If you provide search engine optimization or online marketing services to other businesses, you know that as your business grows, you likely will face challenges with scaling. Initially you may add new employees to handle the extra workload, but at some point, throwing more people at the problem may not be the best solution.
In this case study, we’ll see how one pay-per-click marketing business solved the problem of handling a growing number of clients in an increasingly complex market, while still managing to keep their quality of service as high as initial standards — all in a cost-effective solution.
How Automation Inspired Growth For One PPC Marketing Firm
Perhaps you have recently undergone a growth spurt that has left you with too many paid search clients to juggle in the hours of the workday. Or perhaps you have only a few clients, but the increasing complexity of managing those paid search accounts is outstripping your capabilities.
Whatever the reason you are searching for help, you are going to have to wade through an enormous number of possible solutions — a seemingly endless parade of agencies with the perfect solution to your problem — and somehow pick the winner out of all the possible candidates. Some solutions can be immediately rejected for obvious reasons of location, price, complexity (or lack thereof), timing, a wrong initial feeling, etc. But once you have a shortlist of candidates fitting your requirements, how exactly do you choose just one? How do you narrow the search? What kind of problems might you encounter and how do you solve them?
Clix Marketing, today a leading player in PPC marketing, successfully faced the challenge of needing help managing the paid search campaigns of a quickly growing client list. To help you navigate through the minefield of choosing the correct PPC agency for your needs– and indeed, even deciding if one is necessary — let’s look to the story of Clix Marketing.
THE EARLY YEARS
David Szetela founded Clix Marketing in 2003, and managed advertising campaigns for about 10 clients in that first year. Although the firm offered all online marketing services at first, by 2005 they had decided to specialize in PPC. Growth had been organic, with new clients largely resulting from meeting people at conferences at which David spoke and referrals from existing clients. Many of the new clients also tended to be larger in size and in the scope of their campaigns than initial clients had been.
The biggest challenge in these early days soon became clear — managing the large number of keywords necessary for client PPC campaigns. As James Thompson of Clix Marketing observed, “At the time, managing placements, running manual reports to weed out poor performers, changing bids at the ad group or keyword level were very time-consuming. Even getting an accurate picture of the overall client’s advertising efforts was extremely time-consuming.”
It didn’t take long before it became clear that something needed to change. Those working with clients found themselves spending too much time on the type of processes that would lend themselves to automation, such as bidding, reports, campaign management, and duplication. Massive long-tail campaigns of potentially millions of keywords were unwieldy and costly to manage. Too little time was being spent on the things that really make a difference for clients, such as ad writing, creative testing, and landing page results.
Moreover, the expanding importance of display networks and the new social networks created opportunities for Clix’s clients that had to be explored. Different types of media can bring different ad targets, but they also require different styles of writing, new ad types, and alternate types of landing pages.
Furthermore, Clix had some unique needs. Since their compensation model focuses on pay per performance rather than a percentage of ad spend, improving conversion rates, Return on Ad Spend, and Cost Per Acquisition are all key. As they put it, “We needed a platform that would quickly show us our position on these vital metrics, graph changes on the fly to support critical analysis and project end-of-the-month performance. The platform must show us where we are losing profitability and being burdened by low quality traffic, no matter the source.”
Since they worked in multiple engines, critical functionality included aggregated reporting, moving campaigns easily across engines, and full support for both search and content networks. Automating routine tasks would mean more time for expansion and testing. For example, instead of juggling results from a number of campaigns in 20 different Excel spreadsheets to reach a conclusion about the profitability of the keyword “file folder,” data from a period of time could be brought together and reviewed quickly. This would let strategy be the focus of meetings, rather than Excel formulas.
No single incident led Clix Marketing to look for help in managing their clients PPC portfolios. Instead, it was a gradual awareness that the market had changed enough that new opportunities required a more efficient approach, while the “same old, same old” was no longer possible.
CHOOSING A PROVIDER
Once the decision was made to look into possible solutions, Clix Marketing moved quickly. At least six products were reviewed, and trial set-ups were done with Omniture Search Center and Marin. Clix also tried managing clients inside Kenshoo Search and the Click Equations platforms. Each had strengths in one or more of the expected areas of expertise — flexible reporting, powerful bulk editing, attribution support, and automated bid management.
But it wasn’t until they began to explore the options provided by Acquisio that Clix Marketing felt they may have found a solution that not only offered all of the important features, but also shared their vision of the future of PPC. Of equal importance, it fell within budgetary expectations.
Acquisio was a company that Clix had, of course, come across when both companies exhibited at major SEM conferences. As James Thompson recalls, “At first, we didn’t seem to be a good fit since they didn’t provide a solution to attribution; however, our ongoing discussions with them showed that we had a common vision of where search and social advertising were heading.” Clix Marketing felt that if Acquisio could add attribution to their solution, along with Facebook support, it would be the perfect fit.
After about four months of decision-making and discussions, Clix Marketing made the move to Acquisio. They requested a number of features to have added to the mix, but the final choice was “less about the platform, but more about their management’s vision of the future of PPC. We found through talks with their executives, that we shared a vision of PPC containing an emphasis on attribution, display networks, ad testing, flexible automated reporting, and support for social networks.”
