He calls himself a PPC addict, works for the sake of the numbers, despises extensive automation, and believes in the power of creatives. Joel Bondorowsky is an Israel-based PPC and marketing growth expert who has contributed to dozens of successful projects. He worked for both Wix and SimilarWeb in their early days before the startups evolved into industry colossi. Currently, Joel runs a Quality Score boutique ad agency and collaborates with just a few companies, spearheading their advertising efforts and helping them grow and scale.
I had a chance to talk with Joel about the role of PPC within the marketing mix, the rapidly changing PPC landscape, and things one can do to embrace the new game rules imposed by Facebook and Google. We’ll also get down to the brass tacks—read on to get dozens of tips on crafting an ad copy, improving your ad quality score, and properly measuring your net.
How is PPC different from other marketing channels, and does every business need it?
Joel, you started doing PPC back in the 2000-s, which means you’ve been into it for over two decades now. What is so special about PPC that drives you and makes you stick to this particular marketing channel?
When I started buying media back in the 2000-s, PPC was really just beginning. I had the privilege of working for wix.com when they were in their infancy, before they took off and became a unicorn. It was a great school for learning how to do search advertising, because they had a somewhat complex sales funnel, and I had a chance to learn how to optimize for different steps in the funnel pretty quickly.
I prefer PPC to other things because it’s very fast. I have a very short attention span. I’m excited by quick rewards. To be driven to do something, I have to see the end. What fascinates me about PPC, is the fact that you’re able to get fast, quick bottom-line results that are measurable and meaningful.
Today, I’m working very closely with just a few companies, and each one of them is like another adventure. It’s a new challenge where I take what I’ve learned, and I adapt it to the unique needs of each business to help them reach their goals.
“Everything I do is data-driven and performance-based. I don’t work for the sake of the work—I work for the sake of the numbers.”
It’s not about how many hours you put in. It’s not about the tasks that have been done. It’s about the bottom line. My approach is that all the effort you put in should make conversions go up and/or cost per conversion go down. And that’s basically what justifies the work.
Performance-based and data-driven campaigns sound like a great investment. In your opinion, can any business benefit from PPC?
The short answer is no. In fact, for many businesses, it can be very difficult to work with PPC. If it’s a small market, if it’s something local, that might not necessarily make sense.
For me, the question is what your goal is as a company and whether it can be achieved through the tools that PPC platforms bring.
Let’s start with search—a case where people are looking for something specific, and they want a solution. For example, someone is locked out of their house, and they search for an emergency locksmith. PPC is excellent for that. You have people expressing a problem, and you have a solution to the problem that can be placed at the top of the SERP with the help of PPC.
The easiest way to get a vast list of relevant keywords for promoting your product in Google’s SERP is to use dedicated tools. SE Ranking’s Keyword Research tool allows you to quickly get dozens of keyword ideas by pasting a single seed keyword into the search bar. All the provided data is geo-specific—you’ll see the search volume, CPC and competition metrics for the chosen target location. Also, the search volume graph will help you immediately assess seasonality.
Another scenario is showing ads to people to make them buy something that they didn’t know they wanted. For example, right now, one of my biggest clients is Lingopie, a language learning tool. They help you learn a language through watching TV shows. And from my experience, almost everyone at some point in their life tries learning a second or a third language. So, that’s something you could sell to practically anyone with the help of PPC.
Thus, PPC works great in two cases:
- People know exactly what they want and express it in search terms that have a clear intent. If you can find plenty of keywords that describe your product or service—build a massive and actionable keyword list—PPC is the way to go.
- Another case is when you market things that people don’t know that they want, but they are things everybody uses at some point in their life. Then, you could show them ads, pull them into a funnel, and convince them to make a purchase.
“One thing you always need to remember is to measure the cost of the traffic against the value it brings. If the cost of the traffic is less than the value it brings, you’re good.”
Marketing channels are not individualized in black boxes
While some businesses rely solely on PPC, most companies use it along with other marketing channels. Should PPC specialists work in close cooperation with other marketers?
