Cyber Monday and Seasonal Bidding Strategies

Nov. 28

Cyber Monday is upon us! If you’re in the retail side of online marketing, you’ve been preparing for this day for the last few months. It’s not only one of the largest volume days (in terms of raw conversions) but it’s also one of the highest conversion rate days. Most businesses follow some sort of seasonal cycle. If you’re in retail, seasonably high conversions and conversion rates are upon us right now. If you’re in finance, high conversions and conversion rates are just around the corner and will take off in January. Today, I want to walk through a few PPC bidding tips to capitalize on seasonal trends.

Tip 1: Identify Seasonal Trends

Cyber Monday Gifts

PPC campaigns (and businesses in general) follow very similar trends each year. If you’ve been in business for a while, it’s critical to analyze data from past years. Pay special attention to seasonal peaks and lows. I’m talking about those months where conversion rate is high and those where it is low. Once you have identified these periods, you are armed with the information you need to make strategic bid changes, I’m talking about blanket bid increases and bid decreases to all keywords in your AdWords and adCenter accounts.

Why does this matter? It all comes down to profitability. Your margins in paid search are directly tied to conversion rates. The higher your conversion rate, the higher your percentage margin. The lower your conversion rate, the lower your percentage margin. This brings up into tip 2…

Tip 2: Bid Based On Seasonal Conversion Rates

If you’re headed into a seasonal period where conversion rates will be high (and you can afford to handle extra sales volume), I highly recommend bidding up. By doing so, you can reinvest some of your higher percentage margin into more sales volume which should ultimately drive more dollar margin. (Conversely, you may wish to lower bids and reduce costs during low conversion rate months.) Click through rate rises exponentially by position while the bid landscape is typically linear. You will capture a lot more volume by bidding up, so why not go for it during your best seasonal months?

Tip 3: Leverage Automated Platforms For Seasonal Bidding

If you’ve been reading PPC Ian for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of online marketing platforms such as Kenshoo, Acquisio, and Marin Software. I even wrote an SEM Automation Buyer’s Guide Whitepaper.

On a keyword level, I always recommend bidding based on conversion rate. Most SEM platforms offer this ability. They will forecast conversion rate on a keyword level and allow you to bid accordingly. However, today’s tip takes things to the next level. When it comes to seasonality, you’re not only bidding accurately on a keyword level based on conversion rate, but you’re now making blanket account level boosts when it makes sense.

My advice: Understand how much conversion rates will go up (or down). Then, boost all bids when the seasonal period starts. As time goes on, once you’re a few weeks into the seasonal period, start lowering your boost gradually since keyword level conversion rates (the projections from your automated system upon which keyword level bids are set) will start catching up. If you don’t lower your your overall boost, the seasonal increase will be double counted. You may not want to lower your boost all the way, but just remember that keyword level conversion rate projections will catch up and you’ll need to bring back your blanket boost increase at least a little.

Remember to do the exact same on the way down. If you know a low conversion rate period is coming up, make a blanket boost decrease. Then, after keyword level bids start catching up a few weeks in, make sure to gradually remove (or at least reduce) the negative boost.

I truly hope these seasonal bidding strategies help out. I know I’ll be looking for great deals tomorrow. If you’re in retail, best of luck with your Cyber Monday PPC campaigns!

Image of Cyber Monday gifts © iStockPhoto – alexsl

Making Your Affiliate Marketing Business Legit

Nov. 20

Since today’s Sunday, I’m going to blog about affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is what I do on weekends and my limited spare time (via IJL Productions LLC) when I’m not enjoying the corporate world of online marketing. Today, I’m thrilled to share three tips on making your affiliate marketing business legit. I’m talking about getting a private mail box, setting up a toll free number, and forming a corporate entity. Once you have reached a little bit of scale (you’re making a few thousand dollars per year in profit), I would highly recommend making your business legit via these tips.

Affiliate Marketing Business Tip 1: Get A Private Mail Box

Strategy Crossword

One of the best moves I made for my business is setting up a private mail box at my local UPS store. For only $275 per year (fees are different per UPS Store location), I get my own physical business address. You heard me right! Private mail boxes, unlike PO Boxes, are considered legitimate business addresses. While it’s just a mail box, it’s considered a physical street address. This is super important as every real business needs a physical location (especially if you want to share your address with customers and also set up a corporate entity). PO Boxes (while useful in their own right) just don’t cut it. Your home address won’t cut it because you want to separate your personal life from your business 100%. Private mail boxes are the affordable solution of choice in my opinion (although you may also want to look into renting co-worker space that offers a physical mail address, as that’s getting popular these days too).

In addition to being a real address for your business (separate from your residence), private mail boxes provide a number of other benefits. For starters, you can list it as your business address when you purchase domain names. I used to register my domain names privately because I did not want to use my home address. When you own hundreds of domain names, private registration can become quite expensive. I’m saving hundreds per year now that I can list my private mail box as my address.

