Conversion Heroes Part 4: Pay Per Click (PPC) – An Interview with John Hossack

Conversion Heroes

Conversion Heroes is a series of 5-question interviews with experts in the field of conversion. Subjects for discussion include landing pages, copywriting, conversion optimization, social media conversion, email marketing, organic SEO for landing pages and A/B & multivariate testing.

Today’s Conversion Hero is John Hossack

John HossackJohn Hossack is the CEO of VKI Studios, a Vancouver based performance optimization firm, as well as the President of the International Internet Marketing Association. Prior to getting involved with the web John was a Treasury Manager and currency trader.

Read John’s full bio at the end of the interview

For today’s interview I asked John about how to get started with PPC, managing your campaigns and how landing pages and PPC should be used together to increase conversions.

1. Avoiding the newbie PPC blues.

A lot of people get started with PPC by cashing in an AdWords freebie voucher and quickly blow through their $100 really quickly and aren’t able to learn how to be successful.

Oli: What is the best way to get started with PPC to avoid the disappointment of this typical scenario?

John: People frequently jump into PPC with their mind focused on a large volume of keywords, not on their financial limits. It’s a good idea to start small, with limited number of targeted keywords, and use this to test your traffic, budget, conversion rate, etc. Do some keyword research and select only relevant keywords, then group them into focused/targeted ad groups. Try to include both types of keywords – head and long tail as well as branded and non-branded keywords to see how they perform.

It’s also important to use landing pages. Don’t drive traffic to the homepage or generic/irrelevant internal pages.

Oli: You mention long tail terms. Is it possible to leverage long tail strategies to minimize your cost-per-click, so that beginners can run their campaigns with a lower budget and lower risk?

John: A large budget isn’t necessary, but it helps. The larger your budget the broader the test campaign you’ll be able to run, and the more data you will get back upon which to perform your analysis prior to fine tuning the campaign. If you only have a small budget to start with you will need to be very focused and efficient with you efforts. Focusing on the long tail should help keep your average cost per click down as there is less competition for these keywords and it should convert at a higher rate as long tail terms are more specific and typically searched when people are further along in the decision process. I would also focus on branded terms in an initial test campaign as they should convert well. Branded terms can be inexpensive if you own the brand, but if you are selling/promoting large well know brands there will likely be a number of other competitors bidding up the price.

Oli: What is the rational behind bidding on branded terms?

John: There are three types of branded keywords that you can bid on.

  1. Your own brand
    Bidding on your own branded terms is topic that people love to debate and that companies don’t want to do if they rank well organically. I think people should test bidding on their brand. If you make more money you keep doing it, if you don’t make any more money when you are bidding on your brand you stop. Simple. But don’t assume that you won’t make more money by bidding on your own brand, because your competitors could be bidding on your brand. It is also believed that bidding on your own brand will Increases Brand Affinity & Purchase Intent – Research has been done that indicates that when a company is ranked at the top of the first page in the organic result as well as in the paid search result, that the potential visitors have a higher likelihood of looking favorably on the brand, recalling the brand as well as purchasing from them.
  2. Brand names that you sell
    If you sell popular brands then I would definitely recommend that you test bidding on these brand names as they related to the products you sell.
  3. Your competitors brand names
    I would also suggest that you consider bidding on your competitors brand names. As an example I just did a search for “Omniture” and this is one of the ads displayed.
    Multivariate Testing
    Full Service Offering
    Have Experts Drive Your Strategy

    Maxymiser sells a competing product to Omniture and thus have decided to bid on their competitors name to get more awareness for their brand and more traffic to their site. For more information on Google’s AdWords and AdSense trademark policy see and
    If you are going to bid on your competitors brands I do recommend that you get a experienced person or agency to help you so that you don’t get yourself into to hot water and start getting legal notices sent to you.

2. PPC Campaign Management

Clearly PPC is harder than it looks and takes planning and structure to be successful.

Oli: What are the critical steps involved in running a successful PPC campaign?


PPC Campaign setup – general steps

  1. Understanding business objectives
  2. Keyword research and discovery
  3. Campaign geo-targeting
  4. Campaign budgeting
  5. Campaign Ad Group naming and architecture
  6. Ad copy setup with A/B split testing

PPC Campaign management – general steps:

  1. Bid management
  2. Ongoing keyword research
  3. Ongoing Ad copy development
  4. Ongoing Ad copy A/B testing
  5. Search query reporting
  6. Negative keyword research and implementation
  7. Content network management
  8. Geo-targeting management
  9. Ad scheduling

3. Landing pages for PPC

Oli: How important is it to use a landing page for PPC? In terms of achieving a good quality score and also for ensuring that your clicks turn into conversions?

