It was well over 10 years ago that I got my first job in paid advertising. I was fresh out of college and applied for a job as an “online marketing assistant.” On my first day, they sat me down in front of Google AdWords Editor (yes, it was still called AdWords then) and I was on my way. I have learned quite a number of things since then and some of them really could have saved me a lot of headaches. So in an effort to make the path for you a little easier, I want to share some things I wish I had known that first year I was in PPC.
Be prepared for a mix of skills, strategies, and broad concepts in here.
Thankfully, the majority of PPC skills don’t require an in-depth knowledge of coding, but there have been more than a handful of times that a better grasp of code would have made my work life much, much easier.
For a long time, conversion tracking relied on placing a pixel directly on your website and QA’ing to ensure that everything was set up properly. With Google Tag Manager and there container tools, this is much easier.
Anymore the biggest benefit comes from troubleshooting. If conversion tracking was working but isn’t anymore, someone has to figure out why. It seems like nearly all IT departments are overworked at the moment, so depending on where you find yourself on their scrum list, you may or may not get someone to check out your tracking for days, weeks, sometimes even months.
The solution? Figure how to identify and maybe even fix the problem yourself.
Additionally, some of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal are scripts. Have you ever looked at a script? It’s…a nightmare for someone who doesn’t know code.
From the Google Ads script library.
This is even more important now than it was ten years ago when I started, given the proliferation of social media advertising channels, each with its own type of content that performs best.
You might not need to be the person who has to actually create the image or video file, but more and more, design departments are relying on paid media pros to suggest overall layouts, text combinations, and messaging.
There are tons of resources out there for you to learn about design and I certainly can’t claim to know them all, but the tools and sites that helped me the most are listed below:
I like to say “PPC pros created a monster.” Way back in the day (circa, 2008-2010), one of the biggest selling features of PPC was that everything was trackable**.
(**No it wasn’t, but it was a lot better than any other channel, like organic, word of mouth or *shivers* billboards.)
This thinking was mostly due, in my opinion, to the fact that most companies really advertised on one, maybe two platforms, likely Google and Microsoft. From a search perspective, these two audiences are likely mutually exclusive, or at least back then were not tied to each other in a cross-device manner. Additionally, any display advertising was likely run through Google—no one to compete with for credit.
Since then, the list of channels most companies use to advertise has ballooned, our understanding of attribution has advanced, and with that…our ability to confidently attribute performance has diminished.
So what do we do with this incomplete picture of performance? If things aren’t perfect, what can we do? Here are my suggestions for getting around this issue and making the most of it:
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“If Timmy jumped off a bridge, would you do it?”
Gotta love the age-old question from parents asking their kids why they did something they shouldn’t. It’s always what comes to mind when people adhere too closely to best practices.
“If every other company is doing it, we should too!”
While I can see the appeal of that, there are two hesitations I have for this:
First, not everything is for everyone. Things that work for one company may not work for another.
One might see really strong performance with Max Conversions bidding strategies, another might not. Or they might rely on a Target CPA enhancement to see good results. Or one account might thrive on phrase match keywords while another might need to use exact match for better results.
Although Google loves its expansion suggestions and strategies to find new customers like Performance Max and Display Expansion, these might only work for some companies while others feel like they’re a waste of ad spend.
Second, if everyone is doing the same thing, that also means no one is standing out from the crowd. There are only crowds. The best example I have of this is from my friend Joe Martinez. He has spoken before about using keywords in headlines when writing ad copy.
Using keywords in headlines might be a PPC ad copy “best practice”, but if it causes you to blend into a SERP, then it’s not really helping you, is it?
Don’t let someone else’s success story stop you from testing and learning what works best for your accounts and getting the best results you can. That’s the only real “best practice” there is.
This is especially true if you work at an agency with small to medium-sized clients. While you may start out providing only thoughts on PPC campaigns and strategy, you’ll likely grow to advise (or at least provide external opinions) on higher-level marketing strategy and in some cases, even larger business decisions.
All of these are questions I’ve received over the years that have differing degrees of overlap with our PPC campaigns. Some are related closely and some have almost nothing to do with each other.
To help you get ahead here, there are a number of things you can do to continually expand your business acumen and be a better support to your clients/company:
My biggest suggestion here: don’t always tell the client what they want to hear. Tell them what’s real. Too many times I see people twist facts to tell the client that their new product line is great or that the market isn’t as saturated as it might appear only for it to go tragically wrong. Lay out the facts and be honest. It’s not your job to make the call, it’s your job to share your knowledge and let them make the choice.
Paid media absolutely relies on you to know your stuff. Even though attribution tracking isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to know when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. You gotta deliver the goods.
But beyond that, everything I know and have in this industry can be tied back to the people I know more than what I knew.
Through networking on social media, I’ve been able to get all of the following things throughout my PPC career:
While I might be an introvert who thinks “networking” is one of the greatest evils on the planet, I can’t deny the impact the relationships I’ve made have had on my career.
When I started in PPC, there was quite a lot for me to learn. At the time, I sort of took everything I learned and expected it would always stay the same. What a joke.
Many of the underlying characteristics have stayed the same (search uses keywords, ad copy always has character limits, social relies on audience building), but nearly all of the actual details have changed. Some multiple times over.
I’ve even been a part of the evolution of online transparency where I had to receive a letter in the actual mail to confirm my identity.
While you’re getting started in digital advertising, the best advice I can give you is to be sure you’re paying attention to, understanding, and retaining the fundamental workings. Notice trends in those foundations even when the actual details change, because they will change, and you need to be flexible enough to adapt while still knowing how to do your job.
In a continuation from the last bullet, you’ll notice that none of the things I wish I knew were direct tactics like conducting keyword research or using excel formulas. They’re pretty much all supporting roles or additional knowledge on top of the regular day-to-day PPC duties. When you start a job, you don’t know what you don’t know and boy I didn’t know a lot. But hopefully my list of learning curve items can help you at least identify some things that you don’t know so you can go learn about them and get to a knowledgeable place faster than I did. Godspeed.
Michelle is the Co-Founder of Paid Media Pros. She has twelve years of experience in all aspects of PPC and brings a wealth of experience developing and executing campaigns across search, social, and display platforms in both agency and in-house settings. Her experience gives her an especially well-rounded and holistic view of the paid search landscape—one she shares regularly as an influencer, author, and industry speaker at events like SMX, HeroConf, and Pubcon, as well as the Paid Media Pros YouTube channel.
See other posts by Michelle Morgan
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