Tips on Managing In-House Paid Search

Have a Sound Background on Business Objectives
Introducing paid search to our teams can require some serious persuasion skills and plenty of tools to back up our claims. Knowing the business objectives isn’t just about making sure we get the approval from the finance department. More importantly, we will know where to start and be able to formulate long-term campaign strategies to address each identified objective, long before launching our in-house paid search campaigns.

Allocate Time to Educate Company Stakeholders
Let’s spend time to talk to your colleagues or the management on different aspects of paid search:

  1. The Basics
    This will hopefully instill sense of understanding by colleagues who know little or nothing about paid search. In a company, it’s unavoidable to come across people who find it hard to embrace changes such as exploring new marketing opportunities. Let them know all facets of this initiative. What is paid search? What is paid search not? Why are we doing it? Are our competitors doing it?
  2. The Objectives
    When people start to know the basics, they broaden their understanding and think of means it can help improve performance of business objectives which have been in place for some time. This is also a good time to ask for ideas from “fresh minds” other than us who may have been focused only on certain business objectives. Can we use paid search to accomplish [insert name of objectives]?
  3. Who and How Much Time is Involved
    Sometimes in-house paid search campaigns don’t get much support from within the company because there is nobody who can make things happen, apart from the one who initiates it who can’t quite do it all by him/herself. Colleagues sometimes think this is additional burden for them and will quickly defer this task to agencies who have experience doing paid search “day in, day out” while they do their usual job. Finding talent to do it full-time is an issue. Expecting support for coordinating smaller items like webmaster help or web analytics reports is another. By clearly defining roles and estimating the amount of their time involved in this undertaking, they’ll be confident to carry out their usual roles while extending a helping hand to us when we need them.
  4. How Much Does it Cost
    Explain to the management how things work and where the money goes. Since it’s in-house, money goes to search engines and nothing goes to the middlemen. This is a good case to raise advantage over using agencies who charge typically around 10-20% of the total amount of our spend. Let’s do some research before coming up with ballpark figures and expected results.
  5. What to Expect
    Set expectations straight. Never over promise. Maybe this campaign will require X amount of dollars initially but will even deliver more if higher budget is approved because of [more variety of ads supplied or more ad impressions or more search engines or regions covered].

Understanding on Key Metrics and How to Measure Them
We must have good understanding of the metrics involved and we know how to measure them. If we can prove that our paid search campaign delivers better Return on Investment (ROI) than placement of ads on a weekly magazine, it would be great. But of equal importance is we know how measurements are done.

A good analytical thinking is essential. Does higher click-through rate translate into better conversion rate? Are most of our returning visitors staying long enough in our site? Are we able to do concurrent A/B Testing to determine best performing ad copies?

The management wants to know which campaign achieves the lowest cost of acquisition. If they know that we spend 12 dollars on paid search to acquire hotel bookings for 100 dollar rooms, as compared to 15 dollars when we do affiliates, then they know where to go. We must be able to get the relevant metrics handy.

Once colleagues start to see the flow of revenue through our campaigns, the conversation just got more interesting!

Avoid bidding for ambiguous generic keywords
Sometimes the management will request us to get the highest ranking for a keyword “at all cost”. This ego ranking strategy could spell disaster. There are scientific ways to check if keywords are performing well or not. Generic keywords like “hong kong properties” has a lot of meanings and is well open to interpretation. Some people using that phrase may mean properties in hong kong for sale or market trends for properties in hong kong or something else. Eventually these searchers will go back to search engines and refine their search queries. While such keywords have no clear-cut meaning, they are also generally more expensive than those that are a little more specific. “hong kong properties for sale” or “hong kong apartments” might be more targeted.

Know Your Competitors
One of the advantages of working with an agency for paid search campaigns is that agencies generally have a broad background in the industry and will provide market intelligence, including insights about our competitors. Since we’re doing it in-house, we have to do our “spying” ourselves. Market intelligence tools such as Hitwise or Compete can determine whether our sites are leading or trailing competitors in terms of web traffic. Yahoo! used to preview a list of ads for a certain keyword but it has long been disabled. A typical search for a keyword we’re bidding within Google or Yahoo! should tell us who are our competitors. Look at their ads and how they deliver their message and ensure that ours is more targeted.

Be Up to Date
By working independently from other agencies who may have a wider market vision, it is important that we as in-house paid search specialists equip ourselves with the important developments in the market.

I suggest the following:

  1. Subscribe to official blogs like Yahoo! Search Marketing blog, adCenter blog and AdWords blog.
  2. Learn more tips about web analytics through EpikOne blog, Avinash Kaushik and Google Analytics blog
  3. Be informed of general industry news through Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch. The reason being is that paid search isn’t totally an independent marketing initiative; changes on other marketing channels may affect our campaigns. For example, when Feedburner integrated AdWords on its feeds, how do we see our campaigns in a wider scheme of things?
  4. Learn techniques on managing successful paid search through sites such as PPC Hero and AdWords Help Center.

Aim to Diversify Ad Groups
There are many ways of selling our products and services. Let’s diversify our ad groups so they become less general and be more personal, more specific because different people think about things differently. One can say “a device that cleans the carpet” while another says “carpet cleaner”. So it is important to always use tools that determine keyword volume such as Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Also, consider a variation of these phrases based on type of ad group we’ll be classifying our keywords.

I suggest diversifying ad groups through:

  1. Core businesses (hong kong spa)
  2. Audience personas (cheap massage in hongkong)
  3. Language or geographic location (香港按摩)

By diversifying ad groups, also create a variety of title and description plus map them to corresponding landing pages. It’s not helpful if we only have one landing page even if we are selling different types of products or aiming for several call to actions within our site. This helps improve conversion rate.

Learn more about Google’s Quality Score and Yahoo’s Quality Index factors
As we progress with our paid search campaigns, we must look at more efficient ways of improving our campaign performance. An essential element in improving our performance is through understanding how Google and Yahoo (and MSN) do their thing when it comes to ranking ads and placement of Quality Score (Google) and Quality Index (Yahoo!). It’s not like organic search whose algorithms remain a secret. Google explains what is a Quality Score and how it evaluates ads. The same applies to Yahoo!, which also keeps a documentation about its Quality Index measurement. By knowing these elements, we can better plan out mapping of T&D with landing pages, identify well-performing keywords and learn how to fix those keywords or ad groups that have performed poorly.

It’s not just the ads that we need to look at. We have to look at the quality of our landing pages. Good landing pages deliver conversions while bad landing pages don’t. To accomplish this task, Google has a tool called Google Website Optimizer. This tool enables us to test our campaigns through different formats of our landing pages and determine which one yielded best results as a comparison with its previous results.

Doing in-house paid search campaign can be challenging. But there are many ways to get around these challenges. I hope the tips I presented above helps us overcome these challenges and come out with productive paid search campaigns.