Inbound Now #13 - Using PPC & remarketing to generate business with Joanna Lord

Joanna Lord of SEOMoz joins us for lucky number 13 to discuss some PPC best practices and how SEOMoz is leveraging google Adwords new feature “remarketing” to target none.

In this episode we chat about:

  • Mistakes to avoid when starting out with PPC.
  • How to make to most of your Pay per click Campaigns.
  • How to use Adwords Remarketing Tools to target non-converters
  • And some of Joanna’s Tips on Landing page best practices.


David: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Episode Number 13 of Inbound Now. Today I have a very special guest with us today, Joanna Lord. Joanna is a PPC strategist, a social media lover, an online marketing maniac, currently residing in Seattle, Washington where she is Director of Customer Acquisition at SEOmoz. Welcome to the show, Joanna.

Joanna: Thanks for having me. I think you’ve just summed me up better than anyone ever has been able to before and with such enthusiasm.

David: I try my best, and I actually took that directly from your site’s bio.

Joanna: Perfect. So it was me that summarized this.

David: I think you did. You did a better job. You say it best, right?

Joanna: Yes.

David: I wanted to get you on the show today to talk a little bit about the dos and don’ts of using AdWords when companies are using AdWords, because if companies don’t really know what they’re doing, it can be like a huge just cash burn. I want to share some of those best practices that you use on your day-to-day basis there at SEOmoz. Then talk a little bit about landing page best practices and how you go about setting those up to maximize conversion rates and what have you. Does that sound good?

Joanna: Yeah, that sounds great. Let’s jump in.

David: All right. Cool.

Joanna: Fire away.

David: Cool. For companies starting out with AdWords, what are some resources or blogs that you would recommend them checking out to kind of dip their foot in the water?

Joanna: That’s a good question. I think a lot of people ask that. It’s like the number one question. It’s like where to start, because there’s so much information out there. I think the best place to start really, believe it or not, is AdWords help information. They’re really good about keeping that up-to-date. A lot of times the books out there are a little outdated because they’re changing the platforms so fast.

If you go to Google AdWords, you’ll see right up there there’s a Help Desk, and they take you chapter through chapter, through every step of what is in an AdWords campaign, what formulas to use, what are you trying to do, that great stuff.

Then, other than that, I think there are two experts out there people really need to know. There aren’t just plugs because they’re cool people. I actually read their stuff every single day. It’s Eva Szela, which I’m sure most people know through ClickZ Marketing and Brad Geddes, who actually just published a book called ”Advanced AdWords.

It’s my favorite book because he talks about keyword research in a way that it’s top-notch, like full on chapters about how to really find keywords that other people aren’t buying, how to make money off things that aren’t totally competitive. I think those would be the places to start. I usually always pitch those on any panel I’m at, because I think that if you have those three things you’re not going to waste money out of the gate.

David: Okay. Cool deal. So after people have done the research, checked out those books and what have you, what would you recommend them starting? Like is there any low hanging fruit where they could kind of dive in there and maybe start out with their keyword research and do it right as opposed to just going haywire and wasting a bunch of money?

Joanna: Yeah. Absolutely. A couple of years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said that. I think a lot of times in the past it was like jump in and test, and if you’re making some money, spend more on those keywords and shut off the other ones. You don’t need to do that anymore.

The low hanging fruit does come in that keyword research part. A lot of people simply just don’t know what keywords to buy. They’re like, “I’m buying my products, or I’m buying the category of what I’m trying to sell.” But there’s a lot of other things you can do by looking at what else do you have content on in your site that you could drop relevant traffic to?

Those sorts of things that you might not think could convert, as long as you have a place to drop them that feels natural, usually can be really nice places to get some quick gains. Other than that, I usually kind of say, jump in, buy some keywords, like keep it really tight at first. Use all of the different settings you can, geotargeting and the dayparting, all the things. Start that from the get-go with what you know for sure these people will buy from you. Then, when you start to see when you can weed out queries that are bad and you’re left with a better qualified little group, you can open up and spend on that and open up the floodgates and start to get some data to play with.

So I always say, start small now, whereas before I used to say start big. I’ve really changed my philosophy around that because I think the tools are available now, and they weren’t necessarily there before.

David: Okay, cool. A lot of people use AdWords to basically get that short-term gain where they’re not ranking organically. So do you recommend going after those big keywords that they would want to rank for in the long run, or would you say go after other niche keywords?

Joanna: Anyone’s going to tell you, it has a lot to do with your budget availability, like what can you burn while you’re testing? It’s still a test, right? You still needs to see what works for your site, because that’s what’s going to get you your quality scores, and that’s what’s going to determine what you pay. It has a lot to do with that. It also has to do with your resources.

