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Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 at 10:00 am

#1 Pay Per Click Marketing Lie

By Bryan Eisenberg
December 12th, 2008

My name is Bryan and I am a screenshot addict.

When I fall off the wagon, every so often, I’ll go ahead and pick a keyphrase and start clicking through PPC ads and their landing pages and take screenshots of the whole entire experience. You can’t imagine how often the experience from keyword to ad to landing page is broken. I want to call them and yell at them to subscribe to OnTarget. I don’t do it. Instead a few weeks or months will pass and the same advertisers drop those ads.  I can just hear their internal discussions as they analyze their metrics and rationally conclude that keyphrase X doesn’t convert for us.

(Maybe we should start the Internet Marketing Darwin Award for PPC ads.)

Keywords Don’t Fail to Convert… we fail to convert visitors for that keyword.

Do you believe the keyphrase you chose is relevant to your business? If it is, then your responsibility is to show every visitor how that keyphrase is relevant to their needs. Every visitor that comes to your site is not completely unique. They have various mostly foreseeable motivations persuading them to buy and various foreseeable objections that would keep them from buying. Ask yourself:

  • What is their intent in usingthose keywords?
  • What need or desire are they trying to fulfill?
  • What is their goal?
  • How do we align our goals to meet theirs?

PPC ads are just like tapping someone on the shoulder. PPC ads are only meant to grab attention not convert. If you want to convert your visitor you need to work on the rest of the experience (the conversation) beyond the click.

Do you make any money when a visitor just clicks your ad? No.

So instead of thinking of PPC as pay per click start thinking of it as pay per conversation.

Devote some resources to optimizing your conversations.

How to Get Started Optimizing your Keyword Marketing

1. The first thing you need to do is bucket your keyphrases. Start with the first 100 or so top phrases that drive traffic to your website. For each one of those classify the terms by phase in the buying process. Does the keyphrase apply in the early, middle or late stage of the buying process?

If the term is driving traffic to your site but not really relevant to your business put it in a disqualified bucket for now. For FutureNow one of those terms is “convertion rate.” It may be a harmless typo but time has shown that if they can’t spell conversion they aren’t likely customers.

An example: Someone is planning to buy a new television set. Early in their buying process they might use phrases like LCD tvs, best LCD tv, or LCD tv reviews. As they progress to the middle stage you might see keyphrases like compare Sharp and Sony LCDs, LCD tv 1080 dpi and then move on to specific models in the late stages like Sony KDL-52XBR6.

2. Define and realign your goals with your visitors. Would you expect every person you went out on a date with to marry you at the end of the first date? So why do we expect every keyword to convert visitors to our ultimate goal, the sale or the lead? Our job is to get them there, but based upon their buying preferences, they may not be able to be moved any faster than they are prepared to.

Start planning micro-goals along the way to your macro-goal (sale or lead). Someone earlier in their buying process might not be ready to commit on their first visit. Plan smaller milestones or micro-goals that may lead that person to convert at a later point in their process.

Why don’t many more early or middle stage landing pages have some easy way to capture a visitor’s email address with some kind of offer? 

If your web pages were sales people, how many of them would you fire or at least get trained?

Don’t pay for a keyphrase or a date if your only expectation is a  full commitment at the end.  You need to romance them and show them all your best moves. (Warning – this is conversion advice and it works but I’m no dating expert, just ask my wife.)

Some examples: Maybe you can offer them a buyer’s guide download, a coupon for their first time purchase, an offer to see a webinar about how to choose the product/service they are considering or a price alert notification if this item goes on sale.

Every keyphrase should have a goal that is in alignment with the visitor’s stage in their buying process.

3. Measure your success and build confidence. Respect and support your customer’s journey along their buying process by pulling them along instead of trying to push them to commit too fast. That is the friction that is caused by your sales process colliding with, instead of aligning with, their buying process. This is what creates cognitive dissonance. What you need to build is confidence. Your visitors need confidence that you are there to support their buying process and confidence in your ability to address all their needs and wants in order to convert visitors at all stages.

Start tracking and evaluating your keyphrases and landing pages by how well they support moving visitors through the buying process.  Analyze these micro-goals and continuously optimize the experience to move further and further along so that you keep them on target. Every step closer to the macro-goal is a success, every visit that just bounces is a failure.

Take these 3 steps now and you’ll enjoy a more confident and lucrative 2009.

P.S. This post was inspired by my presentation at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago. Read about it on the AimClearBlog.

