Starting out in paid search is like sitting at the bottom of a mountain as an avalanche roars towards you. An avalanche of jargon, data, algorithms, constant change, and a continuous stream of articles and blog posts. Here are my top tips for anybody starting out in this discipline.
Learn the Jargon...
Search marketing is littered with acronyms and jargon -- PPC, ROAS, GAP -- learning it is inevitable. Glossaries like the IAB's and Search Engine Watch's are a good starting point. Google is another helpful resource. Simply type "define:" followed by the word/acronym into Google to find definitions from multiple sources -- for example [define:ROI”.
...and Know When to Forget it
It's easy to get caught up in the world of search and forget that 99 percent of the population doesn't understand it. So when you're talking to clients, suppliers (who are often sale people first and foremost) or friends and relatives, drop the jargon!
Come up with a way of explaining things that relates to the real world and something the audience already understands -- a classic one is comparing a search engine to a librarian, for example.
Always Ask 'Why?'
Analysis is a core skill of search marketing. Once you have campaigns live, your next question should always be "What's happening?" It's easy at this point to get caught up in the job of collating raw data, processing it, and determining what happened.
"Why?" is the most important question; it's the one your boss and client will ask. Everything else is just background noise to them -- because once you understand what's happening, knowing why empowers you to change things for the better.
You're an Analyst
Search is all about data. A lot of that data is numbers. With the volume search campaigns and website analytics can gather, you'll find that, as you progress, you'll want to interpret this data for trends beyond the obvious.
So you need to develop the skills of a data analyst -- with some awareness of basic statistics. Not what you signed up for? Trust me, you'll excel if you swallow the pill and learn these skills. After all, data scientists are sexy.
You're a Marketer, Too
Search has moved mainstream in the digital world -- and most brands want to integrate search with their wider digital and overall marketing activities. So you need to understand the language and concepts used in meetings with other marketing disciplines.
Find out what blogs and magazines offline marketers read where you are, and consider studying an introduction to marketing concepts. Even better, buddy up with colleagues and friends in other marketing disciplines. They'll want to learn from you, too.
Excel is to search what a cockpit is to a pilot -- you'll live in this software for a good part of the start of your career, crunching data. So learn it and learn it well -- not just the basics, but formulas, pivot tables, conditional formatting, and all the tracks that mean you can automate your job, get more done, and get promoted.
Some find it dull, some enjoy the challenge of fixing issues. Either way, you need to learn tracking. Not just how to set it up on any one tool -- learn the basics around cookies, browser sessions, IPs, etc., that underpin any system; and seriously consider studying the Google Analytics exam alongside the Google AdWords Certification program.
Test and Optimize
These words will take over your life. Testing campaigns to optimize them is a basic of search. It never stops.
So learn about the testing methodologies (A/B split testing, multivariate, etc.) and subscribe to blogs on this subject, landing page improvements, and conversion optimization. Google's free tool is a good starting point.
Never Stop Learning
Search never stops changing, and you need to never stop learning. There are hundreds of search-oriented sites out there, but I'd recommend this tried and trusted few to start keeping up to date with the industry:
Official Google Blogs
- Search Engine Watch
- Search Engine Land
- Search Engine Roundtable
- Bing Search Blog
- John Battelle
One Last Tip
Learn to switch off. In a digital, connected world, working in one of the most fast moving industries in the world, it's easy to be always on, always connected, always available. Take it from somebody who has been in the industry for 10 years -- don't be.
Make time to be unavailable, switch off your e-mail, and relax. Work less, relax more -- and you'll achieve more when you do work. Happy minds are productive ones.
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