PPC Domain Strategies

Nov. 27

As you may know from my blogroll and also some of my previous posts, I’m a big fan of domaining. In my opinion, domaining is the natural extension of pay per click search engine marketing. Today, I’m going to look at domain selection from a different perspective and offer my personal advice on domaining specifically for pay per click websites.

PPC Domains Versus SEO Domains

Blue Network

Let’s start off with an interesting distinction: Sometimes it makes sense to have separate SEO and PPC websites. Whether you’re like me running pay per click campaigns for a large corporation or are a small business owner, there are often cases where you’ll want to have separate domains (and websites) for PPC and SEO. Now, this definitely is not the case all the time. In fact, most of the time, I’m a proponent of leveraging the same website for PPC and organic. Why? You keep a unified brand and get compound effects in your brand equity. However, there are cases where it makes perfect sense to split your domains for these two media channels. I’ll briefly highlight a few of them:

  • Your SEO site gets a ton of traffic and is very old, but the name doesn’t include the most important keyword(s) from your vertical. For PPC, it’s essential to include the keywords in your URL. Otherwise, your click through rate may be low and you’ll get priced out of the market.
  • Your vertical is incredibly competitive and you want multiple if not hundreds of PPC websites targeted toward niches within your vertical. Many of the most sophisticated affiliate marketers out there leverage this strategy.
  • You’re make a lot of money in SEO and want to shield your established SEO site from potential bans against your pay per click activity. Please note that I never advise pushing the limits. It’s all about the long term and your relationships with the search engines. However, recently I have heard stories about advertisers getting banned from PPC with little recourse. Some of these advertisers believe they were banned by mistake. If you’re making a ton of money organically, you may choose to play it safe and only send PPC traffic to new sites that shield the risk.
  • You’re an affiliate marketer with very little SEO presence, but a huge PPC presence. If you’re in this bucket, you’ll be thinking primarily about URLs that will improve your PPC click through rate and conversion.
PPC Domain Strategy 1: Keywords Are Critical

So we’ve established that there are times where you’ll want to have a separate PPC versus SEO domain strategy. In the remainder of this article, I’ll highlight a few strategies that can work wonders for your PPC click through rate and conversion rate.

First and foremost, make sure the most important keywords in your niche are actually in your domain name. It’s that easy! Google and other search engines will bold each part of your ad that matches the user’s query. The display URL is considered part of your ad. If the keywords are in there, you will see an improved click through rate (and therefore position) not to mention possible improvements to your conversion rate because the ad is more relevant to the user’s query.

Now, you may find when you search for keyword rich URLs in verticals such as insurance, mortgage, debt, education, and others that they’re all taken. My suggestion: Consider the dot net or dot org versions (these work well in PPC), buying your domain on the aftermarket, or leveraging dashes (see next tip).

PPC Domain Strategy 2: Leverage Dashes In Your Domain Name

This is one of my favorite tips because it’s counterintuitive and can save you thousands of dollars while adding huge value. The tip is simple: Consider PPC domains that have dashes in them. In the SEO world, URLs with dashes are often frowned upon as cheap domains for those that can’t afford "real" domains.

However, dashes can really help in PPC. When you separate the words in your URL with dashes, it makes the URL easier to decipher and can improve your click through rate. Moreover, URLs with dashes are cheaper and widely available because at this time they hold little value on the resale market.

PPC Domain Strategy 3: Buy Domains That Read Well With Subdomains

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to include the important keywords in your display URL to improve your click through rate. Now, one way of doing that is registering hundreds of domains and creating hundreds of corresponding microsites for all of the sub-niches within your vertical. However, there exists an easier way to do this: Buy short PPC domains that follow well with subdomains.

