Put your PPC on a Diet

We’re past the halfway point of January, which is usually around the time people begin getting frustrated with their New Year’s resolutions.

One of the most popular resolutions is to lose weight — even though this is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s even harder to maintain weight loss over the long term, as up to 95 percent of people who lose weight end up gaining it back.

One reason most people fail is because they make too many drastic changes all at once, so they don’t know what’s working and what’s not. Ten years ago, I lost 35 pounds. I’ve kept off all but 5 of the 35 pounds to this day. It took about six months to lose the weight, by making small changes and systematically evaluating each one.

The PPC Diet

  • Add keywords gradually, and in new ad groups when possible. Ideally, ad groups should consist of no more than 15-20 tightly-related keywords around a theme.
  • Test one thing at a time. If you just added new keywords to an existing ad group, don’t start an ad copy test at the same time. If you just turned off the search network, don’t start fiddling with your bids too much.
  • Test ad copy systematically. Always test against a control ad — don’t throw everything out and start anew.
  • If you’ve made major changes to your landing page(s), don’t change your PPC campaign too. In fact, you should test the new landing page against the existing page and pick the winner of the test, instead of changing your pages first.
  • Interpret test results from each PPC engine, and each channel (search vs. content) independently. They can and do act differently, and what works in one may flop in another. It’s OK to take one engine’s “winners” and try them in another engine, but don’t be surprised if they turn out to be “losers” in the new engine!

This approach works for optimizing PPC performance, too. But just like weight loss, PPC optimization needs to be tackled systematically.

Making several huge changes to your PPC account all at once isn’t the best way to sustain long-term account performance. Yet, advertisers frequently do just that.

If you’re looking for long-term, sustained PPC success, here’s what you need to do.

Set Multiple Goals

When I lost weight, I had an “ideal” goal weight in mind, which was where I wanted to be in an ideal world. But I also set a “can live with” goal that was much more modest. Developing a modest goal sets you up for success.

Do the same thing with your PPC goals. Sure, you may want to double your sales in six months; but a 10 percent increase might be more realistic. Figure out what you can live with, as well as what you’d be thrilled to see.

Make One Small Change at a Time

Every January, my local YMCA is packed with new members, many of whom probably have set a goal to lose weight. Even if they’ve never worked out before, they spend hours at the gym: in the weight room, on the cardio machines, and in the fitness classes.

By the end of February, 95 percent of them have given up. Why? Too many changes all at once! They’ve upended their daily routine and thrown it off kilter. It’s too much, and can’t be sustained. Worse, they’re not seeing results; or if they are, they don’t know what’s driving the results.

The same thing happens with PPC: advertisers add hundreds of new keywords, try a bunch of new ad copy, and open up accounts in PPC engines they haven’t used before — all at the same time. While these actions will double their PPC budget, it’s doubtful their sales will double.

Even if they double their sales, what would they attribute it to? Was it all those new keywords, or just some of them? Was it the new PPC engine? What about that new ad copy? Or was it all of these things working together?

The bigger question: have their sales doubled? If not, can they sustain the increase in PPC spend while they try to figure out what worked? Do they have the resources to manage the larger and more-complicated account and analyze all the tests? Often, the answer is no — and they end up giving up, saying “PPC doesn’t work.”

A series of systematic changes, combined with testing and measurement, leads to greater long-term account growth. A desire to increase sales quickly is understandable, especially in our economic climate, but wouldn’t you rather know what works instead of guessing?

Measure and Adjust

During the six months I was losing weight, I tried a lot of different things. Some worked, some didn’t. Some things I could maintain and some things I couldn’t (or decided I didn’t want to). Most weight loss experts recommend eliminating sweets (or eating only rarely). But to me, sweets are one of life’s greatest pleasures, and I found that I can eat one small dessert every day and still maintain my weight.

I wouldn’t know that for sure, though, if I kept tinkering with other aspects of my diet and exercise regimen. And I definitely wouldn’t know that if I didn’t weigh myself every day.

Notice a theme here? Just like with weight loss, systematic testing, measuring, and adjusting are necessary for PPC success. It’s critical to measure the results of the test (using A/B or multivariate testing, not a haphazard approach), and to ensure that the results are statistically significant.

It’s hard to lose weight and keep it off. It requires time and dedication, along with constant testing and tweaking. PPC optimization is no different. There’s no magic pill. So join the 5 percent who are seeing long-term results through small changes!

Related reading

Five things to do on a small digital marketing budget
The fall of ad copy, long live ad copy
The middle ground for single keyword ad groups (SKAGs)
Don't let unwanted automated ad extensions keep you up