The Dreaded AdWords Plateau and What You Can Do About It [PODCAST]

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Have you ever run a PPC campaign that was working pretty well, but never seemed to get to the next level?

You may have experienced what PPC insiders call the “AdWords Plateau,” the point where your campaigns are maintaining their value, but are no longer driving the kind of growth you need.

So, do you just sit back and rest on your laurels? Heck no! We want your campaigns to always be converting better. That’s why in this episode of the Call to Action podcast, we talk to Igor Belogolovsky, co-founder of Clever Zebo, about advanced AdWords tactics that can push your campaigns up and off the plateau.

You will learn:

  • Why categorizing your campaigns based on product can be holding you back.
  • The importance of geography in AdWords.
  • How one company added a call extension and increased mobile leads by 110%.

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In this episode: Dan Levy, Unbounce’s Content Strategist, interviews Igor Belogolovsky, co-founder of Clever Zebo.

Stephanie Saretsky: Hey podcast listeners, I’m Stephanie Saretsky and you’re listing to Call to Action, a podcast about creating better marketing experiences — powered by Unbounce.

Are you running PPC campaigns? Are your results pretty good but you never seemed to be able to get them to be even better? You may have experienced what PPC insiders call the “AdWords Plateau,” the point when your campaigns are maintaining their value, but aren’t doing any better and aren’t doing any worse. So, do you just sit back on your laurels? Heck no! We want your campaigns to always be converting better. That’s why our Content Strategist Dan Levy got in touch with Igor Belogolovsky, co-founder of Clever Zebo, about advanced AdWords hacks that can push your campaigns up and off the plateau. Take a listen to this.

Dan: Before we get into brass tacks, let’s talk about the infamous AdWords performance plateau. What is it, and how do I know if I’ve reached it?

Igor: You know, if you’ve been advertising on AdWords for a long time and have been trying different tweaks in your campaign, and you come across that moment where you’re sort of like, “Hmm, no matter what I do, I can’t seem to get the number of conversions up from week to week, can’t seem to get this CPA down any further.” That’s kind of what I think of as the plateau. And if you’ve optimized AdWords campaigns for a while, it happens and it comes pretty quickly if you’re good at this.

Dan: So what are some signs that you’ve reached a plateau and it’s time to try something new?

Igor: Honestly, I think the biggest thing is that those metrics are staying steady. Can’t seem to get over a certain number of weekly conversions, can’t seem to get under a certain CPA. If other metrics are staying unchanged or you can’t get them higher or better than they were last week, that’s definitely a sign. Especially if you’re doing rigorous testing in the account. If you’ve got an A/B test on your ads live at all times and still, no matter what, you’ve got incumbent ads always beating the new variants, that’s an indicator that the account’s in pretty good shape. It means that things might have plateaued.

Dan: And of course, things are in good shape, then – it’s a good problem to have, but you always want to be optimizing and doing better, of course. So, one of the more common challenges that I think performance marketers find themselves butting up against has to do with the volume. Can you explain why I might want to get more campaign traffic and what I can do to get that?

Igor: So everybody’s looking for more traffic if it’s qualified. It’s easy to spend money on AdWords on traffic that isn’t qualified, so put that asterisk next to the idea of more traffic and why you would want it. But let’s say that you’re getting good traffic through AdWords and you want to get more of it. Basically, there’s two ways that you can get more traffic through AdWords. #1 is expanding your keyword approach and different topics that you want to capture searchers on. #2 is actually creating better performing campaigns. So you might only be able to get a certain percentage of the impression share available on your terms if your ads are not kind of very historically vetted and have been shown to Google to perform really well. Once you pass that test — once you kind of show Google that you can drive consistent performance and you’re going to keep spending in that area and you’re going to outperform in a consistent way the other competitors in that space — you’re going to be able to get more volume. Because Google will trust your ad. Google will know if they serve it a certain number of times a day, they’ll make a certain amount of money from people clicking that ad and you’ll be happy from the results from a conversion standpoint and ROI standpoint. So it’s not a risk for Google. So those are the two main ways to increase traffic.

Dan: And of course, getting more traffic, though, usually means spending more money. How do you know if it’s worth cranking up the budget for that?

