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Classifying PPC Marketing? Is It An Art Or A Science? Part 1


Ok, let’s be honest, we all know the answer is going to be BOTH. However, we must ask ourselves, what’s the secret sauce that makes it more successful. Is it the seasoned experience and “outside the box” creativity or is it by default? Over the years, PPC has matured so quickly that it’s almost difficult to remember what it was like to simply “bid your way to the top” with Goto.com (Yahoo) or to understand or even pronounce this new search engine called Google. Now, roughly 10 years later, this once little piece of the online marketing strategy is emerging as the predominate money proving ROI machine where companies are spending billions of dollars to make it easier for people to spend their hard earned money.

With the change in the perception that these software companies are implying that PPC is just a numbers game and a matter of bid management or Analytics is a little worrisome for this SemGeek because it asks the question “Is PPC becoming more of a Science that an Art?” For many PPC Gurus, the idea of automating search marketing would traditionally leave us all feeling a little uneasy as it appears to be jeopardizes the integrity of all of the years spent “re-defining” the industry as well as downplaying the creativity of how talented search marketers make their client’s successful online.

On the other hand, using data in a more scientific approach in order to understand what is working and not working in our PPC efforts is priceless.  In this two-part series, we will get some expert insight from the top PPC Software companies on how they view Paid Search as either an Art, a Science or both.

When talking about whether PPC in this context, it can often become a double edged sword” to be able to differentiate the two. For this Search Marketer, who has been working in the “weeds” for so many years I have been trained to believe that holistically it requires both to be successful. On the one hand, there is an obvious  science behind the algorithms which power the platform, and there is also a level of smart business and creativity to reach qualified consumers and persuade them to get engaged and that make that all important conversion, hence validating the value of PPC. To reinforce and expand on this, Marc Poirer, CEO of Acquisio states that “I think it’s marketing, and as such, there is creativity involved because you need to understand human behavior; and there are hard numbers, because there is money at stake. Further, with paid search, there are literally hundreds of variables that can impact your success. If I had to decide between art or science, I would definitely say it’s more of a Science than an Art.

On the other hand, according to Craig Danuloff, Founder and President of ClickEquations, INC, he believes that is mostly all scientific on how we should approach PPC. For example, he goes on to say “There is far more science than art in the operation of paid search campaigns, although I’m not that most people practice it that way – I think much of the folklore about PPC suggests that it’s an art and so many people treat it that way. I believe it’s a science because for the most part the operation and algorithms work in provable and repeatable ways – if you do ‘A’ then ‘B’ is going to happen every time. And the way to learn this is through study and investigation or experimentation. There are a few creative aspects to the process, which must be used in the experimentation, although I’d probably not glorify them as art.

The relationship between keywords and search queries, the impact of match types, the calculation of Quality Score and ROAS/ROI, and the attribution of revenue across multiple visits, are all examples of knowable repeatable elements of PPC. Writing text ads and designing landing pages are creative activities, but ones to which formal testing and measurement can be applied to calculate a quantifiable value – we don’t need an artistic eye to judge good ad copy, the CTR will tell us.“

Now that we touched on the 35,000 foot view of PPC from a software company perspective, lets shift gears to focus on the area of best practices.To get this conversation started, I posed the question to Craig about his view on how they classify PPC best practices based on simple “Statistics and Words” or a more “Creative and Holistic” approach. According to Craig, he believes that there is a truth to the way the search engines work, and there is an approach to managing paid search that aligns with this truth. It’s knowable and provable and repeatable. It seems that many of the so-called ideologies out there lack this grounding. The church of ‘keyword expansion’ for example tends to lack a grasp of how keyword matching really works. The church of ‘position 1 or 2’ fails the math test. The church of ‘relevance’ or ‘holistic’ is the most faith-based of them all.There’s no substitute for sharp strategy in PPC. Which segments should you target? Which products should you promote first? Should you build out the search network or the content network first? That kind of planning is based in good data, but your own human intuition and experience still have to rule.

Search is the only advertising channel I can think of where people tend to first target super broadly and then very reluctantly pare back only when it’s proven incontrovertibly that any segment or portion of a segment doesn’t or won’t work.

We’d suggest an approach to targeting that starts with the people most likely to convert – based on both interest and intent. In most cases this would be brand-based searchers, or other highly specific segments. Expanding from strength, establishing beachheads and then growing them, is a far more profitable approach than the spray-and-pray that’s so common in the industry.

As far as search and content, there is no universal answer but regardless of which is first, they must be treated and managed as if they’re entirely distinct channels which they are. There is no reason to expect any similarity between them in effort or results.”

In the upcoming article “Classifying PPC Marketing? Is It An Art Or A Science? Part 2”, we will continue our discussion Marc and Craig as they will provide more interesting feedback on what specific elements of PPC should always be considered an Art as well as which ones should always be considered a Science.

I would like to personally thank Craig Danuloff of ClickEquations and Marc Poirer of Acquisio for their participation in this article.

Acquisio-logo Click-equations-logo

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6 Responses to "Classifying PPC Marketing? Is It An Art Or A Science? Part 1"

  1. AnnLuck says:

    I agree that PPC is much more of a science than an art. While some creativity exist with ad copy and landing page creation, the day to day management of an account must be based upon numbers and in-depth analyst.
    A few months ago I had to create Spanish campaigns for 5 products . . . I don’t speak Spanish, yet I have been able to improve the ROAS for these campaigns from .75 to 2.00.
    I was able to sit with the Spanish speaker and show her how to come up with keywords, how to choose negatives & when to use phrase and broad match by using my usual process. I was than able to optimize these words based on specific goals. – This isn’t art-this is just a complex methodology.

  2. ixodcom says:

    Even better news: a big chunk of what you need to know is truly scientific — based on tested and proven theories.

  3. Lionel says:

    Your blog “Classifying PPC Marketing? Is It An Art Or A Science? Part 1” was a very interesting post. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us, your work is really appreciated.

  4. POlenforum says:

    Found your information because of your Tweet at Twitter.
    I’ll be back, good written information and more important, understandable 😉

  5. mike suh says:

    I have to argue that PPC is more art than Craig and Marc give it credit for.
    Even in painting, there’s a lot of science. Adding Blue to Yellow makes Green. That’s science. Adjusting the amount of Yellow or Blue affects what shade of Green you’re making. As long as you put in the same amount of Blue and Yellow consistently, you’ll get the same shade of green.
    In PPC management, there are a lot of variables to consider. Thankfully, there are pattens of performance and tools we can use to scientifically determine results. Thats the science, but here’s where the art comes in:
    When painting, you have to take the shades of green you have and decide where they go on the canvas to paint the picture you’re trying to create. There are millions of shades of colors you can use to this effect and it takes one with an artistic and skilled eye to create a masterpiece.
    I won’t bother getting into perception, horizons, and light sources since it will just needlessly complicate my example. But, these are all sciences that need to be applied properly to achieve a great painting.
    I think the art comes in knowing where to apply the “paint” if you will. Masters of PPC have a deeper understanding of what they need to do.
    On the other hand, science without art is like any 5 year old who can mix blue and yellow and slap green paint on a paper and call it grass and be happy with the result. 😛
    That being said, i believe anyone can run an effective PPC campaign if given a few pointers and a great tool (like Acquiso or Click Equations) but not at the level of someone with the same tools who has a deeper understanding of what makes PPC tick.
    I hope my analogy made sense.

  6. stacyfaye says:

    Thanks for the great article!

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