The Decline and Fall of PPC – Really?

by Wiz

Ford Maverick brochure photo

When I was a senior in high school, my father temporarily lent me a car: a 4-year-old Ford Maverick. It was the proverbial “owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sunday” (and who was also my aunt). I was thrilled to have something to drive. But – typical teenager – I wondered if it was “cool enough” to get the attention of the girls.

My father looked me in the eye and said, “Son, a car is just for transportation. It’s up to YOU to attract the girls.”

This story came to mind recently as I was reading an article about the so-called “death of pay per click advertising”. The writer, coming from the world of social media, referenced a study which concluded that only 18% of small/medium businesses had actually recouped their investment. Her point, then, was that PPC marketing was losing its effectiveness – and businesses should therefore reduce their reliance on PPC and rely more on other inbound marketing channels.

The article reminded me once again that oftentimes advertisers measure the success or failure of their PPC campaigns in isolation. By that I mean: if the revenue attributed to PPC is greater than the cost, then the campaign is a success. PPC is therefore given the credit (or the blame) for the entire sales process.

And that’s a mistake.

As my father might have said: “PPC is not a sales method – it’s just a traffic source. It gets NEW traffic to your website. It’s up to YOU to develop a relationship with that traffic.”

Think “Acquisition”, not “Sale”

Success in PPC advertising comes in part by understanding the unique nature of this traffic source:

  • It’s “Cold” traffic – way more often than not, PPC searchers are first-time visitors. Unless you’re a known brand, they likely have never heard of you or your offering. Their first impression of you is what they see on the landing page. Otherwise they have no relationship with you whatsoever.
  • Searchers can be anywhere in the buying process – from initial research, to defining the solution, to comparing alternatives, to making the purchase. To be effective, your ad copy, landing page, and the call to action ALL have to be appropriate to where they are in the process.
  • It’s targeted traffic – fortunately, searchers give you clues about where they are in the buying process by the keywords they use. Knowing this, you can match your keyword/ad/landing page to speak to them in their language.

I sometimes feel that since they are paying directly for clicks, advertisers feel the need to get to the sale as soon as possible. However, a shift in mindset from “sale” to “acquisition” changes things. The focus is then not so much on “selling”, but more on “engagement” – just like other traffic sources.

And here’s one of the advantages of PPC – you can quickly and easily test your messaging (keywords, ads and landing pages) to see which combinations resonate the most. You can then use that to finely tailor your visitor engagement strategies. Instead of pushing the sale, you can offer something appropriate to where they are in the searching/buying process.

I’ve had clients offer things like a free quote; a free download of a trial version of software; a series of videos, etc. One of my clients mailed out physical information packages – a glossy paper catalog and a DVD – to PPC visitors who completed a certain action. This was a powerful first step in establishing a relationship, and ultimately led to a significant number of sales (and was highly profitable for them).

Successful PPC advertisers, then, are not so much concerned with sales as they are with developing relationships with brand new visitors. They know that the most important thing they can do with a PPC visitor is to engage them. Once engaged, they use their other relationship channels to lead them from visitor to prospect – and ultimately to customer.

Photo Credit: Alden Jewell

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