I was also lucky enough to get a signed copy of my friend Andrew Goodman‘s updated book Winning Results with Google AdWords, Second Edition.The first was was great and I am looking forward to reading this one over the weekend.

Add Your Comments

Comments (53)

  1. Bryan,

    Great article man.

    There isn’t a better term for what you’re explaining then “pay per conversation.”

    I think we’ve all been there too. Where we think a keyword doesn’t convert for no other reason. Totally dismissing the relevance and content of the landing page.

    Like you guys say, Always Be Testing is the way to go. Not only test you landing page, but also you paid search ads. Everything should be tested all the time.

    Keep up the great work man.

    Best Regards,
    JR Farr

  2. Are you saying even the most generic keywords should convert for companies no matter what?

  3. One of the issues which distracts many of us from considering the whole buying process from start to finish is the difficulty of following that journey.

    I know that some wa solutions make a good attempt at tracking multi-session conversions, but I also have hands on experience of how flawed those attempts can be. Is it any wonder that we spend so much time concentrating on the ultimate conversion rather than the micro-conversion visits which precede it?

    Because this process is so difficult, I think there may be a big advantage to be gained by those who manage to dig back into those earlier visists and the keywords which drove them — many competitors will give up the struggle and miss out.

  4. @ JR Thanks for the kind words.

    @Jaan I am saying that for broad keywords you should have some conversion goal even if it isn’t the sale or complete lead form now. It may not have the best conversion but you can always improve it and it is better than having nothing.

    @Tim You are 100% correct and this is one of the things we built into our OnTarget product because that knowledge is invaluable.

  5. So you’re the guy clicking on all my PPC ads and not converting?!

  6. Great article. I would like to inject a bit of experience following this type of methodology.

    Here is the scenario. We built several PPC ads that all said “Buy this [Exact Product name, model, or part number]. The landing page took them directly to the buy now page, all of the typical elements were in there as shown on the ad. The results from the test were less than acceptible.

    Then, we came across this great tool from 4Q that surveyed the site visitors. After sampling 2500 visitors who only clicked on the PPC ad that said “buy this thing now”, here are the results:

    Ready to buy 9%
    Looking for product info 43%
    Looking for product support 38%
    other 10%

    Anyone have thoughts on that? We ran it across 3 sites with different products… similar results.

  7. That’s awesome, thank you!!

    Bryan, I was wondering if you recommend using dynamic keywords ({KeyWord:default text}. I have heard it lowers your quality score, but many people still use it, do you have any experience?

    Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!

  8. Awesome article.

    It really takes the “escape” away from not working hard enough on your campaigns. And I would assume that a lot of campaigns go under because of it.

  9. Ah, this is so true. See that for competitors all the time (in the day job…). Sometimes I wish you didn’t tell them about such ‘advanced’ topics like making sure you path your visitor though… That means I have to actually work to beat them ;)

  10. Great post. In order to persuade someone to take an action (click on a particular link, register at the site, buy, etc), you must know exactly what you want them to do at that point and then design the page not just for conscious processing, but also for the unconscious decision making that humans do (see for more info on unconscious mental processing and the web).

  11. The worst lies in PPC come from those that promise #1 listings on Google and do it via PPC.

  12. That is great information. I think that it is nearly all correct.

    Conversion strategies are the more important part of A/B testing.

    I do believe that some ads will convert better than others based on which people tend to be tapped on the shoulder by them. If the ad appeals more to buyers than to people who are just shopping then your conversions will be naturally higher for that ad – even if CTR’s are the same.

    I think the same thing can be said for keyword selection. Picking the keywords that the buyers are searching for will lead to better conversion rates as well.

    On the other hand, the general argument is right on. The primary purpose of any ad is to get the person to visit the site. Once they are on the site, it’s the site’s job to convert them to a customer.

    Good work!
    Vi Wickam
    Principal Web Solutions

  13. Hi Bryan, thanks for your column.

    I agree completely that landing pages MUST pay off PPC ads to have any chance of success. In fact, I often recommend that clients create custom PPC landing pages for every PPC ad (usually by expanding the headline on the PPC ad into the headline of the landing page). I’ve had excellent results with this strategy.

    One client has been running a PPC ad campaign for about a month now. At first the client was sending traffic to a landing page within her site. She had an enormous bounce rate. Virtually no one read the ad copy.

