At a recent Webinar on search marketing, I received a plaintive question from a participant. She had listened carefully to all my advice, but practically wailed into the phone, "My CEO does not believe in paid search. What can I do?" If you've run into this situation, you needn't be as worried about it as she was. The first thing for us to do is to take away the mystique of paid search, or any marketing tactic, for that matter. There is no need for your CEO to "believe" in paid search. Paid search is a business idea, not a religion. Let's break down what you do need from your CEO.

CEOs do believe in things. Mostly, they believe in money. If you've been trying to get your CEO to believe in paid search, that is an unnecessary abstraction. They don't believe in abstractions such as supply chain management or clean stores either, except to the extent that they've come to believe that those things produce cash. Those abstractions might increase revenue or they might decrease costs, but somewhere, somehow, they equate to more money.

León Cathedral panorama

Image by Steven2358 via Flickr

That's every CEO's religion.

So instead of laboring to convert your CEO to your paid search beliefs, it's so much easier for you to present paid search to CEOs as a natural rite of their own religion. Show the CEO how paid search makes money and suddenly your CEO will fervently believe in paid search.

And it's not all that difficult. Just run a small experiment. It won't cost very much--certainly not enough to bother the CEO for an approval--and see what happens. If you've thought a bit about what you are doing, you should be able to run a few small experiments with paid search until you start to see that you are making some sales. At that point, it should be relatively easy to convince your CEO to make a more substantial investment.

Now, you might be balking at this advice for a few reasons:

  • You don't believe in paid search all that much yourself. When put to the test, you're not sure that paid search really can deliver cash all that quickly, at least not enough to divert from other investments that are more mature. If that's true, you need to rethink whether this is the right thing to do at your company right now.
  • You don't know how to measure your results in money. If you have an offline sales business, you might have no way to track what people do on your Web site to the eventual sale. If that's true, you have a much bigger problem than paid search. First, go back and figure out how to implement the right tracking for all your Web activity, so you can measure the sales results of any of it. Then do your paid search experiment.
  • You really can't spend any money at all. If you can't spend even a few hundred dollars on an experiment, you have a few choices. You could go to someone with authority and explain your plan to run an experiment and request the money. You could spend the money out of your own pocket. You could sneak the money from some other place where you saved a few dollars. You could decide that you need to work somewhere else where these kinds of experiments are at least tolerated, if not welcomed.

Paid search needs to make business sense, just like every other investment a company makes. Stop expecting your CEO to believe and start showing everyone in your company, not just the CEO, how paid search makes business sense.

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January 13, 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.


While you put up a argument to use PPC, I put up the opposite argument. I am led to believe ( for example Perry Marshal, Frank Kern to name just a couple) that you should use thousands of keywords, thus thousands of dollars to get results. Well, I'm sure that if you "could sneak the money from some other place where you saved a few dollars" this would be noticed. If I was asked what do I prefer to do between PPC and backlinks, backlinks win every time.

Hi Ada,

Thanks for your comment. In the end, you should use thousands of keywords in paid search, but you don't start at the end. My argument is that if thousands of keywords are successful, you should be able to find two or three really good ones at the beginning. If you can run that test, then you can convince anyone. It should not take doing every last keywords for thousands of dollars to prove the point.

I agree with you that going after backlinks to improve organic search is also a very successful strategy for most companies, but it doesn't need to be a choice. If you can make money doing both, you should do both,

Mike, my company (eMagine) provides SEM services mostly to small and mid-sized B2B companies. This sector is especially reluctant to the paid world. The most common objections are (1) we feel paid is more for consumer products (2) we just don't know if it will work and we're reluctant to commit to an agency's 6-12 month service agreement only to learn that this isn't for us and (3) we have no idea what the cost will actually be and that scares us.
In reality, I believe PPC is beneficial to almost ALL companies (especially those selling high-ticket items, as it takes so few to see the ROI). Furthermore, with access to so much empirical data and analytical tools via Google, a marketer (or agency) should be able to create compelling arguments, based on numbers not opinions, to bring their rightfully-skeptical CEOs onboard.

Mike – great post

As you point out, the real challenge with PPC, as with all marketing initiatives, is in demonstrating results without spending a lot of money (or time).

PPC is probably one of the least expensive experiments you can try. Organic (free) search is certainly more appealing, but let's not ignore the amount of time and effort it takes to get to the top of search engine listings.

But before you try anything new, make sure you are tracking and assessing (on a cost per lead/cost per sale basis) the activities you’re already doing.

Then when you try PPC or something else, you have a point of comparison.

I like the idea of PPC for long term use provided that your targeting the key words that actually produce, having 2000 keywords in your adwords account not only makes for long days of painful maintaining of lists but really dilutes your time when it could be better spent trying to actually produce conversions.

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