Ponderings of a PPC Professional: here’s why an advertiser should read it

Ponderings of a PPC professional is the title of the Kindle book published recently by Kirk Williams, leading expert in digital search advertising and founder of the ZATO agency.
There are tons of books and pay-per-click courses. However, this book is very different from the others and stands out in many respects. Now I will tell you why: believe me, I literally devoured it in a few days! 

Small note before starting: this article has not been promoted by the author in any way. The following reflections are the result of my personal interpretation.

Concreteness first of all

This book is not an instruction manual on how to optimize Google Ads campaigns or how to better sell your work. It is a sort of “reasoned stream of consciousness”, an ordered set of considerations on many aspects that affect the life of the PPCer at 360 degrees. It starts from more technical issues currently subject of a large debate in the advertisers community, such as the advancement of automation and machine learning, touching upon more practical issues concerning daily work (Which contract shall be proposed to the customer? Which clients are best to avoid?). Kirk also spares perfectly sensible considerations that are placed on a higher level, that is, concerning being an advertiser both from an ethical-philosophical point of view (what role does the PPC specialist play in the current debate on access to data?) and professional life (better to work independently or in an agency? What aspects should be put on the scale?). If you are looking for such a comparison or simply food for thought, Ponderings of a PPC Professional is the book for you.

The frontiers of the debate among advertisers, and beyond

“Does machine learning work?” “Is the funnel dead?” “Does a perfect attribution model exist?” For each of these questions we could open countless brackets. Yet, these are the issues that imbue the everyday life of an advertiser, who at any time must decide whether to use a manual bidding strategy rather than trust Google’s automation; must decide whether to segment the audience considering the various levels of the funnel or to work from a different perspective; finally, he must weigh the results of the campaigns and explain them to the client according to the chosen attribution model, thus inevitably favoring one channel rather than the other. The plus of this book is that the author clearly intends to favor the debate on these topics, not having the last word himself. A specific noteworthy focus is made on the issue of cookie policy and, in more detail, access to data by advertisers: as many insiders know, Google’s reduction in search terms has infuriated PPC specialists from every corner of the world, raising questions about their rights and duties.

The relationship with the main advertising platforms

How many times have we been taken aback by Google or Facebook for sudden “unpredictable” changes? New panel layouts, metrics or targeting options no longer available, or more recently campaign interventions for reasons related to privacy legislation (I refer to the very recent Facebook changes to Messenger campaigns and/or bots made necessary by EU legislation). A case that created some debate a few months ago now was the elimination of the average position in Search campaigns: while for some accounts it was a superfluous metric, for others it was almost vital. The impact of these unilateral decisions is therefore strong for some businesses and inevitably affects the PPC Specialist-customer relationship. Kirk wonders about a non-trivial question: do advertisers have the right to claim a say in these decisions? Can they in some way influence the decisions of large tech companies? Just to give some concrete examples, let’s think of campaigns with the highest level of automation: smart shopping, app download campaigns … often the advertiser finds himself having to choose between control and a promise of better performance. Do we really think this is normal or even right? Can a compromise be found?

The relationship with clients

Another interesting chapter. Very often the satisfaction we derive from our work is also given by the type of relationship that exists with the client for whom we manage the ads. Every PPC Specialist dreams of a relationship of partnership, mutual esteem and trust: in some cases it is possible to immediately identify attitudes on the part of the client that make us foresee how difficult (hopefully not) this will be; on the other hand, it is true that the agency or the PPC consultant can facilitate the birth and continuation of this type of relationship through some precautions (for example, the ZATO agency avoids long-term contracts with its clients). In the same way, the pros and cons of the various types of payment (on an hourly basis, monthly fee, percentage of profits, CPA etc.) must also be considered: each of these in fact opens up for various reasons possible frictions with the client. Does the perfect recipe exist? The author offers us his … but I don’t want to spoil it. In any case, we cannot deny (the author does not, so neither will I) that not all specialists and / or agencies work with the same degree of transparency, therefore some fears, reluctance, suspicions that also emerge in the early stages are at least understandable.

Strategic takeaways

Finally, let’s return to the actual work. I found chapters 5 (“Don’t strangle the funnel”) and 10 (“growing PPC”) extremely illuminating from the broader angle of marketing strategy. In Chapter 5, the author essentially reminds us that the conversion rate and CPA are not always a marketing problem. Marketing is a part of the process: if we think, for example, of lead generation, an important part of the success of an operation is given by factors such as the quality of the digital product and also the customer service. Before our clients, it is good to remind ourselves of this aspect: the risk is that in trying to “do better” we over-optimize an account, often ending up strangling the funnel. Chapter 10, on the other hand, is particularly smart because it emphasizes that increasing ROAS and increasing revenue are not always compatible objectives. On the contrary: especially in startups, it is essential to define which of the two should have priority, because in the first case the focus is on budget savings, while in the second it is on spending. So better set the record straight!

Last but not least… Ads and Covid-19

Shall we mention the Coronavirus in the ads or rather let it go? Are we sure that referring to the fact that people have to stay closed in the house does not have counterproductive effects? Those who run ads cannot fail to ask themselves this question. The author examines a series of concrete case studies and reports the pros and cons of a certain type of communication, where the reference to Covid-19 and the lockdown are more or less veiled. Again, the goal is not to pontificate about what is right to do, but to decode the subliminal messages that can be included in a particular copy.

Ponderings of a PPC Professional is therefore a critical compendium of the “state of the art” of pay-per-click, which asks far more questions than the answers it provides. The perfect book for those who are convinced that the “ultimate guide” to PPC will never exist.

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