Let’s say you’re in the education vertical. If you have a long URL like ApplyForOnlineCollegeDegrees.com, you’re not going to be able to do too much with subdomains because the URL is already getting a bit long and there’s a 35 character maximum in Google’s display URL. Now, let’s say you own the URL Degrees.com. Obviously, this is going to cost you quite a bit of money, but you will have incredible flexibility in using subdomains for your PPC campaigns. For example, you can use Nursing.Degrees.com for your nursing keywords, Law.Degrees.com for your law degrees, and Accounting.Degrees.com for accounting. As an important note, Google does not care if you actually have a site present at these subdomains. The only requirement as of right now is that the root domain Degrees.com works. In sum: Short and flexible domains are awesome for PPC.

To close out, I sincerely hope these tips help in your quest to acquire and build out PPC-specific domains. Many times, your PPC domain strategy has strong parallels to your SEO strategy. However, other times your PPC domain strategy might be very different!

Image of Bull Market © iStockPhoto – enot-poloskun

Investment Expertise Will Boost Your SEM Career

Nov. 26

As you may know from my about me, I was co-president of The Charles R. Blyth Fund, Stanford University’s prestigious real money investment club. My passion for investments actually dates all the way back to my high school days. I’m still addicted to the game and can’t get enough whether we’re talking public companies, private companies, or even commodities. You may be thinking, "What the heck does this have to do with pay per click search engine marketing?" Surprisingly, it has a whole lot to do with your SEM career.

Connect With Internet Executives on an Investment Level

Bull Market

I have a natural ability to hold lengthy conversations with executives. I’m very proud of my ability and it’s something that I’ve been leveraging since day one when I interviewed for my first PPC job in 2004. For a while, I didn’t really know why I had such successful relationships with senior executives. Now, I do. What am I typically talking to executives about? All aspects of investing!

At the end of the day, all executives are investors. All executives enjoy talking about investments. From my experience, all executives are passionate about investing in their personal portfolios, but let’s put that aside for a minute. Focusing just on the operations of your organization, executives are in strategic roles where they’re often making investment decisions for the company. They need to know the market thoroughly and are always thinking on a merger and acquisition level. From that perspective, it’s impossible to be an Internet executive without being an investor. Now, If you’re a passionate investor, you immediately have a common point of interest that you can leverage to make a great name for yourself and increase your odds of promotion.

Your Investment Knowledge Will Add Value To Your Company

Now, you may be thinking, "Ian, this sounds a bit superficial. So I’m supposed to shoot the bull with the executives about tomorrow’s hot stock and I’ll get promoted?" The short answer: Yes and no. There are two important takeaways here. As you get promoted, you’ll become a visible leader within your organization. You need to prove you can hold a conversation with the decision makers (and investing allows you to connect and prove your abilities).

Second, I truly believe your knowledge about investing will add serious strategy level value to your organization, which is exactly what leaders need to do. There exist a multitude of ways your investment knowledge could pay off greatly. I’d like to highlight just one small example next.

I’m passionate about sifting through thousands of small company stocks. One day, I took this passion to the next level by searching for small Internet businesses that could make great acquisition opportunities for my employer. I started frequenting sites like Buy Sell Website to find website investment opportunities. One day, I came across a perfect acquisition opportunity for my current employer. I drafted up a proposal and after our due diligence we ended up acquiring my recommended investment. Needless to say, this definitely helped my career.

Learning About Investment Essentials – A PPC Manager’s Guide

So this all sounds great, but you’re not sure where to start. First, there’s absolutely no reason to worry at all. You’re a pay per click search engine marketer. The tasks that you’re performing every single day are precisely the same skills that will help you become a great investor. You’re great with numbers, modeling, Excel, operating to a solid margin, and identifying growth opportunities. PPC is the quintessential operational role and it sets you up to become an investment superstar.