Igor: Well, like any performance marketer, I would tell you that if you’re making more money than you’re spending, you’re in good shape. But that’s where people start talking about the concept of lifetime value. You know, sometimes the conversion that you’re tracking in AdWords doesn’t trace all the way back to the credit card or the revenue that comes back to your business. So when you’ve got a sophisticated enough model, when you can take into account lifetime value, if you can feed that back into AdWords through their offline conversions import feature, you can really be in good shape to understand your overall ROI.

Dan: Well, the next tactic, now that we’ve got the basics down, the next one that you look at in your post has to do with lowering cost per acquisition. Most marketers manage CPA by campaign or keyword and ad group. But you’re right that this means that you’re prioritizing search topics over the searcher herself or himself. What do you mean by that?

Igor: So if you’re just adjusting bids based on a specific keyword, basically what you’re telling Google is red shoes are converting better than blue shoes. What you’re ignoring, potentially, is the person that’s typing that in and what experience they’re going to have when they click through to your site. So in the case of an ecommerce site, where maybe you’ve got a high-ticket item and a very considered purchase, maybe the desktop version of the site converts better than mobile, because sometimes it’s tougher to make an ecommerce buy on your mobile device. It’s small and there’s a lot of different options. And so if you’re not optimizing bids at the device level, for example – and there are other dimensions too like geography and we’ll talk about that later – then you’re really doing yourself a disservice to just focus on the thing being searched and not also the searcher and what experience they’re having coming to your site.

Dan: Ultimately, you’re trying to reach a person, so user intent is something that I think maybe some marketers forget about but really should be driving your campaign for the most part, right?

Igor: Absolutely.

Dan: I’d like to dive into device type. Can you take us through what making bid adjustments looks like in the context of a mobile campaign?

Igor: So we just talked about the example of an ecommerce site where you might have a better desktop experience than mobile, and thus your mobile CPA might be higher so you might want to adjust your bids down on mobile to account for that. There’s also the possibility that your mobile experience is the primary experience and you want to bid up on the mobile ads. So an example of that might be that you’re advertising for your restaurant and you want somebody to set up a reservation on OpenTable. That’s something that people often do on their mobile device and they want to have a map handy of the restaurant. They’re not going to be doing that as often from their desktop. So in that scenario, you might bid up by 50 percent on mobile devices and not so much on desktop.

Dan: Another way to adjust bids is by geography, since some products and services convert differently in different places. I get how someone selling raincoats would want to focus on Seattle rather than Phoenix, for example. But could you explain why a marketer in a less tangible place-based industry like SaaS or healthcare or education would want to adjust their bids geographically?

Igor: Yeah, it’s a really good question. But you’d be surprised when you go into the dimensions tab in AdWords. Sometimes it’ll go into a campaign and California has a $40.00 CPA and in Illinois, we’re looking at a $150.00 CPA. Like why would that be? But it happens. The raincoat example is the one that Google kind of gives and that makes sense to everybody. In software as a service, it might be something more subtle. For example, we have a client that’s in usability testing software. And they get a lot of university students going and searching for their software to go and play around with the idea of usability testing and what it means. And those university students aren’t going to be great converters. But you know, in the name of education, they’ll go and click through and look around. And so you might have, in a university town like Berkeley, California, a lot of people kind of going that route and so not converting as often. Whereas across the bay in San Francisco where you have lots of tech startups, there might actually be buyers of the usability testing software. For them, you might have a lower CPA and better converting numbers. So that’s just a scenario where in micro geography, you might have higher bids for San Francisco where you have the tech startups and lower bids for Berkeley, which is a college town.

Dan: That makes sense. Google suggests that you make bid adjustments in the 15 percent range. Why – what’s so magical about that particular number? Do you know?

Igor: That’s a good question. Google usually suggests this; the reps often talk about the 10 to 15 percent range. And I think the reason really is that Google AdWords is a sensitive machine. And if you go in and start tweaking levers at 30 or 50 percent bid increases, there’s not as much stability to that and it can take longer to learn. Whereas if you go gradually, you can learn more and I think you can learn more quickly. I think gradual is the key to a lot of things in AdWords, not just the adjustments.

