Interview with Amy Hebdon, Co-founder of Paid Search Magic

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Our interview series continues!

Amy Hebdon, co-founder of the Google Partner agency Paid Search Magic, is a top Google Ads Conversion Expert & Paid Search Coach with over 16 years of hands-on experience.

Her PPC marketing experience and insights make her a welcomed contributor to Search Engine Journal, PPC Hero, CXL, Unbounce.

Amy Hebdon

Together with her husband James, she also co-hosts The Paid Search Magic Podcast and she is recognized as one of the Top 50 Most Influential PPC Experts by PPC Hero.

We were lucky to reach out to Amy and discuss the prospects for PPC specialists and their present problems.

Here’s a summary of what follows:

Table of contents

Important skills and challenges

Why did you choose the PPC industry?

I started working on AdWords campaigns in 2004. I was at an agency doing web design and digital marketing, and PPC fell into my lap.

Right away I was drawn to it. Not only had I been a Google fangirl for years, but the cost-per-click model was amazing; you could target people who were interested in what you were selling, and easily measure what was working. There wasn’t anything else like that available at the time.

I also liked that it wasn’t disruptive for the user, and it was totally results-based. No need to argue with my boss about the merit of my ideas, I could just test and optimize.

What skills need a PPC specialist to develop now to not be left without work in future?

There’s a difference between “management” and “leadership” that’s important for paid search folks to understand!

Account management — the micro optimizations and efficiencies — can be taken over by automation and AI, and in some cases already has! But people who can drive strategy can leverage tech, rather than competing or replaced by it. Learn how to work with clients and look beyond the tasks they think they want to provide the results they actually need.

3 major problems each PPC specialist usually faces and how did you solve them?

This is a great question!

Problem 1 is that your client (or manager, if you’re in-house) probably doesn’t understand how PPC works, but is telling you how to do it. (Add these keywords, hit this vanity target, use this bad landing page, spend this much, say this in the ads, use this tactic.) The trick is to reframe your work around their actual business goals, and focus them on what success looks like to the company. If you’re partners with them in growing their business, then most other issues get solved or go away.

The next big problem is that Google is always changing, silently. They’re rolling things out and changing functionality on the back-end without letting you know. They even delete old support pages, rather than archiving them and providing updates. The only “solution” here is to be hyper-vigilant about how your account’s running. You can’t ever coast!

Finally, the fact that “conversions” aren’t a standardized metric can cause a lot of problems for marketers. By default, all conversions are tallied together. Depending on what you define as a conversion, that could mean both a page view and a large purchase are both tracked as conversions despite having wildly different values for your business. The solution to this is to segment conversions and create dedicated columns for each conversion type.

What are your biggest pain points as a PPC specialist?

Outside of the three big problems we mentioned earlier, there are still a lot of challenges using Google Ads.

So much can go wrong with the system, and unless you’re working with large accounts and are also incredibly lucky, it’s almost impossible to work with a rep who can help resolve platform-side errors.

Messaging can also be challenging. Google is pushing more for “responsive” ads, and combined with ad extensions, there’s no good way to curate messages or avoid redundancy.

It’s also really hard to identify lurking variables in performance data. The most obvious correlating factor is rarely the cause of an observed change.

PPC mistakes and nightmares

Common PPC Strategy Mistakes that Kill Campaigns. What was your biggest mistake?

My biggest PPC mistake had to do with the nature of the contract rather than PPC strategy, but I suppose that’s a story for a different day. I’d say the most prevalent strategy mistake is to focus on the numbers rather than the people behind the numbers. Everyone’s chasing scores and metrics, and only a few people are stepping back to think about the user experience. Once you make the shift towards the qualitative, expect to see your results massively improve, even without tweaking bid adjustments or ad scheduling.

What is your PPC specialist nightmare?

There are a lot of changes that could happen that could devastate the PPC model — legislation, politics, decisions that benefit only Alphabet at the expense of advertisers. But day-to-day, I hate to see our favorite point of contacts change jobs. So often, they’re replaced by inexperienced marketing managers who don’t know how to make appropriate decisions about the platform, which makes both retention and results much harder for us.

Future trends in PPC

How will the PPC and ad market change in the near future?

As I mentioned, advancing tech is certainly a factor! Significantly, Google has been making changes that push automation and limit transparency for marketers. It’s more important than ever that paid search marketers are proactive in building out strategy, rather than reactive with tweaks and adjustments. There’s just less opportunity for that, and it’s less powerful than in the past.

What is the future of digital advertising in a post-cookie world?

I hope I don’t sound too naive in saying this, but I don’t see it as a marketer’s problem to solve. Google and other big players have a huge vested interest in leveraging their user data for advertising, and they haven’t announced they’d retire first party cookies. Smaller, competing remarketing platforms will have to find a way to innovate to stay relevant to their customers. But it’s hard for me to imagine a world where Google Ads marketers want to run retargeting ads and don’t have a method of doing so.

How COVID-19 has impacted the PPC market?

Most advertisers scaled back marketing in Q2 2020, and they’re back with a vengeance in Q4, anxious to get their budget spent. So that’s one immediate impact we’re seeing today. For companies that didn’t stop advertising, they’re now seeing a lot more competition and higher auction bids than last quarter. At the very least, this will affect YoY reports for the foreseeable future. Specific industries have been affected by Covid-19 in different ways, which definitely bleeds into marketing efforts as well.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

John Lee Learning Strategist at Microsoft Advertising.

Summing up

We really appreciate the opportunity to reach out to Amy, we thank her for honest responses about PPC marketing, trends and actionable tips.

We hope you enjoyed this read and found useful thoughts in this interview.

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