5 Simple Ways Beginners Can Beat the Competition at PPC

Ever since the first AdWords ad hit SERPs in 2000 and offered live mail order lobsters to any gourmand interested, search engine marketing has had a tumultuous relationship with brands and marketers. Some swear by PPC. They believe that PPC should be a part of every business’s promotional strategy. There must be a reason why GoDaddy spent in excess of 5 million dollars last year on PPC.

GoDaddy is not alone. Nearly 60% of the respondents to Hanapin Marketing’s State of PPC 2016 study spent over a million dollars on PPC:


However there are others who frown at the prospect of handing over money to Google or Facebook when they are already investing in organic tactics like search engine optimization and content marketing.

The bottom line is, love it or hate it, you can’t ignore PPC.

Don’t Expect Hugs and Kisses

There was a rough patch around 2011 when marketers weren’t very enthusiastic about PPC. While there wasn’t the remotest possibility of a drastic fall in spending on the channel, brands were continuously losing money and even blaming Google or other provider platform for playing favorites.

And then the shoe dropped. Marketers started realizing that the reason they were being bled dry by their campaigns was because of poor user experience. They were not paying adequate attention to copy or headlines. There was insufficient effort being put into keyword research, and often the clicks led to totally irrelevant pages with no “coupling” whatsoever with the ad headline. No wonder visitors bounced left, right and center. And Quality Score kept plummeting!

The result? High cost per click and sub-par lead quality.

Lesson learnt, those who had been burnt once ventured into the PPC fray yet again – this time armed with the desire to offer value to customers by doing their homework well and by leveraging the little known hacks which exist in every PPC environment – from Google AdWords to Facebook to local directories.

If the prospect of investing in PPC these days has you excited because you have the tools and the ability to use them, then let’s set something straight: Don’t expect the sales to roll in as soon as you launch your ad. The competition will be fierce. Those of us who provide PPC campaign management services are advising businesses that are starting out to gird their loins and do a deep dive into the rules and regulations of the various platforms.

Times are changing and more sophisticated targeting and segmentation options are making their presence felt. In fact, Google has lately incorporated tools which have traditionally been the forte of personalization engines. PPC is going to evolve into a fine art – one that requires SEO chops and an understanding of what makes people hit the Buy button. Also, do not forget to take into account the fact that 80% of buyers are now engaging on mobiles and 22% of their time is spent on social media.

And Hanapin’s research shows that marketers are planning to increase PPC budgets across multiple channels over the next year:

Keeping this in mind, here are five interesting PPC tactics that should help you overtake or stay ahead of your competitors, if not leave them far behind.

#1 Prevent Click Fraud

Impression fraud and click fraud are byproducts of the aggressive black hat thinking of the mid-2000s. And sadly, they are practiced even today. A large number of the apparently worthless clicks that your PPC ads register are not unintentional. They are kind of sabotage campaigns that can be launched by spammers, competitors or an unholy axis of evil ad networks, agencies and media houses.

Your ads can be used to drain your budget, especially if you are a brand that is making a name for itself in the market (not to mention corrupting the integrity of your data). Why, nearly a quarter of web traffic is now from bots that impersonate humans – these are the kind that could potentially be used for click fraud:

Image source: https://www.incapsula.com/

While Google has a sophisticated system in place to ensure that clicks it considers suspicious aren’t charged to your AdWords account, it is better to go ahead and block out certain IPs from your viewer base as a precaution, as even the mighty G can’t protect you from a determined competitor. Make full use of the IP Exclusions feature while creating AdWords campaigns.

It’s simple to draw up a list of your competitors and find out the IPs they use. (Pro Tip: Just subscribe to their newsletters and gather IPs from the email headers!) You may also want to spare some time to dig into your server logs and find out click patterns of IP addresses that click on ads to reach your site but invariably bounce away.

Of course, few, if any bad clicks will be from competitors, but you don’t really need any unrewarding engagement, do you? Some more tips to make sure you don’t fall prey to click fraud:

  • Don’t run CPM (impression or view based) campaigns without having in place a fraud detection system.
  • Don’t be afraid to block entire regions or countries from your ad campaigns.
  • Programmatic ads are the future but don’t jump onto the bandwagon until you fully understand the mechanics and have total control over the ad serving process.
  • Demand full disclosure from your agency about which platforms, ad networks, media buyers and publishers they’re using or working with, directly or indirectly. Do your own research into how these parties work.
  • Don’t blindly trust the “estimates” given by the ad manager tools built into Google, Facebook or any other platform. For most products, the purchase intent of the audience isn’t inherently scalable. In English, that means throwing more money at ads doesn’t mean you’ll get more clicks.

#2 Experiment with Dynamic Ads

Another great way to improve your Quality Score is to remain fresh and up-to-date with your PPC text ads (in terms of both ad copy and keywords). Just as boosted social posts have a definite shelf life, so do Google AdWords promotions. Even though this aspect hasn’t been quantified in the algorithm yet, with time ads that don’t change start to lose their priority in Google’s eyes since they believe (correctly) that fresh is relevant.

