Like anything, mastering the fundamentals of pay-per-click account management requires both practice and perseverance. Lin-Manuel Miranda did not write Hamilton in a day, or even a year. In fact, more than a decade after Miranda first picked up the biography by Ron Chernow and years after its Broadway opening, the Hamilton story continues through Hamildrops, six professional casts (including two International theaters), and endless fan art and tributes. While the world of digital marketing may be far less glamorous than the one on stage, its unique and dynamic challenges are enough to keep us on our toes.

#Ham4PPC Logo

Today’s #Ham4PPC comprises nine lessons I’ve learned from my years as a PPC professional.

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

The world of paid media is constantly in flux, and with good reason. Tech giants know that complacency leads to atrophy, and innovation is essential to retaining market share at a time when advertisers have more choices than ever before. A quick look at early June updates to paid advertising platforms shows just how much change can take place in a short period of time.  At Hanapin, we’ve learned that identifying and testing new features or updates is important because you will often miss your chance if you procrastinate too long.

All that change isn’t a bad thing, though. Opportunity is the companion of change, and what marketer doesn’t love a new opportunity? (I do!) The rate of adoption for new features and new platforms as reported in The State of Paid Social 2019 shows that savvy digital marketers are no longer tied to just the big-name platforms of Google, Bing, and Facebook. Rising stars like Quora, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit are facilitating a world of diversified PPC and cross-channel marketing strategies that help mitigate the inherent risk of our trade.

We live in a time that digital marketers of ten or 15 years ago could scarcely have imagined. Let’s take a moment just to absorb and appreciate that.

“Winning was easy, young man, governing’s harder.”

If you’ve ever worked in or with Sales, you undoubtedly have an appreciation for the hard work that goes into every RFP, pitch, and contract signing. Win or lose, Sales battles tirelessly to find the best clients and accounts to work with. But of course, that is only the beginning.

Whether it’s preparing for client contact changes or welcoming a new client in a new industry, taking on an unfamiliar account or trying to build rapport in a new relationship is challenging. It takes a good deal of intellectual and emotional investment to conquer that first set of obstacles—new industry lingo, seasonality, brand guidelines, pain points, and even proprietary technology or new KPIs at times.

You may question whether it’s worth all the effort that you’re putting in, or if there are any corners you could cut to make your work life easier. Don’t! Instead, reflect on our founding fathers and take consolation in the fact that they, too, were wading in unchartered territory and simply doing the best they could. In the end, it worked out. True, there were mistakes made and not every decision was sound, but issues that arose over time were addressed as they came to light.

So it is with PPC management. If you invest in the beginning and do all you can to set yourself and the account up for success (think: establishing processes, account alerts, communication methods, etc), you’ll be positioned to face any issues that you encounter down the road.

“I want to be in the room where it happens.”

Speaking of building and maintaining rapport with clients, it is easy to get off your game when you go from comfortably chatting with a day-to-day contact to addressing a room full of decision-makers. The jargon we toss around in PPC circles could be completely foreign to a C-level exec just wanting to understand the value of his or her investment.

There are two lessons to be learned:

  1. You should WANT to be there. Presenting to executives may be intimidating, but the real estate you (or the chair you sit in) occupy in that room is exceptionally valuable. And not because you have a captive audience whom you can inform or persuade (though on rare occasions that may be true) but because of what you can learn from them. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to ask big-picture questions and gain insights from someone who spends 90% or more of their day thinking about high-level challenges and opportunities the business will soon face.
  2. Something should HAPPEN. If you want to walk into—and out of—that room with confidence, then start with a clear objective. Have a new platform you want to test? Need more budget to fund an initiative that is driving growth? You must first figure out exactly what it is that the CXO needs to say “Yes!” to, and then determine what he or she will need to know in order to make a decision. Put that information—and only that information—into your presentation and be direct. Prepare for questions and pushback but keep all supplemental the data out of sight until it becomes relevant. The decision-makers will appreciate your preparation and respect for their time and will have an easier time giving you the greenlight because they see you are ready and in control.

“When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you playin’ the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. You get nothing if you wait for it.”

One of the hardest learned lessons when it comes to PPC testing is the necessary balance between quick iteration and insightful learnings. We’ve heard the mantra “ABT: Always Be Testing” and we know the importance of statistical significance when dealing with any amount of data. However, these two often conflict when dealing with niche industries, small or local businesses, or highly segmented aspects of a paid media account.

First, you must be careful not to end your test too early. This is particularly true when testing some element that involves machine learning (such as Google Ads Smart Bidding or Facebook Ad Delivery Optimization). Algorithms need a sufficient amount of data within a relatively short period of time in order to operate effectively. Ending a test before the “learning period” is complete will offer inconclusive results at best and faulty ones at worst. Instead, you might trim the first 3-4 days of a test off your data window and examine how the algorithmic approach compared to the control after it had some data to build off.

On the flip side, you must also be careful not to let a test run so long that you end up with two variations of the same campaign/ad set/landing page moving into perpetuity.  The longer your test runs, the greater the risk of external variables impacting the result (think: seasonality, ad fatigue, changes in user preference due to pop culture/memes/social attitudes). As a rule of thumb, I like to conclude tests within 30-60 days whenever possible, ensuring that neither I nor the client forgets what we were testing, why, and what action to take as a result.

