If you can appreciate step-by-step and highly actionable marketing strategies that can be applied immediately or at a later date, then you’ve come to the right place!
Pay-per-click marketing is a type of online advertising that allows different advertisers to pay a fee every time a user clicks on their ad. These ads can be found anywhere on the internet and, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve encountered them at some point!
Google Ads is also a powerful tool used by businesses looking to promote their products or services through paid advertising. The service allows advertisers to target specific keywords and phrases, and display advertisements on Google Search, Gmail, and YouTube, among many other websites.
But how do you get started with Google Ads? Why is PPC so beneficial?
To find the answer to these questions and a whole lot more, read on to discover a complete guide to PPC marketing with Google Ads.
Table of Contents
A Brief Introduction To PPC Marketing
Google Ads uses a pay-per-click (PPC) model that allows marketers to target a specific keyword on Google and make their bids while also competing with others who are targeting this specific keyword. These are maximum bids, or the maximum you’re willing to pay for an ad.
For example, if your maximum bid is $6 and Google determines that your cost per click is $4, then you get that ad placement! If they determine that it’s more than $6, you will not receive the ad placement.
What Is PPC Marketing?
The pay-per-click (PPC) advertising model has been around since the early 90s and has been constantly adapted to fit with the growth of businesses over the years.
It’s an umbrella term that refers to the model of digital advertising where advertisers can place ads on social media platforms, third-party websites, and search engines—paying a fee when the ad is clicked. Often used in conjunction with SEO, PPC is also a way of buying traffic and achieving campaign goals.
Put simply, it’s a type of advertising that enables you to pay a fee to have your website featured on the search engine result page (SERP) when someone types in specific phrases or keywords. It is most commonly used to increase sales, generate leads, and promote brand awareness—but largely concentrates on relevance.
Users will search for specific services, information, and products at any given time. This is where advertisers have the power to show a targeted ad at the moment that the user is making their search. By targeting account structure and settings, advertisers can then run successful PPC campaigns as long as relevance is paramount.
PPC advertising is most common in search engine results pages, like Google or Bing, but is also used on social channels. These ads are the results that you see before and to the right of the organic search results.
How Much Does PPC Marketing Cost?
Before you even consider making a significant advertising investment, you’ll want to know exactly how much it’ll cost you. PPC can sometimes make this complicated because you pay only when you get results (when somebody clicks on your ad). With PPC, however, you have much more control over how much each engaged consumer will cost you.
When a user searches for a certain keyword, Google searches through a list of advertisers for this word and initiates an auction between them. One of the Google algorithms will then select ads based on the quality score of each ad and each advertiser’s maximum bid and
Essentially, PPC marketing isn’t only concerned with the amount that you bid. The quality of your ad plays a huge part as well.
Display Advertising-these are image, banner, or text-based ads that appear on different sites, all to target a particular audience. These will then link to your site. They can be very useful for building brand awareness.
Paid Search Marketing – this allows marketers to pay providers such as Google Ads to create ads for users who search specific keywords. This is text-based and requires the use of relevant keywords to take users to a suitable landing page.
Remarketing Advertising-these ads are used to target users who have previously paid a quick visit to your website. More information will be provided later in the article.
Important Benefits Of PPC Marketing
If it’s done right, PPC can be effective immediately. That is, you will reach your target audience as soon as your target ads have been approved. If you can create such a seamless user journey then you may see lots of ROI for your efforts!
It’s also a quick way of driving instant traffic to your website. It takes only a short amount of time from when you first learn about PPC marketing to then actively implementing it in a PPC campaign and then driving traffic to a site.
Compared to alternatives such as social media, email marketing, or SEO, which can sometimes take years to begin driving traffic, PPC could save you lots of valuable time and energy! It’s also extremely easy to measure and track thanks to tracking pixels, which shows you your costs and overall ad engagement.
The Role Of PPC In Marketing
PPC plays a critical role in the development and branding of businesses, helping to both define and shape them. If you own a business and aren’t doing any PPC marketing within your company then you could potentially be losing out on valued traffic and revenue!
But that’s not all. There are a couple of noteworthy and extremely specific roles that PPC plays in terms of marketing.
Increase Brand Awareness
Regardless of whether you’re a smaller organization or a larger corporation, ensuring brand recognition is a crucial way of guaranteeing success. PPC marketing means that brands can get exposure when users search for particular keywords or phrases that are relevant to the brand and the service or products that they sell.
When it comes to increasing your brand awareness and getting exposure, ensuring that your brand appears in search results for relevant terms is a great way forward.
Online marketing is both popular and highly effective. As a result, several advertisers are using it to guarantee that they are actively getting the most from their advertising budget.
Retargeting users is one of the most unique advertising strategies that can be implemented. It helps advertisers to retarget key users who may have previously visited their site to entice them into returning.
Regardless of whether they visited the website through internet marketing or not, many PPC networks such as Google and Facebook allow advertisers to set up retargeting campaigns. This allows advertisers to run specific display campaigns that are aimed at getting these visitors to return to their site.
If a business has already invested lots of time, energy, and money in an unsuccessful attempt to get a user on their website, it is cheaper to retarget the same user than sourcing entirely new users. This strategy makes PPC marketing an essential element of any advertiser’s approach to search engine marketing strategy.
Contribute To Business Growth And Achieving Goals
PPC marketing can help you to manage marketing and business goals, varying from e-business sales and right track submission to brand exposure. This makes it an essential tool for any business looking to expand its reach.
Consistent And Quick Traffic
PPC is one of the fastest ad campaigns that a business can run. It’s also a consistent way to achieve massive amounts of traffic regularly. More importantly, PPC is one of the most reliable digital marketing strategies that can be implemented.
It has the potential to bring in huge sales, traffic, and leads. If it is precisely carried out then it could have the potential to bring in the highest possible Return on Investment (ROI).
Only Pay For Clicked Ads
PPC is an easy-to-understand advertising platform that comes without hidden terms and conditions. It is largely how the business that runs the campaign pays the search engine to list the ad at the very top of the page, giving businesses a chance to achieve significant ROI.
Complete Control Over Expense
There are many shades in terms of default operation settings, meaning you’ll eventually have full control over a variety of choices when reaching potential clients. This starts with the keywords or placements that you want to target and also depends on how restrained you want to be.
Budget and expense are two of the main criteria that define the direction in which the business is moving towards. By implementing a successful PPC campaign you have control over setting the financial expenses for the advertising campaign and also control the costs. All you need to do is set the budget according to the requirement.
In short, PPC can provide complete support to the business to improve its online visibility. However, it is really important to remember that PPC marketing isn’t a magic tool. It won’t suddenly make your business thrive but will act as a cog in the wheel that is your marketing strategy.
