Rhys Williams, Partner at Agenda21 Media, talks to Nick James about effectively managing pay per click campaigns

NJ: What changes have you seen over the last five years or so?

RW: Search has developed very quickly in this time and the search engines have become far more sophisticated, offering far greater control over where, when and how your activity runs. Lots of advertisers that started off with maybe a few hundred keywords – that has rapidly turned into a few thousand keywords. These advertisers have probably been using Excel and some basic bid management tools. Some of those bid management tools evolved from just trying to collate the different data from the different engines and were no more sophisticated than that. Using basic tools to try and manage thousands of keywords optimally, given the greater control now offered by the engines can rapidly lead to information overload.

Another key point is that no tool or system, can take away the need for a highly skilled search marketer, working on getting the right structure in place for the account, keeping this updated and ensuring “non logic optimisation”. So many external factors influence search that no system can take them all into consideration influences such as PR, sales promotion or short term change in business objectives, means that sometimes we need to apply a non logical optimisation to paid search.

NJ: Do you think that this information overload is why people are turning to paid search?

RW: There is this thing at the moment where everybody thinks they should running paid search activity but are not always doing so for the right reasons. You need to be very clear on what are you actually trying to achieve, what are your goals — whether it’s a cost per acquisition, whether it’s a return on an ad spend. What are you trying to do?

Its also important to understand how much you can afford to pay to acquire business though search. If you can afford to pay twelve pounds cost per acquisition but you are trying to get it a bit cheaper at say eleven pounds then that could make a big difference to your bid price. A few pence more on your bid price because you can afford to pay for it, moves you into maybe the top three positions.

Get into the top three positions and all of a sudden, you’re going onto Google’s search content network and you’re not just on Google itself so that can open a whole new volume for you. So some of the things you need to think about carefully.

NJ: So what would you suggest as the best way to advertise?

RW: Paid search isn’t always necessarily the cheapest or most cost effective way to reach your audience or to make the sale. It’s worth taking some time to sort of take the different channels and to lay out a performance hierarchy; it really just sets out what the different conversion levels, what kind of click-through rates to expect, what type of return we would then expect to see from each channel and it puts it all onto a single sheet. What we can then start to do is say is actually paid search is effective up to maybe 30-40p cost per click and after that, we’re better taking that money and investing it maybe into mobile, maybe into email, whatever it happens to be. It’s worth taking the time to do this before you go charging into spending money with the engines.

NJ: Is creative still relevant with paid search?

RW: People do read the creative and do take it in, and testing different types of copy is really important. That tends to get left and I see it loads and loads of times, where you’ll go into quite big advertisers and I’ll say ‘Who does your copy?’ And they’ll say ‘Well umm… I kind of do it’ ‘Where do you get it from?’ ‘I took it off the website.’ People actually tend to pay kind of scant regard to paid search copy.

Here’s a tip: Make sure that you’re using the language of your users. We had it with Egg, some of the specialist investment products that we had for Egg; there’s a language that goes with that. Make sure that you buying those keywords but also make sure that your copy reflects the kind of language that you think your consumers will use. That’s really important.

NJ: What advice would you give to someone optimising their search account structure?

RW: Thinking of your search account as a portfolio is, I think, a quite neat way to think about it and making sure that you have a nice, diverse portfolio. What we tend to see is that when you optimise all your activity you tend to optimise to the best performing keyword and it’s normally the last keyword that generates the sale. However the last keyword was part of a chain that probably started with something generic and then ended with a very specific keyword as the consumer moved though the purchasing cycle. So everybody ends up optimising all their activity to this set of keywords that they think generate the sale and they tend to ignore some of the keywords that actually assisted in making that sale. But again, you need to think about type of keywords and you need to think about actually don’t get rid of them, have them as part of your portfolio.

NJ: How important is cost per click?

RW: Search is direct response and some of things that you’ve learnt from direct response press, or direct TV – can be applied in the channel. Cost per click actually isn’t important and people attach a huge amount of a value to the cost per click (‘What’s my cost per click?’) and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is your cost per acquisition, return on advertising spend and whether you’re meeting your targets.

Making sure that cost bracket is actually delivering the right ROAS. I’ve seen that a lot as well where people will kind of go off and run on a cost per acquisition, they’ll spend a lot of money and then realise actually it doesn’t deliver the return that they need it to in the first place.

NJ: You mentioned testing before, can you offer any tips?

RW: You do need to make sure that you’re testing stuff out, whether it’s new keywords, whether it’s different bid levels. Test them out. You can do it quite quickly and you can kind of learn in relatively short time periods. But don’t over-optimise; make sure you’ve got enough data to actually make it a valid test. Again it’s something that I see quite a lot where someone will test it out, they’ll let it run for a few hours, they’ll let it run for a day and they’ve made a decision. And you kind of think ‘hold on, you need to look at that over a week — maybe over a month’.

Think about the actual conversion time window for the product that you’re selling. Good example could be whether I’m selling a mortgage; I’m going to say people aren’t going to click on your keyword and convert in a single session. Different maybe if you’re selling a mobile phone. Again, you need to think about that.

NJ: What issues have you encountered in the search marketplace?

RW: People tend to forget it’s an auction. You are bidding against your competitors. You need to make sure that you take account of that competitive landscape. A lot of the markets that people tend to operate in
now are saturated so there’s not a lot more growth in terms of search volume coming into the market. But it’s still fluid; you’ll still get advertisers that will stop advertising and you’ll still get advertisers that will come in and look to dominate the market. You need to make sure you react to that.

Again, having the flexibility to react to those market conditions; this data’s important. You should be looking at some of the data that the engines have whether it’s impression share or lost impression share. Those give you a feeling for how you’re actually doing against the competition.

NJ: Can you summarise how people should approach paid search?

RW: Paid search is all about building and growing and learning from what you’re doing and adding to it, whether that’s expanding your keyword list, looking at promoting different product areas. It’s almost about small steps to keep making sure you’re moving forward.

Again I think it’s incredibly important that people are thinking about the type of search results that are delivered. I am sure that image search will be huge and anyone that has bought or sold anything on ebay will tell you that ads with images always solicit a better response. Using video in search will also start to grow but will need to be served against the appropriate keyword. It maybe that video is more suitable for brand or generic keywords. If you are allocating value correctly and thinking of your keywords as a “portfolio” then these new formats will have a role to play for in your search activity moving forward.

Click here to watch a video of Rhys Williams.

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