April 2, 2019

Google Ads hiring catastrophe…

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.

March 22, 2019

The pressing need for truth

MP Brexit

I am occasionally asked by American readers what I think about Brexit. Without wanting to push too many political opinions at you, I came across the following video​ yesterday on Facebook.

MP Brexit

Whether he’s right or wrong is besides the pointWhat matters is he spoke his version of the truth.

There’s a great need for truth in marketing, just as there is in politics. We’re all sick of being lied to.

I’m presuming you’re here because you market your services in some way. So for today I just want to ask… are you calling things as you really see them?

By calling things as you see them you alienate a part of your list. So the tendency is to say safer things that don’t stand out so much.

But it doesn’t help you in the long term.

March 14, 2019

Seven Advanced PPC Tactics

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!)

Custom affinity audience

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.

Custom affinity audience creation

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.

Got questions? Let me know.

March 6, 2019

Why is marketing overwhelmingly complicated?

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.

March 4, 2019

Topics that might offend people​

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.

February 28, 2019

How long should it take to write an email

I’ve come to believe that the optimal time between having an idea for an email, and sending the thing out, is 24-48 hours.

Any less, and you’re likely to vomit all over somebody’s inbox. Any more and it’ll probably go cold, or you’ll second-guess yourself out of sending it.

What specifically might that 48 hour window look like?

When you have an email idea, you have to quickly make notes with whatever you have to hand. I’ll do this on a computer if one’s handy, or into my Evernote app on my phone if I’m out. I might use pen and paper, although I find this slows the process later on.

Another valid approach is to drip-feed notes on the email throughout the day. This is a fairly time-intensive way to do things, because the email ends up taking more brain-space than it merits. (Sorry, did you have other things to do today?) But it can help when you’re starting out.

1 – 24 hours later you want to convert your notes into a draft. Drafting the email is easier the more care you have taken with your notes, and even a one-hour gap between notes and drafting is beneficial. Not all of my notes continue to the draft stage. Sometimes I’ll have lost enthusiasm, or had a better idea.

If you’re like me, the second you’ve finished with your draft you’ll want to send it. “Shakespeare himself would be envious in his grave,” you think smugly to yourself. Of course, 24 hours on, your wonderful writing might not seem so wonderful at all. So if possible it’s best to leave some time between drafting and sending.

I’ve had clients in the past who have failed to grasp the importance of this delay. Usually they then like to ‘point out’ mistakes, which is the price you pay for a rushed email.

These are rules of thumb, to be broken at your own discretion. Working in a hurry can sometimes be a virtue. But I believe the delays I’ve suggested are optimal for most people.  

February 26, 2019

Copywriting vs copy assembling

I have a growing conviction that copy assembling has become more important than copy writing…

The perceived role of a copywriter is to come up with magic words that sell.

A copy assembler on the other hand has all of the necessary writing skills, but spends much more time assembling, sifting and sorting raw material. A copy assembler is a master at distinguishing signal from noise.

While copy assembling is front loaded in terms of work, it never stops. I’m always assembling things that might be useful, even when it looks like I’m not. Anything you ever say to me can and possibly will end up in a marketing email.

I have a recording app on my phone, which I’ll routinely place on the table in face to face conversations (with permission, of course). I have a call recording app. I use Zoom for web meetings, and routinely record conversations with clients.

I then crop the recording to just the section I want, and send it to rev.com to be transcribed. It then gets added to the ‘sifting and sorting’ pile.

Whatever you’re planning to write, it’s always better to write from a hefty bank of organised raw material. Always. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

It’s easier and more enjoyable to do things this way round. With practice and feedback, the writing takes care of itself.

February 25, 2019

The biggest pay per click mistake

The single biggest reason why smart advertisers lose money on pay per click isn’t what most people think it is…

  • It’s not the ‘wrong settings’ (although inappropriately selected settings are a big factor)
  • It’s not a lack of technical understanding
  • It’s not a lack of competitive intelligence
  • It’s not the wrong keywords
  • It’s not the wrong ad type…

So what is it?