Dan: So it’s sort of Google giving a hint a little bit about how their algorithm works there?

Igor: I think so.

Dan: Yeah, a lot of AdWords is reading the Google tea leaves, isn’t it?

Igor: I think so.

Dan: The last conversion that you suggest optimizing your AdWords campaign for is click-through rates. Before we get into some of the techs about how to do that, when might you find yourself in a situation where it makes sense to optimize for clicks?

Igor: Yeah. So I think the main caveat here is of course, clicks are good but conversions are better, right? So it’s not that I’m saying you want to go out and get as many clicks as possible, because that can be expensive. But click-through rate has long been known to be the main determinant of Quality Score, which is Google’s 1 to 10 scale of how good of a search result your ad is, in the end, as an experience for the visitor. And the better experience that your ad provides, the more often Google is going to serve that ad, and also the less Google is going to charge you to put that ad in the top three spots because they know that it’s going to get clicked because it’s just such a good quality ad. And so by getting your click-through up and optimizing for clicks, you’re actually going to improve that Quality Score and hopefully take it to the 7, 8, 9, 10 out of 10 range. And that’s really going to help you from a cost perspective and from an impression share perspective. I would say the other reason to optimize for clicks is just if you’re in a very competitive SEM landscape. So if you’re in real estate, if you’re in legal, every qualified click counts. And so getting that impression share optimizing for clicks can be the life blood of your account.

Dan: Yeah, Quality Score I guess is another one of those things that’s a little bit mysterious and Google doesn’t give a whole lot of advice about how to get that up. So I suppose anything counts.

Igor: Exactly.

Dan: So let’s talk about ad extensions, which are one of the key ways that you can set up your PPC campaigns and set them apart from noobs and competitors. So what are ad extensions? What do they look like and why should marketers get really excited about them?

Igor: There’s a couple of different types of ad extensions. I’ll just call out a few. There’s site links, which are up to four different links that will show up underneath your ad headline and will point to specific content on your site; so not just to the landing page that your main ad headline links to, but to an “about us” page, or a partnership integrations page or testimonials page or something like that. The other exciting thing about the site links extension, though, is that it really gives you more real estate on the page. So if you are fortunate enough to have your ads show up in those top three spots in Google, you’re going to take up more room when they show those four site link extensions and so you kind of get more billboard real estate out of that.

Dan: Is there a tradeoff there, though? Because you’re also distracting people from getting to that landing page where the conversion actually takes place, no?

Igor: That’s a really good point and something I’ve had to attack with a client this week — you might have people going to another place on the site that’s less of a direct path to conversion. And so what that tells me is: man, every page on this site has got to have a strong call to action. Even if you’re telling people about your great quality of work and where your product is made and all that type of more informational stuff, you’ve got to have a call to action on the page and be able to point people toward the conversion that way. Otherwise, the site links could well distract more than they add.

Dan: Wouldn’t it depend, then, on where the user that you’re targeting is in your customer lifecycle? Like if it’s a little bit more of a lead gen or brand awareness play, then those site links getting that attention might be worth it. But if you’re looking for that conversion, then maybe not?

Igor: Yeah, that can absolutely make a difference. Another way the companies will use it is that a player like Zappos might have a site link that’s all about their free returns and how you can return something for 365 days out of the year. They might think that if they work that into their 35 character description one line, that’s okay. But having a whole site link and page and description of that policy can be really beneficial for them because that’s one of the big reasons that people buy from Zappos.

Dan: Interesting. So in a way, it’s just a way – well, I guess that’s why it’s called an extension, right? It’s a way to extend your ad and your messaging without –

Igor: Absolutely.

Dan: – messing up your peppy headline, I guess.

Igor: That’s right. And there’s a couple other versions of the extension, also. There’s location extensions for brick and mortar business to show the location of it, there’s call extensions which will bring in a phone number right there into your ad. And there’s a callout extension, which is not a clickable piece of text but it allows you to put a couple of dinger benefits right below your ad about your service.

Dan: I wanted to ask you about the call extension. Can you talk about how an organization called A Place for Mom added a call extension and increased their mobile leads by 110 percent in the process?

