How I Optimize My PPC Campaigns

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Harrison GervirtzAs many of you know, I am a 16 year old affiliate marketer. A lot of people are more interested in talking to me about my age or how much money I make– than the techniques I use to do it. It’s true that I usually make a six figure net (not gross) income each month, primarily through PPC. But were I someone else wanting to get their start in affiliate marketing, I’d be more interested in learning something, than talking about things you’d typically find in the gossip magazines. So this guest post goes into some of what I do. You’ll perhaps be amazed that there are no “secrets”. It’s not because I’m not telling you— rather, it’s a ton of hard work and a little bit of luck. It’s amazing how “lucky” you get when you work hard. Don’t believe the “get rich quick” scams that would have you believe a single piece of magic software or a single technique to find the right keywords is all you really need. I hope you find this post helpful– ping me at harrison@gevirtzmedia.com with comments and don’t forget to check out my social ad network and small business advertising service.

KEYWORDS

When initially setting up your campaigns, DO NOT go to some keyword tool and dump in a gazillion keywords into your adgroups and campaigns– unless you want to boast about how many terms are in your keyword portfolio. The majority of these terms, scored by whatever techniques are going to be junky and low volume– and the engines will penalize you for it. Rather, what I do is hand pick just a few terms per ad group and then borrow ads from competitors that are already bidding on those terms. Sounds simplistic? Well, it is– but it works. Make sure you group your keywords tightly, so they all reflect the same user intent. The engines will choose one of the ads from that ad group to show, so make sure that each keyword is just as relevant for the ad you show.

MONITORING AND OPTIMIZATION

This is probably where most people fall down, because they try to get really fancy and end up spending lots of time optimizing garbage— spending their time in the wrong places. What I do is let a campaign run for a day or two (less if there’s lots of volume) and then look at which terms are driving the most volume— sorting first by clicks descending in AdWords Editor. By the way, if you aren’t using AdWords Editor and are trying to optimize via the web interface, you are handicapped right there because you can’t make bulk changes and do “Excel-like” things like sorting, find/replace, and copying. So I spend just a few minutes looking at what keywords are driving the most clicks and see what the conversions are looking like. The question I get all the time is “How much data do you need to make a decision?” Depends on what the offer payout is. If it’s dating and you’re getting $3, then maybe you’d spend up to $6 on that keyword/ad group to determine whether it’s worth continuing. Or maybe it’s a small biz credit card offer that pays out $150— you’d be willing to spend a lot more. There is a statistical significance formula for calculating sample size that’s based on your expected conversion rate, confidence interval, and threshold for detection– but you don’t need that level of precision here. At this point, you’re trying to get a rough idea of what’s working, not fine tuning. And because your ad groups are focused tightly, you can make decisions on performance based on the overall ad group performance, instead of by keyword.

So if that ad group looks like it’s working, then starting spinning off other variants– add those keywords on other match types (assuming there is volume to justify it), come up another ad or two, maybe even bid a little higher. If it’s not working (based on my rule of spending twice the CPA amount), then you need to ruthlessly cut it. And if you’ve run a campaign for a few weeks and there are keywords that have no impressions or clicks— cut them. Don’t be afraid to prune. Same with cutting ads– look at both CTR and conversion rate. The search engines are deciding which ads to show based on what’s making THEM more money– which is based on eCPM. All else equal, Google’s optimization will choose ads that have the highest CTR, even though there is usually a corresponding trade-off in conversion rate. So when testing campaigns, choose the campaign setting to have ads rotate equally– don’t let Google choose. Finding the right balance between making Google money (to get more volume with high CTR) and maximizing your margin is hard. There is a clear trade-off between volume and price— as you have to bid up (or favor higher CTR ads) to get more clicks. Would you like to have 100 clicks a day that net you 20 cents of profit each or 500 clicks a day at 5 cents profit? I’m taking my first semester of Economics right now, and the teacher tells me that trade-off is elasticity– a measure of how much you need to pay proportionately compared to proportionately how much more volume you can get. Your profit is how many clicks you get times how much you net per click– it’s an inverse relationship, unless you are bidding on tail terms or perhaps certain branded traffic.