Another major benefit: You can list your private mail box as your business address on your website, especially on your privacy policy, terms and conditions, and contact us. The rules around privacy policies and transparency are getting stricter over time. Personally, I think this is good because it’s making the Internet a better place and raising the bar. Why not stay ahead of the curve and offer your business address? In my opinion, this is a move that can also make you look more legit in the eyes of search engines (meaning better SEO ranking).

Also, the guys at the UPS store are awesome. They’re open long hours and 6 days/week. They will sign for packages that come in and then hold them for me. I even get an email when a package has arrived. It’s like having my own staff.

Affiliate Marketing Business Tip 2: Get A Toll Free Phone Number

This tip really goes together with the first one. These days, it’s super affordable to get your own toll free phone number. I’m paying $10 per month for my toll free phone number. There’s a lot of flexibility in how you set it up, but I’ve decided to just have my calls go to voicemail. Then, I have the voicemails delivered to me via email. A lot of the calls that come thru are junk, but some are not. Now, I have a great way for people to contact my business without giving away my personal cell phone or home phone. Of course, you get all of the benefits just mentioned above with the private mail box: separation from your personal life, a number you can list publicly in your domain name registration and on your website, and of course convenience.

Affiliate Marketing Business Tip 3: Create a Corporate Entity

Tip three is really a continuation of the first two. Now that you have a physical business location and dedicated phone number, you’re ready to completely separate your affiliate marketing business from yourself. Now, it’s time to form a corporate entity. There are many options, but I personally decided to go the LLC route. LLCs are great. They separate my business operations from my personal self. They are relatively affordable (only $800/year fee to own a California LLC and another $100 year to pay for a registered agent service). They are easy when it comes time for taxes (a single member LLC is disregarded as a corporate entity for tax purposes so income flows through to your individual tax return). If my business grows and I hire employees, I’ll need to rethink my strategy. However, from my current vantage point the LLC provides the perfect corporate entity for my situation.

After setting up your private mail box, toll free number, and LLC, you’re not quite done. At this time, don’t forget to open a business checking account and credit card in the name of your LLC. Use the tax id of your LLC when opening the accounts up. Leverage your private mail box and your toll free number as your contact info. The key thing to remember: Your business is no longer part of your self. It’s separate entity so it’s time to make it legit and go all out with this process. Once your business is fully separate from yourself, you have opened up an exciting world of possibilities. You’re now ready to embark on your next round of growth and hit the big leagues of super affiliates!

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer nor tax advisor, before forming a corporate entity always make sure to consult with your own legal/tax counsel. The information I provide here is just my personal experience and is not legal nor tax advice.

Image of strategy crossword © iStockPhoto – 3DStock

Optimizing Search Partner Network Traffic In PPC

Nov. 14

Do you Advertise on Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter? I’m assuming “most likely” since you’re reading PPC Ian. Today, I want to share an old school PPC tip that still works to this day. I’m going to outline a simple, yet highly effective strategy for optimizing your search partner network traffic.

What Is Search Partner Traffic?

Partner Puzzle

What is search partner traffic? Both Google AdWords and also Microsoft/Yahoo! partner with other search engines. In the case of Google, I’m talking about sites like AOL Search and Ask.com. In your AdWords campaign settings, you can choose to receive search traffic from just Google.com or Google.com AND search partners. There is no way within Google AdWords to select just search partner traffic, however you can do this in adCenter.

Search partners offer search-like experiences, they’re search engines. I’m calling this out because search partners are very different than content websites (now known as the “display network” in Google AdWords). Search partners are not AdSense publishers but are typically really large websites that are search-driven.

Understand Your Search Partner Conversion Rate

Before developing your optimization strategy, make sure to measure the conversion rate on your search partner traffic. Is it higher than Google.com (or Bing.com/Yahoo.com) proper, or lower? Most of the time, search partners have a lower conversion rate. Some of the time, however, they do convert higher.

Separate Campaigns For Search Partners

Now that you know what you’re dealing with, you’re ready to optimize. If search partners perform worse than Google.com (lower conversion rate), you will want to create separate campaigns for the two. There’s no way to opt out of Google.com, but that doesn’t much matter in this case. The Google.com-only campaigns will be bid higher so the Google.com + search partners campaigns will get mostly search partners traffic (since they are bid lower). This simple optimization will allow you to bid more effectively based on varying conversion rates between these two traffic sources.

Now, let’s say Google.com performs worse than search partners. Although this case is rare, it does happen. In this case, you really can’t do much. It’s best to have combined campaigns that are opted into both Google.com and partners in this case.