I would never go to a one-person shop and say, “Open up the floodgates.” They don’t have the time to look through the data to even make some good judgments. They’re managing everything. But if you have a dedicated PPC strategist, by all means make some bigger buys, open up the floodgates, pull the query reports every single day. Go in, weed it out every single day. If you’re doing display, weed out the bad sites every single day.

If you can be high touch like that, I think you can afford to be more aggressive on those broader head turns. But if you don’t have the resources, you really have to start smaller and gain the momentum rather than pull back on the reins.

David: Okay. That makes sense.

Joanna: It has a lot to do with what you have available.

David: Right. A lot of our customers here at HubSpot and a lot of our audience, they’re kind of mom and pop shops. They’ve got smaller budgets, still awesome companies, but they can’t be in AdWords all day, every day. If they are looking to outsource basically their ad spins and what have you, what would you ask a shop that you may be thinking about hiring? What would be some good qualifying questions to ask them?

Joanna: Like every other channel in this industry, start with case studies. You’re never going to hire a designer without checking out their portfolio. You should never hire a PPC strategist until you get three to five sites that they’ve worked on. Go through those conversion funnels. See how natural it feels to you, and then ask for what the margins were that they were able to produce. Ask for people that can actually recommend them.

I think, funnily enough, PPC is one of those things that when you find really good ones, people are all about telling you that they’re really good. But when people are poor performers as consultants, people don’t necessarily want to say that because they’re like, “Maybe, it was my site, or maybe I didn’t pay them for a long enough time” or something like that.

I think there are some really good ones out there, and I think there are some ones that aren’t. So, I would say if you’re going to hire someone, find a person that has the experience, not necessarily in your industry because that’s kind of hard, but in a site like yours, that’s trying to produce the same end result. As long as they can show experience there, I think you’re farther ahead than most people are.

David: Cool.

Joanna: So that’s probably the best place to start.

David: Gotcha. When businesses are getting into AdWords, there is the Display Network and the Search Network. What do you recommend? Is one better than the other, or should you use both?

Joanna: I have a favorite right now. It’s so funny. I feel like I’m in a relationship with these two networks. I used to be such a search advocate. Four years ago, I used to work for a company that got bought by Expedia. We did a little display. We did a significant amount of display, but it never returned at the same margins. So I was like spend your time on search. There’s more share voice there. You have more controls over it. You definitely had more tools back then to help get up and running.

So for those moms and pops you’re talking about, it was really hard for them to play in the Display Network before. They don’t have design teams. They don’t have the resources to go after those people. But right now, I’m all about display. The past year, I think, what Google specifically has done to help roll out tools on the display side of things is now awesome. What used to be the content network is now the display, and it’s this really awesome idea of integrated search experience.

That’s what things are really leaning toward right now. We all know about social networks. We all know about the craziness of it, and then the amount of hours, the sheer hours people are spending on those sites. A lot of those are wrapped into that Display Network. I think that’s where a lot of ads, if you target them correctly, that’s a different way of thinking. But if you spend your time to get those dialed down, you have a ton of share voice out there. A lot of people aren’t in there, where they are in Search Networks.

Right now, I think the Display Network is where I’ve seen people increase spend and get the return. But I do like to say, Search is the best place to get data. If you’re a new client and you’ve never done any AdWords, you have to start on Search. You have to get that data, but I wouldn’t be as afraid to quickly move into Display buys as I have been in the past.

David: Okay, cool. Before the interview, we were chatting a little bit, and you mentioned that you guys are taking advantage of the Google AdWords Remarketing feature.

Joanna: Yeah.

David: Could you explain to the audience what exactly that is, and how are you guys leveraging it?

Joanna: We’re loving it right now. It’s a work in progress. We’re almost three months deep now, and we’re actually going through Retargeter, which runs on Google Remarketing and on some of the Yahoo options.

For those who don’t know what it is, let’s start there, I guess, probably because it’s funny, right?

David: It was actually relatively new to me. It’s a new feature, right?

Joanna: Yeah. It’s a new feature. The concept is old. The concept is something that we’ve all been doing, which is if someone comes to your site and leaves and goes to another site, you want to target them. We’ve done that in the past through things like site sponsorships and displays, right? You, as a website owner, go and find other sites like you and you buy ad space.

You’re like, well, they probably saw me. They probably saw them. They probably would be interested in both. I’m going to leverage it. What Retargeting does is makes it far more calculated, and Remarketing, which is what Google calls Retargeting.

