PPC Hero Interview with Allie Edwards Williams of Zvents

What better way to learn about PPC than to hear about experiences from those “in the trenches?” At least that’s how we feel around here at PPC Hero. When my boss (of Hanapin Marketing) Pat East was at SMX Local last month, he found some outspoken PPCer’s and convinced them to give us interviews. The following is the result of one of those interviews, and it is full of great PPC and search marketing advice – straight from the trenches (or from Allie Edwards Williams, if you prefer)!

PAT: What’s your name, title, organization, what do they do, what do you do on a daily basis, and how did you get into Internet marketing?

NAME: Allie Edwards Williams

TITLE: Director of Marketing Services


WEBSITE: www.Zvents.com

ABOUT ZVENTS: Zvents is a local search and advertising network that features event listings to promote local businesses. We provide a co-branded local search platform to over 250 media channels, including MSN’s City Guides, Boston.com, DenverPost.com, and MTV’s Campus Daily Guides.

JOB DESCRIPTION: I’m responsible for increasing traffic to our partners’ sites. I manage our search marketing initiatives (both SEO and paid), share best practices with partners, and work with them to develop programs that will increase awareness for their sites. On a daily basis, I run paid search programs for several of our partners, so I’m monitoring their campaigns, optimizing bids and ad copy as needed. I also set up experiments for case studies, to establish best practices for the Zvents network.

ALLIE and INTERNET MARKETING: I sort of “fell into” Internet marketing – I spent five years doing traditional marketing for consumer packaged goods products and retail companies before joining Zvents. I was brought on to help Zvents with market research, to help define the competitive landscape and identify opportunities for product and partner development. After we launched Zvents.com (and before we had any paying partners), our CEO tasked me with figuring out how to get more traffic to the site…hence jumping in with both feet to figure out PPC and SEO.

PAT: It sounds like you were hired for one thing (market research) but then are now doing something completely different (search engine marketing).  Is that your full-time responsibility?  If so, how has SEM changed the way your company does business and why has SEM grown in importance?

ALLIE: Actually, the two areas – market research and SEM – are synergistic at Zvents.  As a search engine, we want to find the most relevant, useful information available for our partners and users. We use paid search, in part, to drive traffic, but also to understand the demand for events, promotions, and local merchants. Through PPC campaigns, we can test assumptions and quantify where there is demand for content (based on paid search clicks) and determine whether users are finding what they seek (based on analytic measures like page views consumed and time spent on site). SEM helps inform where we need to focus our energies on acquiring new content.

PAT: Let’s talk more about how SEM informs where you need to focus your energy.  What areas have you found — through SEM — that you needed to find more content for?  Are these areas that you would have otherwise found through other channels and SEM is just helping you find them sooner or is SEM the primary way to find the new content?  Also, would love some details about content you found that you needed to acquire/create and how adding it affected overall usage of the site.

ALLIE: SEM is not the primary way we find content, but it does help us identify opportunities faster. A couple of content examples come to mind: festivals and Canadian content.

Festival information is very popular, and this is something we thought likely due to the large number of attendees at most festivals. Running paid search against festival content in several DMAs confirmed it – we got a lot of clicks, but once users got to our site they weren’t viewing a lot of pages. We made an effort to add a lot of festival content, and page views per visit increased for all cities where we added content (and in some areas page views increased by as much as 3-4X!). We would have gotten around to adding more festivals eventually, but the paid search test proved that it was a priority and moved it up our Content team’s queue.

The same holds true for events and promotions in Canada – SEM indicated there is a tremendous demand from people looking for things to do in major Canadian cities, and so we’re working to acquire more content there too.

We’re seeing enormous demand for Zvents listings, not just by way of SEM we run against the content, but also through organic search – Google loves the nearly unique nature of a local business’s event listing in our index.  User Generated Content is one of our most significant sources of content, and merchants can list and optimize their business listing, business events, and promotions at no cost.  With demand, our SEM follows further promotion of local businesses and events.

PAT: That’s great the attendees are using your site to find the festivals and that you’re actually able to create content for them so they’ll stick around a bit longer and not just go to the festival site.  So…obviously attendees are finding you via search.  Are the festival organizers finding you via search too?

ALLIE: Yes! Overall, we’ve seen a large increase in user-generated content, including festival listings. On a daily basis, users add several thousands of new event and business listings. These listings are in addition to the content we gather from crawling/scraping and content feeds.

PAT: Let’s switch gears and talk about the last two shows you were at – ad:Tech and SES.  I know you were exhibiting at both, but I’m sure you attended some sessions and have some really good take-aways to share with our readers!  What are the top three things you learned from the shows that you can implement for Zvents?

ALLIE: Sure, here are a few takeaways from SES. I was exclusively on booth duty at ad:Tech.

1.    Big topic at SES was landing page optimization, and the need to make consistent testing part of your optimization process. Makes sense – the better your landing pages convert, the more you can bid, and the more you can bid, the more competitive your spend. There were several vendors offering multivariate testing, though I spoke with a few people who were finding Google’s Website Optimizer valuable. One book to check out is Landing Page Optimization by Tim Ash.

2.    Avinash Kausnik gave an update on new features within Google Analytics, and mentioned these two useful plug-ins:
–    Keyword Trends plug-in: shows which keywords had 20% higher/lower traffic over the past seven days. I’m using this tool to identify upcoming hot events for possible inclusion in paid search.
–    Report Toggle plug-in: allows you to view a report for one site, and then toggle to the same report for the same time period for a different site. This will save so much time! I’m still trying to track down where I can get this plug-in…sadly, Google doesn’t share their presentations on the SES site :^(

3.    Exploring Keyword Match Types – this topic was discussed in a couple sessions, with some good analysis on how targeting queries by match type works in theory, and in actuality. Matt Van Wagner of FindMeFaster.com gave a great presentation focused exclusively on negative matching. My specific takeaway is to monitor closely how negative broad match works on Google – it is probably more precise than you would prefer! For example, it might make sense for Zvents to include the word “concerts” in an ad group, but to negative match “–concert”, because the searcher’s intent is for a specific concert, while we may want to attract people who are looking for “concerts” in general, if they consume more pages. Or vice-versa, if we’re focused more on promoting ticket sales. This is something we’ll test and evaluate.