Sample Dashboard View of Budget Spend for Specific Client
The transition from directly managing their clients Google accounts to working with the Acquisio platform went extremely smoothly. Existing accounts in Google, even at the MCC level, were directly pulled by Acquisio, and accounts at other search engines were also extremely easy to move. Duplication of bid rules for Clix Marketing’s clients proceeded rapidly, and the new Acquisio bid rules wizard streamlined the process. Acquisio consulted with Clix about all of their clients, their unique KPIs and bid rules. Having evaluated a number of automated systems prior to deciding on Acquisio, Clix was well acquainted with how automation needed to be integrated.
Organizing campaigns inside of Acquisio’s Consolidated Campaign Containers was a little more challenging, primarily because the extra level of organization was not duplicated directly in the engines. Nevertheless, within a week, all clients had been transferred over to the new platform and campaigns were running smoothly. Since Clix had been managing all clients directly in the search engines, clients hardly noticed the transition.
As for the Clix Marketing team, they handled most of the set up themselves. After watching the available online training sessions on how to set up and import accounts, it seemed pretty intuitive, so they gave it a try. The Acquisio team was available to help with the transition, but no real additional help wound up being required. Video training sessions and various other options were included in the cost of installation, and training at Acquisio headquarters also offered. The company has also provided training sessions with each new release to help clients better integrate new features and capabilities.
AFTER THE INTEGRATION — GROWING PAINS OR SMOOTH SAILING?
Although most everything went well, Clix Marketing regretted not spending more time in organizing Acquisio’s Campaign Containers into more logical structures. This feature groups campaigns across all platforms — search, display, and social — a much different view into the performance of a client’s advertising efforts and one of Acquisio’s most attractive capabilities.
One feature that did prove to be an adjustment is using Acquisio’s Mass Editor in place of Google AdWords Editor. One can still use Google AdWords Editor for some items, and the internal system syncs with it, meaning there are no worries about conflicts between the two Editors. Still, Acquisio is working with Clix Marketing to streamline the Google AdWords Editor processes they wish to retain.
One of the best parts of moving to an automated platform is that Clix Marketing is now able to focus their talent on activities that drive more profit for both them and their clients. It took a short time for that level of trust to build, so that Clix believed that the systems in place were doing the same excellent work that manual processes had accomplished previously, but in a lot less time. For example, in the area of bid management, they’ve not only come to appreciate that some bid managements are better handled by automation, but also that automation brings efficiencies that can’t be duplicated by just adding more workers to the equation.
On a larger scale, Clix has also discovered in Acquisio a platform committed to growing and changing with the fast-moving and sometimes volatile online environment. Included in the changes since the move to Acquisio are an algorithm-based bidding system, attribution support, and Facebook support.
Screenshot of Acquisio’s Algorithm Creation Wizard
Clix Marketing had been providing manual support for Facebook for their clients prior to Acquisio adding this functionality to their platform on February 1st. The ability to create and re-use targeting segments has proven to be an enormous timesaver when creating Facebook campaigns. Once ad-group level tracking is in place, Clix can use automated bid management to take Facebook spend into consideration when bidding.
Screenshot of Acquisio’s Facebook Targeting Interface
This ad group level tracking change that debuted in May came as a result of suggestions from Clix and others using Acquisio. Overall, Clix felt that using ad group level destination URLs (instead of only at the keyword level) would save time, effort, and reduce mistakes in tracking many more destination URLs. With support for the idea coming from other clients as well, Acquisio moved to bring about the changes to implement it. Having a supplier in tune with a customer’s needs and responsive to their requests for changes and enhancements to the platform has been key to Clix realizing that the Acquisio platform has turned out to be the correct choice.
But even if the transition to a new program or platform is without problems, it’s inevitable that there will be a need for support at some point. And the level of support a customer receives can make or break the success of the purchase. For Clix Marketing, monthly meetings with Acquisio provide an opportunity to discuss ongoing issues and share opinions about new features or tweaks that Clix would like to see and that Acquisio plans as upcoming changes to their roadmap. For the most part, the platform performs seamlessly in the background, and support issues that arise can usually be dealt with via web help form, often on the same day.
With an underlying system now in place that has processes running so smoothly, Clix Marketing is able to put its efforts to work where they can make a difference to their own clients — places such as testing, landing page optimization, and expansion of advertising opportunities. Since much less time is spent in tracking, setting up campaigns, bid management, and attribution work, that time and energy can be put to work in areas showing a larger imprint upon ROI such as landing page improvements and additional opportunities in display networks.
As Clix said, “We are able to spend more time working on understanding the clients target audience, experimenting with new ad copy, working with the clients on creating dynamic landing pages and tightening up their shopping cart processes. Before Acquisio, we lost time manipulating large keyword sets, generating aggregated reports and weeding through data to find both opportunities and losses. We can now rely on Acquisio to take care of the changes with little or no human intervention. Clients also get reports relating to their efforts more quickly and in a more flexible format.”