In terms of building your investment toolkit, following are my top pieces of advice specifically for those in pay per click search engine marketing:

  • As soon as you hit your stock option vesting cliff (typically one year after your start working for your employer), exercise at a least a percentage of your stock options. This will give you access to your company’s annual report, not to mention putting a little bit of your personal wealth on the line. Spend time reading your company’s annual report at length. You’ll learn a whole new dimension about your organization and will be armed with the very information that decision makers are pondering daily.
  • Know all the players in your industry, both public and private. You’re probably already familiar with your competition from the PPC landscape. Take it to the next level by researching them from a strategic investment perspective. A great place to start is Yahoo! Finance. The ties you’ll start forming between your operational knowledge and the strategy side of things are astounding. The ties will help you formulate and communicate your PPC strategy on a whole new level.
  • Read as many investing books as you can. I know, you have limited time. You need to make time. Robert Kiyosaki is a great introductory author and my favorite financial mentor. Over the years, I’ve read a huge number of investment books. Because you love PPC odds are you’ll get addicted to investment books like me!
  • Last, make sure to invest a few of your own dollars. There’s no better way to learn that putting your own money at risk. Never risk more than you can afford to lose and start small. Your company-sponsored 401k might be the best place to start. Then, consider a brokerage account and start investing in individual stocks. This experience will greatly reinforce everything else.

To close out, I want to underscore the importance investing as a tool to accelerate your SEM career. PPC and investing go and in hand. Armed with the two, you’ll start seeing major strategy opportunities and will climb the corporate ladder to become a PPC executive in your own right.

Image of Bull Market © iStockPhoto – Henrik5000

Get To Know Your PPC Team Personally

Nov. 24

Even though the economy is rocky right now, those of us in pay per click search engine marketing are very lucky. If you’ve built out an impressive SEM LinkedIn profile, you’re most likely getting job offers regularly (if not weekly). Now, this is great from the standpoint of job security and opportunity, but it places PPC people managers and team leads in a difficult situation.

Just when you think everything is working perfectly, all of the sudden you get notice that your star player found a better opportunity and is leaving in two short weeks. As a manager, what could you have done differently to prevent this situation? Today, I’m going to discuss one of my favorite management strategies, one that can help you retain your entire team even in this competitive recruiting environment. The tip is actually quite simple: Develop a personal relationship with everyone on your team.

Break Free From Your Work and Chat With Your SEM Team

Learn and Lead

If you’re anything like me, you have a strong internal instinct to sit in front of your computer and power through work all day, ignoring any and all distractions. If you do this, don’t feel bad. The vast majority of PPC campaign managers do the same thing and it’s really a function of our role. However, now it’s time to take a step back and break free from this habit.

As you may know, I’m a big champion of attending SEM conferences at every possible opportunity. I’m going to give you the same advice here: Take every opportunity possible to break free from your work and have regular side conversations with your search marketing team. Sound crazy? Trust me, from 5 years of SEM team management this is totally essential. While you may feel like your productivity is decreasing, it really isn’t. Your entire team will be more productive and energized. After all, as a manager your personal output just isn’t that important. It’s all about your team’s total output. Moreover, this technique will work wonders for your employee retention in an industry where everyone’s trying to take them away from you! (Just remember how long it took you to train your last new employee and that quickly shows just how important employee retention is for your long term productivity.)

The Importance of Forming a Bond With Your Team

Relationships are very important to all humans. Positive relationships help us thrive. They keep the day interesting. They help us connect and form bonds with others. They help us get through challenges. They simply keep us going and give us essential social interaction. We all know how addictive social interaction can be from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

The point here is really simple: Take your relationship with your SEM team seriously. If you form a strong bond with your team members, you will experience all of the benefits of a strong relationship: loyalty, excitement, employee retention, increased productivity, and so much more.

You may be thinking, how do I build a solid relationship with my team? It’s actually easier than you think. Take a few minutes each day to chat. Make sure you can answer the following questions:

  • What did your report do last weekend?
  • What’s their favorite hobby?
  • What are they doing next weekend?
  • What do they enjoy doing outside of work?
Who Qualifies as a PPC Team Member?

I wanted to make the point here that I define "PPC team" very loosely. In my opinion, almost everyone is a team member: Direct reports, search engine reps, co-workers, superiors, and vendors. The more people you get to know, the larger the network effects of your relationships. Everybody likes a personable manager. Develop that reputation today!