Marketing channels are not individualized in black boxes. PPC specialists can help other marketers do their job better, and conversely, other channels can help PPC. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Most people don’t buy on the first visit. They come in through multiple channels. Let’s say someone is searching for a product on Google and ends up clicking on an ad. While they’re interested in buying, they’re not 100% sure just yet. At this point, they might turn around and search for the brand. In this case, the way your brand SERP looks has an impact on the PPC results. It is very important for everything to appear the best possible way in your brand SERP. Because if not, it’ll hurt conversions from the PPC after.
At the same time, PPC can also help SEO. Let’s say an SEO specialist is doing keyword research and trying to figure out which keywords to focus on. With PPC, you can actually buy them, and understand the real value of the keywords. SEO takes time, but with PPC you can experiment and quickly gain measurable results. So, instead of just putting out nets from vast keyword lists and hoping to bring in traffic that converts, SEOs can rely on PPC data to focus on the most lucrative keywords from the get-go.
Finally, PPC can also help SEO with titles and descriptions. CTR is crucial in PPC. Google measures your CTR, as well as how engaging the ad itself is, plus a few other factors, and then determines your position in the SERP. To run successful PPC campaigns, you need to experiment with different headlines and descriptions. You can then apply the insights you gained to title and description tags crafted for SEO. That way, your organic results will have a higher click-through rate, and, thus, gain more traffic.
Adapting to the evolving PPC landscape
Can you tell that the PPC landscape is currently changing? Let’s talk about privacy regulations and automation tools PPC platforms keep introducing.
The landscape is changing in several ways. Some changes are positive, but others are making things more difficult. For example, a big, big thing that’s happening right now—and I think anyone who’s doing online marketing knows about it—is cookies becoming irrelevant. Thanks to Apple.
Joel refers to the iOS 14 update that had a massive effect on Facebook ads. As people choose to opt out of tracking on iOS 14 devices, ads personalization and performance reporting become limited. PPC specialists have to deal with Facebook under-reporting the number of leads, less reliable Campaign Budget Optimization, and a smaller remarketing audience.
PPC largely relies on tracking. It allows us to show ads that are most relevant for people.
“If you don’t have proper tracking, you won’t be able to optimize for your goals.”
So, before you start running ads, you have to make sure that you have tracking installed properly. Otherwise, you’re just going to be throwing money down the drain.
With the latest iOS update, it gets complicated. Now, to produce meaningful results, you need to track people in different ways.
That’s one thing that has changed tremendously. Another thing is that the algorithms developed by Facebook and Google are so sophisticated that advertising, in a way, has circled back to the basics. And when I say back to the basics, I mean, that in traditional advertising, it’s all about messaging and the creatives.
For many years, PPC was very nerdy. To do proper targeting, bidding, etc., a very heavy skill set was required. Today, the mechanics are still important, but doing it is not nearly as hard as it used to be.
“Now, the real differentiating factor that I don’t see Google or Facebook taking away from us is how well we run the creatives.”
I believe that no matter what happens, PPC specialists will always have to pay attention to the messages. From things you’re going to show people when they first hear about a product, to messages you’ll have to bring in to push them further into the sales funnel. You’re always going to have to tell a story that is sequential.
“One big mistake I see marketers make time and time again is that they’re always a/b testing ads and maybe a/b testing landing pages, but they’re not really thinking about a/b testing the whole sequence of thoughts. So, when people think in those little black boxes, they end up having messages that are just random blurbs mixed together, which aren’t capable of driving people down the funnel to the purchase.”
Speaking of the way Google is moving towards simplified mechanics, back in February, Google Ads began to incorporate behaviors of broad match modifier (BMM) into phrase match. What’s your opinion on the matter?
One thing I liked about Google search campaigns was building them so that they were very granular. I used to cater to searchers by showing them ads crafted for the specific search term they used. That way, I was able to perform better. Now, I think Google is aiming for businesses to be running fewer ad groups or consolidated groups. Google is supposed to do most of the work, and serve the right version of the dynamic ad based on its algorithms.
I don’t like the update, because broad match modifiers were something I was excelling at. In other words, one of my advantages was being able to take a vocabulary list—the different ways that people could express their interests—and group them into group themes, and then provide different messages to different groups. That way, I would win by having a much better CTR than my competitors and not paying as much as they did in order to get to those positions. So, I was very good at that, and Google is kind of taking that away from me.
