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I was telling you last time about some of my early Google Ads clients, and the challenges I faced.
Let me tell you about one particular nightmare client…
Nightmare clients are rarely bad people, otherwise they would never become clients in the first place. But they come with little warning bells that jingle away, just audible if you know what you’re listening for. Those warning bells are desperately easy to ignore, especially when you need the money. Sometimes you only hear them in retrospect.
This particular client had sat on my email list for a while. Which is a good sign – not a warning bell! One day he contacted me, and asked how my services worked. We’ll call him ‘George’ (not his real name, obviously).
George’s company was using AdWords to generate leads for an offline sales process. The company was spending £25,000 a month on AdWords (about $30,000). Which for me was a large account.
George mentioned on the phone they had ‘been through’ quite a few AdWords agencies. But he’d like to ‘see what I could do’.
(Ding ding ding! Can you hear the warning bells jangling?)
On the eve of the project George sent me an email in badly-formatted English. (Clients who can’t spell is another warning bell.) ‘I’d like a daily report please Rob’, the email said. ‘The report should show yesterday’s spend by campaign, click through rate, conversions and cost per conversion.’
I never send daily reports to clients because daily fluctuations are misleading, and clients who obsess about them often fly too close to the sun financially. Weekly numbers are more meaningful. And monthly numbers hardly ever lie. Still, I ignored the screaming messages from my gut, and agreed.
I would always know if conversions were down for the day, because at 3PM George would email me. ‘URGENT Leads down Rob. Please action ASAP.’
I would rage internally at this. Please action what, exactly? I’m not a magician. Most of the time I would ignore it and rely on a natural upturn in leads the following day.
I’ve also since learnt that clients who routinely send emails with URGENT in the subject line, signed off with ‘ASAP’ are not great clients to work with. It’s a small clue that they see you as a vendor to be used, not an expert to be consulted.
Not long after the project had started I made a bunch of changes to the website, and George blew his lid. “We make changes on a month by month basis,” he informed me. “That way we compare apples to apples.”
Apples to apples – yeah right. You can’t have it all ways up. You can’t scream and shout about your AdWords results, but also refuse to make any changes to the website.
The project fizzled out after a few months. I was glad, too. The hassle wasn’t worth the management fee they paid me. Or so I thought.
One year later George got back in touch. His last business had tanked, and now he had a new business in another highly competitive market.
George asked if I would consider managing the account again, since I had ‘done such a good job last time’. I wavered for a moment. The warning jangles were all there. I knew George was a well-meaning but troublesome client. But I also needed the revenue.
So we went again. This time George wasn’t my main point of contact; he had a marketing manager, Jane*. Jane was nice enough, but clearly under huge pressure to perform. Once again I failed to set the boundaries on when I could and could not be contacted.
At 9.50 every morning my phone would go (Jane started work at 10). Despite my repeated warnings about daily statistics, she would want to discuss yesterday’s numbers and know ‘what I was doing for them today’.
“Nothing,” was the response I should have given, “because I’m not on payroll.”
I didn’t have the gall to say that at the time.
One week we had a spat about ad creation. I had created some new ads in the account, and some hadn’t performed as well as the control ads. “No more duds please Rob,” was the message I got.
No more duds. If you never write an ad that fails, you’re not really writing any ads. The longer I’ve done this, the more I’ve realised how hopeless it is to predict a winner.
A few weeks later Linzi and I went to Italy for a week. I tried to reassure Jane that her AdWords results were unlikely to tank for a few days without my daily hand-holding. I had no phone signal in Italy, and no computer.
Two days into our holiday I logged on to Wi-Fi in my hotel, and my phone buzzed to life. WhatsApp. It was Jane. “URGENT: NO conversions yesterday. George won’t stand for it. Please look at this ASAP.”
Really Jane? You’re going to harass me on holiday… by WhatsApp?
After three months of conflict our second project came to an end. George finally discovered that I had been ruining his monthly ‘apples to apples’ comparison by sending traffic to pages other than the homepage.
The big problem however wasn’t with George. The big problem was with me, because I hadn’t been clear enough about exactly who I was trying to work with. I hadn’t set the boundaries. I had heard the warning bells – twice – and I had ignored them.