John: It is very important to use separate and specially crafted landing pages. In fact, I’d recommend using a tailored page for each ad group. Basically, each landing page should work as an extension of an ad group in terms of keyword relevancy and ad relevancy.

Keyword relevancy is important for Quality Score (QS) – the text content on a landing page should be created around the same keyword theme as the keywords listed in each ad group. Ad relevancy is important in terms of conversion rate – so make sure that the landing page contains information that your visitors expect to see after clicking your ad.

4. PPC & A/B Testing

Oli: If you are running an A/B test on your PPC landing page to improve conversions, are there any potential impacts on your Quality Score or cost per click?

John: There is a possibility that different versions of landing pages would affect QS and CPC, but if you’re using very similar versions of test pages then you’re you probably wont see any difference. On the other hand, totally different versions of test pages could have different influence on QS and, as result, CPC.

Oli: What is the best way to approach optimizing your landing pages – for example, are there elements of the page that you should leave alone to keep your ad campaign stable?

John: The best way would be testing a simple change on the landing page (for example, testing 2 variations of one element). It would allow you to gradually improve the conversion rate and keep an eye on the Quality Score. That way if a change hurts your score you’ll know what caused it and be able to fix it. But just because you are changing one aspect, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a radical change from a visual perspective.

When testing, you often want to pass the 6 foot test. That is, can everyone see the difference between the two version when standing 6 feet away from the computer screen.

You can keep your test simple and only change one element and still pass the 6 foot test by changing the hero image, the call to action button, font size and or colour…

5. Optimizing PPC for conversion

Oli: There are two main points of conversion in PPC. The click through rate of the ad and the conversion rate of the target landing page. If you had to pick your top conversion tips for each what would they be?

John: top tips for increasing click through rate

  1. Have ad copy relevant to targeted keywords. You can group keywords into ad groups and create ad copy for each group
  2. Constantly test different version of ad copy (for example, A/B split testing)
  3. Keep search network and content network campaigns separate
  4. Test DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) in ads
  5. Test different variations of Display URL (with www, without www, lower case, with keyword, etc)

John: Top tips for increasing the conversion rate of your landing page

  1. Produce landing page content that’s highly relevant to targeted keywords (ad group). Ideally each ad group should have its own landing page.
  2. Have a clearly visible call to action on the landing page (lead generation form, buy button, etc). Don’t make visitors think how to proceed with conversion.
  3. Constantly test your landing page (A/B split testing or multivariate testing).
  4. Use web analytics (for example, Google Analytics) on your landing page to get additional actionable data such as bounce rate, visitor loyalty, browser capabilities, etc.
  5. Keep your landing page simple – reduce available product choices, use short forms, have simple/clear design, etc.
  6. Conduct user testing with real, live users to get feedback on your landing pages strengths and weakness.
  7. Survey your users to gain insights into what drives them, what they think of your product/service, website…

My thanks to John for being our latest Conversion Hero and sharing his knowledge with Unbounce blog readers.

More Conversion Heroes

Part 1: Roberta Rosenberg on Copywriting for Landing Pages
Part 2: Dan Martell on Social Media Conversion
Part 3: Paras Chopra on Split Testing
Part 4: John Hossack on PPC
Part 5: Chris Goward on Conversion Rate Optimization
Part 6: Cindy Alvarez on Point-of-Conversion Feedback
Part 7: Tim Ash on Landing Page Optimization

About John Hossack

John Hossack is the CEO of VKI Studios, a Vancouver based performance optimization firm, as well as the President of the International Internet Marketing Association. Prior to getting involved with the web John was a Treasury Manager and currency trader.

He holds an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management and a BSc in Economics from the University of Victoria.

For more than 9 years John has been working with companies both large and small to help them improve the performance of their online channels. John’s passions and much of his time are spent focusing on analytics, usability, and conversion testing with the goal of improving user experience and business conversion rates. John has presented at the eMetrics Summit in Toronto 2008, eMetrics Summit in San Jose in 2009, Conversion Conference San Jose in 2010, SMX Toronto 2008, 2009 and 2010, Web Analytics Association events, spoke at and emceed the Internet Marketing Conference 2008, 2009 and 2010 in Vancouver and numerous webinars including the American Marketing Association.

John is a contributor to the VKI Studios blog and tweets under @vkistudios

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About Oli Gardner
Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner has seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. He’s obsessed with identifying and reversing bad marketing practices, and his disdain for marketers who send campaign traffic to their homepage is legendary, resulting in landing page rants that can peel paint off an unpainted wall. A prolific international keynote speaker, Oli is on a mission to rid the world of marketing mediocrity by using data-informed copywriting, design, interaction, and psychology to create a more delightful experience for marketers and customers alike. He was recently named the "The 2018 Marketer to Watch," in the under 46 category, by his mother.
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