Where To Draw The Line

In closing, I wanted to draw attention to a very important point: Never forget that you’re a people manager. As a manager, it’s always your duty to give both positive and negative feedback. It’s your job to call out mistakes and help your team grow. To that end, you want to develop a great relationship with your team but you need to know where to draw the line. You can’t forget you’re a people manager. The best people managers in the word walk this fine line each and every day and get the benefits of both bonds: the manager bond and the friend bond. If you’re new to this, my advice is simple: Predominantly wear your manager hat but try to spend a few minutes each day wearing the more personable friend hat. Investing just a little bit of time could make all the difference the next time your star player gets a call from a recruiter!

Image of Learn and Lead © iStockPhoto – VisualField

SEM Career Progress and Your Manager

Nov. 22

When I first started my career in search engine marketing, I thought salary, title, and company were everything. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are super important. However, at the end of the day, I now advise placing the most emphasis on selecting the right manager.

Where is Your Search Marketing Career Going?

Select Button

As you might know by now, Robert Kiyosaki is my favorite financial author and mentor. One of the things he constantly highlights is the velocity of money. The rich keep their money moving. It goes from one solid investment to another and doesn’t sit still. This velocity keeps the portfolios of the rich growing. Through this lens, it’s not really about where you’re investing now, but where you’re going to be investing next.

I really like this concept because it applies perfectly to your career in SEM. Seriously! Our industry is moving very fast. The best strategies today will be commonplace tomorrow. If you’re not thinking one step ahead, you’re destined to plateau. I personally place significantly less importance on where I am today versus where I’m heading tomorrow. Now, the crux of the issue: Without a great manager, you’re not going to have sufficient velocity to achieve that next level of excellence. You’ll be stuck. While your current salary, title, and company are important, all of this is worth a lot less if you’re going to plateau in the high velocity industry of SEM (where the value of tomorrow is tremendous).

Bad SEM People Managers Will Hold You Back

As you may know from prior posts, I place tremendous emphasis on good people management. People management gets me up each and every morning! There’s nothing better than mentoring my team to success and promotion. Unfortunately, not all PPC people managers think like this. We’re in a very young industry with many SEM team leads having just a few years of work experience. I’ll cut right to the point: A bad manager can wipe all the velocity out of your promising SEM career.

How might a bad manager accomplish this? The worst PPC people managers:

  • Take personal credit for everything their team accomplishes
  • Spend little or no time coaching their team
  • Have low energy and are perfectly fine with a boring work environment
  • Rarely give their team exposure to senior management
  • Feel the need to compete with their own team members
  • Focus exclusively on themselves
Great PPC People Managers Give You Velocity

Now, how does a great SEM people manager differ from a bad one? Basically, they avoid every single thing on the above list! It’s really fundamental: The best SEM people managers give you velocity. They give you education. They give you visibility. They set your SEM career up for long-term success. They are selfless and take no credit for your work. They take full credit for your training, your morale, your progress, and your contribution to the organization. Moreover, a great SEM people manager will be your mentor for life regardless of whether you still report to them.

To close out, I’m writing this article because I have been blessed with great managers. My first manager is my mentor and friend to this day and I owe a lot of my own success (and managerial style) to him. If you take one thing away from this article, please place all the emphasis in the world on picking the right manager in your next SEM career move.

Image of Select Button © iStockPhoto – lauriek

Domain Investing and URL History

Nov. 18

I enjoy investing in domains during my spare time. In my opinion, domains are an amazing investment, just like real estate before the market got crowded and efficient. Each and every day there are awesome inefficiencies in the domain market that give savvy investors the opportunity to unlock great value. However, as with any investment you can quickly lose serious money if you don’t do your due diligence. Today, I’ll discuss one of my domain due diligence checks: The importance of investigating your prospective domain’s PPC search engine history.

