Although there are many acronyms in digital marketing that describe it, paid search is fundamentally about one thing: paying for traffic on a per-click basis. Whether that’s on a search engine (Google or Bing), a social media platform like Facebook or Pinterest, or any other website on the Internet, the idea behind PPC is that you’re paying for qualified traffic. In most cases, These platforms like to bid on keywords that describe your services, or give an indication of wearing user is in the purchasing funnel. For instance, someone who is searching for “how much do PCs cost?” Isn’t a match different position in the purchasing funnel than someone who’s searching for “buy macbook pro online”. SEM Rush put out one of my favorite articles on keyword research – succinct, applicable to both PPC & SEO, and still relevant for today.
The difference between paper click advertising an organic advertising is very simple: paid acquisition allows you to get to the top of the results immediately, While organic optimization can take a lot of time. In other words, PPC can be a Band-Aid for many companies that are able to get traffic through user engagement where the content of their website, but need traffic and customers today. The same comparison can be made between AdWords and SEO, between social media management on Facebook and Facebook ads, or a paid placement in online publication versus being approached by an online publication to be included as a reference in a new story.
For many users, the distinction between paid and organic is not clear, and that line is becoming more and more blurry as time goes on. The concept of native advertising is an embodiment of that distinction. The whole point of native advertising is to add the content to a website in such a way that it looks natural.
These platforms perform similar functions, but show ads to users in different areas of the web – Google publishes them on top of & on the side of its results, while Overture shows ads on engines like Altavista and MSN, and Espotting shows on Yahoo.it. Today, Overture & Espotting are pretty much gone, replaced by Google, Bing ads, & Yahoo Gemini.
Although the ecosystem is fragmented, that’s not where the complexities end. All of their backend management systems & advertising platforms are different, each requiring a separate set of in-depth knowledge to accomplish similar tasks. Changing bids, creating new campaigns, adding new keywords – they’re all done on separate platforms and in a different order. It’s complicated, and the majority of advertisers who spend more than a few thousand dollars a month are obliged to hire an expert, either in-house or at a digital marketing agency.
These agencies perform similar functions, but their specialties are quite different. For instance, some agencies focus more on social media management, while others focus on search engine optimization and AdWords.
As agencies develop specialties on a particular advertising channel or with a particular industry, their skills increase and their efficacy improves. In other words, it’s just not possible to foresee issues with a “personal injury attorney” AdWords campaign until you’ve ran a lot of campaigns for lawyers, for example. Cost per click averages, how to increase conversion rate, how to set up reporting, determining the ad copy that’s most effective for this audience, etc. – it’s impossible to see until you’re in the middle of it. For this reason, many agencies will pick a particular industry or aspect of an industry to specialize in, like law, B2B, eCommerce, lead gen for HVAC companies, etc. The possibilities for specialization are nearly endless in the world of digital marketing.
In House vs Agency
When companies reach a certain size (depends on the industry), they come to a fork in the road: hire a marketing manager in-house, or use an agency. Giving the PPC campaigns the TLC that they nee to thrive is nearly impossible in most cases – a single person can’t manage digital marketing, offline, marketing, update the website, create new ad collateral, develop landing pages, and come up with strategy themselves. Well… they can do it, but not very well.
Ideally, companies should have a specialist for each digital marketing channel, since the platforms are constantly changing. Taking benefits, paid time off, and additional employer mandated benefits into account, hiring a marketing agency to manage your ads is often the best choice for SMB’s. A quick rundown of the channels that are most important for businesses today:
- Search engine marketing: Search Engine Optimization & Paid Search
- Content marketing
- Email marketing
- Display marketing
- Influencer marketing & outreach
Campaign Management – What’s Important
To see a solid ROI, active campaign management is an absolute must. Although it may seem like a lot of these platforms should be “plug-n-play” – set them up, do some spot checks, and let it run. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Every aspect of the campaign, from keywords to ad copy to landing pages, needs to be tested, tweaked, and fine tuned to get the best results. To improve performance year after year, these elements need to be changed & tested all over again. It’s a full time job – literally. That’s why an agency is a good move for many SMBs – the return on investment is solid.
When it comes to paid search, Quality Score is King. The quality score is Google’s way of measuring the relevance between the keywords, the ad, and the landing page. Generally speaking, the biggest determinant of Quality Score is click-thru-rate (CTR), or clicks divided by impressions. This is a great way to measure the effectiveness of the ad and whether or not the ad is engaging the target audience. As Quality Score improves, Google rewards advertisers by improving your ad position and reducing your cost-per-click (CPC). For that reason, every advertiser should work to improve quality score as much as possible. A good agency will set up A/B tests to test ad copy and improve CTR, change the calls to action on the landing pages, and add negative keywords to improve CTR & conversion rate (CVR) as much as possible.
If you’re looking for a digital marketing agency, make sure to ask them about these strategies, and how they implement them for their clients.