April 07, 2011
Case Study

PPC Campaign: Marketer learns from unsuccessful campaign to deliver 75% increase in sales

SUMMARY: Keywords are a primary component to any PPC ad campaign, and keeping track of what works is an important part of the entire strategy.

One hotelier revamped its entire PPC campaign with new landing pages and a new approach to keyword management, uncovering top-assisting keywords, and buying paid search ads for high-performing inbound keywords. After just four months, the results are already very impressive.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


Heathman Lodge, a specialty hotel in the Pacific Northwest, began an unsuccessful pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaign that suffered from using overly broad keywords, no testing of PPC ad text and clicks led visitors to the hotel's homepage instead of to a customized landing page tied to the ad.

To improve the initial results, the company learned from this initial stumble that it needed to tighten its entire approach based around a complete revamping of its website, new landing pages tied to the PPC campaign, and three strategic search areas -- keyword management, uncovering top-assisting keywords and buying high-performing natural search keywords, including branded keywords.

The new PPC effort was exclusively tied to one search engine, was tracked via the new landing pages, and the entire spend was very low, just over $500 per month for the first four months of the campaign.

The results from this campaign are very impressive. Brian McClary, Director of Revenue for North Pacific Management (the parent company for Heathman Lodge), explained, "In January, we had 105 total conversions and we did $16,040 in revenue." These figures compare to October, before the new PPC campaign, where Heathman Lodge had only 41 conversions and made just $6,093 in revenue through PPC ads.

Read on to learn what the team discovered from its initial underperforming efforts, a high-level look at the different type of keyword strategies you may want to consider for your own PPC campaigns, and how Heathman Lodge ultimately drove a significant revenue increase with the new optimized PPC campaign.


Step #1. Use keyword management to optimize relevance and ROI

This step was crucial in driving end results, but more importantly it helped maintain the limited budget.

McClary said, "How can we get the biggest bang for our buck?"

To do so, it was important to keep track of keywords that had a very high cost-to-click number and weren't converting to sales. In this case, the keywords that underperformed were general, odd-matched keywords such as "Portland," "Oregon" and "Washington."

More specific keywords and phrases like, "Vancouver Washington Hotel," which was not a branded-keyword, created both more exposure for Heathman Lodge through the paid search effort, and more conversions (defined as sold hotel rooms).

Identifying the top performing keywords in the campaign was important because these words and phrases were used to guide the content of the landing pages tied to the campaign, as well as the entire hotel website.

McClary explained that the team built their campaign landing pages based on the ad keywords, and tied the hotel room booking engine to the landing pages to make the entire buying process very easy for prospective guests.

Top keywords were uncovered by looking at clickthrough rate (CTR), conversions in the form of a booked hotel room, clicks, cost-per-click and pausing keywords that weren't contributing to the bottom line. In PPC campaigns results can be tracked in realtime, so keywords that aren't performing can be removed or paused from the effort.

In Heathman Lodge's case, paused keywords typically had a high cost-per-click, but weren't generating income.

At the beginning of the new PPC campaign, keywords were used across four match types:

o Broad match, where your ad may be displayed for a search query with any similar phrases or seemingly relevant variations. For example, if you buy Vancouver Washington Hotel, the ad may display next to a query of What is the best hotel in Vancouver Washington? but also Washington D.C. hotel. So, while the number of times the ad is displayed will be high, relevance will likely be lower than the below alternatives. To buy a broad match ad, don’t use any punctuation when entering the keyword.

o Phrase match, where the ad will display for searches matching the exact phrase in that sequence, but other words may be included in the search query as well. For example, if you chose Vancouver Washington Hotel, the ad will display if a user’s search query contained that exact term by itself, but would also display for Vancouver Washington Hotel review. However, it would not display for Hotel Vancouver Washington.

For some keywords, this can make a big difference. For example, a user searching for dish soap may be looking for Palmolive, but a user search for soap dish may be looking for a nice piece of ceramic or porcelain. While search will be lower, relevance will likely be much higher than broad match. To buy a phrase match ad, put the keyword is inside quotation marks.

o Exact match, where the search query by the user must be the exact same as the keyword you buy. For example, if you chose Vancouver Washington Hotel, the ad will only display if a user’s search query contained that exact term with no extra words, but wouldn’t display for a user that searched Hotel Vancouver Washington or Vancouver Washington Hotel review. The volume is low, but you can have a high probability that you’re reaching a highly relevant audience. Plus, the cost will likely be lower as well, since you will likely have less competition for those exact keywords. To buy an exact match, you put the keyword inside brackets when purchasing the ad.

o Negative match will ensure that the ad does not display with certain keywords. As above, which keywords the ad does not display next to depends on whether you choose a negative broad match, negative phrase match, or negative exact match. For example, if you bought a broad match of Vancouver Washington Hotel but added a negative broad match for DC, your ad shouldn’t display for users looking for a hotel in Washington, DC.

