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big idea

Let the Data Drive You:
You have a lot to learn about Pay-Per-Click advertising

By Burkey Belser and Myles Marlow 
April 12, 2017
Let the Data Drive You: <br> You have a lot to learn about Pay-Per-Click advertising

Stories from the merger. Issue 2: Not only was our integration with Finn smooth and swift, but we have discovered skills and talent you should know about. This Big Idea reveals the stunning opportunities biz dev can find in Pay-Per-Click advertising and how much has changed in 10 years.

You think you know Pay-Per-Click but we suspect you may not, particularly if you execute your plan yourself. So much has changed in the past 10 years in advertising that you may be caught off guard by the magnitude of the change. Circa 2007, the arm’s length distance between publisher and client collapsed as advertising sales teams approached clients directly, eliminating the agency middleman, a trend that mushroomed as the Great Recession dragged on. As the influence of the Internet grew and buyers became more comfortable with online purchases, the disruptive trend of disintermediation flourished. Firms became comfortable creating their own media plan. And why not? With little more than $150,000 to $300,000 to spend, any plan quickly ran out of steam simply beginning with the usual suspects available in a narrow vertical. For lawyers, the American Lawyer Media Group could easily claim your entire budget. No sophisticated media planning required. 

Furthermore, you had no guarantee your ad was read or even seen but you paid anyway. In fact, the NY Times reported a few years ago that some ungodly percentage of ads were never seen by their target. (Find that cite, dear reader, and we’ll put this up on Wikipedia.) But we do know today that 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research before buying (http://bit.ly/2nbVBLj) and this includes buyers of professional services. If that fact has eluded you, then simply study your own behavior. Online is where you want to be if you are seeking leads.

How it works
Basically, there are two models for online advertising with infinite variations on each. The first model is pure advertising: show your product or advertise your service. If the ad is good enough and the buyer interested enough, you’re likely to get pull through, but success lies purely in being at the right place at the right time as is the basis for all classic advertising. The second model is what we call a “fair trade,” where value is traded for value. This is the principle behind thought leadership advertising and is exactly what drives business-to-business, relationship-driven marketing. Give me ideas either as a white paper, research or insight, and I’ll give you my contact information at a minimum. Sounds like a deal! Let’s go online and try this out…

What does a “media plan” look like today?
We mentioned campaigns of the past required hundreds of thousands of dollars to get up and running. Today, we can find out if we have a winner investing only $25,000-50,000 through pilot programs. This allows us to discover the strength of your offer while limiting your exposure. You get to eat the appetizer before you order from the full menu. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad: there is no media plan, at least not the one you’re used to seeing. We don’t predict which channel will work best or work at all. Or if the channel that worked last year will work again this year. We line up options that in our experience have delivered then let the performance data decide which channel is best. Oh, and it gets even more squirrely: Should we focus on search or display? Dunno. How much effort do we spend perfecting the headlines and messaging? Well, not even a fraction of what you are used to. No argument is necessary between colleagues when it is the market that will decide anyway. This essentially eliminates “ad approvals” by partners and management. In other words, today’s media plan is dynamic, changing daily, adjusting to market response. The total nut is defined, yes, but the execution is completely fluid.

In our experience, half of our clients have not jumped into the water at all. One-quarter have some DIY experience and the final quarter use an agency to execute campaigns. Every agency will tell you they have a person who can figure it out but is anyone telling you they have it figured out? The truth is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) lives on a racetrack. It happens very fast. You need to be good with spreadsheets, math and media. You have to be able to write because you cannot put a job sheet into the copy team…then wait for a revised headline. Advertisers must respond daily to optimize channels including A/B testing. We optimize inside the channels and optimize between the channels, changing, for example, how much we spend on Facebook, LinkedIn or another channels in real time. It’s like gaming—you manage your avatar (ads) through the lines as the World of Warcraft battleground changes. And like games, there are kinks in each game. Facebook and LinkedIn do not give the buyer an objective ad rotation. They start to skew toward click-through rates because that’s what they are designed to reward. But we want our campaigns to run the course before we decide what is or isn’t working. In order to achieve this, we set up environments that are better suited for testing than the default settings.

The effort is worth it
Here’s a good “for instance”: we ran a Medicare campaign for a large medical insurer by moving between the channels during open season. One fast-starting channel may drop off as another channel rises fluidly. Social is a dynamic system. We have multiplied their results, dropping the cost of conversion from $150 per application conversion to $35. How? Through our knowledge of the physics of fluid dynamics online and the skills of our team. A wide skill set is rewarded in PPC.

Call it paid search, not advertising
Google invented the platform and Google Adwords reinvented the platform with the advent of smartphones, aka mobile. The latest dramatic shift is that mobile takes the lead; it’s mobile first. Google will penalize your quality scores if you go about PPC any other way. Unfair? Well, they invented it so they write the rules. Fortunately, the rules have been adopted by LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. We have run campaigns where Instagram blew those other properties out of the water. You can never tell. What works is often just as surprising. We found for a bank that a simple large image of a credit card outperformed the warmer lifestyle images everyone thought would pull harder. 

What we have learned about landing pages
We no longer trust the metrics from Adwords, Facebook or LinkedIn. You may have read embarrassing stories where Facebook and LinkedIn have miscalculated impressions or developed their own curious metrics to define conversion. We prefer total control where comparison between channels is moot. How? By controlling landing pages. 

Think of PPC as a triangle—content (the ad or Paid Search Listing), the targeting (the keywords or defined audience) and the final side of the triangle, the landing page (the bullseye that we’re aiming at). Marketers have to stay off the landing page. Yes, that means you. Landing pages are not minisites although the temptation to turn them into a richer property is tempting. But a real, honest-to-goodness landing page does one thing and one thing only: sign up the reader. In this way, they mimic Google’s home page. We will A/B test color, size, call to action to optimize this page but not the addition of other distracting stuff. This is not to say there are no words on the page, but the Adwords format is stingy with words. A landing page allows us to expound on the topic but resist the urge to add additional navigation and other offers. You can bounce from a landing page to a fact-gathering microsite. That’s a useful research tool. You can drive the reader further to your website to build engagement. A landing page can be a bridge to the next lift. But, for the most part the purpose is simple: talk with one voice, keep it on message, sign them up. 

B2B is finally waking up to PPC
Google can and WILL change how they do this, keeping their secret sauce to themselves. PPC is not a set and forget environment. Set and continually monitor is our MO. Adjust continually or entropy takes over and the experience degrades.

If business development is part of your portfolio and you haven’t met a smart partner, honestly, you should give us a call. It’s a no-brainer. 202.775.0333. Ask for Monica at x297 or email monica.watson@finnpartners.com