you’re sending them. Whether it’s showing a photo of the business owner there that might be a recognizable person around town or something about the city you live in in the headline. These are things that the big national brands won’t do as much. They might do it once you start to beat them, but  they’re probably not going to be doing it out of the gate so that’s how I would address it.


Rich: Alright so you mentioned site links, callouts, and ad extensions, can you just explain what those 3 things are?


Adam: Yeah. So they all actually fall under the category of ad extensions. There’s about 8 other ones we didn’t mention and what they are are little extra pieces of marketing you can add to your ads. The numbers here I firmly believe the bigger ads get more clicks and the clicks is what you want. So these are extra little things that show up on your ad that Google sort of decides for you.


So a sitelink is a another link that you can add to your ads. So if you’re selling tables your headline link goes to a table landing page, but you can also have one speak to a Portland furniture expert site link that goes to a page about contacting us. Or it can go to another way for them to convert like a thought leadership, like an ebook, like a white paper, like a cool infographic or something like that. So that’s what site links are, they’re alternate links.


So I like to obviously drive people to the main landing page I’m thinking about but I also like to give them another way to convert just in case they’re not ready to buy a table. They want to subscribe to the blog or do something a little bit less committal.


Callouts are fun, too, this is another ad extension that is really just like extra marketing. It’s another headline that’s not clickable but you can add a lot of local flair like, “we’ve been in business for 20+ years”. 


Rich: “Favorite furniture store of the Portland Seadogs…”


Adam: Exactly. “Rated #1, blah, blah..”. All that great stuff. And then you can add your phone number in as another ad extension.


Rich: Does it cost more to have those d extensions on, are we paying a surplus for that, or how does that all work?


Adam: No. You’re going to pay what you’re bidding, you don’t pay extra for that. 


Rich: Ok, so there’s really no reason not to have them here? Is there a limited number of extensions that you can have on a given ad like you can choose one or could you run multiple?


Adam: It depends on which ad extension you choose, but I know you can have up to 4 site links and 4 callouts. I believe you can only have one phone number. So there’s certain limitations but there’s no reason to not do them at all. 


Rich: Alright, that’s very cool. Adam this is been very helpful and very informative and I know that we’ve only just scratched the surface on this because I saw your presentation at Agents of Change. So for people who want to dig a little bit deeper, where can we find you online?


Adam: I would just go to my website, it’s spectacle.marketing, spectable.com is long since taken and they actually have “.marketing” websites now so I grabbed that. So check me out there and you can convert on one of the landing pages and we’ll be in touch.


Rich: Sounds great. Adam, thanks so much for your time today.


Adam: Thank you Rich, appreciate it.



Show Notes:

Head on over to Adam’s website to get insightful and helpful tips on diving into PPC for your business.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he just added “author” to his resume with his brand new book!