There’s an assumption in marketing that people won’t read very much, and won’t think about things very deeply.
That’s probably true for 90% of the population…
…but it isn’t always true.
One of the lists I subscribe to is Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings letter. The letter goes out once a week, and contains a cross-disciplinary investigation of art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more. Maria’s emails are well researched, illustrated and detailed. I don’t even like to read them on screen – I’ll often print it out.
For me the cross-disciplinary aspect is critically important – without insights from a range of disciplines I would quickly become bored. It’s the same reason I don’t just write about Google Ads, copywriting, or some other tactic in this letter. It would be dull for you, and for me.
You have to decide who you want to attract with the content you put out. Do you want to attract people looking for tactical soundbites about a specific topic?
Or do you want to attract people like me, who disappear down four intellectual rabbit holes at once?
The former outnumber the latter, by a long way. But the latter do still exist, in large enough numbers to build a sizeable business.
One way to improve your ad performance on any network is to focus on a smaller geographic region.
Targeting the whole of your country (assuming you sell nationally), or even multiple countries is a fine way to test an idea. But if you’re doing that long term you’re probably missing a trick.
I was thinking about this the other evening, watching a quiz show called The Chase…
The format of the show is that four contestants answer questions individually in a cash builder round, where each correct question is worth £1,000 for example.
They then go up against a professional quizzer, and have to answer a number of multiple choice questions correctly to outrun the Chaser, and proceed to the final chase. If they’re caught by the Chaser, they’re out.
They can choose to play for the amount they earned in the cash builder round. Or they can go high or low. High moves a step closer to the Chaser, and earns them about ten times as much money if they get through. Low moves them a step closer to home, but decreases the money they take back to the team.
Before deciding which offer to accept, they turn around and ask the other team members what they should do…
In the British show, the suggestions are nearly always conservative. You’ll hear things like “you’re a good player, we want you back, just take the low offer.”
In the American version of the show, you’ll hear things like “YEAH GO HIGH MAN! You’ve TOTALLY got this…”
In the American show the Chaser will sometime offer a ‘super offer’, where the contestant can move a step closer to the Chaser still (for mega big bucks).
How does this relate to your ads?
RUNNING THE SAME ADS TO THESE TWO GROUPS OF PEOPLE WOULD NOT WORK.
Huge cultural differences exist within your country – not just internationally. This is often an easy if laborious way to improve ad performance.
And a reason you might want to have multiple copywriters working on your ads.
P.S. Every time someone corporate tells me they’re responsible for the “EMEA region” (Europe, Middle-East and Asia) I puke in my mouth slightly.
If you’re running remarketing ads across multiple networks, it’s critically important to document your ads.
I wanted to share a quick video today of how I document mine. If you do this as you go, it only takes a few minutes. And it saves you hours of head-scratching later on, especially if you need to pass your ads management to somebody else.
The document template can be found here. Select file and ‘make a copy’ to save it.
Have you ever created an experimental Google ad, only to forget about it until the monthly invoice arrives?
I have. It’s more common than you might think.
Here are three tips to stop this happening…
1. When initially testing ideas, use the start and end date feature
Each of your ads campaigns should be in one of three states: experiment, optimise or scale.
The experiment phase comes first. You’ve had an idea, you don’t know if it will work, and you need some data.
At the optimise phase you have that data, and are working to lower cost per conversion.
At the expansion phase you’ve achieved a satisfactory cost per conversion, and are ramping things up.
All experimental campaigns should use start and end dates, usually of not more than 7 days in advance.
If you’re testing many ideas, that provides a fall back in case you forget to switch off an unsuccessful test. (It sounds silly, but it’s exceptionally easy to do). Otherwise you only realise when the invoice comes at the end of the month.
This principle applies to Facebook ads also, at the ad set level. And also to LinkedIn and Twitter ads.
2. Make use of automated rules
Once you have a fairly regular number of conversions, you can set automated rules to pause an ad group or keyword if performance drops below a certain level.
You can also choose to have an email sent to you, which is usually my preferred option. (Often I’ll want to diagnose a keyword before pausing it).
3. Make use of custom alerts in Google Analytics
If you look under the ‘customization’ menu, you’ll see an option called custom alerts. Create alerts to notify you if bounce rate goes above a certain threshold for your paid search visitors. Again, this is simply an early red light warning to alert you about a possible website problem.
These three tips are free, and take a matter of minutes to setup.
A side effect of having a 1-year old is you read a LOT of children’s books…
I like some more than others. I’m a fan of The Gruffalo. I like the story of Oliver Donnington Rimington Sneep (who of course, couldn’t and didn’t and would not sleep).
Oh, and I especially like Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Those are worth a read, even without the child.
When you look a little closer, ALL of these books are poetry with pictures.
Why exactly is that?
The use of rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and other poetic techniques all convert a complex message into something that easily gets stuck in your head at a lower reading age.