THE BOTTOM LINE – EFFECTS ON CLIENTS AND ON CLIX MARKETING
In the end, any move to a management platform by Clix Marketing for their clients’ PPC campaigns had to provide performance improvement for those clients as well as Clix Marketing itself. This involves a complex interplay of factors. Examples include a reduction of time spent on manual tasks, while time spent on profit-raising, thought-intensive functions is increased. Resources devoted to the purchase and upkeep of such a system need to be balanced against having to increasingly allot resources to hiring more personnel to process data. And most important of all — the improvement in performance of client PPC campaigns resulting from the increased time and attention in combination with efficiencies and possibilities an integrated platform can bring to the table. With Clix Marketing, many of their clients have been dramatically impacted by the implementation of Acquisio’s platform.
As an example, one client selling products in the consumer goods space has witnessed growth in all measurable aspects of their campaign since August 2010. At that point, their conversion rate was 1.73% on nearly 53,000 clicks per month. Overall, performance was about $52,000 per month at 146% ROAS. After placement on the Acquisio system, conversions now (April 2011) reach 2.1% on more than 118,000 clicks per month, with overall campaign performance grown to monthly revenues of more than $200,000, and an ROAS topping 198%. Most importantly, the client’s performance has shown steady, month-over-month improvement in all performance indicators since adopting the Acquisio platform.
As for Clix Marketing, they are very happy with their choice. As James Thompson commented, “Since implementing the Acquisio platform, we have expanded our client base, with the same number of employees, by 50%. Spend under management grew from $410k per month to near $700k. Overall profitability has increased not only because of our increased client base but also because we have held down staffing expenses. Overall operating costs have increased to encompass the costs of the Acquisio platform, but have more than been offset by increased revenue from more profitable client campaigns and increased client base.”
There comes a point in the lifetime of every successful business when one reaches roadblocks holding you back from further expansion. These roadblocks may be overcome by relatively small steps, perhaps by adding an additional employee in a vital part of the process. Other times, the roadblock is in such significant part of the process that throwing more workers at the problem doesn’t seem to help and may, in fact, make the situation worse. In times like these, other options are called for.
Not all businesses recognize this tipping point, where the eventual success of their business lies in the balance. Others make the wrong choice in solution even when they realize the path they should take. Clix Marketing made the right choice relatively early on in their existence, when they recognized that they needed to focus on one aspect of the online marketing process, and chose to specialize in PPC. Perhaps it was this earlier experience that provided the foresight to realize when they had reached the point of needing to automate where they could in order to advance.
By recognizing in time that automation was the solution, and then carefully choosing a number of candidates to evaluate, Clix Marketing was able to make an informed choice. They also realized the importance of choosing a software solution that came from a company that shared their vision of how the market was likely to evolve and how PPC as a process would fit into that future. By doing so, they ensured that future enhancements that this company – Acquisio – might consider making would also fit with their own goals.
Like all big business decisions, it was a gamble. But with adequate investigation of other possibilities, and plenty of assessment of the leading candidate’s solution, they had a pretty good shot at having made the right decision for their clients and for their own working environment.
The numbers are there on everyone’s side. Acquisio is happy to have an important client whose growth they can take pride in being a party of. Clix Marketing is happy they found a platform that solved their growth challenge. By removing the burden of excessive manual work, the new system lets employees focus on more challenging and productive tasks. And Clix Marketing’s clients get to stay with a firm that has had their best interests in mind in providing quality management of their PPC campaigns that is responsive to changes in the market.
Win-win-win. It doesn’t get much better. If you think you may benefit from moving to a platform-based PPC solution for your clients or for your enterprise, consider following Clix’s example. Assess the situation and available solutions to help you decide if the time is right to automate and if so, if Acquisio may be the right solution for you.
The world’s leading Performance Media Platform, Acquisio helps marketers buy, track, manage, optimize, and report on media across all channels. The platform was designed for search marketing, and it has evolved to include Facebook ads and retargeted ads on all major RTB display networks. Acquisio provides the industry-leading technology for marketers buying ads on any online channel, allowing them to handle all tasks associated with performance advertising, from ad purchase through conversion tracking and beyond, within a single integrated platform.
With more than $500MM in ad spend under its management, Acquisio is the multi-channel advertising solution preferred by advertising and marketing agencies. Acquisio clients include thought leaders aimClear, Clix Marketing, Find Me Faster, Page Zero Media and Rocketer, as well as some of the world’s most recognized performance media companies such as Amaze, Bertelsmann, Cossette, DAC Group, Guava, iProspect, Isobar, Media Experts, NetBooster, PhD, and Yellow Pages Group. The company is based in Montreal, Quebec with satellite offices in Seattle and London. For more information, visit www.acquisio.com.
Clix Marketing expertly creates and manages search and social pay-per-click advertising campaigns on media channels like Google AdWords, Microsoft adCenter, Facebook, and Twitter. Their pay-for-performance-based fee structure keeps Clix focused on helping their clients steadily increase their sales and improve their campaigns’ ROI.
Clix was recently named the most trusted authority on PPC advertising in a recent independent poll. Clix was also features in two Wall Street Journal articles spotlighting owner and CEO David Szetela’s work with the new Twitter advertising platform. For more information, visit www.ClixMarketing.com.