At the same time, search is actually minimal for me. Most of my clients are offering people something they don’t know they want. So we’re bringing them in because they’re scrolling in their newsfeed or seeing a YouTube video or an ad on the display network.
You don’t seem to be a big fan of automation. Still, you do agree that this is where it all goes. Do you ever use automatic campaigns?
That’s right, everything is moving more towards full automation. Google these days is coming out with new tools such as Performance Max. It’s a new type of Google campaign that is supposed to help you promote a business across all Google Ads inventory. The idea is that you can just throw a bunch of keywords inside the ad group, and the tool will make everything work on all channels. Sounds awesome? In fact, it isn’t, because it’s not that smart. And I don’t think it will be that smart anytime soon.
I’m not totally against automation. Automatic bidding is ok. Then, on Facebook accounts, when they get huge with lots of data in the campaigns, the targeting is basically everybody. When Facebook learns the pixel, learns who converts, and you have a good volume in your account, there’s not really any targeting that has to be done. So in a way that’s automatic, and that’s great. But if we talk about automatic search campaigns that Google has with those fully dynamic ads, it’s not something I particularly like. It’s a way to get things set up quickly and easily, but it’s not the fastest way to success.
We all have products to market, and Google itself is a product with sales funnels. Now, they onboard people more easily—it’s like click-click, next, put in your credit card, go. It seems to be very easy to successfully launch a PPC campaign in a few clicks, and this allows Google to get advertisers on board and up and running quicker. The problem is you’re not launching a successful campaign in that way. For that, you need some sort of strategy. And if you have a strategy, you should be able to implement it a certain way, which can only happen if you rely on your own skill set, and not on automatic algorithms.
Let’s discuss another feature that will make Google ad campaigns more automatic: responsive vs expanded search ads. Google plans to deprecate expanded search ads in June 2022. Which type of ads do you recommend using right now?
The problem with responsive search ads is that you have to guide them in order for them to work well. If you just throw a lot of random stuff in, it’s going to take more time and money for Google to understand how to arrange and move everything around properly. When Google figures this out and understands what’s inside the ad, responsive ads can work pretty well.
Expanded search ads are great for having control and being able to test. What I’m finding right now is that when I start with the expanded search ads and then throw something responsive in based on what’s happening for those expanded ads, the responsive ones work faster and better.
So, in order to make it work better, I think you need to really focus on the way the message is organized, instead of the ad itself. In other words, there’s an anatomy of an expanded ad. And the way I see it is, the headline should reflect the person’s search. Then, there is a description. The first line of the description, in my point of view, should reflect the inner dialogue inside of someone’s head—something they’re thinking but aren’t necessarily expressing. For example, if someone searches for a luxury hotel in Paris, they might be thinking about relaxing in style and comfort during the visit. Description two should then talk about features, benefits, or contain a promo offer with a call to action.
What Google allows you to do with extended ads is specify the way you’ll be using headlines and descriptions. So, use the ordering properly. You can tell Google that the description with the callback at the end of it should always be second. Meanwhile, another description reflecting what users might be thinking can be pinned as description one. Then, as far as headlines go, you don’t necessarily need to pin them—let it be automatic. But if you have something like a seven-day free trial, tell Google that you want this headline to be second.
“Don’t make Google figure it out, because then they’re going to start by wasting your money on a seven-day free trial as the first headline, which isn’t right. Rather, help Google push it, help train it.”
Adjusting your net to your budget
It’s clear that PPC is all about experimenting and testing. Is there a certain minimal number of conversions in a week or a month that would indicate that your campaign is working, and then you can dive in?
It depends on how wide your net is. Let’s get back to the example with the emergency locksmith. You do not need very many conversions for the exact match emergency locksmith keyword to understand its value, because there’s one dimension there.
However, if you’re running some Facebook campaign or something on the Google Display network or YouTube, where it could be shown on millions of different placements across different demographics and interest groups, you’re going to need more data.
Let’s say a new potential client came to me, and they wanted to sell some great new skin rejuvenation products. The audience is basically anyone, but mostly women over 40. Even if I build a great funnel, it’s going to cost a lot of money to become profitable. I’ll need plenty of data points for the PPC platforms to learn how to optimize for it. It’s not going to be cheap, as opposed to when you’re an emergency locksmith and just bid on that one keyword.
