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Back in my early days of running websites and trying to forge a living online, I stumbled across PPC in the form of Google AdWords.

I liked the idea of driving traffic to a website nigh on instantly. That was until I ran a few of my keywords through the old Keyword Tool and saw exactly how much the estimated CPCs were: upwards of £5 per click!

I broke into a cold sweat because I knew all of my biggest competitors were using PPC, I just didn’t see how it could be profitable and I knew right there and then that my sites were going to fail.

I just couldn’t afford to pay £5+ per click.

Thank you, Google!

After registering my sites on Google Places I started to receive a steady trickle of AdWords vouchers through the post. At first they were a bit of an annoyance, after I while I decided to take the plunge.

I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t understand the AdWords interface and I’d never set up a PPC campaign in my life. I’ve got the attention span of a gold fish too, so I’m not one for reading long-winded Google manuals on how best to configure a specific setting.

Somehow I managed to string together a few campaigns. Somewhere during my time spent browsing internet marketing forums I’d read lots of tales about poor results using the display network so from day one I concentrated on the search network (I’ve used display network advertising since with mixed results, but that’s another story).

The first day my ads ran I blew about £40 of the voucher credit. The second day I blew a similar amount, but before the day was over my phone started to vibrate. On the other end was my very first client as a result of AdWords! How excited do you think I was?

Taking stock

Once the initial excitement of the phone call was over I realised what I’d just done. I’d pulled in a sale of £1,500!

It was all thanks to the annoying coupons that Google had been posting to me. By the next day my free advertising credit had all but expired – I’d spent around £100 in two days, and as a result I’d generated one sale of £1,500.

A £100 outlay (which wasn’t even my money) for a £1,500 sale is a pretty good result in anyone’s book, right? In total I had 22 clicks. They’d come in at less than the predicted £5 per click, but even £4.55 per click on average still sounded ridiculously expensive to me.

The gross profit on the sale was around £1,000 which got me thinking: couldn’t I just leave the campaign running using my own cash and make £900 profit every other day? I paused the campaigns whilst I gathered my thoughts.

Working out what I did wrong

Clearly I did some things right. After all, I’d made a £1,500 sale. Obviously I’d also done a lot of things wrong. It was inconceivable that I hadn’t made mistakes, I still knew next to nothing about PPC or AdWords. The sale was a fluke.

I wanted to work out exactly what I’d done wrong so I could run AdWords using my hard earned money and make a profit (read: even more of a profit) – so for the best part of two weeks I immersed (read: drowned) myself in PPC. Ebooks, videos, Skype calls with experts – the whole shebang.

By the end of the two weeks the only thing I lacked was an official Google AdWords accreditation to say I knew everything about AdWords.

I then went back to my original campaign and worked out exactly what I’d done wrong. The biggest mistakes I’d made were:

  • Broad targeting: I’d used very broad keywords and targeted them using the broad match type. It’s a wonder the traffic that hit my site was even remotely targeted things were that broad.
  • Targeted a few rubbish keywords: In my infinite wisdom I decided to target variations of my keyword prefixed with terms like “free” or “cheap” – knowing full well I was targeting a higher end market. 
  • Just one ad group: I’d thrown all my keywords in just the one ad group, even though some of them were fairly alien to each other.
  • Just one ad: I couldn’t be bothered writing loads of different ads so I went with the one. It was very broad and general – it’s amazing anyone bothered to click it.
  • Just one landing page: The homepage. I didn’t bother deeplinking my campaign - this is the biggest mistake most people make with AdWords and PPC in general.
  • Set a stupidly low daily budget: OK my daily spends were large (for a newbie at least), but I’d still set my daily budget way too low.
  • Set a stupidly low CPC: My CPC was that low my ads tended to only show up during the latter parts of days as other advertisers depleted their budgets.

I made many more mistakes, but they are by far the biggest.

What I’ve done since

Once I worked out what mistakes I’d made I knew I had to put them right before I set the campaign live once again.