    We made some copy and design changes that made the landing pages about 400% stickier (including eliminating all links to the rest of her site) but those changes haven’t impacted conversions yet. (My client sells a $497 info product).

    Now I realize that the world of online marketing is constantly changing, but last I heard, landing pages weren’t supposed to include links to the rest of your site, extraneous information, sign-up forms, etc., as those all take readers away from the landing (sales) page. Even Google recommends against having a nav bar on a landing page. And the worst PPC sin was to send traffic to your home page and force visitors to click around to find the relevant content your PPC ad promised.

    Our client is not happy that in addition to not selling product, she’s also not seeing newsletter signups or sales of other low-price-point products.

    Given the contradictory advice I’ve been reading, I’m having a hard time understanding how I’d implement your advice when it comes to my client’s campaign.

    Could you perhaps give us some examples of great PPC/landing page combos (with conversion rates) that manage to build a relationship even without making an immediate sale? I really want to start getting results for my client.


  14. Kathleen,

    How do you know that nobody was reading the ad copy just because there was an enormous bounce rate? Maybe every single visitor was reading the ad copy but none of them were going on to the next page – bounce rate doesn’t give you an accurate answer.

    You could however tell if users were scrolling through content with something like ClickTale which records user interactions on the page.

  15. Hi Bradley,

    Google Analytics told us that, on average, visitors to the landing page hung around for less than 5 seconds after arriving there from the PPC ad. It was a long-format landing page for an info product, and unless visitors could read 500 words per second, they weren’t reading the landing page copy. The link on the first version of the landing page that performed highest was a link to the web developer who designed my client’s site! And my client certainly wasn’t spending money to drive traffic to her web designer’s site.

    Visitors to our new landing pages (which were much shorter) were reading the entire page, spending about 3.5 to 5 minutes on it. But they still aren’t putting the product in the shopping cart.

    My SEO/PPC vendor partner and I are trying hard to figure out why this campaign isn’t working. Unfortunately, with a $500 a month PPC budget, we just haven’t been able to get any results, even though we’ve created a lot of traffic to the landing page. It’s very frustrating, both for her and for my partner and I.

  16. Kathleen,

    If I’m reading this right and the pages in question have a very high bounce rate, then the time on page calculated by GA may be misleading. That figure is an average and the people who do not bounce will probably be spending significantly more time there than the figure suggests.

    There’s a very detailed discussion of this issue on Avinash Kaushik’s blog here:

    the comments are well worth reading.

    A question I would be asking is: what are the visitors who do not bounce doing when they do not buy the product? What link was it that they clicked?

    That might be able to give you some clue as to what they were hoping to do. If that ‘something’ corresponds to an earlier stage in the purchase journey (such as research), then this would fit in with the bigger point in the original article here about understanding those different stages and attributing value to them. And assessing the performance of those keywords in leading to those earlier micro-conversions, of course.

    In GA it might be worth defining any such micro-conversions as goals (perhaps in an extra profile) so that GA will calculate the conversion rate for them. If you could come up with some notional value for them then it would be even better (definitely better done in a separate profile if there are real e-commerce values in the normal profiles) because you would be able to see a theoretical ROI on your Adwords campaigns in the relevant reports.


  17. Great article although your link to the Bucket the Keyphrases throws an error because of a 2x http

  18. Kyle,

    Thanks the link has been fixed.

  19. “Pay per conversation”. Love it. Great article Bryan.



  20. Great article Bryan, love the part when you say Keywords Don’t Fail to Convert… we fail to convert visitors for that keyword. This is so true and is actually one of the hardest parts of marketing to explain to people.

  21. @ eComGuru

    We’ve seen this exact same thing with a number of other 4Q users. Wooing a visitor towards conversion is a complicated dance that frequently requires several touch points before the wallet is opened. Recent research we did on ecommerce sites demonstrated that only 16% of visitors were onsite with the distinct intent to buy. Most were there to research, browse, promo-hunt, or compare.

    The key is to match your website content to the cognitive needs of the visitor, as he/she traverses each stage of the funnel.

  22. Wonderful article, but I don’s understand why do men click on PPC ads to see what the landing page looks like considering that someone is paying for your research.

  23. Hey Bryan, did you guys ever set-up a landing page template that focuses in on wooing? I think that’s the magic bullet to converting. Maybe a wooability grade should be added to the AdWords quality score {;+) Happy Holidays

  24. How come the form below me doesn’t say “Let us help you achieve better search results” or a more descriptive headline.