“So, the first thing you have to consider is how big your net is. The wider your net is, the more data and conversions you need.”
If you’re still on the way to becoming profitable, my advice is to forget about your long keyword list. For most campaigns, there will be about five terms that are going to be the main movers and shakers—those are the keywords to focus on. This way, you can get the data, optimize for it, become profitable, and then build your big keyword list and worry about your long tail.
“If you don’t have a massive budget to waste, to learn, to optimize, then make your net smaller.”
Crafting an ad copy that strikes the cord
Let’s proceed with the ad copies. Where do you draw your ideas? How do you know which inner dialogue your potential customers might have?
It comes from a lot of search and testing. When I first got into this very seriously, I read a lot. Things like Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords by Perry Marshall. Now, it’s a combination of these guidelines I’ve embraced and things I’ve learned from my own experience. I experimented a lot. As in PPC, in order to learn, you have to experiment and test.
How about looking at your competitors’ experiments and learning from their mistakes? Does it work for you?
My approach is that if I’m doing something new, I want to come up with my own ideas before I look at what the competitors are doing. Because once you see what other people are doing, your own ideas sort of get skewed. So I always start with a fresh, modern point of view.
Then, I see what has worked traditionally using competitive analysis tools. I look at people who seem to be very successful with PPC. If you see a competitor, and they’re everywhere in paid search results and have a high budget, chances are they’re doing something right. Of course, you don’t want to just copy. But you can get inspired, and in that way competitive analysis tools really help.
With SE Ranking’s Competitive Research and Keyword Research tools, you can check which ads copies your rivals have been using in the past years and see how the changes they’ve introduced to the ad copy, along with other factors, affected their position in the SERP. CPC, competition, and search volume metrics are also available to you. Finally, you can click the link and take a look at the landing pages your competitors have crafted.
Some PPC specialists choose to craft ad copies where every word starts with a capital letter. Is this a working method, or is it better to steer away from it?
It depends on what the headline is. Sometimes people say it’s aggressive and they feel like they’re being sold too much. But it really depends on the product and on how much you want to push. If you’re selling something that people didn’t know they wanted, and you’re convincing them to buy, play safe with the lowercase. It makes you look less pushy. But if your ad offers the services of an emergency locksmith, you might as well capitalize everything. Because the matter is urgent, and you offer exactly what the person wants.
Aiming for the top keyword quality score
Let’s touch upon such a vital thing as keyword quality score. Any tips on how to improve it? What matters more here—the ad copy or the landing page?
To start with, quality score isn’t just about the keyword quality. It is assigned based on how well the combination of the keyword, the ad copy, and the landing page matches the search term. Still, it’s only reported on the keyword itself.
Now, what determines quality score? There are many factors, and a lot of them are binary in nature. By binary, I mean, whether it’s good enough or not. For example, with landing page loading speed, just make sure it’s good enough. Making the site superfast isn’t going to improve your quality score any more than having a fast site. Going the extra mile might, however, improve user experience.
At the same time, when I refer to the landing page load time as binary, it doesn’t necessarily mean whether it’s good enough or not. You could divide the speed by geographical locations. For example, if your site’s really slow in Australia, you could be bad for Australia, but good for the States.
Once you’re sure you’re good enough with all the binary factors, work on things such as page relevance and CTR. These are things that can further improve your quality score. And here’s why.
“Google is selling a product. In fact, it is selling eyes on ads, which is a limited resource. They get paid per click. It means that every time you don’t get clicks while they let people see your ad on their properties, they’re not making as much from you as they would be from somebody else.”
Of course, user experience also matters—Google keeps telling us that it strives for better UX and tries to provide users with the most relevant results. But at the end of the day, Google just makes a lot more money off people who get more clicks.
Choosing the right timing
Let me summarize a little bit. With PPC, to nail it, you need to properly measure your net, work on the relevance of your ads and landing pages, and keep testing and experimenting. Are there more factors to bear in mind?
Another thing that makes a big difference in addition to the ad itself is targeting plus hours of the day. You will often be surprised at how things change hour to hour, day by day. People search for different things at different times.