To buy a negative match, put a negative sign in front of the keywords, and use the punctuation referenced in the bullets above to determine where it will be negative broad, negative phrase, or negative exact.

Successful keywords were uncovered using a keyword tool (you can find a link in the Useful links section at the bottom of this case study), and as the campaign created more data on top-performing keywords, those that were underperforming and match types with low CTR, no conversions or no clicks were weeded out of the effort by pausing or deleting the unsuccessful keywords and phrases from the campaign.

The team is not currently doing any optimization or testing, but does have plans to eventually test both landing pages and the PPC ads.

Step #2. Uncover the top-assisting keywords

Top-assisting keywords are the first keyword a user clicks, but does not convert during that website visit. When the same user returns through another keyword and makes a conversion by reserving a hotel room, the assisting keywords are those from the initial touch and search query. In effect, the first keyword "assists" in the final click resulting in conversion through a later visit via a new keyword.

It's important to look at both the broad-match keywords and the phrase-match keywords. For this PPC effort, five keywords were uncovered as the top-assisting keywords through the keyword tool:

o Vancouver WA
o Seattle Washington Hotels
o Vancouver Washington Hotels
o Vancouver WA Hotels
o Hotels in Vancouver WA

These actual phrases drove the best performance, and the campaign utilized every search match type to see if broad, exact or phrase matches generated the most awareness and contact in the campaign.

Step #3. Buy keywords that already drive organic traffic

There is a certain reluctance to bid on keywords that are already driving organic search traffic. In this campaign, Heathman Lodge realized its customers might not be booking the hotel room immediately so there was some advantage to buying branded keywords along with general keywords such as "Vancouver Hotels" or "Portland Hotels."

One advantage to buying the branded keywords is the team realized customers weren't going to necessarily book a hotel room on the first visit. If they find the Heathman Lodge website through a search with general keywords, and later actually search the branded keyword of "Heathman Lodge" because they remembered the website from the initial visit, having the branded keyword in the campaign puts Heathman Lodge's website "front and center" for both organic search results and for paid search.

This strategy may seem counterintuitive because keywords are purchased for searches reaching the website at no cost, but buying organic keywords that are top inbound channels is effective in a number of areas:

o It helps you "own" the search engine results page because PPC ads appear above organic results and often take up a significant portion of the top of the page real estate

o The strategy protects the brand from competitors (when you buy branded keywords)

o Not all users click on organic search results

o PPC ads allow you to control the messaging

o PPC ads also allow you to control your targeting

o This can help improve account quality score

McClary added that this strategy tied into the overall PPC campaign and the revamped website with new landing pages tied to the online ads.

Step #4. Learn from previous campaigns

The original PPC effort had a number of problems:

- It did not use or test all keyword match types, such as broad match, phrase match, exact match and negative match, for best performance.

- The keywords used in the original campaign tended to be very general and competitive terms.

- Some of the PPC campaigns were targeting the entire United States rather than staying focused on the Pacific Northwest region, this meant it was creating Web visits from less targeted and less ready-to-convert visitors.

- It wasn't a branded campaign. It didn't include landing pages specific to the ads so clicks were simply going to the hotel's homepage, and the actual ad text was not being tested.

The current PPC effort addressed all these problem areas by:

- Very specifically geotargeting the Pacific Northwest region (see Creative Sample #2. "Ad with location expansion").

- Testing multiple variations of ad text to uncover best performing ads.

- Utilizing all keyword match types.

- Sending clicks to landing pages that are specifically created for the ad.

- Including a strategy to really own the search engine results page.

One early problem in the new campaign was a lack of measurement. And if you can’t measure, it’s very difficult to learn. For the first two months of the effort, Heathman Lodge's booking engine wasn't able to track results from the marketing program.

The issue is that the paid search e-commerce tracking was set up incorrectly, so initial results were coming back with zeros for performance and revenue. Once that issue was solved, McClary was able to see exactly how great the results of the campaign were compared to the ad spend.

The most important metric is a minimal monthly spend is turning into significant revenue for the company. McClary stated, "What we are generating in revenue is just amazing to me." He added as the PPC campaign is refined, both impressions and conversions continue to rise.

Here are some more results:

o 81% increase in return-on-ad-spend over four months

o 75% increase in hotel reservations over four months

o 74% decrease in cost-per-click over four months

o 2,464% return on ad spend

o Over the four-month period, the total media spend was $1909, and revenue generated was $41,420

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples:
1. Paid search ad
2. Paid search ad with location expansion
3. Local search ad
4. Landing page A
5. Landing page B

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