Less brain power is required to read or understand, while exponentially MORE brainpower is needed to write it! It’s like the difference between making music, and making noise.
Good ad writing also makes use of these poetic techniques. You don’t have to be the next John Donne or Emily Dickinson, but you can try adding an element of rhyme to your ads. (Especially your Google Ads, where space is limited and competition fierce).
This is arguably advanced level ad writing, but it’s something that can make a difference when you’re looking for a breakthrough.
A client forwarded an email to me on Monday. Someone he knows had paid £7,500 to a Google Ads agency… and was horrified to later discover they had only spent £3,700 of this on ads.
If you’re thinking of hiring help with your Google Ads (or any ads in fact), I have a few rules of thumb:
1. Always pay for your own ads
Never pay a chunk of money to an agency to run ads on your behalf. By doing this you lose visibility into what is going on, and you lose control of your own data. Any agency you work with should be able to send you something called a ‘client manager invite’, which grants them access to your Google Ads account for as long as you wish to give them access. You then pay the ads bill directly, cutting out the middleman. You should pay an agency for their time, support and expertise, not for ad spend.
2. Educate yourself
In my experience, most agencies lack introspection about which parts of the Google Ads machine to apply under different circumstances. Most under-use remarketing. Almost all test an insufficient range of ad creative. Whoever you hire, you’ll get better results if you yourself have a good understanding of these things.
3. Fee structure
My preferred ways to bill a client are either flat monthly retainers, or a commission arrangement is specific conversion actions are measurable. Or a hybrid approach of the two. As with these things, there are upsides and downsides to these approaches. The retainer approach is simplest. The commission approach is fairest.
As a general observation I’ve found clients tend to resist the commission arrangement. Partly due to complexity, and partly a reluctance to share the spoils. Which frankly baffles me.
Many agencies still charge based on a percentage of ad spend, on the basis that higher spend takes more time internally to manage. This is only true under certain circumstances (e.g. if you’re incompetent), and is entirely dependent on click prices and conversion rates.
If your click prices are £15 per click instead of £2, why should you pay more for someone to manage it? This arrangement also incentivises the agency to spend more regardless of results. I’ve seen agencies max out spending on brand name keywords, which really should be excluded from the billing arrangement.
4. Consultants vs agency
It’s worth considering that no one individual can specialise in the entire Google Ads machine (Google Search, Display, Shopping, YouTube…)
I myself specialise in Google Search, remarketing, ad writing, and customer nurture. I’ve dabbled in Google Display and YouTube, but I’m not an expert. Same for Shopping ads. I’m good at text ads, but average at image ads. My video creation skills are ropey to say the least.
Before you hire someone, ask which parts of Google Ads they specialise in. If they say ‘all of it’, then you’re probably wise to walk the other way.
5. Jump into the saddle when you need to
If you completely abdicate responsibility for your ads, you’ll almost certainly leave money on the table. From time to time, don’t be afraid to:
Scrutinise your conversion numbers
Ask whether your conversions tally up with money in the bank
Audit your remarketing strategy
Write some fresh ads (use the experiments feature to safely test edgy ads)
Scrutinise your landing pages, pulling in data from Google Analytics
I’ll be talking more about these things at next month’s Pie, Peas and Google Ads training (Sheffield, 8-10 May). There’s still a few places if you can make it. Positive ROI on your training fee guaranteed.
Do you spend money on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter ads? If so you should consider the following tactics…
Warning – this is advanced level stuff. Probably not for beginners.
1. Upload your customer list to Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
If you have a large customer list, you might want to only upload your highest value customers. To do that, I would export your customer file from your CRM or accounting system, and add a column to your spreadsheet for a ‘RFM score’ (recency, frequency, money). This is a weighted score that ranks customers in your list by recency of purchase, then frequency of purchase, and then total spent. Total spent is actually least important as an indicator of likely future purchases.
Sort your customers by RFM score, and upload only the top 20%. This limits your risk by focusing on your best customers, not your entire customer database. Your bottom 20% probably lose you money, so you don’t want to target them.
2. Run upsell ads to your customers.
You could offer time-sensitive bonuses in ads to existing customers, or incentives for making referrals. This is the highest ROI advertising you will ever do.
3. Upload a separate prospect list.
If you have a prospect list (in your email marketing or CRM system), upload them to a separate audience. Test running loss-leader type ads to this group, or free trial offers. Anything that will get them to make the first purchase.
4. Create lookalike audiences of your best customers on Facebook and Google.
On Facebook create a 1% lookalike audience of your customer list in the countries you sell in. Facebook will then build an audience of 1% of the total population that look like your uploaded list. (Which is why it’s best to start by uploading your best customers in step 1, not all customers).
Google will automatically create a ‘similar audience’, which in principle is the same thing.
You can’t currently create lookalike audiences on LinkedIn or Twitter. (Boooo).
5. Use your lookalike / similar audiences as a layering tool.
For example, if someone searches for one of your keywords AND is in a similar audience to your best customers, double your keyword bid.