How Campaigns Work With Google Ads
Google is a global resource that receives nearly 6 billion search queries per day. Despite the popularity of the search engine itself, there are many other notable elements associated with Google. This includes the paid advertising Google Ads platform that has existed for almost two decades.
If you’re looking to create a profitable campaign using Google Ads, then follow the below steps.
The Auction System
When a search engine determines that a query has commercial intent and matches the set criteria to appear to a target audience, you will enter an auction. During this time, you are battling with other businesses and competitors who are also gunning after a particular ad slot.
But how is the winner of the auction chosen by Google? Well, there are a few criteria that must be considered. This includes:
Ad Quality – this is determined by Quality Score (QS) which is a metric employed by Google. It considers expected click-through rates, landing page experience, and ad relevance.
The Bid – the maximum cash amount that each advertiser eligible for the auction will pay (this could be for a click or another action). Bids can be set at the individual keyword level or at the ad group level.
Expected Impact – this is from ad formats and ad extensions, which are things that can be added to the initial ad format.
After considering this information, it’s clear that the higher the relevance and written quality of your ads, the less money is required to win an auction.
Google also allows you to use other bidding options such as cost per mille (CPM) which can be used in display campaign auctions.
Ad Group And Ad Hierarchy
Google Ads sets a high standard in terms of ad management systems. Individual ads cannot be made immediately. Instead, each ad must be part of its ad group within a campaign. This allows advertisers like those at Google Ads to efficiently manage the entire ad account, but this depends on the platform that you use.
In Google Ads, you can establish the following:
Campaign Level – determines the objectives, networks, budget and bidding, ad extensions, languages, and type of campaign.
Ad Group Level – a grouping of related keywords.
Ad Level – descriptions, ad headlines, URL, and extensions.
The best thing to do when using Google Ads for a campaign is to decide on a structured plan and then stick firmly with it. For example, some PPC experts will stick to a single keyword per ad group and then make this clear during their naming conventions.
Search ads only appear if the search query of the user matches keywords and phrases that advertisers and businesses have previously bid on. Because of this, the sequence of the ads that are displayed on a site is dependent on the results of the auction.
In this situation, you can carry out keyword targeting. This involves you selecting a keyword and then finding a relevant match type—which is often just as important as the keyword is. Some of the most popular match types you may encounter include:
Broad Matches – this will match you with anything singled out to be relevant. This disregards typos and word order. These aren’t usually suitable unless you’re a large corporation that can bid on millions of search queries all at once.
Broad Match Modifier (BMM) – this works much as a broad match does. However, in the search query, you must include the +keyword.
Exact Match – as its name suggests, this will match the keyword exactly regardless if it’s in a singular or plural form. It will also match close synonyms and variants. Using this match type gives you complete control over what you’re bidding on.
Phrase Match – this is an exact match to the keyword, except there can be additional words before or after the keyword.
Target Audiences Using Google Display Network (GDN)
Google Display Network is a primary channel used by many advertisers to reach potential customers or users. With GDN you can create campaigns based on target ROAS, cost per thousand impressions (CPM), cost per click (CPC), enhanced CPC (eCPC), or target cost per action (TCPA).
Each time a visitor clicks onto google, or types in a particular search query, the search engine can collate data about their activity. This can then be turned into potential targeting methods for many advertisers.
Browsing and search history can also be transformed into affinity audiences which you can then target using your display ads. Affinity categories include banking and finance, entertainment, food, and drinks, or anything else that you frequently search for using the platform.
Unless you have an extremely broad target market then affinity audiences could be a waste of your ad budget. You can find your affinity categories in your account settings However, you may sometimes be shown display ads that have nothing to do with your interests.
To prevent this from happening you can try placement targeting. This is a much more effective way of targeting audiences. Using this method, you can select relevant websites that use Google AdSense Ads.
Excluding Keywords And Placements
PPC campaigns require a certain level of optimization so that there are fewer websites and keywords available to bid on. If you’ve ensured that your campaigns are up and running then checking the auction system and what it’s bidding on is an excellent idea.
Unless you specifically choose exact matches, you might encounter bidding on irrelevant-or less relevant -keywords. Such keywords you choose to exclude from a campaign are commonly referred to as negative keywords. These can be applied at many different levels of the Google Ads account hierarchy.
If you aren’t aiming to just target specific placements in display campaigns, then your ads will likely appear in irrelevant placements. This could mean they end up in spaces that have nothing to do with your business. Removing those that have lots of impressions could save some money in the long run.
Top Tips For Succeeding With Google Ads
Logging into a PPC platform and having to manage campaigns can be difficult. But there are several key tips to successfully and efficiently manage these types of campaigns using Google Ads.
1. Do As You Learn
The most important thing you can do to succeed using Google Ads is to put any information and skills that you learn into practice as soon as possible. This will help you become familiar with the process and will also enable you to develop your confidence. Just remember, there are no secrets – only practice!
There’s also no point in over-consuming large quantities of information on a variety of PPC topics if it’s not necessary or doesn’t serve a purpose. And, much like any other thing in life, there are going to be times when you don’t understand information, or don’t care to consume it for the sake of a single task – and that is completely okay!
2. Take Google Ads Courses
Taking a demo tour is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with PPC platforms. You’ll learn where everything is located, what to set up first, how things work, and will also discover the things that you should pay most attention to. That’s where Google Ads courses come in handy.
Google Ads provides you with a seemingly endless number of learning courses and resources for you to explore. These will provide you with the necessary tools to achieve targeted advertising, guarantee brand exposure, implement spending limitations, and also reach the right people at the right time.
After signing up for a course you may receive help and guidance from a support officer or sales rep at Google. While this is highly convenient, you must also bear in mind that their key goal is to convince you to spend lots more of your money on the service. So proceed with some degree of caution.
One of the best things about PPC is its abundance of guidance and official documentation. Ads are the main generator of significant revenue for technology giants such as Google. This means that they must provide lots of help.
Not only are you provided with plenty of helpful tooltips and hints when utilizing Google Ads, but you will also find that its knowledge base contains a large number of the key things that you’ll be seeking.
3. Start Small
If you do not have a Google Ads account set up and ready to go, Google will do all they can to convince you to create Smart campaigns immediately. This is where you give up a large amount of the general settings and control to the algorithms present on the Google platform.
You should avoid doing this if you can. When you’re starting with PPC, it’s always a much better choice to have all of the necessary tools directly in your hands so you can get used to the process. Then, after you know a little more about what you’re doing, you can begin to incorporate the smart features to further develop your marketing strategy.