There are numerous lessons here. George wasn’t getting the results he wanted because he was agency hopping and trying to dictate the solution. He was also deeply reliant on Google Search for leads. If leads dropped off one day – for whatever reason – everyone got it in the neck.
I truly believe that Google Ads is an unbelievable system, but there has to be some room to fail. Fail small and fail often, but improve overall.
*Also not Jane’s real name, for obvious reasons.
Some of the early Google Ads projects I took on were a real bump to earth. Hard lessons in tough Google reality…
Not because I was working with ‘bad’ clients – quite the opposite. (The really bad clients will come later, in a future email!)
I had good clients with good businesses, but tough search markets.
For instance, I managed the Google Ads accounts for a local office supplies company, and a local company that sold walkie-talkies. The success of these businesses lay in offline connections and a personal touch. On Google, they were competing with big national brands. They were simply being outgunned on many of their most desirable search phrases.
I went into those jobs believing I had the midas touch, and could take on the national advertisers single-handedly simply by writing better ads.
Perhaps the toughest job I took on was a client with a start-up cloud hosting business. This client had developed a highly secure, robust cloud hosting service. Much more secure than Amazon or Dropbox. (Especially Dropbox!)
The word ‘cloud’ is one of those magic words that automatically ads a zero to the cost of a click. (Similar to keywords that include ‘insurance’, ‘loans’ or ‘mortgage’).
Clicks for the keyword ‘cloud hosting’ cost at least £10 per click, and this was in 2013. We quickly found out that people searching for ‘cloud hosting’ were mostly ambivalent about buying, especially from a provider that had never heard of.
I drew on all the marketing lessons I had picked up over the years. We developed a free report about cloud hosting security, and offered that as the first thing people saw in the ad. It turned out that people searching for ‘cloud computing’ weren’t interested in that, either. Eventually I had to tell the client I simply couldn’t help.
I knew a lot about Google Ads, copywriting and direct marketing. But we were advertising alongside companies like Amazon, Dropbox and Viking (a major UK office supplies firm).
The most common question I’m asked about Google Ads is: does it work?
Google always ‘works’ insofar as they’ll take your money and run your ad. But does it ‘work’ in a profitable sense?
Often that comes down to your business, and who else is advertising. Advertising locally is easier than advertising nationally, because you can leverage local knowledge. But if your competitors on Google Search include Amazon, or big national players, you’ll have to find a niche and chisel your way in.
You really have to pick your battles!
Often this chiselling involves sensible use of remarketing, but I am getting ahead of myself. More on this to follow.
I’ve managed Google Ads accounts in just about every industry you can imagine. Some have been successful, some have not.
One of my earliest clients provided marquee hire for weddings and parties. When we first spoke he had attempted to set up his own ads, and had phoned Google for help. Unsurprisingly Google had added a bunch of broad match keywords to his account. He was getting clicks, but not much business as a result.
In fact, he didn’t know exactly what business his ad spend was generating, because conversion tracking had never been set up. But as far as he could tell, his ads were a black hole for time and money.
I got access to his website and setup the necessary conversion tracking. As part of the project I created a new set of landing pages for my ads. These pages had clear headlines, testimonials and a risk-free call to action. If the content of my pages was similar to an established page, I added the ‘no index’ and ‘no follow’ meta tags to prevent Google indexing my new landing pages in the organic listings.
(For organic Google-ranking purposes you don’t ever want two pages with very similar content. These meta tags tell Google to ignore one of them.)
Which is where all the trouble began…
See, I wasn’t the only person working on the website. The web design firm who had designed the site were still employed for ‘site maintenance and SEO’. According to the client, they submitted a highly detailed invoice each month. But he wasn’t sure exactly what work they did for that.
I knew exactly how much work they were doing: nothing. It seemed to me they were mostly engaged to make my life more difficult. Plus they weren’t exactly ecstatic about having me involved, snooping around their cushy retainer arrangement.
To begin with, they told me they couldn’t provide me with FTP access to the website. (Outright lies.)
Shortly after that, we exchanged angry emails after I had updated one of the WordPress plugins I had installed. Apparently ‘testing’ plugin updates was one of the extraordinarily expensive services they provided each month. Even though all they did was click the ‘update’ button, and check the site still worked. (Absolute pirates.)
