Over the last year, I’ve spent about 3 hours per day reading about online marketing, and paid search in particular. It’s worked out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 780 hours of staying up to date on the latest case studies, tips, detailed how-to guides, and original research – we’re talking thousands of articles here!
On the off chance you haven’t been keeping up to this extent every day, I wanted to share my picks for the best, most informative, absolute must-read PPC articles of 2013.
Some I had bookmarked, others were filed away in my mind, and others still were contributed by industry peeps including Robert Brady , Melissa Mackey , Danny Goodwin , Sam Owen  at PPC Hero, Michelle Morehouse  at Clix, and AJ Kohn  – thank you all! (See more awesome contributions in this Twitter thread .)
The top PPC posts this year weren’t rants, or interesting factoids lacking actionable takeaways. We saw a lot of impactful news, but the top posts went beyond news coverage and offered additional insight marketers can actually use to evaluate this year’s performance and really kill it in 2014.
Drum roll please…
Best PPC Case Studies
Unfortunately, we really didn’t see a lot of case studies in 2013. That was surprising, given how most SEM/PPC work is very analytical; I had expected to see more articles based on real-world data (as opposed to generic platitudes and speculation). However, these case studies stood out:
Sam Owen put together an excellent bit of analysis at PPC Hero when he asked, Do People Actually Click Sitelinks?  Well, do they? Yes and no – see his post for details!
Melissa Mackey shared a client case study at Search Engine Watch  to illustrate the true value of PPC visits on sales.
Though she took some flak for leaving cost out of the equation, kudos to her for putting together a comprehensive, in-depth case study and sharing it with takeaways for others.
Marty Weintraub of AimClear wrote that content marketing can and should always be amplified using both paid and organic social content distribution , no matter how strong the non-paid distribution, he argues that content is wasted compared to the exposure it could receive for relatively small money.
We also love sharing case studies based on the masses of data we have at our disposal. Two that went over really well were:
- Data and insight from 18 months of remarketing to achieve specific goals in Remarketing: How to Make Your Content Marketing and SEO up to 7x More Awesome , at Moz.
- An in-depth look into Quality Scores, using a small insurance business account for analysis, in Case Study: The Anatomy of a Killer Quality Score , here on the WordStream blog.
And the moral of the story, PPC pros and bloggers, is that we need more case studies! Enough with the “do it this way because I said so” posts. As Google continues to strip away data, it’s more important than ever to share solid, factual advice based on real research.
Detailed PPC How-To Guides
I love a detailed how-to guide. Done right, they’re incredibly helpful and a great way to share your knowledge with the community. Here are a few excellent how-to resources your PPC colleagues shared in 2013.
Eric Couch from Hanapin Marketing wrote a fantastic guide to AdWords scripts you can use for account analysis , on the PPC Hero blog.
Also at PPC Hero, Amanda West-Bookwalk shared The Total Guide to Product Listing Ads series, beginning with Step 1: Setting Up Your Data Feed .
Big Click Co.’s Lisa Raehsler did an amazing job explaining RLSA in her resource, Google AdWords Remarketing Lists for Search Ads: The Ultimate Guide . She went far beyond explaining how to set them up to include best practices, creative ways to use them, and campaign ideas. Packed with tips and insight, it really earned the phrase “ultimate guide.”
In the spring, Google began rolling out a massive overhaul of the AdWords Keyword Planner, with features and changes that would definitely change the workflow for marketers using it. My guide on the new planner  went on to become the top column on Search Engine Land in 2013! Find additional analysis  on Search Engine Watch, as well.
Of course, not all excellent resources come in the form of blog posts. Matt Umbro , founder of #PPCChat  on Twitter, has done wonders for the paid search community by organizing and inspiring marketers to share their best tips and tricks every week. If you haven’t followed this hashtag, you’re missing out! And David Szetela  deserves credit for curating countless PPC articles over the last year - follow him on Twitter if you aren't already doing so!
Original PPC Research
Again, pretty shocking to say but there wasn’t a ton of original PPC research being done out there this year – possibly because it takes forever to do and requires access to a ton of data! Here are a few that stood out, including some from Bing, Adobe, and WordStream:
Kohki Yamaguchi , from Adobe’s digital marketing team, wrote a timely and detailed post on his PLA research. He tracked impression results across more than 180 product categories for 6 weeks, then combined his findings with bid and CTR data for further insight into how PLAs behave. See his 4 Must-Know Facts on Product Listing Ad Mechanics  at Search Engine Land for more.
