The Power of PPC: Tim Barlow of Attacat

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By Craig McGill | Digital Strategist

May 16, 2013 | 7 min read

PPC is a huge part of any digital campaign - and important to the DADI Awards (entries close May 31) - but many digital types shun that side of it, thinking it's not creative.

As he explains below, Tim Barlow of PPC firm Attacat thinks more marketeers should embrace it as it's a proven way of showing impact in a ROI era.

Q: Can a company do PPC on its own as a web business strategy without social and all the other buzzwords?

Yes absolutely. Should they only do PPC? Why on earth would you want to stop there?

Q: What’s the most common fail in the PPC sector?

Blaming the performance of a campaign on Google. Too often I hear “PPC doesn’t work”, when in reality this should be interpreted as “My business (or the way my business is being presented) doesn’t work”.

PPC drives highly qualified visitors to a site and they don’t click on adverts for fun. Therefore if they don’t bite then that should be headed as a signal of work being required to improve your proposition.

Q: Can you do PPC with any budget or is there a good minimum to start with?

When you start you need to spend enough to establish the potential of PPC with current proposition. It’s therefore not about budget or time, it's about getting a sufficient number of clicks to your site and measuring them.

We’ve always suggested that as a bare minimum you need to get 500 visitors over your site before you can start to draw conclusions. 2000 is what we recommend. The cost of that, whilst easy to estimate ahead of time, is of course different for every business (costs of clicks vary from a few pence to many pounds or even tens of pounds per click).

Q: Do you still find people thinking that if they rank well organically then they don’t need advertising?

Very much so. Whilst there is a case for reducing exposure a little when you have solid organic rankings, doing so ignores the increasing proportions of real estate on a search results page being taken up by paid listings.

Your “free” organic listing, compared to your paid for listing is now not so far removed from the old free listing you used to get in the Yellow Pages versus the full page advert (that’s an exaggeration thankfully!).

Q: What’s the one takeaway PPC tip you could give readers?

Know when to react to the data. Reacting too quickly leads to false conclusions, reacting too slowly wastes money.

Q: Remarketing ads seem to be getting a lot of attention recently. Do you think they are the way forward or will they alienate people who clearly didn’t buy first time for a reason?

They certainly work from an advertiser’s budget perspective but do work better with some products or services more than others. We’ve had most success in markets where shopping around and longer decision cycles are more routine. With fast moving consumer goods, remarketing can be harder work.

I think alienation is a very real risk but it is more about it being “creepy” than having decided not to buy. The industry is not getting the privacy balance right yet in my opinion. Somehow we have to make remarketing more opt-in than it is currently, and that will only come from finding a way to make it useful to users.

Q: In your experience, does geo-targeting work?

It’s actually got much better in the UK but it is certainly not as accurate as Google’s now retired plot-your-polygon-on-a-map tool suggested. It is now useful but not to be relied on in its entirety.

Q: Mobile is appearing to be quite a challenge for some firms. As screen real-estate gets smaller – perhaps even ending up Google Glass sized – will this be an ongoing issue?

Yes. PPC has grown up with space for at least 10 listings. For advertisers that means cost effective options and stability. If suddenly there is room for only one listing as Google Glass or Apple Watch may offer then we would be living in a world where revenue streams would become less predictable.

Currently a new advertiser joining the fray may push us down a position but it doesn’t remove our presence all together. Optimising and managing that requires a different mindset.

The problem though is perhaps bigger for Google. If they can only serve one advert, then that advert has to be super relevant.

Currently Google can tolerate an advert with less relevance because collectively the 10 listings add up to something that is relevant - it doesn’t matter massively if the number one listing is not relevant to 100 per cent of searchers. With only one listing the best way to ensure that relevance is to show something that is organic rather than paid, at least currently.

Q: Lots of people find PPC work to be a spreadsheet grind. How do you prevent that and keep yourself enthused about what you do?

PPC is not something that everybody can do for that very reason. It either floats your boat or it doesn’t. On the upside there is a lot more variety in it than people realise. Yes there is data analysis but creativity is required for advert copy and especially with landing pages.

The key to motivation though is being able to see bottom line results. There are few marketing disciplines where you can pull a lever and see the results in pounds shillings and pence almost immediately.

Give a PPC optimiser a budget to spend and it will quickly become a spreadsheet grind. Give them the right financial performance targets and they will get their kicks out of continually bettering the account and making a highly visible contribution to a company.

In the words of our head of PPC “I think of PPC as just the tool we use to drive business for the client. So driving business and revenue is a very creative and exciting thing to do. Chefs aren't pots & pans operators and soldiers aren't gun technicians.” (He does actually talk in ampersands - it’s the by-product of many years of thinking in units of 95 characters)

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