PPC Management for webmasters
Published 28th July 2014
£180 Per ClICK….yes, that’s a scary number! And to be fair, it is the highest we’ve seen in the auctions for online casino keywords, but it does highlight one thing – the competition in the online gaming space is heating up fast and squeezing out margins of efficiency is becoming trickier in mature markets like the UK.
However, when compared to other channels, PPC remains one of the most reactive, transparent and scalable digital acquisition channels. Even at seemingly skyhigh still perform efficiently within ROI targets.
What’s driving the surge?
With the recent SEO penalties against the likes of bwin and Jackpot Party, Google made it clear that it is keeping a close eye on attempts to influence organic search rankings and is not afraid to issue harsh penalties to sites that are in breach of current best-practice guidelines.
As such, it is no surprise that more and more affiliates and operators are turning their eye to PPC to lessen the reliance on organic traffic and build a business model that can survive the host of algo-updates Google is throwing at webmasters. With more advertisers chasing the same keywords, the impact on CPCs in the auction is clear – they can only go up!
Already this year, we have seen the auction of key terms during the Cheltenham Festival being pushed up by a host of aggressive offer comparison sites, with CPCs on core volume drivers increasing by as much as 30% year-on-year. This raises an interesting challenge for the big brands in the industry: whereas they previously enjoyed a largely untested position off the back of substantial budgets, they now face a host of super-efficient affiliates establishing dominant positions across a wide range of key search terms.
You only have to Google ‘online casino’ to see this power-play in action and appreciate the scale at which affiliate commissions are being re-invested into PPC-traffic…it’s not yet certain how this will play out, but it’s certainly a trend we’re watching.
With the growing competition in the PPC auctions, advertisers are increasingly looking for specialist PPC knowledge to achieve the competitive advantage. At The Media Image, we have the opportunity to work on some of the largest PPC advertisers, both from an operator and affiliate angle, and I’d like to share some of the specific insights we’ve acquired over the years.
Account structure and keyword selection
We often get clients asking what the ideal “size” of an account should be in terms of keywords and to be honest, it’s a difficult question to answer. It almost depends entirely on budget, objectives and the specific product being advertised.
Generally, sportsbooks have a much more complex account structure, largely due to the hundreds of markets that have to be covered. As such, from a keyword optimisation point of view, there’s normally a lot more potential here for “quick wins” by mining search query reports or reviewing data feeds. The keyword research process is thus a lot more dynamic and resource-heavy as it is key that PPC campaigns refl ect and address the changes in the sporting schedules and cover off the core events.
The casino side of things is much more static, in that keyword selection is mostly reactive and driven by mining search query reports, brainstorming new keyword variants or reviewing traffic logs. With much higher average CPCs, identifying “negative keywords” – keywords that you do not want your ads to appear against – is crucial and can by itself save an advertiser thousands of pounds in wasted advertising manual or algorithmic through specialised third party search tools like Doubleclick or Marin.
We have this on-going internal debate over which is actually better, and to be honest, the answer varies on a client-by-client basis. Generally speaking, smaller advertisers in terms of budgets and ultimately click volume are probably better off evaluating keyword bids individually and updating the changes via Excel or using AdWords’ built in bidding rules.
However, when campaigns start to drive thousands of clicks per day across a large subset of keywords, the computational power of algorithmic bidding will kick in and most likely outperform manual bidding. Since bidding algorithms use historic data to identify trends and calculate the most efficient bid given past performance, they tend to be better suited to campaigns where performance is more or less stable.
We generally see better performance from algorithmic bidding across gaming verticals, and prefer a more handson approach to bidding in sportsbook accounts, where performance can spike up depending on fixtures and results and new keywords are added all the time to get immediate coverage. On top of that, most bidding algorithms up-weight more recent performance statistics in their calculations.
In the case of sportsbook for example, if there was a week of no sporting activity, the algorithm would be biased towards underbidding going into the weekend, and cripple performance if left unchecked. Bid rules are certainly not a set-it-andforget- it solution to bidding, but need to be used with a clear understanding of their limitations and advantages.
However, with the correct setup it is not unusual to see CPCs drop by 20% on a like–for-like comparison.
The importance of ad copy
More than simply communicating the brand to the potential customer, ad copy in PPC is a crucial optimisation element that is often overlooked. For one, ad copy establishes the relevancy between what’s on offer and what’s being searched for. This requires that each ad copy is customised to the search term – a fairly labour intensive process and one that often gets brushed over due to resource constraints. However, it’s very important that this investment is made as it is guaranteed to pay off in the long term.
The reason relevancy is so important is that it ultimately drives click through rate. A higher CTR not only delivers more visitors to the site, but also dramatically impacts the amount you have to pay for each click.
This is most noticeable in results where competition is fierce on core keywords such as ‘betting’ or ‘online casino’, where relatively minor jumps in CTR can have a disproportionately large impact on decreasing CPCs. As such, we always recommend splitting out top performing keywords into individual ad groups and making ad copy testing an integral part of account optimisations.
Ad copy also doesn’t exist in a vacuum – every time a customer searches for a term, your ad copy variation essentially gets judged against the whole peer set of competitors.
Often it helps looking at ad copy from the customer’s point of view to understand why a certain ad is underperforming – would you click a ‘£5 Free’ offer when a competitor is shouting about a ‘£10 Free No Deposit Bonus’? Getting into a customer’s mindset at the point of consumption is key and understanding how to leverage ad copy to entice the click through is as important to effective PPC management as bidding and keyword selection.
A holistic approach to PPC management
Hopefully, the insights above provide some idea of key considerations that are shaping PPC management in the gaming space. Certainly, the rise in CPCs over the last couple of years paints a clear picture of increasing competition and on-goingopportunity. The higher costs however also make PPC more complex, with campaign management requiring specific expertise and increasingly integrated approaches.
The advertisers who we see as being the successful are those that take a holistic approach to PPC management and grow the channel with support from the wider business teams in order to deliver the most efficient performance.