Many paid search campaigns are “jokes”. However, it’s not that funny when companies are throwing away big sums of money on ineffective initiatives…especially when a professionally managed effort can achieve awesome ROI. Thankfully, Brian Carter agreed to set the record straight for me.

Brian will be doing a free paid search webinar (in conjuction with SEMpdx) on 1/27/09 at Noon PST. To register, please click here.

1) Please give us your background and tell us what you do for a living?

Ha, my background is too complicated. See my LinkedIn profile ( Bachelors in Philosophy, Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental medicine, internet marketing since 1999, speaking since 2001, stand up comedy since 2007.

I built and direct a department at Fuel Interactive. I oversee all our PPC, SEO, and Social Media for clients in a variety of verticals, but mainly in hospitality and golf. I train and manage our PPC/SEO/Social Media specialists. I also teach AdWords ( and Social Media marketing, and speak professionally for corporate clients about business and marketing optimization (

2) Why should a company with excellent organic SERPS invest in paid search?

In my opinion, most should test it. If you have good analytics, you’ll be able to see if PPC gets you more business than just your natural search rankings. There’s the widespread notion that SEO and PPC get you more branding, exposure, authority and results if you show up in both places for the same keywords. And I find a lot of companies don’t rank naturally on ALL the terms they want to. PPC can fill in the gap on those. But generally speaking, if your website converts well enough to get you business, you should test PPC and then verify with your analytics whether it’s adding value for you or not.

Here’s an example- we work with a company that has never paid for SEO and has the #1 ranking for the most important keyword in their niche. But we got them in the mid six figures in revenue via PPC for them in Q4 2008. The Omniture data shows us this was an overall increase in revenue year over year. So they’re investing six to seven figures in PPC in 2009 and should see low to mid seven figure revenues from that. And they think it’s time to do more with SEO. There’s almost always room for a company to improve their SEO, even with great SERPS on many keywords.

3) When somebody asks you why shouldn’t they send all their PPC traffic to their website home page, how do you respond?

Why would you want to do that? LOL. It really depends on how the site is built. You have to think about the end goal- what is the conversion goal? Do you want them to buy something? Become a lead for you? How many times will they click before they leave the site? How frustrated do you want your prospects to be?

If it’s ecommerce, it’s pretty obvious that you should send someone who’s searching for a specific product to that product’s page. If they have to click less, they’re more likely to buy. Every time you make them click, you give them a chance to decide to leave the site. It’s about increasing your ROI by increasing your conversion rate because you’ve improved the customer experience.

In lead generation situations, sometimes the problem is that the specific page you want to send them to doesn’t do a good job of both 1. branding your offerings and 2. providing an easy to use conversion form. For lead generation, I’ve pushed our company, Fuel Interactive, to think about designing websites where EVERY page brands the company and provides a conversion opportunity.

4) In a typical PPC campaign, how much time/effort should be allocated to the creation and testing of custom landing pages?

Is that really the job of the PPC person? Not every client is set up to allow you to easily create and test new pages. Sometimes page creation is the political domain of the web designer. And are you going to split-test yourself, or use a service like Google Website Optimizer to split-test or multi-variate-test them? This is a gray area- whose job is it to make the website convert better? In my opinion, it’s not strictly the PPC manager’s job. But this is an industry-wide problem: conversion optimization is either the responsibility of the PPC person or the web designer, but most web designers don’t think in terms of conversion optimization.

If it’s the PPC manager’s job and they can create and test pages at will… pay per click is still a process. When you start, you have to create good PPC account structure, but you also need landing pages and a site that converts well enough to create sustainable ROI. If you have the freedom to improve conversion rate by testing custom landing pages, you have a lot more control over ROI, and that increases the chances that PPC will look good enough to continue to fund.

Once you have a good account structure and all the relevant keywords for your offering, you have to 1. pare the keywords down to the best ones, 2. improve the ads, and 3. increase the conversion rate. In an ideal situation, once the account structure is good, I’d devote 30% of my time to ad copywriting/optimization, 40% to landing page tests, 20% to keyword optimization, and 10% to other issues that might come up. This of course doesn’t include reporting or client communication.

5) In a typical PPC campaign, how much time/effort should be devoted to studying and acting upon web analytics?

Web analytics gurus know that there’s quite a bit of variability between analytics sources. Unless you set up the advanced AdWords -> Google Analytics data, you’re using AdWords reports, not web analytics. Even so, if you mean analyzing things like time on site, depth of visit, etc. it’s going to depend on your goals and your key performance indicators (KPI).

To be blunt, if I’m trying to increase ROI, midstream metrics like those are not that important. In the same way that high CTR doesn’t always mean high CR or high Revenue per Sale, there are a lot of web analytics that won’t help me optimize- and more importantly, you can easily get lost in discussing what they might mean and not come up with anything actionable.

Even geographic origin has a report now in AdWords. I find it’s more efficient and totally sufficient to use AdWords reports for optimization. The exception would be in complicated situations where more than one KPI is needed- we have a client now that is testing a multi-variable weighted score system (for multiple goals and KPIs) in Omniture, but I’m skeptical about whether this will really help us optimize their PPC.

In short, the fewer KPIs you have to use and the more clear you are on what your goals are and what the key metric is, the better you can optimize your PPC.

6) Do you believe local businesses investing in PPC with a limited budget should focus on search engine ads or non-search engine alternatives (e.g. Online Yellow Pages)?

