PPC Advertising: Art or Science?

Welcome to the first installment of what I hope will be the best way to help you learn how to create outrageously successful PPC advertising campaigns. How successful? My agency regularly achieves CTRs and conversion rate of between 5 and 6 percent — and double-digit rates for both are not uncommon, even for non-brand campaigns. ROIs of 200 percent are usually the minimum we shoot for — and we often get 1,000 percent and higher.

The good news: 90 percent of the techniques we use are based on science — well-documented and easily-learned best practices for constructing campaigns, interpreting data, and using those interpretations to improve results.

The other 10 percent of the techniques are more “artistic” — writing and designing ads and landing pages. But even for those aspects, best practices and guidelines have been studied and documented for years, and resources are readily available for learning them.

So stick with this series, and I’ll take you through the fundamentals of keyword research, account/campaign structure, ad writing and design, bidding strategy, landing page design, and conversion optimization. Even if you already consider yourself to be a fairly advanced marketer, you’re likely to pick up a few new tips, and possibly even experience a few head-slapping revelations.

This may be your first one: fundamentally, succeeding at PPC advertising depends mainly on one thing — your ability to persuade people to take action, based solely on a few well-chosen words. That’s a much more important success factor than understanding the intricacies of search algorithms or the inscrutable “features” of the Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter control consoles.

The ability to write persuasive ad copy using just 130 characters is a big challenge. Especially if you’re up against significant competition. Your words must not only persuade; they must stand out from a page full of words all shouting for your customer’s attention. And after your words have convinced the searcher to click through to your site, it’s persuasive words (augmented by graphics) that convince the visitor to become a customer.

But here’s some good news: smart marketers have been studying, testing, and refining copywriting techniques for a long time. So there are some excellent resources out there for learning the art and science of effective copywriting.

Even better news: a big chunk of what you need to know is truly scientific — based on tested and proven theories.

Playing the PPC game without first taking the time to learn the fundamentals of advertising copywriting is like sitting down at the poker table with scant understanding of the rules, and proceeding to drop dollars into the pot while better-trained players scoop that money out.

There are excellent resources available for quickly and painlessly learning the fundamentals. Of course, there’s no substitute for years of experience, but learning and practicing the fundamentals will improve your results the minute you start.

Before I get into the details of how PPC advertising differs from other forms of direct response marketing, I urge you to:

  1. Read a book on the art and science of advertising. One of the best is “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins. Written in 1898, before the Internet, television, or radio, it’s one of the first hands-on manuals to present fundamentals based on scientific testing. It includes (almost) everything you need to know about writing and testing ads. And as a privileged reader of this column, you can get a copy for free. I’ve created a PDF version of the public-domain book — download it by clicking here. You should be able to get through its 52 pages in about an hour, so there’s no excuse to avoid reading it — do it now!
  2. Read a good book on advertising copywriting. My favorite is “Net Words: Creating High-Impact Online Copy” by one of the leading Web copywriting gurus, Nick Usborne. The first few chapters, while interesting, are largely about history and theory; persevere until you get to the meat in the later chapters.

That should keep you busy for a week. Next Monday, I’ll dive in and give you specific steps for building great keyword lists. Want to see me cover something special in this series? Let me know.

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