The best way to approach your initial campaigns is to start small so that if something goes amiss, you won’t suffer for it. Start creating these campaigns using cheap keywords that remain relevant to the product you’re offering. Sticking with a budget for these smaller things will ensure you stay on track in terms of your marketing budget.
You can also regularly optimize and monitor your campaigns. Keeping track of them is an essential part of ensuring that they are successful. After you begin seeing results, you will be able to gradually introduce a higher volume of relevant keywords.
4. Set Up Conversions And A Way Of Tracking
The next step is to start creating your goals to ensure that you’re keeping tabs on the metrics you need to measure your marketing performance. You can do this by using conversion tracking.
Conversion tracking is a free tool that shows you what happens after a customer has had valuable interaction with your ads. These customer actions (known as conversions) could include downloading your app, signing up for a newsletter, or purchasing a product for themselves. You should set up conversion tracking before you begin the process of advertising.
It should be noted that PPC metrics are always concerned with money. The key aim is to squeeze your advertising spend to get the absolute most out of it. Because of this, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) must be considered. In this instance, an important KPI will be the cost of each conversion.
It’s crucial to count a conversion whenever a customer buys a product, but you should also count the additional conversion value. It’s still a relatively simple process but you will probably need some help from a developer.
Setting up conversions also gives you the chance to take advantage of Google’s algorithms which can ensure performance optimization.
5. Do Enough Research For Targeting
Having the right data to support targeting choices is critical, whether it’s websites, audiences, or keywords.
With search ads, you must carry out detailed keyword research. You might think that keyword research is only linked to SEO but you couldn’t be more wrong! It’s invaluable for all types of PPC-based search ads.
However, you must first recognize the types of things that people are searching for and also figure out the average amount that you will be paying for all clicks.
You can use PPC keyword research tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner for precise cost-per-click (CPC) numbers. This won’t give you lots of the data that paid PPC tools or SEO tools would. Google Ads will present you with some suggestions for poignant keywords. All you need to do is paste these into your landing page and Google can then do the hard work for you!
This data can also be found in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer which is arguably the more reliable keyword research tool. Using this program, all you need to do is key in some seed keywords that capture the product you’re offering, or ones that summarize the business itself, and then move on from there.
More advanced Formats
There is plenty more to PPC marketing. Here are some of the features, targeting options, and ad formats that you must consider using when you’re more familiar and confident with your knowledge of the basics.
Manual And Automatic Ad Extensions
Ad extensions are extra details and links that can show supplemental information about your business (in addition to standard descriptions, URLs, and headlines.) They are an efficient way of extending ads with added functionality, and can also work to increase click-through rates and improve ROI all at the same time.
While there are manual ad extensions that you can run, search engines might also generate their relevant ad extensions. Manual ad extensions give the advertiser the choice to set up and enable the extension themselves, whereas automated extensions involve Goold Ads predicting when certain extensions may begin to improve your ad’s performance, and enabling them automatically.
Whichever ad extension is used, it will serve a purpose for basic PPC ads by enhancing the click-through rate (CTR) of the ad headline. This is because ads are larger and may have more physical prominence on the SERP.
Dynamic Search Ads (DSA)
These are search ads that are shown depending on the content on your website. A Google Ads mechanism will trawl your website to find terms closely related to your site’s content. This then means the landing page and headline can be dynamically generated so that they match the search term.
This also means that you can establish search campaigns that provide several URLs instead of targeting keywords, which allows Google to decide if a particular query poses relevancy to the landing page.
With DSA, you’ll get more use out of a broader target market. If you select a group of keywords to use for a niche audience or product offering, DSAs are unlikely to be helpful as they will target completely unrelated keywords instead.
Remarketing Ad Formats
Remarketing Google Ads is a form of online advertising that enables different websites to showcase targeted ads to individuals that have previously visited their site. These visitors will see customized ads as they scroll through social media, read news sites, browse the web, or even while they are watching YouTube videos.
It’s a highly effective advanced Google Ads format that keeps your brand at the forefront of your audience’s minds, encouraging them to re-visit your site again in the future.
All you need to do is set up a tracking code—a pixel or a tag— that actively works to collect data about all visitors to your website through browser cookies.
This is extremely convenient and can later be used to reach the visitors again using various formats belonging to Google Ads. Essentially, this type of advert is great at transforming undecided visitors into loyal customers.
After some time, you might even be able to create different Google Ads remarketing lists for extremely targeted campaigns; for example, showing users who have previously purchased from your site vastly different adverts than those who haven’t purchased from you before.
Custom Intent Audiences (CIA)
As consumers, we are often bogged down by ads on any website that we visit. These are usually pretty irrelevant to the site we’re exploring and are an attempt by companies to entice us into purchasing or requesting business from them.
To summarise, custom intent audiences are a product of Google that allows marketers and businesses the opportunity to control exactly who sees the ads, all based on the previous online activity of the user.
In essence, it targets individuals that are looking for information about a particular topic or product using the web using YouTube video ad campaigns or display videos. CIA can be defined by URLs or keywords or can be used in combination. The best part? You can select as specific or broad a keyword as you want!
During this process, users will type in particular keywords, watch videos, click through various specific pages, and will later decide to make a purchase.
And that concludes the complete guide to PPC marketing with Google Ads. As you now know, there is lots of important and relevant information to learn and remember about PPC marketing and Google Ads. Notably, the crucial role they play in terms of promoting specific businesses, products, and services to a wider target audience.
Google Ads plays a crucial role in helping marketers and businesses to reach their audience by formulating ads that target specific groups of people to entice them to either make a purchase or revisit the site.
PPC marketing comes with a whole host of benefits that only serve to increase your visibility online, which is an extremely important part of advertising.
When it comes to Quality Score you’ll find there are LOTS of opinions.
What you’ll find though is a distinct lack of cold hard data. You know, the kind of information you can rely upon because there is evidence that has been carefully analyzed.
So, our in-house math professor and I sat down to dig past the opinions and see what we could figure out by diving into actual data. We didn’t have a specific goal in mind other than to find answers that could better inform our future decision making and eliminate all the unhelpful opinions once and for all.
To do this we’ve first looked at the overall picture as it relates to Quality Score. Then, we’ve broken down each individual component of QS to determine what influences it. After all, the first question we needed to answer is “Should I even care about QS?” If the data suggests that it doesn’t matter, then why bother.
Our journey in evaluating QS starts with the Google Ads support documents – to see what they have to say on the subject. And then test their various statements (and their implications to see if the data we see supports them).
We’ve also reviewed a few articles and blog posts by industry experts, to see how their content is reflected (or not) in our data.