Bing Ads Evangelist John Gagnon shares quite a bit of original research throughout the year, including Bing’s series of reports on consumer interest in various keywords in ad titles and copy , across a number of verticals. A real standout from John this year after Google’s move to “not provided” keyword info, when he shared comScore data on the audience exclusive to Bing (see below).
Here at WordStream, we're always planning our next research project , and one that went over really well this year was a comparison between the ad offerings of the two social advertising giants, Twitter and Facebook. We compared the two as far as network reach, ad performance, mobile ad performance and ad formats. Who came out on top? Check it out .
Hottest PPC Topics in 2013
Every year, there are a few stories that seem to dominate industry news. This year, Enhanced Campaigns was definitely “that guy”; it was a story when it was announced, and it remained a hot topic for the rest of the year. Not to be outdone though, Quality Score stole a bit of the limelight, as well.
I wouldn’t be surprised if half the PPC articles in 2013 were about Enhanced Campaigns, which was announced in February on the Google Blog .
I also believe that about 99% of the posts published were from SEMs upset about the changes, i.e., “Why No Tablet Targeting!” [Shakes Fist at Google]. There are literally too many to list out here, but Marty Weintraub  from AimClear does a great job at rounding up around 100 of them in his article Enhanced Campaigns? Love Em or Loathe Em, Kiss Your Sweet $$ Goodbye. 
I took the news much differently than many; the old system of campaign cloning was one I found unnecessarily complicated and such a hassle to work with. In fact, it was so clunky that very few people were actually using those features. I found the new system a lot more intuitive and realized early on that it could even lead to better performance, as I argued at Search Engine Land  in February.
More recently, we did some research and found that ECs weren’t nearly as bad  as people initially thought.
And just in October, George Michie  from RKG confirmed that companies using Enhanced Campaigns and mobile modifiers were definitely benefiting from it. In his column at Search Engine Land , Michie set out to break down a common problem with ECs: modifiers have to be applied on top of one another in a stack, which isn’t optimal if the effects you’re targeting are not completely independent of one another.
I might have stirred the pot earlier this year by publishing some new research and analysis  showing that Quality Score is worth 200% more than it was 2 years ago. The basic premise was that as average Quality Scores have drifted lower over the last 4 years, the value of an above-average quality score (in terms of reduced CPCs and higher ad positioning) has become worth more.
Michelle Morehouse at Clix Marketing did a great job summarizing the various viewpoints and offering advice in her post, AdWords Quality Score: Hype, Changes and Tracking Tools .
On the “No” side , we had a few posts…all written by Susan Waldes  at 3Q Digital. The first  warns of “fuzzy math” and begins, “Although Google says that QS is evaluated in real time, they don’t say that the UI-displayed QS is evaluated in real time, nor do they give the frequency with which the visible one is updated.” In July, she reiterated her position  as “an established QS naysayer,” after Google announced a change in the way QS was reported. (Also, be sure to check out Kohki Yamaguchi's excellent analysis of the change .)
Fuzzy math aside, additional data we published later in July  does indeed demonstrate the impact of QS on cost per conversion. More information on how it’s calculated became available at Search Engine Land  in August.
So are Quality Scores worth more now than they were previously? You be the judge.
Miscellaneous PPC Tips & Tricks
These helpful tips and tricks got votes from our folks in the PPC community:
- Call to Action Cheat Sheet for Writing Effective PPC Ad Copy - LunaMetrics 
- How to Apply the AIDA Marketing Principles in PPC – Clix Marketing 
- When is 2% Not a Good CTR? The Relationship of CTR & Ad Position - WordStream 
- 8 Killer Landing Page Optimization Tips for PPC –Beyond the Paid 
- 5 Insanely Great AdWords Automation Tricks – Andrew Goodman from Page Zero Media on ClickZ 
- AdWords Account Audit Checklist – WordStream 
- PPC in 10 Minutes Per Day – Melissa Mackey from Gyro on Search Engine Watch 
What Did I Miss?
It’s inevitable that we might have missed a few really great resources, so let us know: what were your favorite PPC/SEM/AdWords articles of 2013 and why? Share yours in the comments!
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