  25. [...] the experience from keyword to landing page, for which Bryan Eisenberg’s 3 steps to optimizing your keyword marketing should help [...]

  26. [...] #1 Pay Per Click Lie – This is all about the discussions that we all read on the forums.  What are the right keywords, or these keywords suck.  Well maybe your site SUCKs, maybe you are not converting because of the user experience and not the keyword. [...]

  27. [...] Landing Page Optimierung Ist zwar wieder mal für AdWords geschrieben, past aber zu nahezu 100% auch für uns SEOs. Also vor [...]

  28. [...] Every visitor comes to your site in their own personal “buying stage.”  The buying stage is a wide spectrum, but we generally break it into Early, Middle, and Late stages: [...]

  29. [...] Every visitor comes to your site in their own personal “buying stage.”  The buying stage is a wide spectrum, but we generally break it into Early, Middle, and Late stages: [...]

  30. Great article. It seems there’s a downside to every strategy. By and large however it is true that most people searching online are looking for information. It takes several interactions for them before they buy anything. Email marketing experts learned that a while back with auto-responders. For pay per click what works well is testing, testing, testing and use what works for your situation.
    You can test different keywords to see which bring traffic. Then you need to find which keywords result in good conversions (percentages). Then try out different landing pages (Google has come with a feature to help on design of pages and tracking different layouts). Then vary the combinations and test again..
    If it’s too much automate and use tools to help out.

  31. Seems to me that the first step is to make sure that the landing page actually works. I have seen so many PPCs take me to an error page. Before any airplane gets off the ground, the mechanics and techs check the plane making sure it’s in proper working order to prevent an unexpected mid-flight crash. The analogy is a bit of stretch but not too far off …

  32. [...] GetElastic’s Linda Bustos is up first, suggesting “failed” keywords contribute to the sales funnel and may help more than they hurt. GrokDotCom’s Jeffrey Eisenberg says that no matter how much we obsess over the data, it’s not the keywords that fail to convert, but what we do with those visitors. [...]

  33. [...] market for what you offer, but for any number of possible reasons, don’t buy. They may be at earlier stages in the buying process, doing research to sell it internally, not adequately persuaded, driven away by bad usability, etc. [...]

  34. [...] maximum.  Just try to remember that after you’ve surprised and delighted your audience, it will be relevance and scent that will determine whether your ad actually makes the client any mon…. In Advertising, Affiliate Marketing, Branding and Advertising Rants, Improving Conversion, Online [...]

  35. I find a couple points interesting here. I wonder if adwords refunds clicks when somebody goes through and clicks on all the ads for a particular keyword. Clearly your clicks probably aren’t generating sales I assume?

    Second thought is I wonder, really wonder, what those merchants are thinking about when they point to a non-existent or broken page. If they are paying googles crazy high rates for advertising, why waste those clicks???

  36. An interesting article. To get someone interested enough to do something, whether it is going ahead with a purchase, or clicking on a link, the site has to give the right impression to that customer in order to encourage them.

  37. Interesting views – thanks. To me the trick is get their attention and as a result make them feel compelled to take an action.

  38. It’s amazing how much money people are putting in PPC – without checking if it is actually working.

  39. [...] other words, are you delivering the promise you give on your PPC ads or search result snippet? As Bryan Eisenberg writes: “keywords don’t fail to convert… we fail to convert visitors for that keyword.” [...]

  40. [...] other words, are you delivering the promise you give on your PPC ads or search result snippet? As Bryan Eisenberg writes: “keywords don’t fail to convert… we fail to convert visitors for that keyword.” [...]

  41. great and very helpful article specially for starters like us. I was not quite aware about all these PPC internals.

  42. To be honest, I can vouch for PPC marketing.

  43. Thanks for the good article. Now I want to start with some campaigns in Google AdWoords. I want to achive ROI 10:1 :)

  44. I can really really relate to this notion. The failing to convert. There must be a complete coordination between the keyword and the copy. It is very important to understand that certain keywords convert with specific kinds of content.

  45. Thanks the link has been fixed.

  46. like write stuff like this

  47. this is great info

  48. i love this!

  49. awesome results…really liked it

  50. Great conversion information, its a world on its own but for sure the author knows whats he talkes about.

  51. pay per click? no way

  52. Great post and great tips to follow these. These will certainly improve earning using pay per click.

  53. pay per click normally cheats so its good idea to pay per conversation.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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