Avoid PPC Maintenance Mode... And Mediocrity
November 26, 2011
We all hit a point in PPC management where we ask ourselves, what’s next? Your campaign structure is sound, you’ve got some reliable ad copy, your campaign settings are just right, you’ve tested and retested your ad positions to find their sweet spot, and then, out of nowhere, you suddenly start thinking about how you’re going to be spending your time. What’s the next step? I can tell you that there is always a next step and that being committed to finding it is going to keep your campaigns moving in the right direction.
People often talk about diminishing returns or putting an account in maintenance mode. I think there is some validity to both of those statements in the short term but in the long run, you’re going to find yourself behind your competitors and looking at what you need to do to catch up. And let’s be honest, we’re talking about Internet technology so “long run” could be a few hours on the short term and maybe a long stretch would be a couple months. Think back to the features you had in AdWords at this time last year compared to what we can do now. Think about a year without making conversion optimization changes on your website. I realize not everyone has the resources to keep up with it all but you should stay as invested into improving your PPC as you ever have been because the risk in not doing so is great. This post is an argument against entering PPC maintenance mode along with a few tips for continued optimizations.
If you think about your competition some of them will be keeping up and some won’t. What camp would you rather be in? By not keeping up, you’ll see your performance slip and you’ll also find yourself playing catch up if it slips to the point that you NEED to pay attention to it. You’ll have to teach yourself about all the new tools your competition has been using for the past year, not to mention the absence of all the data you could have gathered over that time. It’s a recipe for PPC mediocrity.
As an agency, we find ourselves spending as much time on accounts years after they’ve begun as we did when we were first hired. There is never a shortage of optimizations that can take place. The results might be less dramatic over time (an argument for diminishing returns) but we have huge breakthroughs on accounts years after their inception (an argument against diminishing returns). We find areas for growth, areas to save costs, improvements in conversions rates, all by not being complacent. We see competitors come and go, some good some bad, but the goal is to always be the front-runner, always test new technology, and not to rest on solid performance. In fact, I view solid performance as the best opportunity to test and grow your account. If your performance lagging a bit behind goals, it might not be the best time to test a new targeting option. If the results are not what you expected, you might be in worse shape than you were before. If you’re account is rocking and you’re well within goals, that’s a green light to put your lab coat on and get to testing. Even if you didn’t hit the right results, you still learned something and I’m sure there were some positive results you can groom out of the test.
So now that you’re committed to continued growth, what’s next? I recommend finding an optimization cycle that allows you to work continually and to optimize both your website and your PPC accounts. I also recommend working on a small set of variables at any given time. Work through your accounts methodically and always finalize your results. Here is a basic two step cycle that should get your going.
First, work on your PPC account, doing what you know. Complete your keyword expansion, test ads, test bids, test destination URLs, change campaign settings, and integrate and test any new technology you can get your hands on. Essentially what your starting with are the things you should be doing already. This is typically where people hit the wall and have a hard time deciding what to do next.
Secondly, I would move out of the PPC account and do some conversion optimization on your site. Utilize analytics and understand how your users are interacting with your site. Setup multi-channel, if you haven’t already, and understand how these same users are interacting with your advertising campaigns and organic results. Most importantly, test and fix the problems. Utilize your PPC traffic to setup landing page tests and make good decisions on what will improve the account. Also, what works in PPC doesn’t always work organically; if you find these results, consider breaking out PPC only landing pages.
The goal with these two steps is to get to a point of stability with your traffic so you can then understand the impact of the changes you are making to your site. Once you’ve completed the second step, you should have made significant enough changes to the site that routing back and repeating all the tasks in step one will be relevant again. You might even have some new technology to utilize when you get back to step one. Essentially, you’re optimizing to a tweaked site so you need to find ways to best utilize the “new and improved” version of your site.
Bouncing from one to the other and utilizing this cycle will keep you steadily moving in the right direction. Eventually you should get to a point where you will have a better understanding of what will provide greater results and can have a more natural run through this cycle, or maybe you’ll be at different stages in the cycle in different campaigns. As long as you’re continually working and avoiding the dreaded maintenance mode, you’ll be in good shape.
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