Then, we just followed the data. Every test we ran would inevitably lead to another, and another. In fact knowing when to stop in writing this report is actually one of the most difficult decisions we had to make. I honestly feel we could double the scope and still have unanswered questions, yet we’ve already run more and bigger tests than anyone else I know.
Finally, after doing this for all the elements of QS put together the findings into a series of steps that you can use to optimize your accounts. After all, you’re looking here for the answers, not the mathematical journey it took to find them.
Quality Score Mythology
You might recognise this chart:
This graphic – or versions of it have been quoted, requoted, and quoted again. It’s part of the history of QS. It was featured on the Wordstream website, although as you can see from the attribution, it did not originate there (ClickEquations Inc was acquired several years ago so the original source link is gone). It’s still live on the Wordsteam website today.
Unfortunately, it dates back to March 2013. A lot has changed since 2013, and yet you’ll still see marketing agencies quote it today. Look at this chart here from TenScores – it’s a little prettier but it’s the same chart:
We had two concerns with these charts.
First – they are super old.
Secondly, as you’ll see shortly – they ignore the “Null” quality score – and that’s a big deal. Null technically isn’t a score, it’s the absence of a score. It’s Google saying, we don’t yet have sufficient data to give this keyword a Quality Score. In this analysis, we’ve done a lot of work on “null” – it’s important.
It’s exactly these types of charts that we want to better understand in producing this report. We’re not saying they are bad. Equally, we’re not saying they are good. Just that until we have our own analysis that we can rely upon and that is up to date in 2021 then it’s impossible to be confident.
It’s worth noting that both authors of these charts have skin in the game in terms of software or services to sell. The only thing we’re selling here – is our blood, sweat and tears in producing this analysis. We care about reaching an outcome. We don’t care what it is!
So let’s move on to the actual testing.
Our test dataset
Clearly, any conclusion presented here is dependent upon the reliability of our dataset. So let’s dive into that a little. Let’s set the scene so to speak.
In looking at Quality Score, we examined:
$8,518,213 in ad spend
398,921 search terms
7,821 landing pages
And a partridge in a pear tree *
Whether you consider that data set big or small, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we validated each conclusion using p-value calculations with a 95% confidence level or higher – in most cases – much higher. So, without diving into the math, you can be confident that there is no opinion, basis or preconception in our findings. Just statistically validated data, and our analysis of it.
How we selected data
To filter our dataset, throughout our testing we only included data rows where clicks were > 0 so we haven’t done any work on keywords or ads etc where there were no clicks. To be 100% honest and transparent it was a hack to keep the data small enough to process. Try running calculations on nearly 400,000 rows of data and see how your laptop likes it (you might want to go make a drink, or in the worst case watch a movie).
So, with the data we have we can rely on our results. Another data set might change the results, and in which case we’ll update our conclusions but for now, we have what we have.
In addition, where necessary, we have taken our hypothesis and run real-world tests to verify the impact of an action in moving quality score. Where this is the case we’ll disclose it.
It’s worth a mention also, that in this report we treat the null QS – shown in Google Ads as “–” as a 0 QS. We recognize that’s not technically correct – it is null (ie no Quality Score) rather than a QS of zero, but try doing calculations on “–” and let me know how you get on. It’s a slight simplification that makes math possible.
To produce this report we’ve run lots of tests. Not all of them are included (the final document is already much bigger than intended at the outset). But to give you an indication of the number of tests run, it’s over 70 individual tests. Many of them didn’t prove to be particularly informative, so they are left out.
In some cases, we’ve left in results that while not interesting in terms of their individual outcome, show us part of the journey to a discovery. Enjoy.
The Big Picture
Overall Quality Score Distribution
As you can see, by far the most common score is 0 – i.e., unscored.
So, for over half of search terms (56%) there is no way for the Account Manager to evaluate QS impact on their keyword. Thanks Google – super helpful.
What’s more, only 2% of keywords get the highest score of 10, and only 9% in total score 8 or above.
Therefore, 91% of keywords have a BIG opportunity to improve. But is it worth the effort and and if so, how, do they improve. We’ll come to that later.
Before we move off the big picture though let’s look at this a couple of different ways.
Let’s take a look at QS by spend and clicks.
What we see here is a hugely different pattern.
Looking at cost, we see a pattern very similar to the number of keywords, albeit less pronounced.
We see 32% of spend having a zero QS (compared to 56% of keywords) and only 9.6% of keywords having an 8 or higher QS (compared to 7.8% of keywords).
The middle is a similar squash of spend, languishing in the 3-7 range.
But when we look at clicks, something interesting happens.
First of all, less than 30% of clicks (29.8% to be exact) are on keywords with a zero quality score. We’ll dive into this point later).
And while the middle 3-7 QS’s are very similar to the number of keywords, 8+ is where the magic happens.
A whopping 33.3% of clicks go to keywords with a QS of 8 or more
Hmm – it seems that there is something worth following up here. More to come.
Does it matter?
So we now know how QS is distributed. But should we care, what impact does it have on our campaigns – and are the legendary charts true.
For QS to matter, then there are two things we should consider.
Does it affect my Cost per click (CPC)?
Does it impact the ability of my ads to get shown?
If the visibility or cost of our campaigns isn’t affected then why care?
Impact on CPC
To start, here’s a simple chart of average CPC against QS. This is across our whole dataset.
Population Data Dataset
In order to read this graph, consider that each point is plotted individually and when lots of points are plotted close to one another, you get a line. So, the denser the population, the more solid the line appears.
You can see an overall downward trend in average CPC’s at each point in QS, with something of an anomaly around 5-7. We’ll look at that shortly.
In seeing this “anomaly” and by that I mean, “it’s not what the mythology tells us”, we dug a little deeper, excluding very large accounts that had the potential to distort the conclusion.
Again, looking at this chart which excludes the large accounts, our scatterplot shows that for each Quality Score, the average CPC’s change in a cyclic manner – i.e., there is no change from what we found previously. The pattern goes down, goes up and then down again as QS increases.
Again, as this pattern conflicts with the mythology we’ve dug deeper into individual accounts. We’re not showing these tests here as each is statistically insignificant but again, we’ve seen exactly the same pattern.
Let’s look at it a slightly different way.
Based on the charts above, our finding reveals that average CPC does not always go down if QS goes up. The only time you can find a perfectly linear relationship between QS and Avg CPC is when using dummy data. In reality, the average CPC of QS = 1 could be equal to or very close to an average CPC of ads and keywords with QS = 5, 6, 7 and probably 8.
Translated from math to English, we found the following to be true in our data:
A null QS is the most expensive place to be from a CPC perspective and therefore in the name of cost reduction to be avoided.