You’ll also want to look at your analytics data to get a sense of quality– don’t be just a PPC tool jockey. Check out your landing page bounce rate per keyword. You’ll find that some terms will have a 60%+ bounce rate and should therefore either be cut– or you have to change your landing page. A bounce rate is what percentage of folks bail on your landing page. Most affiliates choose to look only at conversion rate, but bounce rate is a great intermediate metric, since you get a lot more data earlier than having to wait for a conversion. We use our in-house analytics system, by the way, because we don’t want to give the engines our data. For many of our clients, however, we just install Google Analytics, since it’s easy, cheap (free), and has a beautiful UI. Anyway, the bounce rate is usually a good indicator of eventual conversion– after all, if they leave, they didn’t exactly have a chance to convert. So that will save you some money. If you’re sending people to your own site, you’ll also want to look at keywords that drive organic traffic. Provided you are not a one-page wonder and have a real site with information, then you’ll probably find a fair number of terms that people are coming in on— put those into your PPC campaign. And for terms that have worked well in PPC— start making pages on your site, so you can start ranking for them. I don’t look at things like KEI, LSI, or another TLA (three letter acronym). I rarely even use the Google Adwords API– but do in cases where there is enough volume to make it worth putting automated bid management in place. You do get dinged on using the API, for those who don’t know, so AdWords Editor is a more effective prototyping tool. Once you have something stable, then you can consider scaling it to the moon and using the API.

CREATIVES (ADS and LANDING PAGES)

Affiliates are notorious for copying each other– because if it’s working for someone else, then I ought to do it, too. Plus, it’s the lazy man’s approach. I admit that I do, it, too— since it’s a great starting point. But don’t just be a PPC tool jockey and think that this approach will bring you massive success. You gotta consider for a moment– if I’m doing what everyone else is doing, what kind of results can I realistically expect? It does frustrate me when other affiliates copy my ads— what am I going to do, tell them to stop or sue them? Guys, you know who you are. So come up with a clever twist for your ads and landing pages. That slight increase in conversion rate or CTR can allow you to make significant profits even if your PPC campaigns are no better than everyone elses. I highly recommend Tim Armstrong’s book on landing page optimization (insert amazon link– with affiliate code if you like). And promote related products on your landing pages— you already got them there, so might as well increase your chances of converting on something.

SILLY THINGS THAT I SEE PEOPLE DO

  • put content and search in the same campaigns– CTR is important in search, but not in content. Plus, on the content network you’re interrupting people, so ad copy must be different.
  • setting up campaigns that have only one ad group in them— and then putting in a ton of unrelated terms and only one generic ad.
  • inappropriate use of DKI– make sure that when using Dynamic Keyword Insertion, your ads make sense. You can dynamically insert the ad, search/content, and a couple other tracking variables in your destination url.
  • weak negative lists– don’t just put in a few negative keyword, be clever and find ways to grab a whole list of synonyms. For dating traffic, for example– don’t just put in “carbon”– grab all synonyms related to archaelogy, radioactivity, etc.. And run placement reports to exclude the content network sites that don’t convert.
  • not taking the time to understand ROI— do this in Excel at first, don’t be mentally lazy and go straight to tools. Just having a calculator doesn’t make you good at math.
  • spending time discussing someone else’s lifestyle, instead of learning real skills– when you’re making real, sustainable money, then go get your black card.
  • looking for shortcuts, instead of learning funadamentals– it’s like fat people and dieting “secrets”. True, tools can help, but become a well-rounded marketer first.
  • not launching: I build and launch campaigns the same day– don’t spend forever building campaigns, get it out there and then learn from the data. Keep incrementally optimizing. It will never be “perfect”.
  • ROUNDING IT UP

    There is much more we can talk about here— maybe I should write a book? The main point I wanted to get across is that my wins in affiliate marketing (I’m still young, so who knows where this will go) have come from being a cross-functional player. I understand a little bit about PPC, analytics, SEO, landing page development, relationship building (to get the best offers and payouts), and creative writing. With a limited reliance on tools and no formal education, I’ve been able to do reasonably well so far by coming up with new strategies at the intersections of these areas– for example, monitoring my natural and paid rankings together for keywords or using analytics to data drive PPC bids. In the last year, I’ve branched out beyond pure affiliate marketing and started doing lead gen for Fortune 500 companies, as well as a semi-automated solution for small business advertising (blitzlocal). Our team has developed some internal tools in the process, such as a kick-ass ad server and some PPC/SEO/analytics tools. We’ll be publicly releasing these tools in trimmed down versions soon. Meanwhile, I hope this was informative for you. Check out my blog for more articles.

    185 thoughts on “How I Optimize My PPC Campaigns

      1. harrison

        Rishabh,

        I checked out your blog— you should definitely put up some stuff there! It’s still got the default filler text. I wanted to know more about you!

        H

    1. davesnyder

      Hot post bud!

      Great advice on all concepts, especially keeping bounce rate in mind, and not being afraid to clean the crap out of your account. People often take paid search too lightly, opting for the concept that it is a setup and let it run kind of biz, not so. Keep making that bread, and when you turn 21 you can take me out for your birthday ;-)

      Dave

      1. harrison

        Dave– why wait until I’m 21 to meet? I’m going to AdTech London tomorrow and will be speaking at SMX Singapore, plus going to have a booth at AdTech NY. You going to any of these?

        You can drink beer– I’ll drink ginger ale.