During the time I paused my campaigns and made wholesale changes, Google sent me a coupon in the post in order to try and entice me back to using AdWords. So when my revised campaign went live again, I had even more free advertising credit to play with. (Cheers, Google!)

To improve my campaign, I did the following:

  • I learnt how to use phrase and exact match types in my campaigns to ensure my ads were only displayed to relevant users. I also started to use negative keywords.
  • I spent about three days solid working on keyword research using the old Google Keyword Tool and some third party tools. I also used some of those 'spying' tools so I could see what keywords my competitors were targeting (if you’re red hot when it comes to keyword research, don’t waste your money on those keyword spying tools).
  • I split up my keywords into tiny groups – I ended up with over 50 in the end. They took ages to set up but having 50 different groups meant I could easily cast my eye over the campaign and see
    which groups were getting the CTR and yielding conversions and which ones weren’t.
  • I made sure every single group had five different ad copies. I then monitored the ad copies and mixed them up and switched them around, keeping only those with the highest CTR. For this particular campaign the best CTR I managed was just shy of 10% - so anything over 8% CTR I kept and experimented with.
  • I threw up lots of different landing pages tailored specifically to each ad group I had built. All ads were then deeplinked to the relevant landing page. Again this took at least five days to finish and it was extremely boring. But in the long term it really did pay dividends.
  • I kept a low daily budget at first to control my spending (and losses). As my campaign became more profitable and I started to have more confidence in it, I increased the daily budget. It’s now at a point where my daily budget is way higher than my daily spend. My ads run for the duration of my schedule and I don’t have to worry about the budget being depleted.
  • I manually set my keyword bids (ie, I don’t use the auto-bid function), they were low initially but I’m more liberal with them now. Just because I bid £8 per click doesn’t mean that’s what I’ll be charged.

    My CPCs are now lower because my campaign has a lot of history, my landing pages have great Quality Scores (they loiter at around 8-10/10 on most ad groups), and all of my ads have respectable CTRs. High CTRs = lower CPCs in very primitive terms.

As a result of making these improvements to my campaigns I’ve managed to increase my conversion rate from one conversion for every 22 clicks. I’ve also managed to reduce the CPC significantly – meaning I get more clicks for less money.

The thing with PPC is that you can never kick back, put your feet up and say 'job done', there’s always something that needs to be tweaked. At the moment I’m leaving my PPC campaigns as they are in general whilst tweaking on page layouts, colours, buttons and copy on my sites in order to see which combination converts best.

At one point very early on I decided to hire a PPC 'guru' to keep an eye on my campaign. He had all the certifications and loads of experience working with huge clients, but my campaigns started to regress under his management, so I wrestled back control for myself.

It’s well over three years since I first dabbled in PPC. I still use it today on various websites and I probably spend about two hours each day fiddling with settings. I started using Bing Ads a while back too,

it’s a really good platform. It only has a fraction of the traffic that Google AdWords offers (in my niches anyway) but I find the CPCs are a lot cheaper than AdWords and conversion rates tend to be higher. It’s certainly a great source of traffic to have alongside AdWords.

Key takeaways

I think there are lots of points you can take away from this post including:

  • Don't resign yourself to hiring a PPC 'expert' - you can learn the ropes yourself if you've got the inclination to do so.
  • Make good use of those pesky coupons that Google sends in the mail.
  • Don’t be afraid to pause campaigns to take stock. If you’re lucky Google will send you another coupon in the mail to get you back on-board.
  • Just because your niche has a seemingly ridiculously high CPC doesn’t mean it can’t be profitable. It helps to look at the biggest picture, look at the cost per conversion or cost per lead acquisition not the cost per click.
  • You don’t have to hire a PPC guru and you don’t have to read through pages upon pages of documents on how to setup campaigns. Just jump in there and make mistakes – that’s the best way to learn; trial and error.
  • No matter what people say about PPC, it can be profitable if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to build an awesome campaign.

Whether I like it or not PPC has become a huge part of my business and a big part of my life.