We repeatedly see results that indicate that Google search ads provide the best ROI of all online advertising channels. But there may be situations where people are not searching directly for the offering- e.g. if it’s a new product or new niche and you need to create demand- or where there’s just not a volume of search on Google for that local offering to make it worth it. The biggest problem for AdWords advertisers is a budget so small that it doesn’t make sense to hire an expert to manage it- because AdWords is not easy for the neophyte, and they end up wasting that small budget and not getting results.

7) Most every serious PPC campaign will include AdWords…what additional value can Yahoo’s & MSN’s PPC platforms bring to the advertiser? Is it only additional search volume or something else?

Honestly, we try to avoid using them, because of the increased administrative overhead, Yahoo’s clunky interface, MSN’s lack of volume. We don’t find the results are worth the decreased efficiency for most advertisers. Plus, we find that different keywords and different ads win in AdWords vs Yahoo- so you have to optimize these PPC engines separately.

By all means, if you’ve tapped out AdWords and fully optimized it, try Yahoo… but be prepared for their interface’s learning curve and frustrations. And there’s no harm in setting up some basic things in MSN, but most people find there’s not a lot of volume, so I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on it.

8) Do you see click fraud as a problem for advertisers or are you satisfied that the engines are doing a good job to minimize the problem?

There’s definitely room for improvement, but I don’t see it being a big problem. Enquisite has a good solution for this called PPC Assurance, if you want to provide that extra value for your clients.

9) In what situations is it appropriate to place a client in the Google content network? What can the client get from being in the content network that they can’t get from their primary search engine ads?

Everything in AdWords is a test. Search networks usually provide better ROI than content, but I have seen exceptions where the content network outperformed search. We use it to provide click volume or when we’ve done everything we can with search and need more business. Like anything, you should test the content network and see what your KPI looks like- run placement reports and exclude the poor performing sites. Site-targeting is an aspect of the content network that can provide good ROI, as well- and it’s a bit easier to manage than the straight content network.

10) Are second tier PPC networks worthy of consideration for advertisers? In what circumstances would you consider using them?

Based on my response to the Yahoo and MSN question, you can guess I’m going to say no. I’d only use them if I’d tapped out everything from AdWords, Yahoo, and MSN, optimized those, and still needed more click volume or business. But most of the reports I’ve heard about them, and my limited experience with them showed unacceptably low conversion results. So the ROI may not be there both directly and in terms of your management time.

Bonus question: I’ve found when I try to make people laugh, I end up playing “the straight man” (since I can’t tell a joke to save my life) and almost exclusively utilize “one-liners” that are “plays on words” or contain ironic twists (with a focus on the darker edges of humor). Do you have a theory or philosophy of comedy that guides your humor in its many forms?

No, there are a lot of types of humor, and though I’ve read a lot about it, from the ideas of great comedians to sociological and neurological studies, I find more than anything that comedy is an instinct. It’s a craft that requires practice- writing a lot helps- but I’m not sure it’s something that can be completely analyzed and reproduced scientifically. I’ve tried… I’ve done exercises suggested by books and I’ve followed comedy-creating processes, and those produced some of my LEAST funny material.

It’s true that humor usually provides a surprise, confounds expectations, and creates new neural pathways, but it’s chiefly an intuitive fun thing, a release that balances out my analytical nature- it’s my rebellious streak- and I use it to make fun of myself and almost everything that I take seriously. I always have to tell people when I’m making fun of a song they like that I make fun of songs I like too… I’m a serious, competitive, analytical person, and my wife would probably tell you that without my passion for humor I’d be unbearable. LOL 🙂

Posted in PPC

5 thoughts on “Not Just A Funny Guy: My Interview With Brian Carter

  1. Excellent interview! Brian uses two of my favorite words/acronyms… “Test” and “KPI”.

    Too many people dive into PPC expecting immediate ROI, then disregard PPC altogether when they don’t see the 1,000% ROI they thought they’d get. Typically, these companies didn’t plan a test-phase or test budget, they didn’t create meaningful KPI’s by which to track true success, and they didn’t set up or employ the “right” analytics by which to prove or disprove the success of the PPC campaign.

    Here’s the workflow I recommend for anyone looking at PPC. You may see a pattern here:

    1) Plan, and review KPI’s
    2) Test
    3) Test
    4) Evaluate
    5) Plan, and review KPI’s
    6) Test
    7) Test
    8) Evaluate
    9) Plan, and review KPI’s…

  2. Great PPC-AdWords answers from Brian.

    That he is an AdWords veteran shows because he doesn’t say things like – NEVER use a home page as a landing page – custom landing pages are the MOST important aspect of PPC, etc.

    He knows AdWords is highly situational.

    I also strongly concur that a major problem with Yahoo, MSN, and second tier PPC isn’t that they can’t supply some value, but that administrative cost in labor and distraction often offsets that value.

    -Tom Hale
    AdWords Specialist

    Tom Hales last blog post..SEMpdx Inaugural PPC Hot Seat

  3. I agree, I think companies shouldn’t rule out PPC just because they are ranking well organically. You will get some customers that only click on ads and don’t really care about organic.

  4. Brian had better be careful – if he keeps sounding intelligent and professional like he did here, he’s going to totally ruin our impression of him 😉 Time for more YouTube videos!

    Seriously, great advice on AdWords. I work with a lot of small clients, and I love it when an expert has the courage to say “it depends”. PPC is great for some markets and companies, less great for others – it depends on ROI, implementation, commitment, competition, and a whole host of other factors. Real professionals aren’t afraid to let the data speak for itself.

    Dr. Petes last blog post..The Two Levers of E-commerce

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