        H

    2. JaimeB

      dude, why not just be a kid while you can? Play video games, chase girls, have fun. your going to miss the best part of your life working on this crap.

      1. TylerC

        Fu©k that, be like me and cop an SL600 for your senior year of highschool. Who would have thought that cheerleaders would be paper chasers???

    3. Luke

      Nice post Harrison, you write well and its good to see you’re not letting others put in you in a box because you’re younger than most.

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    6. Joe Hall

      Harrison,

      Great post! Lots of great tips. But Something I am confused about is, how does a 16 year old legally sign up for an affiliate program? All of the ones that I have belonged to and seen require that the affiliate be 18.

      Joe

      1. Le Melon

        I think he probably:
        Says he’s 18; gets parental consent or asks the networks for special treatment.
        #1 and #2 are pretty easy options

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    8. LGR

      Thanks for some great tips, especially on the landing pages. I will have to look at some of mine and see how I can make them convert better.

    9. n/a

      You guys, replyers, doing or selling ‘how to make money’ are all sheep – no pun intended.

      you don’t see the picture

    10. djskyler

      Thanks for the inspiring testimony, Harrison! You showed that with knowledge and consistent effort, success is attainable to anyone in this field.

      1. Goran Website

        I agree, its a motivation for all of us that are doing PPC. I know that I get carried away and some of what you have said will make me think a bit different with the next campaign.

    11. SlightlyShadySEO

      Hey there Harrison. I know you know your stuff…so I think this is a typo?
      “CTR is important in search, but not in content.”
      CTR is probably MOST important in content network…

    12. Reid

      Great post, but this stuff still seems to be going over my head. I just don’t understand the overall concept and no matter how hard I try to find info on google its always just someone trying to sell me something… Anyone have any good resources that go more in depth on PPC marketing since I am not even really sure how that even works!? Any help would be appreciated

      1. Paul Piotrowski

        I know what you mean Reid. All this stuff was over my head just a short while ago, but I’ve started playing with PPC affiliate marketing now and it all starts to make sense. It’s hard to learn it if you’re not doing it.

        Stop by my blog if you want, you might find some info there more targeting beginners since I’m just learning the ropes.

        -Paul

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    15. Elisee

      From my experience, those who brag about the amount of money they’re making aren’t really making it.

    16. Goran Website

      Its great to read about what other people do. Keeping away from the keyword research initially and then keeping an eye of the conversions and bounce rate and making campaigns around those that perform all makes sense. Thanks for the great post.

    17. Dennis Yu

      Harrison,

      Informative post— you should talk about other areas in your next article– such as monetizing Facebook traffic, how you organize your time, why you are interested in small biz marketing and how you’re different.

    18. Batteries

      Great overall approach to PPC management. Obviously it would have been nice to have had a few more details divulged, but totally understandable and it’s very charitable you shared what you did. Thanks for the tips!

    19. mohawkdonkey

      When I was 16 I had to worry about gas money and how to dig up enough scratch for a new skateboard. This kid is insanely smart and loaded. He shouldn’t have any problem getting together some gas money.

      Great article though. I’d love to understand everything he’s talking about but, oh well. I’ll just have to keep learning. Keep up the good work young blood.

    20. Alex Sol

      Basic – but still great tips. Now what I really want to know HOW do you track sales? How do you know which keyword made sales for you. I figure there are some kind of software that do it.

      I know it’s easy to do when you’re a publisher because you can add a piece of code that will track the purchases/keywords – but what if you’re an affiliate?

    21. DotDriven

      Some good info and definitely shows you know what you are talking about. Thanks for sharing!

      As far as the age thing, I think it’s just as annoying as people getting special attention just because of their age which is probably somewhat like being the one getting the attention for how old they are and not what they have done or can do. I think the only thing that I would wonder myself, because of your age, is how you got started when it came to paying for campaigns and building up your “bankroll”. Did you start with other peoples credit cards or just debit cards or maybe co-signed cards? Kind of silly to only wonder how you funded your accounts I guess lol but just curious.

    22. mrkbsm

      As everyone else has said – amazing advice. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on your blog for further info in the future!

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    25. Chris Guthrie

      Did you mean to say the landing page optimization book was written by Tim Ash? Because I don’t see anything about landing page optimization written by a Tim Armstrong…

    26. Nicholas Chase

      Jeremy, Amazing story. The web is so democratic, anyone has the same opportunities. The real deal from a real great Affiliate Marketer. So if I’m so smart, why aren’t I rich? It’s because i’ve been fumbling around, without a real business plan, focused with daily weekly and monthly goals.

      Jonathan Volk just posted about this subject, and he’s been frustrated that he cannot break over the $170,000.00 per month mark! I have yet to break over the $1.00 a day threshold, let alone 169,000 times more than that! This guy actually gets it, The Way To Success. Respectfully, Nicholas

    27. J

      I envy your achievement at such young age. It gives me inspiration to try even harder now to make money online. :)

    28. Santhosh

      Thanks for sharing these good tips and tricks to follow.
      ot: I can see a Macbook in the background of this post. Does anybody else?

