This is the eighth in a series of interviews we're conducting with AdWords advertisers who got unusually high scores using our AdWords Performance Grader . We're reaching out to high scorers to find out what strategies contribute to their strong AdWords performance. For more in this series, see:
- AdWords Experts Share the Secrets of Their PPC Success, Part 1 
- AdWords Experts Share the Secrets of Their PPC Success, Part 2 
- AdWords Experts Share the Secrets of Their PPC Success, Part 3 
- AdWords Experts Share the Secrets of Their PPC Success, Part 4 
- AdWords Experts Share the Secrets of Their PPC Success, Part 5 
- AdWords Experts Share the Secrets of Their PPC Success, Part 6 
- AdWords Experts Share the Secrets of Their PPC Success, Part 7 
Tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been using AdWords? Are you an Agency or an Advertiser? What is your primary goal for AdWords marketing?
At Quarry, I’m responsible for both digital and traditional media strategy, including PPC advertising. I’ve been using AdWords since 2005. A lot has changed since then, and the tools available have become better and more numerous. Because I work at an agency, our goals change depending on the client and campaign – and defining those goals and what success looks like in each situation is key to producing meaningful results. Two of the goals we work with most often are to increase website traffic, and to generate leads.
There are tons of metrics in AdWords – What are your top 3 key performance metrics in AdWords and why?
My top three:
- CTR – CTR has to be number one. It means that our keywords and ads are relevant and users want to find more from us. In every campaign there will be variance in CTRs between keywords - a great CTR for one keyword may be a poor CTR for another, but both are valuable – so we need to be paying attention to CTR over time, with benchmarks, to focus on improving it. Paying attention to CTR also means that we know when optimizations just aren’t making a meaningful improvement in relation to our goals – it happens – so we can disable those underperforming terms (and/or ads) and focus on what’s working.
- Conversion Rate – If we’re measuring conversions, this is an obvious one (although not all of our client campaigns have conversion tracking goals). Conversion rate demonstrates how each ad and keyword performs against a defined, measurable goal – and we really find out which keyword terms and ads drive users to take a desired action. I’ve found that a high CTR doesn’t always mean that those visitors convert well, so having conversion tracking set up helps us to understand at a deeper level what’s working best. If we’re hoping for visitors to sign-up, to buy something, to request information, it’s definitely beneficial to create ads that explicitly encourage that action (and also adhere to best practices for ad copy).
- Quality Score – There is a lot of emphasis placed on quality score in the industry. It’s because QS is one of those very important metrics that is less visible within a campaign, and more elusive than other metrics, but very important. A great quality score means that Google (and users) have deemed our keywords and campaign highly relevant. When we have good quality scores, I can be confident that we are bidding on the right keywords, our ad copy is meaningful to the search query and our campaign has been structured well. In turn, my clients get better ad positions and pay lower CPCs.
Can you describe your AdWords management strategy? How do you set your campaign objectives, and how do you know what’s realistic or not?
We have conversations with the client to understand what they’re hoping to achieve through a PPC campaign. Often we’ll recommend a key objective or two based on the keyword research, allocated budget and our knowledge of their business. And we also have clients who come to us with predetermined objectives, so it’s our job to ask the right questions, make sure the goal is reasonable, and build a campaign around it.
The approach tends to be different for each client, but I ask the same set of questions and follow a similar process in determining what to recommend in each situation. Budget is a big factor in determining what we can realistically hope to achieve – share of voice is important – sometimes we need to recommend a narrower keyword focus or fewer targeted regions in order to be successful. Once we’ve determined the basics (budget, region, audience), a key step is to figure out which networks and devices we’ll target. If our client doesn’t have a mobile-enabled site, there’s no point in targeting mobile devices. If we decide to include the display network, I need to do separate keyword and placement research and consider different campaign structure than if we’re running a search network only campaign.
In addition to keyword research, I try to find out what competitors are doing, what differentiates our client from them, and who our audience really is. I need to break through any preconceived notions of who the audience is and what matters to them – for example, just because we use a specific term to refer to the product, does our audience? Those sorts of questions should come up during the research phase.
Campaign structure is obviously important, and it’s something I keep in mind early – your keywords (and networks, if you’re using both) need to drive that structure. It’s a lot harder to retrofit structure into a campaign at the last minute during set up in AdWords.
It’s also essential to keep in mind that PPC is always a work-in-progress. There are times that we’ve had a campaign running, and realized that users just aren’t willing to convert post-click despite optimizations that should have helped, then it’s figuring out what else we need to do and if there are alternatives – in one case we’d asked for users to buy an expensive product online, although we knew almost all sales were occurring offline, so we re-grouped and came up with a different conversion point (a coupon) and saw success quickly.
Describe your AdWords management workflow. When you’re doing your account optimization work, how do you decide what to do next in your account? How do you prioritize your work?
At Quarry, we work with clients who have highly engineered products and services  – they have long purchase cycles and are in niche industries. Because of this, our campaigns often have many keywords with low search volumes and it takes longer to get enough data to meaningfully evaluate our results.
The first thing I do when working on campaign optimization is take a look to see if there are any notable changes that I need to pay attention to – CTR, conversion rate, CPC, ad position. And if so, review what optimizations I most recently made that caused the change, and see if I can I mirror it elsewhere in the campaign. I try to compare several different date ranges (including the same time period last year, if available) to make sure it’s not just a potential seasonal change.
I review the ‘search terms’ report often and add negative keywords based on that report. It’s one of the quickest ways to improve campaign relevancy.
My workflow does change depending on which client campaign I’m working on. It’s easy to be distracted by the available data and the possibilities in AdWords, so I try to focus on smaller methodical changes. I don’t change everything at once. For instance, I may choose to focus on changes to ad text and ad testing one week and see how that impacts our results before making changes to CPCs the next.
Any advice or tips for AdWords marketers that didn’t score as well as you?
- Use negative keywords, nothing improves campaign relevancy faster and with as little work as reviewing the actual search terms report and adding negatives to your campaign.
- Structure your campaign well. You should have as many ad groups as necessary for each to be filled with very similar terms from your keyword list. I shoot for each keyword within an ad group sharing at least two of the same words. And there’s no such thing as an unnecessary ad grouping – I have ad groups with as few as two keywords in them. And ad groups must have unique ads that are highly relevant to the keywords in that group.
- Explore everything that AdWords has to offer, there are a wealth of tools and information available for you to use in optimizing your campaign. For instance, the Search Funnels  report can be really valuable to better understand the path leading to conversion (beyond last click conversion).
What did you think about the categories we included in the AdWords Grader – were they fair? Anything missing?
I was really impressed with everything that the AdWords Grader took into account in evaluating campaign performance. I expected something that brushed the surface of our account setup and performance – but instead I got a really comprehensive report that took into account a lot of factors that are important to a campaign’s performance but don’t get a lot of press. In particular, including account activity, long-tail keywords and impression share made me feel that the “grade” was meaningful beyond the standard metrics (QS, CTR and ad optimization) that I’d anticipated would be included.
The diagnostics were really in-depth, and I’ve actually used them as a benchmark for my optimization efforts. Although I scored highly, there were still lots of areas for improvement, and the report gave me insight on areas that I needed to focus on. I’m not sure that there’s anything missing – with the inclusion of the best practices it seems like you guys thought of everything!