Let’s take healthcare or dietary products as an example. When you target the US, conversion rates are many times higher in the mornings than in the evenings, especially on Sunday. Sunday morning is by far the best, while Saturday evening is the worst. And then starting from Monday, and as the week goes on, it gets worse and worse. It all makes sense when you think about people’s habits. Sunday for Americans is the day to go to church and behave. Then, as the week progresses, things get sloppy. In the evening, people are more likely to get drunk than sign up for a diet. So, you don’t show the ads to them.
Seasonality matters as well. If it’s the 4th of July, everyone’s on Facebook, but they don’t want to interact with your ad to buy something. They’re at the beach or at a barbecue, and all they want to do is see their friends and post stuff. So, the time when you show the ad can also have a great impact.
Reaching out to the international audience
Do you have any experience running PPC campaigns for multilingual countries such as Switzerland where people speak German, Italian, and French? In your opinion, which is better: creating separate campaigns for every language or putting all the ads into one group and letting Google decide?
Well, fully relying on Google is the worst thing to do. I often segment campaigns based on language in that location. If I’m, say, advertising in Portuguese and selling something that is international, I’m going to be targeting Brazil and Portugal. On Google, inside the campaign itself, there are also language settings. What I never do is segment a single campaign by different languages. At the same time, on Facebook, you could actually have ad variations in different languages for a single country like Switzerland, which is fine.
There’s one thing I want to stress here. Since PPC is all about performance and the bottom line, I believe people tend to make mistakes by getting distracted by smaller markets and smaller languages before getting solid results with English.
“For many markets, if you don’t have it crafted properly for the United States, you’re not making it.”
If you are good with English ads, your further steps will depend on the market and the niche. If you’re dealing with the Netherlands or Norway, they’re fine with English. Meanwhile, if you’re dealing with France and Italy, you’re way better off with French and Italian. It doesn’t mean Dutch and Norwegian people don’t appreciate being spoken to in their own language. But you need to always bear the bottom line in mind.
The niche also matters. If you’re selling a SaaS solution, it means people will be reading more, and they will take the effort to understand the tool better. So, having a landing page translated into Dutch or Norwegian makes sense. For a B2C niche, that is not always the case.
Selling SaaS products to mobile users
Speaking of SaaS products, let’s discuss mobile traffic. It tends not to convert well. Are there any tricks that could help?
I can assume that whenever mobile traffic is not performing well for a SaaS product, that’s because the search volume isn’t there. I guess that if you do keyword research for SaaS-related terms, you’ll find out that the mobile search volume is considerably lower.
At the same time, everything has a price. If it’s not working for you, it’s not working for your competitors either, so it’s not going to cost that much. There’s a reason why bids are where they are. If a keyword has a high search volume, and it’s converting well, it will always cost more money because the bids are going to be higher.
Now, what makes users convert is the funnel. So, the major question you need to answer is whether you can have a funnel on mobile or not. If so, you can have it all consolidated and use bid adjustments or conversion optimizer in order to automatically bid differently for the conversion rate for mobile versus desktop. But if the sales funnel isn’t even possible to have on mobile, then targeting mobile users is pointless.
Growing into a seasoned PPC specialist
What does it take to become a PPC specialist, and what should a good PPC specialist do to keep up with all the trends?
I think that the major thing that helps you grow as a PPC specialist is experience. For sure, anyone could learn how to do PPC by just studying the materials that are given by Google and Facebook. However, in order to be confident in what you’re doing and know how things work, you need to have experience. And most of that comes from being trusted by someone with a budget. I was very lucky because I had the privilege to take responsibility with very large budgets very quickly.
Speaking of trends, there are always new tools and new technologies you need to be familiar with. Recently, iOS happened, and we can’t trust cookies anymore. PPC managers need to get up to date with the technologies required in order to track users based on who they are, and not based on the cookie data. So, you always want to stay on top of trends.
But above all, it’s becoming more and more important to focus on messaging psychology and testing everything from the ad itself, all the way through the funnel. That is not something that’s going to be taken away. As campaigns get more automated, that will become a bigger differentiator for being successful with PPC. So, here’s my advice—get into messaging creatives and testing methodology.