    29. Acrucia

      Some really inspiring advice. I’m just starting out. Being nearly 10 years your elder, it gives me the confidence that people can break the mould and achieve success what ever your situation.

    30. Otooo

      Hey, those tips are great Harrison – and congratz on the 6 figures a month
      I’m still trying to get there (1 more year till i’m 16)

      1. harrison

        You should only include one link to bloggerlee.com per post— doing so multiple times won’t increase your search rankings, according to a study by Rand.

        H

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    32. Frank B

      I am tired of this kids mentioning their ages, it always mean: look at me I am successful and I am only 16 years of age. So what, it has nothing to do with years it is only hard work and little luck.
      If you are 16, go out, play a ball, find a girlfriend, go get drunk with you buddies you have a long life to make something of your life. You will grow up quickly and you will will be sorry later.

    33. purposeinc

      Very well written Harrison. I am glad you emphasized fundamentals, math and hard work. All three of these make good friends. You are a brilliant guy, and obviously have paid your dues.
      dk

      1. harrison

        DK,

        Thanks for the kind words! Hope to see you at Elite Retreat again, if not sooner! That Thai dinner place rocked— and so did those Chipotle gift cards (player cards)! Got any more?

        H

    34. Big Bear

      Thanks Harrison, enjoyed your post and found it very inspiring.

      I note you mentioned using your own in-house analytics system? can you or anyone else here, recommend a good alternative to G’s analytics? (for the purpose of keeping the stats data out of G’s hands).

      1. harrison

        Big Bear,

        I’ve used ClickTracks to great success– that was over a year ago, however, and not sure what has happened since John Marshall sold it. If you have enough need and money, I could perhaps license what I have to you– haven’t really considered it before.

        H

    35. Eddie

      “Rather, what I do is hand pick just a few terms per ad group and then borrow ads from competitors that are already bidding on those terms.”

      Harrison could you expand on this a little, I don’t totally understand what you mena here?

      1. harrison

        Hi Eddie,

        In other words, don’t just dump 2,000 random keywords into an ad group. Choose a few of them– pretend you are a contestant on Family Feud. Iterate by actually searching on those terms– it will give you ideas for more, plus negative keywords you might not have considered.

        H

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    38. frusketing

      I never heard of this young marketer, but very interesting, 16 and making in the six figures – now that is definitely something to boast about! I like his advice, its a bit confusing when you read it first but great overall!

    39. Adam

      I dont get it.. in this kids blog posts he writes likea 6th grader (grammar and everything). In this post he sounds completely different. I suspect he didn’t write this. It’s a gimmick. These people are scam artists.

      1. Big Bear

        Maybe like many of us he takes the time to think his words through a little more carefully when there is more at stake – An opportunity to post on ShoeMoney is pretty big so if I were him I would have written it up well and probably got a friend to proof it to – Give him a break.

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    41. Paul Piotrowski

      Great post Harrison. It helped to answer just the exact questions I had about my campaigns. I’m new to PPC Affiliate Marketing and this was helpful.

      Now off I go to clean up my campaigns.

      1. harrison

        Paul,

        Thanks for the nice words– it’s feedback like that which makes these posts fun to write! How are your new campaigns doing now? Your blog says that you’re at $660 mtd.

        H

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    43. john-affiliate marketing

      You should find an affiliate that suits you the most. Although most of the affiliate marketing programs. It is important that you use the product of the affiliate yourself before you endorse it. This will help you to market the product better and convince the client about the quality and benefit of the product.

      1. harrison

        One thing folks neglect to mention is that you need a good Affiliate Manager to do well. It’s not just about offers and bidding and landing pages. There still is a human element– perhaps even more so in affiliate marketing. The lone wold stereotype of affiliate marketing simply isn’t true for super affiliates.

        H

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    47. Jem

      This is one of the greatest post I’ve read so far..I’ve learned a lot (esp. regarding the bounce rate, i’m ignoring that at G analytics)

      Thanks for the tips =)

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    52. Play Family Feud For Free

      I’ve been trying ppc myself for a couple a months now but i really don’t have success with it , also i lost a lot of money. Latelly I’ve been trying to build small niche sites made for CPA. But thanks for your post , i did learn some stuff about ppc that i never heard of in the past!

    53. 7ja

      I’ve been trying ppc myself for a couple a months now but i really don’t have success with it , also i lost a lot of money.

    54. Hazel Westphalen

      You aren’t the common blog author, gentleman. You definitely have got some thing powerful to include in the web. Your style is so robust you could practically make do with as being a negative writer, however you’re actually amazing at indicating what you must state. Keep up the great work man!

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