5 PPC Secrets I’ve Discovered Through
Millions Of Ad Spend

Johnathan Dane
Johnathan Dane

Don’t you find it odd that most “marketing secrets” these days are just common sense?

It’s extremely rare that you stumble upon PPC secrets that are actually secrets.

Most of the PPC secrets out there are already widely adopted. By definition, that makes them the opposite of secrets.

So today, I want to let you in on a few of my PPC management secrets.

These are extremely actionable tactics that work universally well for all verticals across lead gen, SaaS, and eCommerce.

And the best part? These really are secrets, because no one is using these tactics.

In fact, I presented my agency’s PPC secrets on stage in front of a thousand sharp marketers at Unbounce’s 2016 Call To Action Conference. Here are the slides:

You can also grab the slides in PDF format here.

So, let’s jump right into it…

PPC Secret #1 – The Iceberg Effect

Knowing which keywords and ads are responsible for your conversions is pretty simple and easy. You just have regular conversion tracking set up to track that.

But what happens when your keywords are not really the things that are getting you conversions?

That’s the secret: it’s your search terms.

And there’s a very big chance that you have a humongous keyword to search discrepancy that’s slowly bleeding your Google Ads, Bing Ads, or Facebook account dry from money being spent on users that will never convert.

ppc secrets
Your keyword to search term discrepancy can make your PPC campaign grow at, well… glacial speed.

If you look inside of your Google Ads Search network campaign today, I’ll 100% guarantee that you have more search terms than keywords.

The keywords are what you control and what you’re bidding on. But the search terms are what Google is controlling and what you’re paying for.

This means that one single keyword, out of the potential hundreds (or more) you’re bidding on, could easily have hundreds of related search terms.

This means that a mix of your search terms is actually getting you conversions, more so than your keywords.

best ppc secrets
Just look at all those search terms from a single keyword – image source

When you begin lowering your search term to keyword discrepancy, you regain more control. From there you can improve your cost per acquisition and many of the other metrics you track in your Google Ads campaigns.

Beyond Search: “Iceberg-ing” Other PPC Platforms

But The Iceberg Effect doesn’t just happen within your Search network campaigns.

It happens on the Display network too, when your automatic placements outnumber your targeted placements.

The Iceberg Effect appears again when your Facebook interests are grouped together to create a bigger audience size and you lose the ability to break down the individual interest performance.

So how do you steer clear of the iceberg?

It’s simple.

Extract what you can from your automatic placements reports and granulate your social PPC audiences as much as possible. Create Single Keyword Ad Groups from your search term reports and discover which keywords are actually performing and which ones are stinkers.

ppc tip
You need to turn bigger icebergs into smaller ones.

PPC Secret #2 – PPC Traffic Temperatures

If you’ve had success with PPC marketing, there’s a good chance that you started by placing text ads on the Google Ads (formerly AdWords) Search network.

Then, like any ambitious business owner, you wanted to see if you could expand and take advantage of other PPC channels, like the Display network or Facebook.

So you do what any logical person would do. You take the call to action (CTA) that worked on the Search network and replicate it everywhere else.

And then… you fail miserably.

Even though your cost per click might be cheaper on the Display network or social platforms, you hardly get any conversions. Or if you do, they’re crap quality.

Sounds familiar, right?

It has to do with a very simple principle that I call “The Chuck Norris PPC Cycle”.

The Chuck Norris PPC Cycle

ppc cycle
Notice where different PPC visitors enter the conversion cycle.

As we all know, you can’t beat Chuck Norris, you can only obey him.

So what does that mean for you?

It means that visitors who come from different PPC channels have completely different conversion intents.

It also means that you need to do a better job matching your CTA offer with the temperature and conversion intent of that traffic.

The Ice Cube & Lava Scale

In simpler terms, you need to follow the PPC Intent & Threat Scale, which we prefer to call the Ice Cube & Lava Scale:

ppc conversions
The stronger the intent, the more threatening your CTA can be.

What this scale shows is that the colder your traffic, the lower your offer’s threat level has to be to expect conversions.

And unlike your original CTA, you can replicate this logic across other types of PPC channels like Display, Video, Social, and Search.