The general downward trend of CPC as quality score increases is true, although there is a bump upward from 5-7. So, drive QS down but look out for the middle bump. You may see a rise in your CPC’s at this QS group.
Avg CPC does not exhibit a linear relationship with Quality Score. There are “phase shifts” along the QS scale (0 – 10).
At this stage we don’t have an explanation as to why this is the case – but we’re still digging (please feel free to add your test suggestions to see if we can validate them). We can also glean from the chart that Avg CPC explains (in this particular subset) 36.86% of the variations in QS (R2 = 0.3686) which implies that Average CPC can explain more than one third of your QS ratings.
Having no QS is, in terms of cost, the absolute worst position you can be in. A null QS is worse than 1 and substantially worse than 10.
Yet there is one area in which null is an advantage – getting your ads shown.
Take a look at this chart:
As you can see, keywords with a null QS, show far more often than keywords in the 1-4 range. QS does not simply affect the price that you pay per click. It also influences the likelihood of your ad being shown at all (not ignoring budgets or bids).
Put simply, want your ads to be seen by your idea prospects? Improve QS with the steps that we will demonstrate of the next sections of this report.
Impact of bids
Using other subsets, we’ve seen that higher Average CPC’s (essentially, bids) can make a huge impact on your QS so there is a need to bid high enough to help improve your QS.
What we do know though is that if you have a null score, you absolutely have to push to drive ANY POSITIVE QS. And if you are in the 5-7 range, push through to 8 and above. Price is part of the reason but there is more below.
In testing our theories, we used correlation analyses to determine if there exists any significant relationships between QS, Avg CPC and Cost. We tested our hypotheses at the .05 level of significance and p-values obtained were lower than .05 (significant).
Our results were expected and proved our points: QS has a significantly negative relationship with Avg CPC which implies that as QS increases, Avg CPC generally decreases (note the mid-score bump).
On the other hand, QS positively correlated (0.084) with Cost (expected). This means that as your QS improves, you’ll most likely get more impressions and clicks which will naturally equate to higher costs.
From this top-level analysis, we can conclude that:
Within the distribution of our account samples there is a huge opportunity to increase QS as the majority of keywords have a null QS.
Achieving a non-null QS has a cost benefit to the campaign.
Improving QS will in most instance drive reductions in CPC
Your ads will show with a null QS, however carrying a premium price
Showing ads with low QS is much more difficult. You won’t fix your campaign if you don’t fix your QS.
High QS ads grab a huge chunk of the available impressions and clicks, at the lowest possible cost.
What Google Says
You can find everything Google says about Quality Score here.
Let’s pick out a few highlights:
“Quality Score is intended to give you a general sense of the quality of your ads. The 1-10 Quality Score reported for each keyword in your account is an estimate of the quality of your ads and the landing pages triggered by them. Three factors determine your Quality Score:
Expected clickthrough rate
Landing page relevance”
Quality Score is based on past performance data, and Google reports that a null score – shown as “–” is when there are insufficient impressions or clicks to determine a Keyword Quality Score.
Null QS can also occur when you don’t have enough “Exact Match” impressions, i.e. when your ad is shown on searches that are an exact match of your keyword.
Also, a keyword with a QS can revert back to a null QS if it doesn’t have enough recent traffic to maintain QS.
Here’s Google’s example of a “high-quality” ad experience.
When Sam searches Google for “men’s striped socks,” he sees your ad. (Your ad has “[striped socks]” as a keyword.)
Sam clicks the ad and lands right on your website’s “striped men’s socks” page. The page loads quickly and is easy for Sam to use.
Sam buys several pairs of striped socks
This example has a few key points implied in it:
That Google will show your ad for the exact match keyword “striped socks” for the query “men’s striped socks” – now this is not an exact match
That a fast loading web page is important
That the user completing an action (i.e. a conversion) is important
Our Quality Score Equation
As we know, Quality Score is composed of three known variables: Landing Page Experience (LPE), Expected CTR (ECTR) and Ad Relevance (AR). We have made huge efforts to find the most appropriate equation to explain what your Quality Score will be based on the three variables above.
We do this using our “Optometrists Glasses” approach to testing. If you haven’t read it, you can read more about it here.
In this instance and throughout our QS testing we have used the following scoring system.
— (unscored/null) = 0
Below Average = 1
Average = 2
Above average = 3
Using this system, we compiled a large population dataset and discovered that the equation that will predict your QS is:
QS = -3.14315 + 1.76838 (LPE Score) + 1.00364 (AR Score) + 1.61858 (ECTR Score) We will call the equation above as The Simbulan Quality Score Equation.
A sample computation:
If your Landing Page Experience score is Below Average (coded as 1), Ad Relevance is Average (coded as 2) and Expected CTR is Above Average (coded as 3), we can plug into the equation these numerical codes and have the following:
Any negative QS value arising from lower scores in the 3 variables will result in an Ungraded QS score on Google, which is basically a negative event.
Given the distribution of scores and contributions of the three variables, we have also calculated their impacts to the final QS of your keywords and ads:
Figure 10. Pie Chart Showing the Distribution of Weights of the Three QS Components
This means that:
If you really want to get higher Quality Scores for your keywords, you should prioritize actions in the following order:
Landing Page Experience
Getting past Null
By now we know that getting a QS matters, and that getting a good score matters more. But we’ve got to start somewhere and that’s by getting past null.
So how do we do it?
Let’s start with what Google Ads support says.
“Null quality scores appear when there aren’t enough impressions or clicks to accurately determine a keyword’s Quality Score”.
Now, something to note here is that impressions relate to exact match impressions (not our view – Google Ads support).
A Null score is null across all three of the QS components – ECTR, AR and LPE. Your score is either null for all or scored for all. There isn’t a partial score, so you can take comfort that when you get a score, you’ll get it throughout all the elements and you can start any triage efforts needed to improve.
Impact of match type
With that information then, you would expect that exact match keywords would be more likely to have a QS than a broad match. After all, the (almost) only impression that an Exact Match keyword should receive is, well, exact(ish) – we know exact is not exactly, exact.
So let’s take a look:
Table 1. Breakdown of Keywords (%) With Null QS by Match Type
Surprisingly, the match type doesn’t behave in the way you might expect – at a surface level at least.
But what if we go a little deeper and look at the number of impressions each keyword has received. Table 2 can give us a clear idea.
Table 2. Breakdown of Keyword Match Types (Cumulative %) by Impressions
Now looking further at this let’s look at a 30-day period for keywords with a null QS.
Table 3. Breakdown of Keyword Match Types (Cumulative %) by Impressions
Note: Only keywords with QS > 0 Included
Essentially, if you get 300 impressions in phrase or broad match terms within a 30-day period or 2,000 for Broad Match – you have a 98% likelihood of having a QS. It’s not quite a guarantee, but it’s pretty close.