On Facebook, try targeting people with relevant interests who ALSO look like your best customers.
Essentially you are giving Google and Facebook valuable guidance on who specifically you are after. Most of your cold ad campaigns (targeting people who do not know you) can usually be layered with a lookalike or similar audience.
6. Use custom affinity audiences on Google.
If you go into the audience manager in Google Ads, and select the ‘custom audiences’ tab, Google will usually have created something called a ‘custom affinity’ audience based on your web traffic. In mine, they have identified ‘CRM, marketing & business’. Which I’m actually quite impressed by. (Shockingly, Google seems to understand me better than I do!)
If the audience looks relevant to your business, try using this as a layering tool also (can be used with Google Search, Google Display and YouTube ads). For example, maybe target websites on Google display about specific topics, where the visitor is also interested in CRM, marketing & business (or whatever your custom affinity audience is).
7. Define your own custom affinity audiences.
In the screenshot above, click the blue plus icon to create your own custom affinity audience. In the screenshot below, I’ve manually added the interests ‘spirituality, literature, storytelling and marketing’. Google will then build you an audience of people with these interests.
You can try targeting these audiences directly on the Google Display network, but mostly I would layer them with other targeting criteria.
This is seriously advanced level stuff that none of your competitors will be doing. Also by focusing on customer lists, lookalikes and custom affinity audiences, you’re running ads in a multi-dimensional way your competitors can never copy.
One of the contradictions of marketing is that marketing itself is simple, but getting anything done is complicated.
It feels like things should be getting less complicated over time. Modern tools have removed the need to learn PHP, HTML and CSS. Landing page builders have democratised web design (thank God). It’s never been easier to create an online presence on Facebook. Effective email marketing tools have never been more accessible. Facebook and Google have placed the entire world at your fingertips (albeit through a dangerously expensive mechanism).
So the question I keep asking is: why is everybody so overwhelmed?
I think in part the answer comes down down to the fragmentation and connectedness of media. 1+1+1 does not equal 3 any more. In chaos terms, Facebook + LinkedIn + Email + Webinars = 14 (in arbitrary chaos points), not 4.
Next, despite their best efforts, the major ad platforms are not getting any simpler. Nor are they likely to, because they primarily cater to big spending power users. Which means you need the learning appetite of a power user, even if you have other things to do with your time.
(What? You don’t want to spend 12 hours a day plugged into Facebook? Weird…)
Next, social media tends to speed everything up in a worldwind of constantly connected chaos. Spending large amounts of time on Facebook is like the direct opposite of meditation. A huge emphasis is placed on everything that is ‘live’. Which in itself feels overwhelming.
Next, the full range of skills you need has increased. Video has exponentially increased in importance. It helps to be doing something in audio. You need good written skills. Even though my speciality is copywriting and marketing nurture, I’ve never fully stepped away from the technical side of marketing, because I get too many questions about it. To offer content without the tech is to sell a partial solution.
Marketing itself isn’t complicated. I like Peter Drucker’s definition, that marketing is about creating and keeping a customer. But the apparatus of marketing tends to generate its own complexity.
As a result you can’t blindly outsource everything. It’s too risky, and there are too many specialists around with a vested interest in you using certain tactics. To the man with a hammer, all problems look like a nail.
You can’t simplify your way to marketing success by building ‘just one more funnel’, because the likelihood is you’ll miss a big opportunity. You’ll miss opportunities to embrace new technologies, sensible marketing automation, and sensible retargeting. (Because guess what? Those things are com-pli-ca-ted…)
The ethos of this letter is to light a path through the complexity, rather than ignore it exists. To help you pick appropriate tactics to your situation, and master them.
If you’re ready to put in the work and learn new things, you’re in the right place.
As you put more voice into your work, you invariably run into topics like politics and religion. Hot potato topics that can blow up in your face.
So, should you write about them? Or are you best ignoring them, and sticking to more ‘safe’ topics?
It’s actually impossible to write engagingly over a long period of time without expressing political opinion. I also think it’s a mistake to completely ignore these things.
If you’re a deeply religious person, then it’s fine to work elements of that into your writing too. You can do it in a sensible way, without hammering anyone over the head. Perry Marshall does that very well.
I try to place my political and religious opinions out in the open. They’re there if you want to go looking for them. And if you don’t, they just blend in with the background. I think.
If you’re trying to build trust over a long period of time, you have to let people know the real you through small insights into your life. Having said that, nobody initially signs up to hear about these things. So it’s a balance. Make your emails entertaining and useful first. Then communicate the real you second.
There are also media considerations. There are some topics that I’ll happily riff on in my print newsletter, but won’t touch so often in email. Print is a more personal medium with my inner sanctum of subscribers, so I’m more likely to address sensitive topics there.
On balance though most people err too much on the side of caution. If you never offend anyone in your writing, you’re probably not appealing to anyone either.