When someone comes to your site, you actually fire a pixel. You cookie them. You follow them around the Web. You online stalk them. As they hit sites in the network, you target them with specific ads. If someone comes to your site and converts for you, you can fire a different pixel and it burns them. It takes them out of your audience pool, so they don’t see your ads.

So you’re not wasting your ads on people that have already paid you money, or if you want, you can get into things like Sequence Retargeting where you then target them with different ads. Maybe you are focusing on retention rather than acquisition, so you can get far more complicated and far more granular. It’s a really exciting channel, and we’re seeing very high conversions off of it.

We’re just now getting started. So you have tons of control, things like getting rid of bad sites. You get to see the sites you’re showing up on. You can pull them out just like you would with normal display buys. It’s exciting right now. I’m telling everyone to try it. I haven’t found any site that isn’t benefiting from it on some level. It’s pretty exciting.

David: Cool. Yeah. I mean it sounds like the evolution of banner ads back in the day. You’d buy banner ads everywhere, but this is just way more targeted. Someone who has already seen your site, so they know a little bit about you. It’s kind of like that marketing mantra. It takes seven or eight touch points for someone to know, like, and trust you or what have you. It seems like that plays right in.

Joanna: That’s the exact number that a lot of Retargeter specialists are using, somewhere between 7 and 15. If they can get 7 or 15 impressions in front of one person in a 30 day period, you have such a higher chance of getting them back to your site.

The idea with Retargeting, really, is that you don’t have to put it across your whole site. You can say, if they only looked at my product section. Or if you’re in e-commerce, if they only looked at this one product, or you can really target it so that you’re running really qualified tests on pre-qualified users.

It’s kind of like heaven for marketers that are really data-driven. But I do tell people as a warning Retargeting can be a huge time suck if you don’t have the data in place, because you can get all excited about all of these different things to run. But if you don’t know to a really granular level who’s performing at what level and what your margins are, you’re kind of losing out a little bit.

David: Okay. What kind of volume would you need to have some sort of statistically significant sample then? Do you need hundreds of thousands of visitors to your site, or can a company do it when they have maybe 300, 400 a week, let’s say?

Joanna: Yeah, I think so. In general, the bigger your audience, the better just because you can pull more data, but I don’t think you need to have a big audience to start. Most sites actually start with a zero audience. As unique people come to your site, your audience grows. Even if you aren’t spending money on Remarketing yet, I would start building your audience by just putting the pixel in. The code that Google gives you is super easy.

From there on, I would say that it’s not so much the traffic volume as it is how much time are you spending making sure that you have the right banner ads to capture them and the right landing pages for this type of channel? Again, it goes back to that resources idea. It’s not so much the volume of people that see it and should this be worth my time now, but is it a really good experience because it’s not like Display where all you want is to get them back.

You spend more money on this channel a lot of the time, and the reason is that you’re going to convert at a much higher percentage. I don’t know. It’s a little different in the math, but it’s really well worth it if the creatives are awesome. They’re different than traditional Display creatives, and you need different landing pages. You can’t be dropping them in your home page, or you can’t be dropping that at the same page as all your paid search campaigns.

David: Okay. Cool. One more question about AdWords, and then we’ll switch into the landing page side of things.

Joanna: Okay.

David: Billy MacDonald, one of our consultants here at HubSpot, asks what are your thoughts on ad positioning? Is it critical to be number one or number two or number three or the display on the side? Does that have any weight? What have you seen there?

Joanna: That is a good question. I think positioning carries less weight than it used to if I had to make like a ballpark general statement. But I think it’s probably because the search results are so integrated right now. With local and moving around and all the testing that Google does, very rarely is the landscape they’re reporting to us a static one. You know what I mean?

If I look over the past course of a month of where my ads were on average, it doesn’t carry the weight it used to, when I would look two years ago. I used to bid directly on position as the variable and mainly because we all knew the difference between position four and position three or position five and position four and the position, obviously, of one, two and three. But even more so, the right well, and if you go to the second page but were the top position, what that did. But I don’t think you can make those statements anymore.

I use it far less. I use it much more when I’m doing a lot of ad copy tests, and I look at the position there. I can usually get a sense of I need to take that into consideration, like if an ad copy is doing really well but it’s position three versus a similar ad copy that’s performing just about the same but it’s position seven. Then I know that that second one actually is doing pretty awesome, right? There are some really great calls to action there, some amazing click-through rate work going on there, because it’s way down there but it’s getting similar performance. I use it as a gauge for ad copy performance, not so much as a keyword bidding strategy.

David: Okay. Cool. All right. Switching gears to landing page best practices.

Joanna: Let me switch to that part of my brain. Landing page, landing page.

