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Top Content Marketers’ Secret Weapon? PPC

BecomeASuccessfulPPCProPay per click—a.k.a. PPC.

It may sound like the opposite of everything we’ve ever learned about content marketing. That’s an inbound marketing tactic that provides value in exchange for more meaningful relationships with audiences, is organic in nature, and therefore couldn’t possibly have anything to do with paid media, right?

Not so fast.

Because today’s marketers operate in such a content-saturated marketplace, now more than ever we need to ensure the high-quality content we have invested so heavily into creating is seen, experienced, and acted upon. This means adding promotional muscle to our content marketing strategy—i.e. a good ol’ fashioned ad spend. PPC is integral to an effective content marketing framework comprising strategy, production, distribution and analytics.

To keep up with the best in the PPC advertising game, it pays to learn the habits of successful professionals already competing in the arena. It’s a fierce one, and as a seasoned vet focusing on Outbrain’s paid media efforts, I won’t waste any time in getting down to the nitty gritty of what makes top PPC professionals the masters of their craft.

Know When to Push and When to Pull

Any seasoned PPC marketer will tell you there isn’t one platform or silver bullet for increasing brand search, awareness, conversions or sales. Each channel, be it Google search, Facebook, Outbrain, Instagram, LinkedIn or even Twitter, serves its own purpose in the larger conversion funnel.

Types of KPIs chart (Source: Outbrain)

Additionally, it’s important to consider the difference between interest and intent, and how a tactical approach to push vs. pull methodologies will have a large impact on any PPC campaign.

While a Google search indicates intent, PPC professionals know the importance of being in the right moment, at the right time, with the right solutions for the right queries.

On the other hand, Facebook requires a bit of knocking on potential audiences’ doors with in-feed ad placements about relevant topics of interest—or even specifically retargeted content—because these users are busy sharing stories with family and friends.

With Outbrain, a PPC marketer must understand the mode of consumption during content discovery and match readers with a valuable experience at higher levels of the funnel, where awareness and audience generation is key.

Get Numbers-Driven

This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easily personal biases and/or intuition can influence campaign decisions.

Smart practitioners in the business of driving traffic not only track their efforts, but also let the numbers do the talking.

These steps will help you better understand your data:

  1. Ensure conversion pixels are set up from the various ad networks you’re running on.
  2. Use proper UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters for tracking in Google Analytics.
  3. Track acquisition with Kissmetrics funnel reports.
  4. Keep the same tagging properties across channels for clean data.

These steps help illustrate the full picture of any PPC initiative, and properly control numbers.

With click-through-rates (CTR) the first indicator I use to mark a winning campaign, the key is uncovering how well the ad creative and audience are playing together.

Outbrain adHere’s a recent, high-performing ad I served to “look-a-like” users of people who had promoted videos with Outbrain.

From there, I can make deductions about what the audience really needs versus the solution I’m offering via my ad creative and/or copy, using this info to guide my campaign. This helps avoid creating expectations you can’t meet.

And a word to the wise: if your campaign is rockin’—double the budget immediately.

Follow Through with A/B Testing

I’m always testing.

I know I speak for my fellow PPC adversaries when I say they are always testing too. Bidding types, landing pages, audiences, keywords, creative, copy, location—you name it. If it can be isolated as a part of the campaign process, it should be tested.

To maximize the results of an A/B test, select one parameter at a time to measure against a call to action (CTA), specific word, punctuation, display URL, etc.

Only then can you uncover the rationale behind your best performing campaigns and implement your findings for future campaigns.

For example, try and tell the difference between these two ads

Google PPC ads

Not so easy, but the ad on the left performed +57% better for us in terms of registrations.

I tested the impact of the word Traffic (left ad) vs. Pageviews (right ad) in description line one of my Google AdWords campaign.

Both ads ran across the same audience, had similar spend ($551 Vs. $545), and an almost equal CTR, but the word “traffic” clearly resonated more with users.

Even when the results don’t end up as expected, try to be mindful that it might not all be for naught. I’ve learned to continue testing under other conditions, as you can’t rely completely on the outcome of a one-time test.

Leverage Trends and Retarget

With all the data compounding, a stealthy marketer can break apart trends and the impact of various conditions on their ads.

Over the course of a campaign—depending on the performance and budget—if my CTR starts decreasing, I refresh my ad creative or change my CTA to optimize for a higher CTR. This is done to avoid ad fatigue on platforms such as Facebook, and is why no one worth their salt runs a campaign for longer than two to three weeks, or above an ad frequency of three views per person in the feed.

Outbrain ad failYou live and learn, right?

When push comes to pull, PPC professionals also use Facebook’s advanced targeting capabilities to remarket lists of users who can produce higher CTRs. Using tagged UTMs you can create retargeting campaigns dedicated to more qualified audiences, such as those who have communicated more intent after showing initial interest in past content, or even product-focused URLs.

These segments are often created from Google queries, specific landing pages, email lists, on-page events and the like.

Let the PPC Gurus Guide You

Paid media is a competitive field, but there’s a reason why some excel and others lose dollars and potential prospects: poorly-optimized campaigns. Working these habits into your routine will put you among those known for driving high CTRs and low CPAs (costs per action). If you want to see what else top content marketers are doing to be successful in the coming year, check out Curata’s 2016 Staffing & Tactics Survey results.

Ehud Basis

Ehud is the Online Marketing Manager at Outbrain where he functions as the PPC expert for the Amplify team. He previously led the PPC teams at Conduit and eTeacher, using his breadth of knowledge to analyze and optimize performance to achieve company goals. Ehud lives in Israel with his wife and 1-year-old son. He loves following the NBA.
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