“I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.”

Another side of the PPC Adventure that many do not get to experience is that of performing account audits. There are plenty of great PPC audit guides around, so I won’t focus on the what or how of the beast. I just want to highlight a few overlooked “whys” of participating in an account audit, particularly for an account that is not your own.

  • Learn from what others are doing. PPC audits are a great way to feed your creative brain as you take note of a variety of digital strategies. Whether or not a current strategy or unusual tactic is working well, simply noticing it may spark a cascade of new ideas that you can tweak to test yourself in other accounts.
  • Exercise your problem-solving muscles. I am not a fitness guru (not even close!) but my limited knowledge on the subject has taught me that cross-training or varying the type of exercise you do is better for your muscles than doing a single motion over and over. Audits can provide the same benefit to your PPC-management skills: stretch and strain them in a different way than your day-to-day optimizations typically do, making them stronger and more capable the next time they are needed.
  • Harness the power of diversity. I repeatedly hear from clients that a major benefit of working with an agency is the value of diversified experience. Working in-house or with an agency that is ultra-specialized or siloed, it’s easy to miss out on what is happening in PPC for other industries. A B2B company, for instance, may not keep up with all the new B2C features, even if one or two may be applicable and present substantial opportunity for growth.

Audits are a two-way street that allow you to offer unique insights from your own industry and learn from neighboring ones at the same time. Thus, if the opportunity arises, it might just be worth your time.

“I am the one thing in life I can control.”

Now, this really applies to everything in life and in PPC. I like to apply it specifically to the consideration of competitor activity and response. While I fully endorse becoming a PPC sleuth, regardless of the channel, all competitor research should be purposeful and with a clear objective. That is, you should decide what action or decision will be impacted by the information you collect as you jump into that rabbit hole.

Some ideas:

  • Look at how competitors are highlighting similar or differentiating factors in their ad copy to maintain parity or avoid redundancy
  • See which platforms or features competitors have adopted that you haven’t and want to pitch for testing
  • Explore competitor landing pages, product showcasing, purchase experience, etc. to compare with the ease of conversion on your site or how well your site aligns with user expectation
  • Recognize that broad keywords will inevitably face competition from mega-large advertisers who may not be worth your time to scope out. Decide to focus on specific keywords of highest value and leverage auction insights or other tools to examine that subset.
  • Take all the evidences you find of competitor advertising tactics and seek to reverse-engineer their digital strategy to compare with your own.

It’s great to know what others in the digital space are doing, but only if there is an action you can take in response (or, even better, proactively!).

“I will not equivocate on my opinion—I have always worn it on my sleeve.”

Transparency is essential in digital marketing, particularly when it comes to the art of client communication. It is just as important to be open and direct about opportunities and recommendations (what might happen) as it is to be honest and upfront about challenges and successes that have already occurred.

A meaningful lesson I have learned is the simple power of direct language. Removing cushioning words (“I think,” “maybe,” “should,” “hopefully”) in favor of stronger statements (“we expect,” “we recommend,” “data suggest,” “in our experience”) has emboldened me to own my thoughts and communication. Amazingly, subsequent decision-making has also improved because the discussions that take place are open—clients are comfortable bringing forward ideas because they know it will be met with expertise that considers both the strengths and weaknesses of the opportunity, and recommendations to mitigate risk, instead of a reluctant “sure, we can do that.”

“When my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?”

At the end of the day, it can be difficult to know what it means to provide value as a digital marketer. We have the benefit as PPC professionals to have data on our side—video views, conversion tracking, revenue, and ROI—but that data does little good if not organized to tell a story.

Your story doesn’t have to be filled with personas or jargon to be effective, but like all good stories, it needs at least three things:

  1. Introduction, Background, or Context. For something simple like a creative test, it might be a comparison of the ad variations with a summary of the unique elements you were testing. Think of your ads as the characters, and every good story needs some sort of character development to start.
  2. Rising Action, or the Challenge. What you expected to happen (increase or decrease in selected KPIs, for instance), and any obstacles that had to be overcome. This is often where most of the learning takes place.
  3. Resolution, Moral, or Summary. The actual outcome of the test, and what it means. If all went well and the test performed as expected, it is implemented, and you get your “happily ever after.” If the test underperformed or other factors prevented its conclusion, you determine the next steps, and get “to be continued.”

If you document your tests and outcomes in story form, it will be much easier to look back and see the real impact of all your hard work.

“We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable.”

At the end of the day, so much of what takes place in the PPC ecosystem is still a relative mystery. The future of our industry undoubtedly lies in machine learning and AI, which is well beyond my area of technical expertise. The only thing that’s truly certain is that advertisers who are unwilling or unable to adapt in this dynamic industry will be left behind.

In this instance, our beloved Hamilton serves as a warning rather than a guideline. When it comes to digital marketing, we must sometimes learn to let go of what’s lost (think: sunsetting metrics, disappearing ad types or manual control features) and bravely embrace the new normal.

But more on that next time…