Looking at impressions in more detail
However, when we ran some analyses, we found out that ads do not have to have hundreds of impressions to get a positive QS. In most cases, we saw ads with only 1 exact match impression obtain a QS = 1.
See figures below.
Figure 11. Summary Statistics for the Number of Exact Match Impressions Needed to Get a QS = 1
It is also obvious that there exists a huge disparity in exact match impressions (from 1 to 7,771) that can get a positive QS. This implies that more impressions will not assure higher QS.
Figure 12. Individual Value Plots of Exact Match Impressions for Ads to Get a QS = 1
Our data also exhibits that the count of exact match impressions is not a good predictor of QS. The data that we gathered is widely distributed (standard deviation and variance are very large).
We can also generalize that having a null QS does not mean your ads will never show up on Google SERP’s. We’ve already proven that null from an impressions perspective is far better than a 1-4 QS.
Corollary to this, our finding contradicts Google’s claim that QS is based on the history of impressions for exact searches of your keyword.
Number of Clicks Needed
In order to get a QS = 1, is there really a minimum number of clicks needed? Based on our findings, the minimum number of clicks your ad needs to get a QS = 1 is only 2! The average number of clicks needed to get QS = 1 is 7.
With a wide range (from 2 to 191), our finding suggests that ads can generate 2 to 191 clicks (Figure 13) and still get the same QS.
Standard deviation (17.428) and variance (303.726) obtained in our calculations show how dispersed the distribution of the number of clicks with QS = 1.
Figure 14 below shows the actual distribution of clicks and number of keywords (Frequency) with QS = 1.
Figure 14. Histogram of Generic Clicks to Get a QS = 1
Impact of Exact Match Clicks on Getting a QS
Google support suggests that ads need to have enough Exact Match clicks to get a positive Quality Score. Our data shows that you don’t need a lot of Exact Match clicks to achieve this.
Similar to our previous findings, your ads triggered by Exact Match keywords only need a minimum of 2 clicks to get a QS = 1. On average, 13 clicks can get an ad a positive QS.
On the other hand, the result shown on Figure 16 is quite disturbing because of the wide dispersion of clicks – from 2 to 796. This range shows that your Exact Match clicks can reach almost 800 and only get QS = 1.
This further strengthens the fact that other variables have bigger impacts on Quality score.
To get a non-null QS, set your campaign such that your keywords can get 300 impressions (phrase and exact match keywords), 1,000 for broad match as quickly as possible.
To achieve a non-null Quality Score:
Bid sufficiently high for top of the page positions – you WILL be overpaying for these clicks but it’s the price of getting a QS.
Ensure your targeting is sufficiently broad for your ads to show. Consider locations, hours, and audiences that are big enough to have sufficient search volume
Budget – ensure you can afford to pay for clicks that are overpriced in the market sufficiently to get a QS.
A keyword status that measures how likely it is that your ads will get clicked when shown for that keyword, irrespective of your ad’s position, extensions, and other ad formats that may affect the prominence and visibility of your ads.
According to Google it’s a prediction of how likely your keyword is to be clicked based on past performance and your ad position. It is based on an assumption of an exact keyword match.
Expected Clickthrough rate like the other elements of QS has four possible scores:
Null/Ungraded – no score awarded
Below average – which Google suggests you might want to change your ad text so it’s more keyword related
Average – which interestingly Google explains alongside the fourth score of Above average that there are no major problems with the expected clickthrough rate when compared to other keywords across Google Ads
Expected CTR is a prediction. It is not the actual CTR. It’s adjusted for ad position, extensions and compared to other Google Ad accounts
It is possible to have a high QS and low expected CTR (or vice-versa)
Paused keywords retain their previous score.
Our test results
QS vs Expected CTR
Earlier in the report we showed our QS formula, and the strong relationship between ECTR and QS. We didn’t dive into it in detail earlier, so here’s the evidence that fed into our calculation.
Our hypothesis testing at the .05 level of significance yields the following results: Quality Score is positively correlated (0.877) with Expected CTR which means that the higher the Expected CTR score, the higher is the QS. This further implies that Expected CTR is a good indicator of QS (p < .05). The relationship is very strong which further suggests that Expected CTR is a good predictor of QS.
Investigating what drives ECTR
Keyword match types
It seemed to us a logical idea that if you want your QS to be high for a keyword then making it highly targeted and relevant would be a good place to start, and so we looked at QS by match type. (Note in this table and throughout a 0 QS is no score – it’s just quicker to write).
Table 4. Distribution of Keyword Match Types for Each Quality Score
To summarise the data on Table 4, match type makes very little difference to the Quality Score.
Ok, so if it isn’t the match type itself, perhaps there could be something in the search term targeting. So for our next examination we looked at search term density – ie how many unique search terms triggered a click on a keyword to see if more tightly grouped keywords would yield better QS.
Our theory to test is that good control of search terms is likely to indicate a more robust negative keyword and match type strategy so “might” influence quality score.
This analysis is limited by the restrictions on search term data Google now reports so there may be something more that we can’t see here.
UST = Unique Search Terms
Table 5. Distribution of Unique Search Terms Count for Each Quality Score
The results on Table 5 are SUPER interesting and shed a little light.
Most notably as far as search terms affect keyword QS:
The vast majority of search terms scored 0, i.e., unscored (we knew this already).
However, the more search terms that are reported for a keyword, the less likely it is to have a zero QS.
More search terms reported to trigger a keyword, the more likely you are to have a score or 8 or above. In fact having 6 or more search terms trigger your keyword double your likelihood of having a QS 8 or above.
11 or more queries and you maximise your chance of a 8 or higher QS at around 17-19%
As a final check on keywords, before we move on, let’s take a look at one other metric – the actual click through rate (CTR).
Table 6 below shows what we found.
Table 6. Distribution of CTR (%) For Each Quality Score
In this analysis, we looked at CTR rounded to the nearest whole percentage. So for example 0.49% rounds to 0.0%, 0.51% rounds to 1% and so on. It’s pretty hard to see anything meaningful from this table.
So, we dug deeper, and looked at the percentage of keywords in each percentage CTR and their respective Quality Scores.
What you might notice is that at low CTR percentages, quality score tends to be low, but as CTR increases, so does the prevalence of higher QS’s.
Looking at the delta’s between each CTR you can see the pattern emerge really clearly.
Table 7. Distribution of CTR Changes (%) For Each Quality Score
There’s a huge indicator here, you can see the pattern of red turning black in a diagonal across the page. Want a better QS – improve your CTR.
So, having a visual indicator that this might be true, we of course wanted to prove this finding with “proper math”.