Later on, they claimed I was damaging their precious SEO efforts with my new pages (even though I had added noindex and nofollow meta tags).
Eventually I said to the client, “look, you need to choose between me and them. I’ll manage your website and SEO if you like.”
For reasons that are utterly beyond me, the client chose them.
Too bad – their loss!
To run a successful paid search campaign, or build any kind of remarketing maze, you must have control of your website. There are simple too many pages to create. You can’t be held to ransom by an old-school web designer desperate to protect their diminishing turf.
Did you know the maze exists offline, as well as on?
Last time I was telling you about my first paying web design gig. While this was happening I desperately needed more clients. Preferably clients with real, non-imaginary businesses.
A friend recommended I try local networking. After a little research online, I came across the High Wycombe Business Network. I sent an enquiry to see if they needed a web designer.
The message back was that the group already had an incumbent web designer, but if I wanted to come along in another capacity I would be more than welcome. I asked what they might like to hear about.
“Getting ranked on Google,” was the reply.
(In the years since, ‘getting ranked on Google’ is still the most common answer to that question!)
I hurriedly designed and ordered new business cards from Vistaprint, and booked to go along as ‘Rob Drummond: PPC Consultant’. I had no pay per click clients of course, but my experience with AD had proven this didn’t really matter.
The Network was a two-hour breakfast meeting, running from 7-9 AM every Thursday. I went along and spoke tentatively about my budding but non-existent Google AdWords services.
The first time I went I remember everyone seeming so assured. The financial advisors huddled in a corner to speak in their own special finance language. I distinctly remember a nice lady (who was the incumbent web designer), asking me how my service worked. What was included? How much did I charge? I can’t remember what answer I gave, but I managed to not get thrown out of the meeting.
On the inside I was in turmoil. “WHAT IF THEY FIND OUT I’M A FRAUD?” a voice screamed in my head.
As the weeks slipped by, I became more assured. Speaking to people every week forced me to think about how I structured my projects. One week a guy with an office supplies business approached me after the meeting.
“I’m spending money with Google,” he said, “and I’ve tried calling them. And I think it made things worse. Can you help?”
I stretched nonchalantly to hide my inner nerves, and said ‘sure…’
Pay per click client No.1 was on board! Courtesy of offline, real world, face-to-face meetings.
Your website is an important part of the marketing maze. If you’re going to pay for clicks, you need to have somewhere to send people.
Early on in my self-employment career I decided I wanted to be a web designer. Which was a terrible decision, given that I hate web design, and hate web designers. But I had studied Ben Hunt’s Pro Web Design Course, which at the time was probably the best web design course on the internet. And so I knew more about it than was probably good for me.
(Incidentally, Ben’s course is no longer available, but we interviewed him on the Maze Marketing Podcast here)
So, I had a ‘web design business’. With no portfolio, and no clients, except a couple of freebie websites I had done. I created a Google AdWords campaign bidding on local ‘web designer’ keywords. And thought little more of it, until one day my phone rang.
“Hello, I’m AD” said the caller. “Do you do websites?”
Yes, yes I did do websites.
“Could you add a membership site?”
Yes, I probably could.
“Would you come over for a meeting to discuss it?”
Yes, yes I would!
I was relieved to get off the phone without AD asking whether he could see any of the websites I had created. Which in a roundabout way, was zero. We arranged to meet the following evening at his house.
AD shared his house with his wife, parents, and about thirteen small children. We perched on office chairs in his attic, surrounded by piles of strewn paper.
AD did most of the talking. He talked excitedly through his ideas for each page. I did most of the listening – trying to suppress the occasional yawn. We mapped out roughly what his new website was going to look like. Eventually, the subject of payment came up.
“How much is this going to cost?” AD asked.
I was careful not to let it show, but I badly needed the cash.
“Four hundred pounds. Two hundred up front, two hundred on completion.”
“That sounds fair enough.” AD said, without blinking.
‘Damn, I should have asked for more!’ I thought darkly.
Still, a part of me was relieved. It was good to have someone who wanted to engage my services and pay me money. He paid me the £200 outside his house in cash, on his doorstep.
