How to Overcome the Challenges of Pay-Per-Click Advertising

I started doing pay-per-click advertising a long time ago—back in 2000.

In fact, I ran ads before Google AdWords even existed.

Today, I'd like to pass along a few lessons I've learned and mention an opportunity for you if you're running ads or have an interest in doing so.

Why Online Ads?

Why have we been running ads for so long?

It's not because dealing with Google and now Bing is fun. In fact, running pay-per-click campaigns is kind of a nightmare. It's complicated and tedious.

We run the ads because they work. These ads generate paying clients: lots of them.

Trial and Error

Over the years, we've tried repeatedly to outsource the management of our ads.

We tried:

  1. Hiring someone to do it. She spent more than 40 hours a week spotting negative keywords and eliminating them from our campaigns, adding new keywords, raising and lowering bids, and making sure we maximized our advertising investment. It went okay, but we couldn't justify the expense of a real guru since we're small potatoes.
  2. Automation. Then we tried automating the purchasing of the ads with a number of different software tools. The software claimed it would do it all for us, and we hoped it was smarter than our full-time person. The software wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
  3. Outsourcing. Eventually, we tried outsourcing the advertising to ReachLocal and hoped it would do it all for us as it promised. We wouldn't have to worry about anything, and the campaigns would run like clockwork. I can't even begin to catalog the complaints I had about this effort. The most irritating aspect was the minimal data we received from the vendor.
  4. Competitive marketplace. Finally, we tried Trada and its novel approach of pitting optimizers against one another to maximize the value delivered to us—the customer. The Trada optimizers did a great job, we think, but we were never sure because all the account management was done via the Trada accounts with Google and Bing. We only knew what Trada told us and were denied access to the actual data we wanted. It became clear that the Trada optimizers had expertise, but not expertise in our particular area of practice, which affected their effectiveness.

Each approach had its pluses and its minuses. They were all good in one way or another, but no single approach was perfect. We were left feeling like we were spending more than we should. We knew we could do better and generate more business for the same investment.

What We Learned

Here's what we learned that we needed:

  1. Industry expertise. We needed someone to handle the ads who really knew their stuff, but more importantly, really knew their stuff in our particular industry. We didn't want someone handling our ads who deals with tire stores in the morning and florists in the afternoon and sneaks in our family law practice over lunch. It was obvious to me that an advertising guru specializing in family law ads would learn things fast and be able to give us the benefit of that learning. We could take advantage of the knowledge gained by the expert from managing other firms' campaigns.
  2. Ownership of our account. We needed someone who would manage our ads on our account. Services like Trada and Reach Local use their own accounts and limit your access to the data. They also make it difficult to take all of your data with you if you leave. If your pay-per-click expert does the advertising on an account you control, then you get to keep the data if the expert moves on. The data is important: it's critical to understanding your business and developing increasingly effective approaches to talking to your market.
  3. No contracts. We needed someone who didn't insist on a long-term contract. If the person is doing a good job—if the clicks are turning into paying clients—we're not going anywhere. We love it when marketing works. However, if it's not working, we want to pack up our toys and go home. We don't want to be stuck in a bad arrangement because of a contract.
  4. No conflicts of interest. We needed someone who would work for us and not our competitor. I'm stunned by the pay-per-click firms that take on two or more competitors in one market and bid on the same keywords. How can they do that? The conflict of interest seems obvious, but that's how they roll. It baffles me that lawyers hire these firms, but they do.
  5. Performance-based fees. Lots of pay-per-click firms charge a monthly fee or minimum regardless of whether the ads are performing. That's a deal breaker. We need to pay a percentage of our ad spend, and we need variability based on our needs. When we need more clients, we need to crank it up, and we can afford to spend more to manage the ads. When we're on overload, we need to dial it down and not be forced to pay for something we aren't using.

I hunted and hunted for an arrangement that would meet our requirements. I came close, but the really solid experts required a minimum spend of more than $15,000 per month. That exceeded our budget. And, unfortunately, even at that price point, we could only find experts who specialized in law firms, not exclusively family law practices like ours.

The Solution

What were we to do?

We came up with a plan. I called a couple of other family law practitioners with successful practices who were running ads. We talked about the frustrations we've all experienced.

We decided to join forces and work together. We hired someone to do the work for us. By aggregating our business, we were able to justify the expenditure required to have a full-time expert manage our project. Our expert has developed experience in family law pay-per-click advertising. He's doing exactly what we need done. On top of that, because we created the position, he's precisely meeting our requirements.

We decided to work together to overcome the obstacles we faced when doing the advertising alone.

The Results

How's it working?

We're doing great. The ads are generating the results we've been looking to achieve, and we're gaining knowledge each month (which means our results get better and better). We all have our own accounts on Google and Bing, and we can track our progress daily. We're sharing ads, keywords, bid information, negative keywords, etc.

Because we're working together, we're moving much more quickly than we ever could have alone. We're running dozens of experiments and A/B tests, and the positive results in one account are immediately applied to the other accounts. It's magic.

You have two options: form your own cooperative group or join ours.

  1. Form your own group. I'd suggest you get serious about forming your own small group of firms and see how you can collaborate. We're all in the same boat, and this is a great opportunity to build your network. You're going to need three or four firms spending at least $5,000 per month to justify the formation of the group and the expenditure required. Someone is going to have to take charge and recruit some members.
  2. Work with us. If you're not ready to build a group but you'd like to share in the benefits of working together, then consider working with us on this project. We're ready to take it to the next level and add two or three firms to our group. We're not for everyone: you're going to have to be big enough and serious enough to sustain a reasonable level of ad spend to make this work.Here's what we're looking for in a firm:
  • Committed to advertising for the long haul,
  • Willing to spend a minimum of $5,000 per month on a combination of Bing and Google,
  • Practicing family law exclusively, and
  • Not competing with one of the other firms in our group.

Contact me if you'd like to discuss this opportunity.

Pay-per-click advertising is not a project to undertake lightly. If you do it wrong, it's easy to spend lots of money without getting any results. However, if you do it right, it has the potential to generate high quality clients for you and help you continue the steady growth you seek for your practice.

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