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Pay-Per-Click Expert Susan Wenograd Talks Pitfalls, Specialization and Google

Susan WenogradWith all the haranguing over not provided, many companies are now being forced to look at paid media as a means of increasing sales for their business. Today, Paid Media, or Pay-Per-Click (PPC), is viewed less as a novelty than as a necessity, and the change is not always an easy one to accept.

Even so, PPC is an integral part of the business landscape, says Susan Wenograd, a paid media expert based in Dallas, Texas.

Wenograd, who is a featured speaker for the upcoming State of Search conference, has more than a decade of experience in the field, and in that time has seen numerous changes within the discipline.

She shared some key insights with Advice Interactive during a recent interview.

Q. PPC is a side of the business that gets far less attention than, say, SEO, but is a very robust discipline. Why did you decide to enter the paid media arm of the industry?

A. I totally wound up there by accident. I got my start at CircuitCity.com (rest in peace) and was a writer first, actually.

I was paired up with the email marketing team to work on their stuff, and was instantly amazed and fascinated by all the things they could track! You could see what people clicked on? WHOA, MAN. I was hooked. I’d always ask them how the subject lines did, what content was clicked on, how sales were…I think they quickly saw I had a marketing mind. When a position opened up to manage a portion of their email program, they offered it to me and I took it.

I learned a ton; I also worked with such an awesome group of people. But, once I saw the company not doing well I decided to bail and freelance for a while back in 2007. One of my clients at the time said, “Hey, do you know anything about those Google ads that show up when you search for something?” I was insatiably curious about anything with online marketing, so I said I didn’t know, but I’d learn it for them and not charge unless it worked well.

And guess what? It worked well! Paid search was this perfect blend for me of my word-nerdiness and paid media.

I continued doing paid search, and then got an awesome job a few years later at an agency that specialized in pretty advanced display buys. It was nice to add to my paid search experience with that while helping them build out their PPC offering. It made me a better-rounded media person.

Q. Having worked with business of all sizes and in widely varying industries, are there any common elements you see across the board that keep both SMBs and their larger brethren from getting the most from PPC?

A. Absolutely! Part of this really depends on whether the business is handling it in-house, or if they have it with an agency that isn’t that great at PPC. When looking at these groups, I see different issues:

Scenario #1: In-House:

When SMBs try and manage it without having a trained PPC person on staff, I think the biggest miss I see is in the core structure of the account and the settings they do or don’t choose. AdWords used to be simplistic, and it’s now very complex. There are tabs, options, and numbers flying all over the place, and if you don’t know what you’re looking at, the temptation is to not touch them because you’re afraid you’ll break something.

This means you get a lot of accounts that really do just bleed money into PPC with no results. They don’t know all of the dimensions they can look at in regards to performance, how to interpret the results, and how to influence them. Should they do day parting? Should they adjust for mobile devices? Should they opt to show on a standard or accelerated basis? Where can they figure out which negative keywords to run?

I’m sorry, but who knows this stuff if they don’t do it all the time? I wouldn’t.

Scenario #2: Agencies:

I see non-PPC-focused agencies make different mistakes than in-house people do. SO many agencies think they can manage PPC because it sounds so easy: you bid and get clicks, right?

Agencies tend to be full of smart, experimental people. But, they’re also people with a bunch on their plate, so specializing is next to impossible if it’s not something that’s a core offering or competency of the business.

What I wind up seeing is, in some ways, the opposite of in-house people: they use a bunch of settings, but they do it wrong. They don’t truly understand all of the levers and how tweaking one can influence what you want to do with another. I also see the propensity for them to figure out a cookie-cutter way of setting up Campaigns and they just do it over and over without really thinking through the end-to-end user experience, and having a firm grasp on the business the client is running.

Q. With SEO or content marketing, you can often expect a client to have some level of familiarity about how it works, what changes can lead to a movement of the needle. With PPC, that’s not always the case, especially for businesses in competitive niches who must use paid media but who are unaware of the nuances of the discipline. How do you get around this obstacle? Is there a large education element involved?

A. I think the number one thing I hear from clients I’ve worked with is some form of, “Thank you, no one ever explained that.” Education is hugely important to have a successful relationship with your client in regards to their PPC. I’ve seen instances where the PPC was actually running great, but the agency was just doing a terrible job of explaining it!

There are usually two situations in regards to the education piece:

  1. The client ran the account on their own, so they truly feel they understand PPC. It’s dangerous because there’s a low barrier of entry—if you have a site and a credit card you can start using PPC. Because of that, there’s this perception that anyone can do it. In-house people who have run their own PPC are usually the ones that are most difficult to work with. They are used to the results they’re seeing and get really scared when you go in and start saying their baby’s a little ugly, so to speak.
  1. The other situation is the client knows nothing about PPC. I actually find this to be easier to take on, since you spend more time educating with a blank slate, versus trying to educate and break people of bad habits or misconceptions they have from trying to do it themselves.

In either case, I ask clients a LOT of questions when I start working with them to gauge what they do and don’t understand. It helps hone in on the areas where we need to repair the foundation a bit, or build one if they are completely new to the space.

Q. What’s one common pitfall you see when taking over a PPC account that’s been managed by the client or another firm?

A. People really get freaked out about you messing around in there! Even if their results aren’t great, a lot of times it’s what they know, and when you want to start pulling levers they get nervous about what it will do.

There are cringe-inducing things like running all broad match, no day parting, no copy testing, etc. I see those ALL of the time. But I still feel like, ultimately, the education piece is the biggest pitfall, whether it’s on the part of the agency managing accounts without the proper knowledge, or the client themselves. And that isn’t casting blame—there isn’t a lot of solid PPC training out there, so when you try and teach it to yourself you have to do the best you can.

This is a large part of why I’m a fan of account audits, whether they choose to have me manage it or not. It gives them perspective on what I see, and what I’d recommend, without any triggers being pulled. It fills in education gaps to give the “why” part. It’s a blueprint and a game plan they can wrap their head around and get comfortable with, and it makes the implementation part way less stressful if a client is change-averse.

Q. If you could wave your hand and make one element of PPC disappear, what would it be? (This could be a thought process, common misconception, etc.)

 A. That Google is free and there to help you. That probably sounds harsh, but I really wish people would remember that Google is making money off them in PPC. They need to stop being willing to believe everything their rep tells them. It’s SO tempting to, because PPC is intimidating, and having someone tell you what to do feels like a good start. But not when it’s the person earning the money off you! That’s like going to a car dealer and letting them pick the car and the price for you.

So frequently I hear “Well, my AdWords rep told me to…” That’s not a good reason to do something, in many cases. They have quotas and they want you to spend money. While they understand the AdWords product, they’re not your advocate—they are Google’s. It’s easy to forget that because it doesn’t feel like you’re paying for their service since you don’t get billed or invoiced for the service portion of having a rep. You just pay for clicks, and it keeps the two separate in a lot of peoples’ minds.