I sent AD an invoice later as a receipt for the £200. I had no invoice template, and at the time had no accounting system. My first ever invoice was set out crudely in Microsoft Word, with ‘RJD Consulting’ at the top as my business name. I copied the layout from an invoice I had received from a supplier, and set the invoice number at random. I didn’t want AD to know it was my first ever invoice!
There were a number of problems with AD’s website. Firstly, AD had no idea what he was actually trying to achieve. The scope of the project was changed abruptly a number of times.
Secondly, the website took me WAY longer to build than I anticipated. The more intricate membership elements of the site didn’t fully work, but AD eventually signed the site off.
That was in 2012. I can’t show you it, because it’s no longer online. It seemed nobody except AD wanted the website after all.
Your website first and foremost solves a communication problem. A poorly designed website that says the right thing to the right person will still convert. A well designed site with the wrong content won’t. And likely won’t exist, seven years down the line.
In most cases, there is no need to pay a designer to custom-build your website, like AD did. And actually, I didn’t custom-design his website, because it was built from an existing WordPress theme.
Some of the professional themes you can buy for WordPress are excellent. I use Thrive Themes, and can create a new website in a day or two. The theme takes care of the design, leaving me to focus on the content.
Content changes always outperform design changes. Remember that next time you feel ‘bored’ of your website.
P.S. For further reading on web design, read ‘Save The Pixel’ and ‘Web Design is Dead’, by Ben Hunt. Both free at http://benhunt.com/books/.
Do you remember the first Google Ads campaign you ever created?
I created my first campaign in 2007. I was working as a marketing intern at a software company near London. The company already had decent organic rankings for terms like ‘CRM software’ and ‘CRM solution’.
Those rankings did them little good, because the website itself was terrible. But they did manage to rank organically for some impressive keywords.
So when I approached the MD with a proposal for running paid ads, he was understandably sceptical…
Why would we pay for traffic, he reasoned, when we already had free traffic coming in? But the reality was we needed more leads. So eventually I solicited a £1000 per month budget to experiment with.
At that point I had known about Google AdWords for two years. I started following AdWords expert Perry Marshall in 2005, through one of Ken McCarthy’s System Seminar recordings. “Jump on in,” was Perry’s message, “cuz these cheap clicks are gonna dry up!”
The two main PPC book at the time were Perry’s Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, and Howie Jacobson’s AdWords for Dummies. Later on I discovered Advanced Google AdWords, by Brad Geddes. I read all of these, and was well versed in the principles.
Of course, the clicks didn’t feel cheap at the time. When Google first introduced AdWords in 2002, you could buy clicks on any keywords for pennies. 10 cent clicks were commonplace. By 2007, we were paying between £2 and £3 for CRM-related terms. Today, those same clicks would cost at least £15.
For two years I had studied the principles of Google AdWords, without really doing anything. I’m more of an accidental entrepreneur than a serial one. I didn’t have a business at 21. I was a studious and slightly apprehensive marketing intern, desperate to learn as much as possible.
Then I created an AdWords account for the CRM company, and realised I had no real idea what I was doing…
I knew about keyword match types. I knew to avoid broad match keywords. But how many keywords were you supposed to put in an ad group? Should you put keywords of different match types in the same ad group, or in different ones?
I knew about conversion tracking, but adding the conversion tracking code to our web pages was an adventure. The website was coded in HTML, so I had to add the conversion script to the page in Adobe Dreamweaver, email it to the support manager who would FTP it up to the website.
If you don’t know what any of that means, then neither did I at the start! Nothing was as simple as it seemed in the books. Everything took longer than expected.
Fully aware that our website needed significant work, I created separate landing pages (which I designed myself in Dreamweaver), offering a free CRM email course. People could opt-in to an email series exploring the benefits of CRM. I wrote the course myself in evenings and weekends, and set it up using the email system AWeber.
None of this work was a spectacular success. After reading Perry’s work, I was obsessed with generating ‘conversions’, which I struggled to do. Failing to understand how company budgets are set, some months I even failed to spend the full £1000, figuring (correctly) it was a waste of money.
Eventually the sales manager (who understood a bit about AdWords, and more about company budgets than I did), advised me to ‘just spaff it’.
But many of the ingredients for success were in place. More next time.
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