Why excellent management of PPC campaigns is essential for SMEs

February 2015

For many businesses, PPC (pay per click) has become a necessary evil. And it’s viewed as an evil because, and in particular in very competitive markets and where online search is important for customer acquisition and immediate sales, without it there would be a sole reliance on organic clicks which are unlikely to be sufficient on their own – even if you succeed in getting onto page one through smart SEO (search engine optimisation). This results in often very large sums of money being allocated to PPC and, in some cases, this can be the single biggest area of marketing expenditure for SMEs. However, the real issue is that unless the campaigns are closely managed by an expert, the opportunity to waste money is very considerable – as the following story illustrates.

With PPC we are of course largely talking Google AdWords, and although other search engines offer similar platforms, their individual level of market share does not really make them worth investing in (or at least not to any great extent). For a number of my current clients, Google AdWords form a very important part of the marketing plans I’ve put together for them. For one client – which manufactures, sells and installs relatively high-end kitchens – it is the single biggest chunk of expenditure, and so much so that late last year I commissioned a review from a PPC consultant to ensure we were getting a bang for our buck. We weren’t. Or at least we weren’t for about 20% of it because that was the approximate figure in wasted clicks.

So how’s it possible to have such a high level of wastage if the whole point of PPC is to target folk typing in specific phrases on Google? Well the AdWords platform is now very, very sophisticated and allows for almost endless customisation of campaigns. For example, you can largely determine your position in the rankings by how much you’re prepared to bid for the click (and can do this for any given phrase), target different regions by postcode, times of day, and, crucially, eliminate ‘negative key words’ – so basically to stop your ad appearing (and therefore risk someone clicking on it) for phrases that are similar but actually not relevant. For example, my kitchen client wants clicks for ‘kitchen showrooms’ but not ‘kitchen utensils’ and that because it doesn’t sell the latter. But if you don’t carry out this customisation at a micro level, Google’s default position is to make your ad appear when the algorithm can justify it doing so – and that means wasted clicks which was exactly what was happening to my kitchen client. As an extreme example, the platform has a setting called ‘broad match’ and this had been left turned on, which resulted in ads appearing for ‘sofas’ which, because they’re also an item of furniture, the algorithm deemed relevant. My kitchen client doesn’t sell sofas, but folk searching for sofas wouldn’t know that and therefore were clicking on the ad.

I had some tricky explaining to do when I met my client to tell them that some of their PPC spend had been wasted (and we’re talking tens of thousands of pounds here over several years), and not made easier by the fact that the agency the work was contracted to is one I have a close relationship with, and the main person doing the work a personal friend of mine. But shit happens and, as a director once told me many years ago ahead of setting up my own business when I was still an employee, “it’s all in the recovery”. And recover we have, with the agency retaining the PPC contract on the proviso they not only get their f*****g act together, but put my friend through a series of exams so he can become Google Accredited – meaning he knows the AdWords platform inside out.

So a tough lesson, but one I hope any SME owner reading this can also benefit from – and perhaps larger companies, too. A PPC health check will of course cost money, but it’s likely to be a whole lot less than the amount being wasted if your campaigns aren’t being properly managed. Email me if you need the name of that consultant.

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