So, we got to work and what we found out is truly amazing.
The correlations are in!! Actual CTR has a positive correlation (0.076) with QS at the .05 level of significance. The correlation is significant (p < .05). This mathematically confirms our observation that actual CTR is strongly linked with achieving a high QS.
So as far as ECTR is concerned using strong ad copy, with appropriate bids on well grouped keywords, is a very efficient way to proactively manage QS.
To maximise your chances, group your keywords such that they attract 5-15 unique (relevant) search terms and you’ve got a really good chance.
The Interesting Case of The SKAG
Without wanting to get into a whole other debate whether SKAGS, STAGS, or any other campaign structure is inherently better than any other, we do need to touch on the case of the SKAG as far as it impacts QS.
This is because, from our earlier test we’ve seen that matching multiple search queries with a keyword (6 or more as a minimum), you get a huge bump in QS.
So, if you build a SKAG structure, particularly using Exact Match types, how does QS hold up.
Here’s what we found, starting with looking at QS including nulls.
Figures 21 and 22 show the QS distributions of SKAGS and Non-Skags. With QS = 0 included, there is clearly no significant difference in the Quality Scores of both groups. The average QS’es are almost the same (4.472 vs 4.403) and Non-SKAGS have closer QS ratings (StDev = 3.007) compared to the SKAGS (StDev = 3.835).
While null QS is included in the population the results are well, exactly normal compared to any other structure.
So we examined them again, this time excluding the nulls, and something interesting happened.
After removing QS = 0 from our dataset to reduce skewness and non-normality of data distribution, we discovered that SKAGS actually perform better overall compared to Non-SKAGS.
While the math may be intimidating, essential, looking at Figures 23 and 24, SKAGS outperform Non-SKAGS significantly at the .05 level of significance. There is a statistical difference (p < .05) between the two groups’ Quality Scores.
While this isn’t a report about account structure, it is very clear that this one specific account structure – the SKAG has a significant advantage over others when you only consider QS. Account management effort aside, there is a strong argument here for employing SKAGS, once you can push past the null QS state.
Expected CTR and Actual CTR
One final point that we wanted to check before moving on from ECTR was a comparison between ECTR and actual CTR.
A hypothesis we wanted to check was that over time you would expect actual CTR and ECTR to tend together. After all, Google is pretty good with math so you’d expect their prediction model to be accurate.
So, using our population dataset and cleaning our data for outliers, Figure 28 shows that keywords with “Above Average” Expected CTR ratings yield the highest actual CTR (between 56% and 57% on average). This is followed by “Average” with an actual CTR between 53% and 54%. “Below Average” got an average between 52% and 53%. The lowest category – “Ungraded” – got between 50% and 51%.
So, to keep ECTR high, then keep your actual CTR high. We’ll look at ads in detail in another report, but engaging, relevant ads seem to be the way to go here.
To get a non-null QS, set your campaign such that your keywords can get 300 impressions (phrase and exact match keywords), 1,000 for broad match as quickly as possible.
To get a non-null QS, set your campaign such that your keywords can get 300 impressions (phrase and exact match keywords), 1,000 for broad match as quickly as possible.
Bid sufficiently high for top of the page positions – you WILL be overpaying for these clicks but it’s the price of getting a QS.
Ensure your targeting is sufficiently broad for your ads to show. Consider locations, hours, and audiences that are big enough to have sufficient search volume
Budget – ensure you can afford to pay for clicks that are overpriced in the market sufficiently to get a QS.
Note – this is the least important part of QS and has the lowest impact (23% contribution). However, improvements can be some of the easiest so it’s simple to tackle.
“Ad relevance measures how closely related your keyword is to your ads.”
Again there are four possible scores:
Null – no score awarded
Below average – Google suggests that your ad or keyword may not be specific enough and your ad group may cover too many topics. Their solution is to reduce the size of the ad group.
Average – which interestingly Google explains alongside the fourth score of Above average that there are no major problems with the ad relevance when compared to other keywords across Google Ads
It is possible to have a high QS and low expected CTR (or vice-versa)
Paused keywords retain their previous score.
Keyword Ad Copy Relationship
So let’s look at how closely ad copy and keywords are related and how that impacts your Ad Relevance score.
To do this we compared keywords (minus all the fancy Google notation such as [ ] to see if they were included and the impact that this had on the QS. We also adjusted to count DKI keywords as a match too.
Here’s what we found across 192,605 rows of data:
Table 8. Distribution of Ads With and Without Keywords in them by QS
As you can see on the table above, there is a striking relationship between the keyword being in the Ad and the QS. About 52% of keywords where the keyword itself featured in the ad had an above average Ad Relevance, compared to only 12% where the Ad Relevance was below average.
From Figure 26 above, though, it’s interesting to see that only 23% of ads contain a keyword or a DKI equivalent. However, those ads with keywords in them exhibit higher average QS but a bit more dispersed in terms of distribution (With KW StDev = 3.35 vs Without KW StDev = 3.07).
We dug deeper and tested our hypothesis aimed at answering this question: Are the QS’es of keywords where the ad copy contains the keyword higher on average as opposed to those without keywords in them?
We found this:
Figure 27. Result of the T-Test Done in Determining the Difference Between the Mean Quality Scores of Ad Copies “With Keywords” and “Without” Keywords in Them
Our t-test analysis yields the following: keywords that trigger ads containing the keyword have statistically higher average QS than those without keywords in them (3.35 vs. 2.56). With a p-value of less than .05, this finding implies that using keywords in ad copy (Headlines, Descriptions, etc) will give your ads a higher likelihood of getting significantly higher Quality Scores.
Figure 28. Result of the T-Test Done in Determining the Difference Between the Mean Quality Scores of Ad Copies “With Keywords” and “Without” Keywords in Them (QS = 0 Excluded)
We found the same results (Figure 28) when we filtered our data and excluded QS = 0 from the dataset.
This finding includes DKI as a keyword match, so we can see that a DKI keyword is treated the same in ad copy as the keyword itself.
But what if only a part of your keywords trigger are in your ad copies? Will the QS be any different? Let’s see.
Figure X4 implies that partial keywords in ad copies influence Ad Relevance score (p < .05) at the .05 level of significance. This means that your ad copies do not need to contain your exact keywords. Even just a part of your keyword is enough to get you higher Ad Relevance scores as indicated by the positive correlation coefficient (0.414).
From a management perspective, we recommend that you create several variants of your ad copies by including partial keywords. This will also make the ads look more natural and engaging as opposed to using your full keywords in all parts of the ad copy (e.g., headlines, descriptions, and others). Statistics show that this could work as well as using full keywords in ad copies. So mix and match!