Search Engines Store PPC History on a Domain Level

Domain Investing

Google has been focusing on permanently removing websites from AdWords that do not adhere to their policies. Whether a webmaster intentionally violates Google’s policies or does so unknowingly, it’s actually very easy to create bad search engine history for an otherwise good URL. Moreover, when a URL accumulates bad history, that history follows it forever. It doesn’t matter who owns the URL or who’s AdWords account you’re using, the bad history will always be there. The bottom line: Don’t Buy a domain that has bad search engine history, period. I will show you how to test a URL’s history later, but let’s first illustrate the problem with an example.

Example: A Domain With Bad AdWords History

Hypothetically, let’s say Domainer XYZ buys a one-word domain in the financial services industry for $20,000. Domainer XYZ doesn’t feel like developing the site so he simply creates a "doorway page" that basically asks the user to enter their zip code before redirecting to another site that has an affiliate offer. Thin sites like this are clearly against Google’s policy. However, because masters of PPC can make a quick buck (especially if their domain is good), this type of thing happens every single day. Now, let’s say Domainer XYZ advertises this thin user experience on Google AdWords for months and make a few thousand dollars profit.

Months go by and everything is fine. However, one day Google finds out what’s going on and they assign the URL a quality score of 1. Immediately, all of Domainer XYZ’s PPC traffic dries up. Because he has a ton of things going on, Domainer XYZ decides to abandon this site and work on other projects. A few months later, Google emails Domainer XYZ and says his site is permanently banned from Google AdWords. Sound unrealistic? It’s not, trust me! This amazing $20,000 domain is now tarnished forever. Regardless of who owns it, this domain will never be valid in AdWords again. History is stored on the domain level so it does not matter who owns it or which account is used for AdWords.

Now, let’s say you’re a new domain investor and decide to buy this domain from Domainer XYZ. If you haven’t done your due diligence, you could end up with a URL that has been banned from Google AdWords without even knowing it! (Side note: If you’re happening to read this too late and this has already happened to you, I highly recommend calling Google AdWords support. Google is there to help and they may be able to help in your situation, but it’s much easier to walk away from this type of deal than hope you’ll be able to get the quality score reversed after buying.)

Google Makes Quality Score Mistakes From Time To Time

I want to point out that this is just one example of how a domain could accumulate bad history. In my experience, Google is large enough these days and has enough automated processes that innocent websites can get assigned poor quality scores as well. I’ve actually seen this several times. Thus, if you run across a low quality score website, I wouldn’t just assume the seller is a malicious webmaster. At times, it’s just a function of Google’s algorithm making a mistake. The unfortunate part: Google will rarely be able to reverse a quality score mistake unless you’re a huge spender. However, if this does happen to you, never give up! Make sure to contact Google and explain your situation. At the end of the day, they are there to help and please keep a positive and optimistic attitude.

How To Protect Yourself As A Domain Investor

Now, let’s get to the fun part. How do you make absolutely certain that you don’t buy a bad domain that was previously used to abuse AdWords? It’s actually quite easy. First and foremost, just open a Google AdWords account and send traffic to the site (even before you own it). Send traffic to the homepage, but also a variety of deeper landing pages. Invest some real time in this. Let the campaigns sit for a few days. If you’re not seeing good or great quality scores (7 or better) and are not getting consistent click volume, you may have a red flag. Important Disclaimer: Do not send traffic to the site if it’s undeveloped. If you’re buying a URL that currently just has a list of GoDaddy ads, you could do some damage to the site’s history if you send traffic.

In addition to the AdWords check, I highly recommend running your site through the Way Back Machine. Understand the site’s look and feel over the years. Was it ever used as a thin affiliate website? If so, you may have a red flag. However, I don’t like this check as much as the last one because the seller can still hide "marginal activities" underneath and otherwise solid site.

To close out, I hope I’ve helped mitigate some potential downside in your future domain investments. Due diligence can be a long process, but it’s totally worth it. Invest the time and test the pay per click validity of a URL before investing your hard earned money.

Image of Domain URL Bar © iStockPhoto – Phecs