It's yesterday's news. It's no longer sexy. It is less about inspiration than perspiration. I'm talking about paid search. If you remember the exciting days at the turn of this century when paid search was the hottest game in town, times have certainly changed. Paid search is now a normal, boring part of almost everyone's digital marketing program, but have we become so anesthetized to its presence that we've overlooked what we need to do to really make paid search work? I have to admit that I haven't been paying a whole lot of attention to paid search either, but in the last few weeks I have spoken to several companies that have convinced me that we've lost our way on paid search.

This isn't an indictment of all paid search marketers. The big boys know what they are doing. They have expensive automation platforms and dedicated teams and they take the numbers apart every minute of every day, always looking for that small edge. No, I am talking about the rest of us.


Image by Danard Vincente via Flickr

I see too many companies that have paid search as part of their marketing mix but they do little to optimize the spending so that it provides maximum value. Too often, I see companies in paid search that have no idea whether that expenditure leads to any sales. It's true that for some businesses (pharmaceuticals, for example), tracking manufacturer advertising of any kind to sales is very tough. But for most businesses, it is a well-understood process that too few companies have implemented. Most companies can take the time to update their measurement process so they can track conversions and conversion rates and use those numbers to determine their paid search bids. Despite this, I see many companies that have not taken even this basic step.

Now if you do measure conversions from paid search, that's great, but don't break your arm patting yourself on the back. Once you can count conversions, the very next thing to do is to go back to Marketing 101—segmentation.

Your keywords are your most important market segmentation area. You can segment your keywords by product, geography, buying cycle, seasonality, days/times, or anything else that might uncover places you are weak vs.places you are strong. You can then use that information to stop buying certain keywords (or reduce your bids) or to employ some of the same tactics of the successes on the failures.

This is where the real work of paid search optimization begins. With each passing year, paid search becomes more competitive, both as new companies enter the fray and as veteran companies do better jobs spending their money. Consequently, there is more and more pressure on you to do the same. If you've left your paid search campaign on autopilot, the time is now to take a fresh look. Don't let your competitors find the value in the market. You need to focus on what is working and what is not. If you aren't doing that, the day is coming where no paid search expenditures will work for you at all. If you are not ready to delete paid search from your marketing mix, you must take the time to do it right.

March 29, 2011

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


You make a very good point, PPC shouldn't be a "set it and forget it" online marketing tactic. I think every business owner can admit to letting their PPC campaign go it alone from time to time while they focused on something else. But you're right, new competitors arrive every day as old competitors quit. The game can completely change if you're not paying attention.

You make a good point...a business needs to know if his said search is paying off for them. I've found that many local offline businesses have no idea if it is paying off or not.

My company does SEO for local offline businesses. Yesterday, I had a meeting with a potential client that uses Adwords and when I asked him how much money he spent in February for paid advertising on Adwords...he said he had no idea, but he was sure that it was money well spent. When I asked him how he knew it was money well spent, he said his "gut feelings" told him that.

I don't know yet if this potential client will become an actual client, but MY "gut feelings" tell me NO. Time will tell.

I couldn't agree more with some of the points you make here Mike. I remember when I was starting out, one of my first online ventures was an online kayaking gear shop. I remember PPC working quite well at first and conversions were great. I starting spending more time worrying about getting my SERPs up and just lost complete control through the seasons and as different gear became popular, I forgot to change my campaign. I wasted a lot of money when I was not paying attention. So with that being said if you're going to do it, do it right the first time and keep with it everyday.

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