I read an email last week from Perry Marshall, who wrote:

“Wrong assumptions are really expensive. Keep asking yourself: what are you assuming now that isn’t true?”

Ding ding ding! A small light bulb went off reading those words. Wrong assumptions – or more specifically an unwillingness to challenge, test and re-test your assumptions is the most expensive mistake.

Assumptions are mental shortcuts that allow us to get things done. An assumption can save you time, but often in pay per click they cost you money. They’re hard to spot, and tend to camouflage themselves, blending in with the furniture of how things are.

If you’re running ads you have to regularly ask yourself… what beliefs do you hold about the different platforms?

  • Are video ads ineffective?
  • Is Facebook for B2C audiences?
  • Does remarketing ‘not work’?
  • Is LinkedIn for business, or people looking for work?
  • Is Twitter for everyone out of work?

Keep an eye out. Test small and often.

Why the Hero’s Journey isn’t enough

If you sell to people over a long period of time, the highest goal of your marketing is to upgrade someone’s thinking about your topic.

As with all real learning, an upgrade in thinking can only happen with a degree of discomfort.

It’s a lot to ask for your audience to feel discomfort. It isn’t what we’re ‘meant’ to do as marketers. But some discomfort they must feel, or else you’ll never get your point across. You might entertain, but you’ll never challenge someone’s current thinking.

I was thinking about this the other night. Linzi was watching a documentary about the James Bulger murder, which happened just a few miles from where I grew up in 1993. I would have been seven at the time. Old enough to remember it, but not old enough to appreciate how horrific it was.

Two ten-year-old boys abducted a two-year-old from a shopping centre, while his mother was distracted in a butcher’s shop. They then dropped him on his head by a canal. Later on – after being stopped by two different people – they took him to cemetery, tortured and killed him, eventually leaving his body on a railway line to make it look like an accident.

There is actually more detail to the story, which I don’t even want to write about.

Do you feel uncomfortable yet? You should.

And let me tell you, I do. As the father of a one-year-old, it’s been haunting my brain for the last few days. Not least because geographically it was very close to home. However you try to get your head around it, you can’t.

The most important stories to tell aren’t usually the most comfortable, for you or the reader. The ‘hero’s journey’ doesn’t often happen in the real world. But there’s a much deeper well of empathy and understanding in a more challenging story, if you manage to tell it.

That’s something to consider.

February 21, 2019

Should you link to a blog post in your emails?​

An email marketing question keeps popping up in client conversations. That question is whether it’s best to include everything you want to say in the body of your email, or to send a short enticing snippet linking to a full blog post.

Without wanting to dismiss the question, my gut response is to kind of yawn, and mutter ‘do whatever you think.’

Shortly afterwards I’ll remember to reign in my grumpiness, and give the following advice…

Email is a personal medium, first and foremost. How many emails do you receive from friends and family which open with a short snippet and a link to a blog post? Not many. So most of your business emails should follow suit.

(I know, your friends and family don’t email you anymore, especially now they’ve discovered WhatsApp. But just pretend they did…)

Having said that, if what you have written is:

  • Quite long (say, over 1000 words)
  • Very detailed, practical or hands-on (e.g. an A-Z guide to doing something)
  • Quite technical or content heavy

Then it can make more sense to link to a blog post. If the reader needs to invest significant time and concentration, then the email should sell the reader on reading the thing. Don’t take people’s attention for granted – you’re likely one of 100 other people arriving in their inbox today.

Sending people to a blog post also has the advantage of topping up your remarketing audiences. You could even run ads to people who read about specific post topics. The minimum audience size for remarketing is 30 on Facebook, 100 on Google.

Somebody who reads a blog post and then sees a relevant Facebook ad offering an appropriate next step may well be tempted to respond.

That is all I have to say on that.

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