Igor: Yeah, absolutely. So A Place for Mom is one of Google’s case studies and they’re in elder care. And you know, at the end of the day, it’s pretty obvious. You add a call extension, you allow people who are searching for information about your service on mobile to call in rather than using the form on your site. And of course they’re going to call so it makes sense that they were able to increase calls. But I think that the real takeaway from this one is that calls can be a much more qualified lead than somebody who just fills out a form on your website. Because what ends up happening is sales teams that call on leads that submit through a landing page form, they’ll usually find that at least half of the submissions are not good leads for whatever reason; either they can’t reach them on the phone number, or by the time they get a call from the sales rep, they’ve filled out three other forms of competitors and so they’re going with a different option. Somebody who’s calling you right there on the spot, they’ve made a lot more effort to pick up the phone and get in touch with you. And something like eldercare in this example — there are lots of other businesses like this. It can be something that people want to talk through on the phone and not just read a couple of bullet points on a landing page and submit a form. And so these people that are calling are treasured leads. They should be viewed as a lead that maybe would be willing to pay three or four times as much to Google to get that lead.

Dan: Yeah. Again, it goes back to that user’s intent and where they are in your funnel, and whether it makes more sense to get them on the phone right away, or what you really want to be doing is getting their email address so you could continue to nurture them through the funnel until it’s time to maybe ask for that big conversion. So yeah, in most cases, the conversion doesn’t happen over the phone but it does happen on that landing page. Can you leave us with one tip for optimizing your PPC landing pages for more conversions?

Igor: Yeah. You know, I think that the last couple years, the trend has really been minimalist text: the idea that people don’t read so much on a landing page and really having a bare bones form where we don’t ask for a lot of fields. So the trend has been don’t ask too much of the consumer. But there’s a flip side to that. I think trustworthiness is one of the main reasons that people do choose to give their information on a landing page. And so sometimes it can take a little bit of content to build that trust. So I guess maybe the tip is this: if I see a great testimonial with a picture of the person that it’s coming from, and it’s from somebody who is just right in my demographic. So I’m a cofounder of a marketing firm. If I see this tool that – I’m looking at their landing page – is used by an executive at a marketing agency and he’s saying, “Man, this tool saved us a bunch of money and you’ve got to try it,” coupled with a lot of other landing page elements that kind of build out the case for that tool, I’m much more likely to convert than if somebody is just using a snappy headline, a really short form, and really bare bones content.

Dan: Yeah, it’s amazing how many marketers still don’t include that sort of social proof on their landing page. That said, our cofounder Oli used to say that 99 percent of marketers still aren’t even sending their AdWords traffic to a dedicated landing page. I think recently he said it’s gotten a little bit better so it’s more like 98 percent. I don’t know what you’re seeing, but where do you think we are, actually, with the state of AdWords and using dedicated landing pages for PPC campaigns, and why do you think most – or why do you think more marketers still aren’t doing it?

Igor: It’s something that’s been changing a lot and certainly there’s really sophisticated companies out there that are building out highly specific landing pages for every search term. I think that, at the end of the day, it takes resources to build these dedicated pages. And so in the spirit of minimum viable product and kind of straw manning something together to get proof out of AdWords before you go and put a lot of technical resources behind it, a lot of companies and a lot of our clients will build kind of the minimum viable landing page approach, which will not necessarily be super specific, keyword by keyword and ad group by ad group. And once they see that work well, one of the optimization steps that we recommend, months down the road after that, is to build out a very specific approach. But it can be really tough to get technical resources devoted to that type of thing and you have to believe in Google AdWords, you have to believe in landing pages that are highly tailored and really put the money there and make it happen and make it beautiful.

Dan: If only there were a tool to help you easily build landing pages.

Igor: Wild idea.

Dan: Shameless plug. Cool. Well, thanks for sharing all these really insightful tips and for the great post, Igor. It was great to chat.

Igor: Dan, thank you.

Stephanie: That was Igor Belogolovsky, co-founder of Clever Zebo.

Transcript by GMR Transcription.

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About Stephanie Saretsky
Stephanie Saretsky is a former multimedia producer at Unbounce. Producing projects like the Call to Action podcast and The Landing Page Sessions by day and a radio DJ by night, she is a lover of all things multimedia. Find her on Twitter: @msbeansie
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