If you’re willing to take the plunge and get your hands dirty with PPC, there are lots of rewards waiting for you.

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Published 20 November, 2013 by Nick Whitmore

Nick Whitmore is Managing Director at Whitmore Media Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+

3 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Edward Longley

Edward Longley, Digital professional at Freelance

A good article for people new to PPC. I should start keeping the vouchers that come through the post, and drop out of magazines!

Glancing at the screen shot for "car insurance" takes me back to the good old days when we were paying upwards of £25 per click...

It's an interesting point about on site testing, which is where I've found big gains, once the PPC hygiene factors are in place and you know that you're running lean. I've used Google Website Optimizer (as was, now Content Experiments) and Maxymiser to turn those clicks to sales.

What I've seen less clearly demonstrated is strong evidence of SEO taking a lot of the "load" off PPC - despite looking long and hard for it. With SEO being pushed so much further down the page, it seems less and less viable.

Good luck with your campaigns.

over 2 years ago

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Nick Whitmore, Managing Director at Whitmore Media Ltd t/a ContentWriting.org

Thank you for your kind words, Edward.

I agree with all of your points - especially the last one. I've seen a massive shift in the balance of traffic/leads coming from SEO and PPC. This time last year SEO was just about tipping it - this year PPC is roaring ahead. Whilst I'm still making a profit across the board, this means margins are swiftly diminishing and Google in particular is getting a big fat cut.

Obviously there are hundreds of variables that can determine an SEO/PPC balance, but all things being almost equal, I can safely say paid clicks are coming thick and fast while SEO traffic in smaller niches seems to be drying up.

I've just run a search for "car insurance" again - I've got nine sponsored links above the fold and just one organic search result here on my laptop screen!

On reflection it's a good job I stumbled across PPC after all, it seems that's the way things are going...

over 2 years ago

George Cole

George Cole, Digital Marketing Manager at TN

Brilliant article - it's true you can learn so much for yourself through trial and error, especially if you're setting up a campaign for your own business, from scratch. Whenever I've set up new campaigns for small businesses, I agree it is easy to see results quickly and adjust to make gains - a proud moment when you see the leads come in!

The flip side of when I do think you can benefit from expert help is when you start work on quite a large campaign that has been running for a while with minimum intervention. I've been using Wordstream to manage a larger account for the past 10 months and have seen big increases in CTRs and quality scores throughout the entire account. In defense of the experts - I'm able to stay completely up to date with all development as soon as they happen (or before) on the advice of my account manager. This frees up a lot of my time, but obviously the opportunity cost is the fee (which isn't very high).

over 2 years ago

martin flanagan

martin flanagan, Jupiterblue

Thanks for sharing your experience. I really like the PPC model, you learn what works pretty quickly and there are lots of useful resources out there to show the way. The biggest thing is to work out a process for reviewing and managing you PPC and do it regularly.

over 2 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

This is a grea, easy-to-read, well-structured article for those new to PPC, and small businesses who have to make small budgets stretch and work hard. Thanks for sharing Nick :)

over 2 years ago

Rob Owlett

Rob Owlett, Head Of Online Marketing at Creode

Great post and I totally agree, running a PPC campaign is not a hard task if you put the time into learning the tool.

The fees that you pay to hire an expert can be more than the budget you put into a campaign. Taking a couple of weeks to swat up on AdWords could be one of the greatest investments you make for your business and I would strongly recommend doing so!

If you are one of those people that don't have the time, or you have a very large budget I would let an agency look over your account to make sure you are doing things right. Give it a go, there is money to be made!

over 2 years ago

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Wendy Gilbert

Instead of learning to make money, learn to be a Millionaire Instead. http://www.MillionaireMonetize.com offer courses on how to be a Millionaire. Also if you are serious about making money..Buy a book called
”From Prisons 2 Millions” on Amazon. Its an amazing book.

over 2 years ago

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John McElborough, MD at Inbound360

Good to hear about your experiences Nick. To many small advertisers dip their toe in the water with Adwords, don't commit and write it off too quickly. You're right about making use of those vouchers, invariably the first few weeks of any campaign its going to be testing and refining to see what does and doesn't work and you don't want to be doing this with your own money if you can help it.