David: Get ready. This is rapid-fire time now.

Joanna: Let’s do this.

David: In your mind, what are some key ingredients that all landing pages should have?

Joanna: There are definitely some ones that you have to have. Take away all of the advanced LPO you’ve ever heard, what it really comes down to is keeping it as simple as possible – the keep it simple stupid, the KISS acronym. You need to have a title that’s relevant to whatever the person’s looking for, whether that’s dynamic keyword insertion or just really well targeted keyword landing pages.

You need to have a call to action that’s really obvious and clear. You need to have trust signals, whether that be testimonials or secure badges if it’s security commerce, or logos can act as trust signals. You need to have customized content, something that’s relevant to what they’re looking for. You have to have all of those before you get creative at all.

If you are a form submission site, if you’re about that, you need to have a really nice short, concise form but never ask for more than you need. Those are pretty common things. I think those are all of the best practices I would say. You just can’t really operate or start testing without those.

Oh, and contact information. But that’s not so much on the landing page these days. We kind of say to jot it really far up into almost the header, top right, so it just carries you. Wherever you go in the site, it follows you. That’s a good one as well.

David: Okay. Cool. Do you see A/B testing on landing pages a critical component?

Joanna: Yes, I do. I mean, I didn’t test as much back in the day. We used GWO a little bit, but you could kind of get away with it if you had the basics. But now, it’s just a matter of there’s so many players in the game, so why not have the advantage? That’s what testing does. I think even those best practices I just said to you, it’s amazing what it can do to your conversion rates if you change it from left to right. People say color, but it’s true. Different colors evoke different reactions. Depending on what you’re selling, a different color could be very effective. So, yeah, I think testing is crucial. I don’t think anyone can really perform to what is their potential if they’re not doing it.

David: Okay. Cool. Google Website Optimizer, as you mentioned, is a great tool to kind of test that out.

Joanna: Yeah. There are other ones out there. Unbounce is pretty new to the game. You can create customized dynamic pages on the fly. I think they’re pretty sweet.

Even here at SEOmoz, we’re crazy busy. You’re crazy busy. Marketing teams want to test, and somehow it just keeps getting pushed down the priority list, but it’s amazing when you make time for it and you give it the time it needs to run its course. The conclusions you can come up with, the small incremental changes when you roll them out across a site are huge.

David: Do you guys do multivariate A/B testing on your Display Network ads as well and the ads, the calls to action placed all around the SEOmoz site?

Joanna: Yeah. We’re pretty fortunate. We haven’t done as much testing around where we place it on site because the sections of our site are quite different, as you know. We have a resource section. We have a purchase tools section. We have Pro Users. So we can kind of target by user type more effectively than some sites can. But I would say that multivariate testing when you can find the perfect sequence of pieces is awesome.

I think it’s a little bit of a pipedream for most small to medium-sized businesses. I think enterprise companies, they don’t have excuses when you have the budget to get tests and target and these sorts of things that help you put together those tests really easily. Then you should be rocking them. Realistically, A/B testing, I think is totally sufficient for most companies. If you’re constantly testing, running two or three a month, you’re in a good place.

David: Right. Cool. In a PubCon talk, you mentioned that companies should be going beyond the conversion and should focus on post-conversion branding and include social media into the mix. What exactly did you mean by this?

Joanna: I think people freak out when marketers use the word branding these days. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, you can’t measure branding. They’re blowing through my money.” I know we’re seeing it with SEO and social, right, this relationship of how people find you and what they’re finding. It has built-in testimonials, built-in user-generated content. So there’s a more trusted experience there.

I think paid search marketing in the past has been, get me a conversion and once you do, some other department will handle it from there. I think with social we’re finding that you can do a lot more with paid search marketing. Secondary conversions kind of mean, they come to your site and maybe they convert. But what else can you get them to do that is also valuable to your bottom line?

Now that we can actually attribute dollars to these social actions and channels, that’s more to your bottom line. If you can get them to share on Facebook if they just purchased or if they became a pro member, if I can get them to tweet about that or share that on Facebook and that brings new eyes to my site, well, that’s new eyes to my site that gets put into my Retargeting pool that is now going to get 15 ads shown to them in the next 30 days which is going to convert X percent more than a normal visitor. You know?

David: Right.

Joanna: I think that’s what I mean by secondary conversions. What else can you get them to do after they’ve given you money? Just from the social side of social conversions, it’s the idea of joining the community, and we all know how powerful that can be. Everyone watching knows that when you have a personal attachment to a company, you’re more forgiving. You’re more understanding. You explore more of what they do. You keep an eye on them. They’re friends of mine. If you can get them to join your group, if you can get them to follow you, whatever you get them to do, get feedback on why they didn’t purchase. All of those things are secondary conversions that can help move the needle on your marketing campaigns.

