Disclosure: I work for a marketing firm. While I have no formal education in marketing or business and would never claim to be an “expert”, working in online marketing for two companies over the last four years has taught me a lot. This series will explore the marketing strategies I will use to promote my upcoming novel.
Today I’d like to discuss pay-per-click (PPC) advertising as a marketing strategy. PPC advertising is essentially paying another website or platform to host your advertisement for their audience to see. This type of marketing serves your content to a much larger audience than may otherwise be accessible through your blog, website, or even social media. When running a PPC campaign, you will “bid” for that ad space based on how much you want to pay for each time a random user clicks on your ad, hence pay-per-click.
This topic actually came up quite recently when fellow blogger MLS Weech wrote about his first PPC campaigns through GoodReads. Go read his post if you like, but pay attention to the comment I left on it. I will be covering a lot of that in a much more ordered fashion here.
As stated in my disclosure statement above, my experience in marketing has come on-the-job. With limited formal training, I have learned a lot about various marketing principles and strategies as I’ve progressed through my work. Over the last two years, I have managed pay-per-click campaigns for a wide range of clients in a wide variety of industries, from travel/tourism to health advice to transportation logistics.
Over that span, I have personally created, managed, and analyzed PPC campaigns through two providers (Outbrain and Taboola), curating over 800,000 clicks as of October 2016. In other words, I feel as though I have some experience to leverage here. Let’s dive in.
What are PPC ads?
We’ve already established that PPC ads are websites or platforms which host your content for the price of a designated cost-per-click (CPC), but what does that really mean?
Basically, your ad (in whatever form it takes) appears on another webpage. If a user happens to click on your ad, then you pay that webpage or host the CPC bid you set for the campaign.
PPC promotion platforms come in many different forms, and each one works a little bit differently. Google AdWords, for instance, allows you to target your online audience by placing ads on the SERP for your SEO keywords. For instance, I could bid to have an ad for Red String PaperCuts appear on Google’s SERP for the search term “fantasy novel”.
More recently, “content promotion platforms” have become more the norm, with catchy headlines and enticing images used to get users to click on them and visit a company’s webpage. Remember this?
Various content creators such as Bombas Socks paid Taboola to host their content headlines and images on this widget on a random ESPN page I pulled this from. If you were to click on any of those headlines, the company who created would pay Taboola — not ESPN — for that click.
Whereas with Google AdWords, you pay Google directly to host your content on their SERP, Taboola and Outbrain are the middle-men. You pay them your CPC, and they blast your content out to thousands of potential traffic sources like ESPN, MSN, Fox, Breitbart, and many many more you may have never heard of. Typically, these traffic sources are media outlets.
Because my experience is primarily with Outbrain and Taboola, the two biggest middle-men in the content promotion game, I will focus primarily on them for now.
Rules for PPC Ad Campaigns
Outbrain and Taboola each pride themselves on bringing some finesse to the online advertising game. Both providers use small widgets on their partner sites’ webpages to stay out of the way of the main content on the webpage. Each widget will display anywhere from three to six random headlines with attendant images.
But they’re not interested in bland, in-your-face ad copy. Both platforms vet and review the content that is submitted to them, and will deny content that does not meet their guidelines. Here are some general rules to follow:
- Your content must be informative. Whether it’s a tips article, blog post, webinar, whitepaper, infographic, or YouTube video, Outbrain and Taboola want high-quality content which actually provides some use to the user. You can’t simply send users to an Amazon product page for your book. Send them instead to your most recent blog about your writing process. That’s what differentiates content marketing from plain-old advertising.
- The headline must be an accurate depiction of what the content contains. Don’t use a headline like “HD Pictures of Big Boobs!” and then send users to a blog about your cat.
- Do not promote explicit content. Each platform has its own specific guidelines regarding types of content they will not permit, but just know that they can and will deny content they find to be inappropriate. Remember: your content could be seen by literally anyone visiting a webpage, including children or adolescents.
- Use appropriate images that you own. Images are required for content placement via Outbrain and Taboola, but these providers will block your campaigns if you just snatch the first image off of Google Image search. Take photos, hire a graphics designer, or buy licensed photos from any number of stock image websites (such as iStockphoto or Shutterstock). For book promotion, use the cover design for your novel. Just don’t use text in the images, and make sure they can be clearly seen in those little boxes.
Basic PPC Ad Strategies
Managing a PPC campaign properly takes dedication and patience. 10,000 clicks on your content does not equate 10,000 sales! But if you create good content, nurture your campaigns, make adjustments, and watch them develop, you can have success. Here’s a general list of strategies to follow.
- Use multiple different headlines for one content piece. Not all headlines are created equally, and no single headline will attract all of your potential customers. For a PPC campaign of 1,500 clicks, I usually create three to five headlines.
- Start your CPC bid higher, and then decrease it as the campaign moves. It may take a day or two for a PPC campaign to really get off the ground, so start with a high bid to bring some immediate attention to your content. If your content is performing well after a few days, then decrease the CPC bid by a few cents to save some money. Just monitor the campaign’s performance.
- Monitor your campaigns daily. You may find that your content performs better on certain days of the week, during certain times of the month, or during different times of the year. It only takes a few minutes to check your campaign performance and make adjustments, so make it a routine.
- Use A/B split testing. Similarly to using different headline, split-testing your campaign targeting can help you find your niche audience. Taboola and Outbrain both allow you to target specific countries or regions. Try running one campaign for a US national audience for a month, then try Maryland-only (or any other state/region). Compare the results and see where your niche audience is.
- Longer campaigns perform better over time. Both Outbrain and Taboola have minimum recommended run-times for campaigns, usually in the range of two to three weeks. If you have a small budget, set caps on your daily spending so that you don’t run out of money in less than a week and let your campaigns germinate over the course of a month or so.
- Do not expect immediate returns. PPC campaigns are designed to attract users to your site. Do not be disappointed if you see 10,000 impressions (that’s how many users saw your content promoted on a webpage they were viewing), but only four clicks on your content, and zero engagements or actions on your webpage. Most users will not buy your product the first time they see it, but the more they see your content, the more likely they are to return and eventually, hoping decide to buy your book.
This is all very general, and, as with all of these marketing posts, there is a lot to unpack here. Just know that I will be providing real analysis and data from my own PPC campaigns when I begin them in early 2017.
We focused on Outbrain and Taboola today, but do you know of or have you used any other PPC ad platforms? What experiences can you share from those?
I didn’t include many links in this piece because I was going off of my own experiences. However, there are still some great websites out there covering PPC campaigns.
Outbrain’s blog: http://www.outbrain.com/blog
Taboola’s blog: http://blog.taboola.com/
Optimize Smart, “10 golden rules to manage your PPC campaigns,” https://www.optimizesmart.com/10-best-ways-screw-up-ppc-campaigns/
WordStream, “What is PPC?” http://www.wordstream.com/ppc