E-commerce Insights Give Search Marketing Campaigns a Chec
For many catalogers, pay-per-click (PPC) search represents the largest line in the Web marketing budget. Just as you should visit your dentist or doctor twice yearly for a checkup, so too should you conduct a routine search marketing audit every six months. Regular checkups ensure your PPC campaigns stay healthy, whether managed by an in-house team or an agency.
A PPC audit has three components: a sales data audit, a cost data audit and an economic performance audit. The two data audits ensure you're working with accurate numbers, and the performance audit leaves your
campaign running efficiently.
By managing paid search campaigns for catalogers, my firm conducts several of these audits for prospective clients each month, and we recommend following the full process:
1. Audit your raw PPC sales data. Here's how: Pick a recent calendar month. From your in-house team or search agency, get the total sales attributed to PPC search during that month. Also, get a detailed list of every order attributed to PPC search over that month, with order time and date stamp, order total, the search ad that drove the order, and the click time and date stamp.
Make sure reported total sales match the sum of the order totals.
Next, from your order management system, obtain a detailed list of every order received via your Web site during the month. For each order, pull order time and date, order total, and the marketing channel credited with the sale (unknown, search, affiliate, e-mail, etc.).
Compare the two order detail lists in Excel, matching orders by date, time and amount.
You should be able to find every search-attributed order within the full list of Web orders — and those orders should be credited to paid search.
If you find orders on the PPC list assigned to a non-PPC marketing channel on the all-Web list, this should be a red flag.
This is "double counting," where one order gets attributed to multiple programs. Dig into these cases, and see why the different systems disagree on what drove the order.
2. Audit your raw PPC advertising cost data. Pick a recent calendar month. Ask your accounting department for actual advertising costs paid for that month to each major search engine (Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Ask, etc.). Your accounting folks should pull these costs from the actual advertising invoices received from the engines, if you pay by invoice, or from the actual credit card statements, if you pay by credit card.
Pull cost data for the same period for each engine by day from the engines themselves. Log in to the engine's Web management interfaces, or ask your agency to generate those reports.
Finally, gather cost data from your weekly search performance reports provided by your in-house team, your search management tool or your agency.
3. Examine your PPC performance. The sales and cost audits should give you confidence that your search reports are based on reasonably accurate numbers. With that due diligence completed, next check that your search campaigns are running well.
The first check is to compare overall costs to overall sales. Compute this ratio. In aggregate, are your PPC campaigns efficiently producing sales? Is this ratio in line with your other online and offline advertising efforts?
Even if your search programs appear efficient in aggregate, this high-level check can hide significant inefficiencies down deeper. Don't settle for a report on just the top 20 terms — you need data on every phrase that had any cost or sales. If the team managing your search can't or won't easily provide such data, that's a red flag.
4. Scan by your brand. Sort the keyword-level cost and sales data alphabetically by keyword. Scan the list for your brand name ("Brand Name," "BrandName" or "BrandName.com") and its common misspellings, and pull those rows to the top. What fraction of your sales comes from your brand name? What fraction of your costs? Most will find ads on their brand to be highly profitable. Realize these sales come from customers already seeking you by name, and thus reflect prior advertising.
In the catalog world, marketers carefully distinguish orders from new customers versus previous customers, and place more value on a new-to-file buyer.
In the search world, even if a customer is new to file, the fact that she reached your site and ordered following a search on your brand name suggests she was influenced by non-search advertising efforts.
5. Sort by your most expensive terms. Sort the spreadsheet by descending total ad cost, bringing your most expensive search ads to the top. Are these crucial ads generating appropriate sales for their cost? Are the bids and average positions appropriate? Are low-performance phrases being overbid or high-performance phrases being underbid?
6. Remove the brand phrase from the spreadsheet, and sort the list by descending clicks. Group terms with more than 1,000 clicks, aggregating their costs and sales. Group terms with 900 to 1,000 clicks, aggregating costs and sales. Repeat for each 100-click window, down to the last bin holding terms with less than 100 clicks.
7. Evaluate your phrase lists, ensuring the words you're using to advertise your site cover the breadth of your products and services. A comprehensive phrase list will capture more traffic than a narrow list. And detailed, specific terms often convert at a higher rate and enjoy lower cost-per-click rates than more general terms.
8. Check the ad copy and landing pages on your top 20 ads. Is the copy specific to the search phrase? Is the landing page appropriate? While it isn't cost-effective to write custom ad copy for every search phrase in a large search portfolio, you should have specific, focused copy on the top phrases.
Getting every detail perfect on a large paid search campaign is impossible. However, expect the folks managing your search campaigns, be they in-house or at an agency, to keep your search campaigns in good overall health. Regular checkups, like periodic dental visits, take little time and allow early fixes to any discovered problems.
Alan Rimm-Kaufman, Ph.D., heads the Rimm-Kaufman Group, a Web marketing services and consulting firm. Reach him online via his Web site: www.rimmkaufman.com.