David: Cool. Definitely. There are tons of spillover effects in social, and I think the Remarketing feature of AdWords, that’s pretty intense. I’m definitely going to check that out.

Joanna: Yeah, it’s a good one.

David: When people are coming to the site and converting, and this is from another HubSpot consultant, Lucy Orloski. She asks, how much do you generally have to nurture your pay-per-click leads before they convert into paying customers? What’s the follow-up typically like?

Joanna: Okay. That’s also a good one. Nurturing is different. I think it’s really dependent on the campaign goal. Unlike some channels, you can’t normally say like there’s a one size fits all answer to that. Instead, it’s probably more to do with, if the goal of your campaign is to get a form filled out, then you know that you can get them there once. Maybe, they get halfway through it. If I can get them back there again, get them back to the site again, I can usually get them to go through it.

I think it’s more complicated on sites like finance and things like that, but it really depends on the barrier to entry for that conversion. Like, we have a free trial. I don’t have to nurture my leads as much. I do, however, require a credit card for my free trials. So I need to give them a lot more love. I need to give them a lot more trust signals. I need to tell them all over my pages that they can cancel and not get charged prior to the 30 days ending. That’s a lot more nurturing I do. More than a free trial with no credit card, but less than a person that just signs up. You know what I mean?

David: Right.

Joanna: It has a lot to do with the type of sign up you are, the industry that you’re in, and the goal of the campaign. I don’t know if that really answered it. Is that kind of?

David: Well, yeah, kind of. I was looking for more like … so you probably have a bunch of e-books and what have you on SEOmoz, kind of like HubSpot where basically someone would convert on that, and then you kind of nurture them with follow-up e-mails, basically pulling them back into resources or what have you.

Joanna: MarCom and e-mail nurturing, these are all things that we’re still trying to nail down. We actually just hired a new MarCom Manager to really own this channel. Lauren is her name, and it’s exciting because I think for us, probably a year ago we just started really calculating how people read our e-books or read the Beginners Guide actually performed for us. How much more likely were they to become Pro members and stuff like that?

I think we were still trying to fine-tune how can we message them but not bombard them with messages. I think unfortunately that’s going to be really distinct to the company and the [inaudible 25:54] of that company. We’re pretty informal, so we don’t have to nurture as much because we can hit them up with an e-mail that like, “Hey, guys, I just thought you might want to check this out.” But enterprise companies, not so much probably.

David: They should. They should be totally, like, here we’re at McDonald’s Corporation. “Hey, come check out the new McRib, man.”

Joanna: I mean, seriously. Look at what it did for Groupon, right? Their writing style? People want to feel nurtured. And so, I guess if I was going to answer Lucy, I’d say do as much as you can until they can’t complain. Do you know what I mean? Until there starts to be a backlash of it. I don’t think you can over nurture when it comes to feeling trusted, like feeling safe on your site, especially when you’re taking their money. That’s what it really comes down to.

Sites that are looking for engagement metrics because they’re selling ads on their content publishers might not have to nurture as much. But I think when you’re asking for them to give you money, like drawing attention time and time again. MailChimp does an amazing job of this on their site, of reminding you that you are in complete control of when you give them money, how you give them money, when you stop giving them money, nurturing those leads. And I know they do an amazing job with their e-mail campaigns. I think that all comes into play as to what kind of company you are.

David: Cool. Cool deal. If you had to give one takeaway from this interview to our audience, what would it be?

Joanna: Oh my goodness, one takeaway. This is what it would be. This is pretty easy, I think. Right now, I feel like people are really excited about the other channels out there because AdWords you have to pay for. There are so many free opportunities out there, but I think there’s never been more tools available to you to do AdWords and paid search marketing than there is now.

I find it very challenging to lose money on AdWords if you just use the tools they give you. So I would urge everyone to give a second look to paid search and also a really close look to Remarketing and Retargeting efforts. I think the Display Network right now is pretty hot. It’s a pretty great place to be.

David: Cool. All right. Where can people find you online, Joanna?

Joanna: Well, you can find me just if anyone wants to e-mail me anything, I’ll give that out. I don’t mind. It’s joanna@seomoz and also I’m on Twitter. It’s pretty easy to find me there, Joanna Lord. Pretty much that will work, I think.

David: All right. Well, thanks for coming on the show, and we hope to get you back sometime.

Joanna: All right. Thanks for having me.

David: No problem.

Joanna: All right.