The traditional recourse to this was maintaining a huge spreadsheet of campaign and discount dates and frequent updates to the ad copy to ensure visitors always saw the most recent deals and Google’s hunger for “new” was appeased. Labor intensive to say the least!

In 2012, Google AdWords introduced a way to bid adieu to this hassle: Dynamic Search Ads:

With DSA, you need to neither set up thousands of ads nor specify explicit search-match criteria. Google uses its organic search index to automatically detect themes from the pages and URLs you instruct it to. For example, you might ask Google to take a look at certain landing page sections and URL strings to understand if the pages are a good fit for the search query of the user. Once Google feels it has found a match, it generates an ad (the template for which you have to set up within your ad campaign) and puts together a headline from the content of the search query and the section indicated on the page that is a thematic match. The description lines are your standard text and the appropriate destination URL again is the landing page that has been tagged relevant by Google.

DSA is a life saver, especially for companies that have an extensive roster of products and services. This is where you funnel the money you saved by beating click fraud into: if used well, DSA can scale your impressions and clicks, while lowering your CPC.

#3 Start Connecting Ads to Calls

A phone call is three times as valuable to a business as a clickthrough to their site. And this is why more and more companies are replacing the website link on paid ads with a request to call for a quote. This flow skips the landing page – which is often the weak link in a PPC funnel – altogether.

Call tracking, yet another Google AdWords feature introduced in 2012, works as follows:

PPC call tracking software like MediaHawk and CallRail can provide users a pool of unique numbers to place on their PPC ads and then monitor the conversion rates of calls routed through them. Further, they can be integrated with CRMs and have the ability to track and analyze the entire journey of a prospect from the first call to the final purchase.

With such power, even B2B companies and professional service providers (whose sales cycle is not as simple as visiting a website and adding an item to cart) can reap the benefits of PPC campaigns with more concrete lead qualification KPIs. Even B2Cs can use call tracking results to quickly weed out ads that might generate buzz but don’t have ultimate profit potential in the long run.

While call tracking is by no means limited to PPC, it isn’t restricted to Google either. Last year, Facebook introduced a Call Now button that you can add to your mobile ads:

Facebook also tells you how many people your ad reached and how many of them clicked the Call Now button.

#4 Use Past Performance to Create Winning Facebook Ads

If you have been into PPC for a while, chances are you know about the power of the Power Editor, Custom and Lookalike Audiences, and obviously Lead Ads. So is there anything left to exploit in Facebook that your competitors haven’t thought of yet?

As with call tracking, bid management, keyword research and other PPC functions, the solution might lie in software. A little-known but affordable app called Open Book (by Driftrock) might just be your answer to tweaking Facebook ads. Forget about looking at CPC and Page Insights, this nifty tool allows you to choose each and every component of your Facebook ad based on past (proven?) results.

Open Book gathers all the headlines, copy, CTAs, images and targeting information from your previous campaigns and displays them with their individual conversion rates. By associating campaigns with specific objectives, you can zero in on creatives that perform best for a given customer segment or demographic. The best thing about it is, you don’t have to look anywhere when you have your own data to go by. And the more you have experimented in the past, the better the prospects of future returns!

#5 Respect the Twitter Quality Score

What? You thought Twitter doesn’t have a metric that is comparable to Google’s Quality Score or Facebook’s Relevance Score? Twitter indeed has a differentiating factor which it uses to influence CPC and the changes of exposure to quality audiences!

The main challenge with keeping up the good work on Twitter is that it is a real time microblogging platform – and so, impressions dwindle quickly and exponentially with the passage of time. If Google likes freshness, Twitter is obsessed with it. A tweet that is a week old is dead and buried by Twitter standards. Therefore, you need to make the most of the first 48 hours.

1. Start out by promoting tweets that are already doing well. A study by WordStream found that for every percentage point increase in engagement the cost per engagement goes down by a whopping 5%. So go with posts in good form.

2. Use targeting extensively! Narrow down your audience pool using Twitter’s Tailored Audiences to reach the hottest leads and prospects.

3. Use Promoted-only Tweets to restrict your ads to those who don’t follow you. Pro Tip: Find out who follows your competition but not you and target that subset first.

When a tweet is delivered to everybody, your existing customers are likely to disregard it especially if it’s about following you or buying a tripwire product. (And your followers likely don’t want to see typically promotional tweets from you.) This sends a signal to Twitter that your “ideal” buyers do not find the content engaging, hampering your Quality Score.

Parting Thoughts

There are great strides to be taken in search, mobile, social and network-specific PPC. The tactics we discussed are just a few steps you should take to keep your campaigns’ chugging along nicely. In fact, you can (and should) use them even without the specific aim of going one up on the competition. Staying updated on what is changing, vetting new technologies, and trying out new tools and features can pay great dividends and help you complement other marketing channels.

Let me know in the comments if you have any specific PPC tactics that work well for AdWords, Bing Ads, or social media!

Rohan Ayyar

Rohan is the Regional Marketing Manager for India at SEMrush. He is an experienced digital marketer who has worked both agency and in-house, developing data-driven strategies for SEO, PPC, social media and content marketing. Rohan is also an avid business and tech blogger, with insights featured on publications like Fast Company, Business World, Search Engine Journal and Adweek.