When it comes to adCenter, your optimization is quite easy in both of these cases. adCetner allows you to create Yahoo!/Bing-only campaigns and also search partners-only campaigns. As such, it’s always best to separate the two and bid accordingly. Most of the time (I should probably say all of the time), Yahoo!/Bing-only campaigns perform better. That said, search partners can add tons of incremental value, you just need to bid them lower to account for lower conversion rates. Bonus Tip: When it comes to adCenter, you’ll want to closely monitor the partners driving traffic and block the bad ones. adCenter makes it easy to block bad partners and this step is critical in making your campaign profitable.

So there you have it! While search partners are certainly smaller than they used to be, they still offer strong incremental traffic and conversions. If you create separate campaigns and bid based on conversion rate, you will expand your margins. The only caveat: These tips mostly make sense if you are a larger advertiser driving a lot of traffic in your PPC accounts. If you’re a smaller advertiser, it may be advantageous to employ a unified campaign strategy (ease of use and more data to leverage for optimization).

Image of Puzzle Pieces © iStockPhoto – gehringj

PPC Ian’s Personal Website Portfolio

Nov. 12

IJL Productions LLCFor the vast majority of my time, I’m a corporate online marketing executive. It’s a demanding (and rewarding) full time job. I love it! You can read about my corporate aspirations in my 2011 goals.

However, in my online marketing journey, I quickly learned that my corporate edge would come from strategic side endeavors. In short, I decided to teach myself SEO, social media, blogging, email marketing, and other online marketing channels from an affiliate’s perspective. After all, if you can make it big as an affiliate, you truly know your stuff. Not only would this journey make me a better corporate online marketer (I could leverage my affiliate insights in my corporate job) but I would build up a nice side business, one that truly helped others and threw off passive affiliate income. (You can learn more about my thoughts on passive income from my Internet Marketing Money Map.) That was 4 years ago in October, 2007.

Today, I’m thrilled to share with you my brand new IJL Productions LLC website. I just launched this website last night to represent IJL Productions LLC, my company and home to 120+ amazing online brands that dazzle users. I highly encourage checking it out!

I get a lot of questions about my side business, how I make money online, and what I do. I first acquired IJL.net (I bought it on Sedo) a while back and threw up a quick website. Now, I’m thrilled to relaunch with a slick website that really represents my brand quite well, making it crystal clear what I do. Learn all about what I do when I’m not working in the corporate world or blogging.

I also want to take this moment to sincerely thank my strategic partners and of course visitors. I have very little time to invest in IJL Productions but have built some amazing momentum (I now own over 120 active web properties that drive 200,000 page views per month). How? It’s all about leverage, focus, prioritization, and choosing my partners wisely. I sincerely thank my amazing wife, Nicole, the Unique Blog Designs team, my buddy Morgan Linton from Linton Investments, the entire Epik team (especially CEO Rob Monster), and everyone else who was involved. You have made all the difference. More than anything, I want to thank everyone who has visited my websites, especially PPC Ian. You rock! Check out my new IJL Productions website today.

Are You Leveraging AdWords Call Extensions?

Nov. 08

Check out the screenshot below. I really like the MetLife and SelectQuote ads. Why? They leverage Google AdWords call extensions. Also known as desktop call extensions, these ad extensions offer a neat way for advertisers to display a phone number in their AdWords ads outside of descriptions lines 1 and 2. They are incremental to your existing AdWords ads and provide a great way to connect with users. If you’re set up to handle customer calls and conversions via phone, I highly recommend giving AdWords call extensions a try. Following are a few quick facts.

  • AdWords call extensions work for both top, yellow bar advertisers as well as right rail advertisers. They work for everyone.
  • They used to be free during the beta testing period but now cost money. Each call starts at $1.
  • When you enable call extensions, you will activate a few new columns in your AdWords interface that display the number of phone calls and phone through rate (PTR), a metric very similar to click through rate (CTR) but for phone calls.
  • Google displays its own number and then forwards to the number you enter in your ad extensions setup. That’s how Google measures the number of calls and charges you.
  • To the best of my knowledge, phone calls do not count towards your overall CTR nor quality score at this time. If you get a ton of calls (and see fewer clicks as a result), you may experience a lower CTR and therefore quality score. That said, the economics may still make sense. You just need to model it all out and test both scenarios. In the future, calls may count towards your quality score.
  • Call extensions only show up for ad groups that got at least 30 clicks in the last 30 days. They do not display for lower volume ad groups.

It’s my personal belief that call extensions add a lot of credibility to ones ad. I actually believe they can improve your CTR. Just having the call extensions number present shows that you mean business and you’re legit. This trust factor can really draw attention to your ad and make it look appealing. In my opinion, it’s a true winning situation and an ad extension that must be explored by all major AdWords advertisers. Are you currently leveraging call extensions in your AdWords campaigns?

AdWords Call Extensions