Many ecommerce merchants manage their own pay-per-click advertising campaigns. Others use in-house PPC managers, or outsource to PPC consulting firms.
Regardless of how pay-per-click advertising is managed, there are some aspects of it that need direct involvement from merchants — or their retail executives. This is to ensure campaigns maximize both revenue and profit. Here is a list of ten areas where merchants should be directly involved.
1. Communicate New Products, Outdated Products, and Promotions
Make sure you communicate new products, outdated products, and promotions to your PPC manager. Or ensure that a process is in place to facilitate this flow of information.
If you are running a “Cyber Monday” sale in November, for example, give your PPC manager enough notice to promote it effectively through PPC. Often the manager will adjust the copy of your ads, update your retargeting campaign promotions to reflect the special offer, and possibly increase your budget on the day of the promotion.
If your inventory changes often as new products are added, old products are removed, or prices on hot products change, communicate that, too. Nothing is more frustrating for a consumer when a great price is mentioned in an ad that is not reflected on the site, or when an ad promises that a certain item is in stock when it is actually out of stock. Aside from the customer gaining a negative impression of your company, you waste money on clicks that will not result in conversions.
Every week, review your product selection and ads to ensure that everything is current unless you have an automated process for doing this, or unless your inventory and promotions do not change frequently.
2. Monitor Campaigns that Are ‘Limited by Budget’
In addition to clearly communicating your budget to your PPC manager, make sure there is a process in place to review campaigns that are marked by Google as being “limited by budget.” If you have profitable campaigns that are being limited by budget, you could miss out on valuable opportunities. Often your PPC manager will bring these “limited by budget” opportunities to your attention when warranted. If not, this is feedback you should ask for.
Every month, review “limited by budget” campaigns opportunities to determine their profitability, and whether you should spend more on them.
3. Split-Test Your Ads, and Review the Results
Running A/B split tests on your ad copy can be a valuable strategy to improve your quality score, depending on your budget and the number of impressions your campaign generates each month. Your PPC manager should be running tests for you when warranted – but you should review the data regularly. The results from these tests may lead to valuable insights that influence the way you describe your company and promote your products.
For example, look at the two ads below:
Both ads advertise kitchen tables, but each has different messaging. The first offers 20 percent off, while the second ad highlights the breadth of inventory. Learn which message resonates more with your target customers, and use that to influence both your PPC campaigns and the messaging on your site. Compare metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, cost-per-conversion, and total return on ad spending.
Review this data quarterly — if your ads generate enough impressions to be statistically reliable.
4. Check for Major Changes in Key Metrics
Did your ad spending increase 30 percent over last month? Did your cost per conversion decrease by $40? Did you receive much fewer impressions or clicks?
It is imperative to understand significant changes in metrics from month to month, whether they are good or bad. If you are not receiving a monthly report that summarizes this data for you, we recommend you request it.
If your metrics are way off (either good or bad), keep in mind that many variables could be responsible for such significant changes. The testing of new campaign strategies, changes in your budget, changes in market conditions, or the addition of new competitors in your space may often explain significant changes in key metrics. If there are significant changes, do the research to find the cause. You can use this knowledge to try to continue positive sales trends, and to prevent issues from occurring again in the future.
We recommend monitoring these metrics monthly.
5. Review the Search Query Report
Many different and often unexpected queries can trigger your ads. For example, by bidding on the phrase match for the term “blue widgets,” you may notice, in your search query report, that someone typed “free blue widgets” and clicked your ad. Unless you are giving away free blue widgets, you don’t want your ad to show for this query. Thus, you should add “free” as a negative keyword. Some queries and their associated revenue and conversion numbers might surprise you. Terms you might not have deemed worthwhile may be performing well, and could need more funds. Your PPC manager will look at this report regularly. However, you should review it occasionally, as well, to identify what the actual search queries are.
6. Update Your PPC Strategy
Read articles and blogs — like this one — frequently to find new strategies and ideas that can help you keep your PPC campaign fresh and effective. An idea can be something as simple as testing a new keyword that you’ve found by looking in your search query reports, or as detailed as creating a remarketing campaign. Some other ideas for expansion include adding site links, creating a Google shopping feed and linking it to your AdWords account, experimenting with the Google display network, and even mobile options. Depending on your traffic and budget, some ideas will make more sense than others. But you should always look to improve your campaign.
7. Monitor Market Trends
Check market conditions that may affect your PPC account performance. As merchants, you are likely looking for the next successful product. It’s equally important to consider search-related trends when you’re planning for new products and categories. We suggest using tools like Google Trends, or even your own analytics, to identify new search terms — and changes in the search volume — that could affect your PPC campaigns. This will help you better manage your PPC efforts, and implement the most relevant current keywords. It even provides insight about new, potential product lines.
Here is an example of a Google Trends report for a particular keyword. Notice that demand surges for this keyword during the fourth quarter, and then remains constant the rest of the year.
8. Give New Campaigns Time
Don’t set up a new campaign and then pause it a week later due to a lack of immediate results. We suggest that you give new campaigns up to three months to perform. During this time, you can collect data, refine the campaign, and optimize it. Oftentimes, it takes up to six weeks for a campaign to start producing consistent conversions. Over time, as ads achieve a better click-through rate, and an improved quality score, performance can improve significantly.
Look at your return-on-ad-spend numbers for a given campaign over three months, so that you aren’t influenced by a specific day or week where performance was exceptionally strong or weak. After three months — if you’ve tested ad copy, refined keywords, used negative keywords, and reviewed search query reports — and your campaign is still not performing, consider reinvesting your advertising dollars into another campaign.
9. Compare Prior-Year Numbers, Not Just Monthly Trends
Look at year-over-year numbers at least once per quarter. Look for campaigns that have improved over the prior year and apply that knowledge to other campaigns. Look also into seasonal trends to determine the best time to launch season-specific campaigns. Also, try to find campaigns that have significantly weaker performance this year versus last, and make adjustments to improve.
10. Coordinate Your PPC and SEO Efforts
Pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimization should work together. PPC data, for example, can provide valuable insight for SEO — not to mention conversion testing and email marketing. Do you have a term that is performing well for natural search, but only breaking even for PPC advertising? Consider sticking with natural search and reinvest PPC dollars to more long tail terms. Have you found a term that’s very effective in natural search? Use PPC advertising to make sure you’re “present” with that term, while you continue to improve your organic results for it. Look at ways your PPC and SEO efforts can complement each other.
Pay-per-click advertising is becoming an increasingly strategic way for online retailers to both grow and diversify revenue. It is not imperative that owners and senior executives question every decision related to their PPC accounts. But even a little involvement by them can go a long way towards improving the profitability of their PPC campaigns.