For me the single biggest mistake inexperienced DIYers' make when setting up their campaigns is choosing too many keywords. My tip when you're setting up your first campaign would be literally to run just a handful of keywords which you're sure are 100% bang on topic, then expand your lists as you get more experience.

over 2 years ago

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Utsab Saha

Hi Nick,
Excellent article. It's so common to hear people talk about how PPC didn't work for them. It's refreshing to hear a business owner talk about the value it drives.

Like any marketing channel, it is important to experiment, optimize and expand in a controlled an planned manner. The only flip side is that it costs real money to do this.

While I agree it doesn't make sense for every business to hire an agency, for larger and more complex campaigns, an agency brings a valuable addition in the form of expertise, speed and efficiency in managing PPC campaigns at scale.

Another important aspect is the availability of PPC automation software. Programmatic ad management was the realm of larger ad budgets till now, but with accessible automation solutions, i think more business owners like you can become PPC evangelists. :)

Look forward to more posts from you through your AdWords journey.
Cheers,
Utsab

over 2 years ago

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Lee Traupel, Digital Strategist at Linked Media Group

I disagree with much of this and the sort of cheap shot at "experts." Yes, there is value and insight in this post. But, it's not quite as simple as you make it sound and as you touched on indirectly, it's very labor intensive, requiring a level of sophistication and understanding of a very complex platform that is evolving constantly.

Can/could an average business owner set up a PPC campaign themselves? Yes, and this article is helpful. But, many/many people will lose a lot of money learning and in some cases, may not learn even after losing money. This platform is extremely competitive and if a direct competitor is using a tool like SpyFu (as an example) they will have a distinct advantage vs. a biz owner who is just trying with a "do it yourself" approach.

The competitor will download all of your keywords, review your ads, landing pages, understand the media spend and co-opt much of your work. And, then the business is at a distinct disadvantage and your PPC campaign ROI may start to drop (downward trend) over time. Many will not know or understand why. It's a "chess vs. checkers" scenario.

You are hiring an agency, consultant or "other" for their perspective, insight and most importantly, for their knowledge of online advertising. Google PPC campaigns may be the wrong approach for many: Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo, Sponsored Posts, media buys directly via a blog or site or Google's Display Network (with an impression based ad spend) may be much better alternatives for many businesses.

I don't want to be over defensive coming from a consulting background. But, there is baked in marketing strategy that should be addressed prior to even starting a PPC campaign for many businesses. As an example, content marketing will deliver much better return for the average business vs. PPC; or, better for some, a combination of the two.

over 1 year ago

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Muhammad Zulfiqar Ahmad, manager at moon

how bro pleas can you teach me well
pleas send me your skype id

over 1 year ago

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Muhammad Zulfiqar Ahmad, manager at moon

my name is Muhammad Zulfiqar
and my skype id Muhammad.zulfiqar2432

over 1 year ago

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sean allan, Internet Marketing Manager at SiamMandalay

I am wrestling with a low budget PPC account. Lets sat $10 a day.

I am targeting product specific keywords, with buyer intent IE "for sale", "buy" - they are all deep linked. My product pages are clean, I have fantastic images.

I make pretty much 0 sales...

My strategy is to bid low, try and squeeze as many clicks as i could from the budget, this didn't work. I then raised some of them so they ranked as the 1 AdWords.

I have split my AdGroups into products and categories.

Would I be better focusing my whole budget on one product - instead of spreading my bets across multiple products?

Any tips would be appreciated.... I cant scale up till this makes a profit. I need to be selling one puzzle a day through this channel. A lot of my competitors are AdWords and they don't even deep link?!?

about 1 year ago

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Juhan Will, Entrepreneur at Juhan Corp

Time and effort. Well, I have only 24 each day. Time is the most valuable resource there is. Time is the irretrievable element.

10 months ago

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