Display is usually colder traffic, while Search is much warmer.

Applying The Scale

Let’s say that you’re a B2B PPC advertiser and your ultimate PPC goal is to generate leads through the CTA of a “Free Consultation”.

That might work very well on the Search network because your visitors’ “hot intent” means that they want what you have to offer.

But if you try to replicate that “Free Consultation” CTA on a Display network banner ad (where the visitor wasn’t searching for you), it’s pretty hard to expect them to convert, right?

To make this easier, we’ve compiled the different types of offers that we’ve been using for our clients. The breakdown of conversion success related to calls-to-action looks pretty much like this:

ppc expert
Hotter CTAs won’t work for colder traffic, but colder CTAs will work for hotter traffic.

There’s one very important thing to keep in mind, however:

If you don’t have a plan to take a Display visitor from a cold offer to a warm offer, then all your work will be for no good.

Bridge The Funnel Gaps To School Your Traffic. (Wait, What?)

Your retargeting and email nurturing needs to bridge the gap from one stage of your marketing funnel to the next so that you can convert users (and, y’know, make money).

ppc help
The PPC school your visitors need to graduate from.

Keep in mind that if you don’t understand your PPC traffic temperatures and their individual conversion intents, then this PPC secret won’t work for you.

In fact, you might as well keep trying brute force, Marshawn Lynch-style, and hope that that works.

(Pro Tip: It won’t work.)

PPC Secret #3 – The Importance of Micro Conversions

Alright, so perhaps you’re already well on your way implementing PPC secrets number 1 and 2.

You’re running new PPC campaigns across different channels and networks, but you’re not getting the conversions volumes you were expecting.

You get upset.

You’re now considering sending me a glitter bomb because you feel like I lied to you about the instant success of these PPC secrets.

But not so fast. (Although I do appreciate gifts).

There’s a good chance that your execution is off. And because of that, it’s time to find out where your bottlenecks are.

See, before users can complete a macro conversion (the end goal you want to take place), many micro-conversions need to take place.

Most of the time these micro conversions are linear in nature, so it’s easy for you to locate, diagnose, and fix the issue.

ppc conversion
Above are some of the most common micro conversions.

Tracking Micro Conversions To Improve Your Conversion Path

If you’re in the lead generation or SaaS space and use lead capture forms on your landing pages, then you’re familiar with the steps a visitor takes before the macro conversion happens.

When you’re tracking your micro conversions you can quickly see that it might not be the landing page that has a problem. It could be the ads, or the visitors you’re attracting, or even the order of your form fields.

Take a look at the difference in “Average Session Duration” between these three Google Ads campaigns:

ppc conversions
There’s a big conversion potential gap between 12 to 114 seconds.

The cool thing is that you can track this “time on site” micro-conversion through Google Analytics. You can even break down your metrics at the campaign, ad group, and keyword level.

In addition, you can use tools like Hotjar to track form field dwell times (how many seconds it takes for one person to fill out one field on your form), re-fill rates, and Crazy Egg for scroll depth at the PPC channel level.

PPC Secret #4 – Optimize For Sales, Not Conversions

Let’s say that you’ve started taking The Iceberg Effect seriously and you create Single Keyword Ad Groups at scale.

You’re seeing improvements in click-through-rates, quality scores, and cost per click.

You’ve lowered the search term to keyword discrepancy so you have more control over the keywords and search terms that are actually generating conversions.

Time to go one step further…

Let’s say that a conversion on your landing page is not black and white like an eCommerce purchase. Let’s say that you’re generating leads or users for your SaaS product.

You now know which keywords and search terms are producing conversions, but do you know which ones are producing sales?

ppc tips
You’ll actually be better off with less ad spend – here’s why…

Conversion Comparisons: See The Whole Picture

Take a common example of someone who has set up PPC conversion tracking. All things being equal, which keyword is performing better?

tips for ppc
Keyword 1, right? It has the lower CPA & higher conv/rate.

But this is just a fraction of the whole picture.

How do these two keywords perform when it comes to generating sales, as a lead over the phone or through your SaaS onboarding?

