June was a really strong month for many of our e-commerce clients across different industries from B2B to chocolate to maps, some even celebrated their highest ever online revenue month! Understandably, market forces have had a big part to play in this achievement, however our PPC experts were also invaluable and their management should not go unrecognised. Here I share some of the areas that kept them busy whilst everyone else was shopping!
Over the past four months e-commerce businesses have seen their sales soar as lockdown prevented everyone from visiting high street stores; forced people to set-up home offices; caused people to buy in-home entertainment; and prompted people to buy presents for loved ones over the internet.
So when the going is good, how does our PPC team manage our accounts to turn good into excellent?
Be on top of budgets and pacing to make timely, informed decisions
One of the strengths of PPC is the access to (almost) real-time data that can allow you to make time sensitive decisions that can make all the difference to your final performance.
Every month we have targets to hit, sometimes these targets have been set months in advance, whereas other times they are released/amended right up to the wire. Regardless of when they’ve been set, we have something to work towards - whether it’s ROI, ROAS, CPA, sales volume or revenue targets and they are typically all within a budget limit.
Monitoring campaign performance daily allows us to review the pacing of activity, making allowances for weekend vs. weekday performances, and projecting end of month performance. When the going is good, it could seem reasonable to stay the course and let activity tick along without much interference. However, especially in the current climate, we like to make our clients aware of the extra potential of their account should they have more budget to spend, or we improve KPIs further to get more for their investment.
Our PPC experts are insatiable - they analyse, review, forecast, project and revise performance estimates on a very regular basis via automated reports and manual calculations. The more data that can be injected into decision making, the more accurate the assessments can be.
Know thy enemy
Competitor intelligence is instrumental in explaining the why, but it can also be used to identify opportunities for when to up your own game.
In Google Ads and Bing Ads, auction insights is an important tool. Whilst it cannot offer commercially sensitive information like spend, CPCs and conversion performance it can give an indication of investment via impression share, top of page rate and absolute top of page rate.
During lockdown many advertisers had to pull their marketing spend so the auction changed and the performance of those who remained changed. If you didn’t exit or you’re re-entering now you’ll notice that the playing field has changed. Being able to reset expectations is important during these periods of flux:
- retry campaigns/keywords which previously didn’t work because the CPC was too high - less competition = lower CPCs
- try upping bids slightly as it may only take a small boost to win a greater SoV
- experiment with lowering bids as your max CPC is now disproportionate to competitors, and our tests have shown that the algorithm doesn’t always play fair in the CPC game
Don’t forget these tools exist, and whilst you may be celebrating low CPCs right now, it’s also important to keep abreast of the competition as their re-entry could scupper some of the decisions you made whilst they were absent and you may have to abandon some of these once lucrative tactics.
It can also be really hard to let go of the knowledge that you used to achieve cheap CPC and stronger CTRs when your competitors were absent. Unfortunately you just have to make the most of it whilst it lasts and accept that no two days are ever the same in PPC!
I recently listened to a podcast about algorithm bias, and the sentiment rings true in the world of PPC. It explored situations where algorithms and computer models bump up against resistance from their human users, mainly because we mistrust them or hold them to a far greater account if they make the wrong decisions.
We’re an agency that likes to be hands-on. We like to be close to our accounts and we like to make the decisions, however we also accept that there is a time and place for introducing machine learning and automated optimisation. We have embraced the machine when we know it’ll be more efficient and successful.
Smart bidding strategies have been around for a while, but for them to be successful they need a healthy amount of data to function effectively. Pre-lockdown sales data for some of our clients was below the threshold. During lockdown, as sales soared, this data was more freely available so we jumped at the chance to deploy these tactics.
You need to have patience with smart bidding strategies as it can take a while for the machine to learn the patterns and identify the lucrative opportunities to strike with bid adjustments. Early on performance was shaky, but now they’re running brilliantly.
A word of caution though, smart bidding is far from a set-it-and-forget-it approach - it needs to be regularly reviewed and revised with human judgement and business context thrown in, especially during these unpredictable times.
Be smart with shopping
Smart shopping is a campaign type in Google Ads that allows advertisers to “simplify campaign management, maximise conversion value and expand reach. (Google)”
It enables e-commerce advertisers to combine standard shopping with display remarketing campaigns across the Google Search Network, the Google Display Network, YouTube and Gmail.
Like all automated services it requires enough data to function well, and for many advertisers it’s still not suitable. However, for some of our ecommerce clients it’s been the star performer over the past few months! Investment in this area of Google has jumped significantly, and whilst we have to sacrifice CTR at times, the ROAS is worth it.
Like all shopping campaigns it's also important to have a highly optimised shopping feed with search term rich titles and descriptions, as well as good imagery and up-to-date stock information. For smart shopping Google relies on all these feed indicators to find the right placements, phrases and ad titles so its even more critical to have these in tip top condition.
Make the most of dynamic search ads
Dynamic search ads (DSAs) use website data to target ads against search queries, and can be helpful in filling gaps in keyword-based campaigns.
A dynamic search ad is created from a URL on your website - it can be the whole site, or select URLs - advertisers only have control over the page/pages and the ad description. Even the ad headline and destination URL is selected by Google.
“When someone searches on Google with terms closely related to the titles and frequently used phrases on your website, Google Ads will use these titles and phrases to select a landing page from your website and generate a clear, relevant headline for your ad.”
Dynamic search ads are really good for e-commerce sites because they can cut down on the volume of ‘low volume’ keywords in an account and yet still cover lots of really relevant phrases with personalised ads.
We don’t tend to favour DSAs over standard search campaigns, however they provide a useful ‘catch-all’ approach to ensure that especially during periods of good sales performance, we can win as many good clicks for our clients as possible.
When including a DSA campaign it is important to add negative keywords that exist in your standard campaigns to ensure you’re not bidding against yourself, nor cannibalising your standard search performance.
There’s always plenty to do
There is no denying that many advertisers have achieved great success in PPC over the past few months just because consumers have had nowhere else to go to satisfy their purchase needs. However, without remaining at the top of our game, and keeping an eye on the landscape and monitoring / tweaking performance as necessary I don’t believe our performance would have been quite so spectacular.
Hopefully the five areas shared give you some insight into the areas of e-commerce PPC that we pay special attention to, and should be on your radar when evaluating your own PPC performance. Long may buoyant online sales continue!!