Let’s add in some sales tracking data that’s coming from your CRM. Now which keyword is performing best?

pay per click help
Keyword 2 is now the winner, by an extremely large margin.

Once you use The Iceberg Effect to match your CTA offers with the PPC traffic temperatures, it’s time for you to keep going.

More importantly, it’s time you stopped focusing your keywords around a common account CPA goal.

Scale Up Your Bids For Warmer Leads

Once you pair your lead data with your sales data, you’ll be able to be more aggressive with certain bids for certain types of PPC traffic that has a higher likelihood of leading to sales.

To track this, you’ll want two things:

  1. URL parameter tracking
  2. Hidden fields

The URL parameters can either be done manually through UTM parameters, or automatically through ValueTrack parameters.

The hidden fields are what you add to your sign up/lead gen form so it can capture the data that’s in the URL when a visitor converts. If you’re using a landing page builder like Unbounce, then it’s incredibly easy.

Now, once you identify the sales rates of your keywords, you basically start discovering what “Multi Intent Keywords” are.

This means that within your Search network campaign, your keywords start acting like they have different PPC channel temperatures and you should start considering to treat them individually based on their conversion intent and the CTA offer their most receptive to.

PPC Secret #5 – F*** Your PPC Metrics

This isn’t as much of a PPC secret as it is a rant.

There are very few things that improve PPC performance faster than Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

Once you embrace the fact that your website or landing page is the decision point for conversions — not your ads — you’ll see how much CRO can do for your PPC performance.

See, it’s very easy to get caught up in bullshit PPC metrics and acronyms…

pay per click best advice
Google Ads has over 100 metrics, Facebook has over 75.

These metrics are important, but they’re only guiding lights. They aren’t Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

If you’ve truly exhausted every CRO tactic and value increase opportunity, then sure, knock yourself out. Make these metrics the focus of your next optimization phase.

But I doubt that’s where you are since you’re reading this post 🙂

In other words, be okay with sacrificing your quality scores if that 1/10 keyword is making you money.

Instead, stay focused on improving your conversion rates. And don’t start hyperventilating if Google Ads says your landing page relevance is low.

BONUS PPC Secret #6 – The Breadcrumb Technique

“The Breadcrumb Technique,” a name we borrowed from Hansel and Gretel, is what we call using multi-step forms on the landing pages of our PPC clients. More importantly, it’s the most effective tactic we’ve found for lead generation or SaaS marketing.

Conventional PPC wisdom says that you should ask for the bare minimum of visitor information when you’re trying to generate leads, trials, or demos. But if you keep taking fields away you’re left with the fields that intimidate visitors the most, in a form that usually looks like this:

Phone Number*

Now you’re ONLY asking for personal information, which most of us would rather NOT give out if we can help it.

So how do you preempt your visitors’ worries and get their information willingly? By adding more fields and steps… in the right order.

The Return Of The Threat Level Scale

Like the PPC traffic temperature discussion above, The Breadcrumb Technique starts with anonymous, low-threat questions to get a “First Yes” from your visitor. You’ll have an easier time getting users to complete your form after that because they’ll feel compelled to finish what they’ve started.

Here’s an example from a SaaS company that was using a one-step popup form:

Screen Shot 2017 02 19 at 7 46 49 AM
Here’s what above the fold looked like.

We expanded the popup with some preliminary questions to create a micro conversion. (The questions didn’t even matter to the sales team, we just needed a “First Yes” before moving forward with the form.)

Screen Shot 2017 02 19 at 7 47 03 AM
The re-worked landing page, newly “breadcrumbed”

That simple change led to a 74% boost in conversion rate and a 51% drop in cost per acquisition (CPA).

Finally, keep in mind that the threat level of your CTA can impact The Breadcrumb Technique’s success on your landing page. Pursuing a “big ask” like a quote or free consultation with The Breadcrumb Technique often works better than a “small ask” like a free eBook, webinar, or podcast download.

In Closing…

Like I mentioned in the opening of this post, great PPC secrets are hard to come by. And one day, these PPC secrets will no longer be secrets.

It’s up to you to do what your competitors aren’t willing to do. And it’s mostly because they’re too lazy to do anything that truly moves the needle, and more importantly, makes more money.

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