Impact of Ad Type
While looking at Ads we wanted to test if the type of ads contained in an ad group had any impact on the Ad Relevance. We have no evidence that it should, but nevertheless, thought it’s worth testing while in the moment (given Google has previously favored their latest feature – in this case responsive search ads).
Our sample for this test was from Ads run in the first quarter of 2021 as an up to date representative sample, and contained over 25,000 unique ads.
Table 9. Distribution of Ad Types Used Across 26,054 ads
The Expanded Text Ad Type is the most popular (84.90%) followed by Responsive Search Ads (11.32%) which is the new default ad type on Google Ads starting in February 2021. Call only ads account for only 3.01% of total ad types we have used. Less popular types are those table items in red.
Now we understand the sample, let’s look at what we found.
Figure 30. Side by Side Histograms and Summary Statistics of Responsive Search Ads, Expanded Text Ads and Call Only Ads
Figure 30 indicates that Responsive Search Ads (RSA) has the highest average (1.551) among the 3 ad types used in our test. The histogram of RSA also implies that their Ad relevance score distribution is better distributed signified by the StDev = 0.9818.
While this ad type has lower counts across many accounts (understandably so because it’s a newer ad type with more advertisers not opting for it in the past due to the idea of having more control), it looks like it is by far the best-performing ad type for many clients in terms of Ad Relevance.
To see if the means of the 3 ad types significantly differ, we performed an Analysis of Variance test to confirm or contradict our theory.
We found that there is indeed a significant difference in the average Ad Relevance Scores of the different ad types (p < .05) when we tested our hypothesis at the .05 level of significance (Figure 31).
We can therefore conclude that there is statistical evidence to prove that the Responsive Search Ad has a significantly higher average Ad Relevance score compared to other ad types. However this is only limited to the accounts that we manage and we cannot guarantee the same results for other agencies and clients not included in our sample dataset. We can recommend that you test your own dataset and see what ad types could work for your accounts or clients.
On the other hand, our finding suggests that choosing the right ad type for specific campaigns and ad groups (dependent on niche, target audience, among other things) could yield really good Ad Relevance scores, which in turn will contribute to higher quality scores.
To get a non-null QS, set your campaign such that your keywords can get 300 impressions (phrase and exact match keywords), 1,000 for broad match as quickly as possible.
“A measure that Google Ads uses to estimate how relevant and useful your website’s landing page will be to people who click your ad. Landing pages with higher ratings are usually well organized and have text that relates to a person’s search terms.”
As always, there are four possible scores:
Null – no score awarded
Below average – Google suggests that you “consider” landing page changes
Average – which interestingly Google explains alongside the fourth score of Above average that there are no major problems with the landing page when compared to other keywords across Google Ads
On the page Google instructs you to improve your landing page experience by:
Offering relevant, useful and original content, in relation to your ad text and keyword.
Promote transparency about your business including:
Information about your business
What you do
Explain your product or service before asking for form fills
Making contact information easy to find
Explain why you are asking for personal data and how you will use it
Make it easy to navigate
Make it quick and easy to find the information promised in the ad
Don’t annoy users with popups
Prioritize above the fold content
Decrease load time
Make your site fast – related to the tests on Google Page Speed insights
When evaluating Landing Page Experience scores, here’s how they are distributed overall on a typical account.
As with other QS components, the most common score is – No score/Ungraded. Once you get a score though only 17% (or much less) make the top grade.
Given that we already know that LPE is the most important element of QS (accounting for 40% of QS), we’re only tackling it last as it’s the order Google lists them in its support materials, then it’s important we understand it as fully as possible.
We’ve done a lot of testing on landing pages.
To be honest this was a bit of a treasure hunt. Run a test, stroke your chin thoughtfully, and run another, and another.
To review the tests and our findings – we’re going to look at them largely in the order we ran them.
Technology: Website vs Landing Page
Let’s start with websites versus landing page builder pages.
To run this test we used the following approach. If a page was using a non-http(s) or www subdomain, then we assumed it was built using a Landing Page builder tool such as Clickfunnels, Unbounce, Instapage or something similar.
It’s not easily possible to know how accurate that is. The only likely error is that some pages that are built using a landing page tool, that are shown inside a main web page using a plugin or similar will be identified as a website page, rather than tool built.
Comparing the two – here’s what we found:
Figure 33 shows that website pages generally have higher average LPE scores than landing pages. It may not be much but if you’ll look at the distribution of the two page types, website pages have a better score distribution which means there is a higher probability of your ads to get higher LPE scores.
Why would website pages outscore landing pages built specifically for the purpose of running ads. It seemed odd. After all, these tools are often sold directly to people advertising on platforms such as Google to improve advertising ROI. They usually come with substantial subscriptions (our provider recently tried to increase our price from $6k per year, to $23k per year – thankfully we have our own technology now and don’t need them).
Having seen a surprising result in the technology battle, we needed to dive further, and understand why this might be the case. We started with page structure. The actual html elements that make up the page.
Full disclosure – this test was a huge PITA (pain in the ass).
We examined the page source of 991 landing pages, examining the html for keywords contained in:
Image file names
In this test of 991 pages, we were trying to find the appearance of 91,000 unique keywords. Each test had to be run keyword, by keyword – it was a LONG test.
Here’s our complete findings:
Our test results at the .05 level of significance show clearly that adding keywords properly within your html source is significantly correlated (p < .05) with high LPE scores.
In particular the strongest link was seen in:
Now, when we dig into the difference between landing page tools and websites, it looks a lot clearer.
When building landing pages using page builders outside the main website, designers simply don’t use proper html tagging structures. As a result, they score worse when looking at html tags. Bringing page design and Google Ad campaign design closer together here would likely resolve this.
Google support specifically calls out page load time as a factor in user experience. So let’s take a look at that first.
To do this we ran 990 pages through the Google page speed test (oh, how the hours flew by).
Here’s what we found.
[section to insert here]
Having understood the page at a structural level, we wanted to understand the page from a user experience perspective. Our starting point, bounce rate. Our theory was that Google would relate a low bounce rate with a good LPE. Before we go any further let’s make sure we are clear in our definition of bounce rate:
Definition from Google Analytics:
A bounce is a single-page session on your website. It is triggered when your page loads and then there is no other request to Google Analytics.
Bounce rate is single-pages sessions divided by all sessions.
Why they use this metric is somewhat puzzling. After all, a landing page that the user visits to find an address or phone number can do Its’ job perfectly well without a click from the user.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Take a look at the result below:
Bounce rate significantly correlated (p < .05) with LPE at the .05 level of significance. The negative correlation coefficient on Figure 35 (-0.064) indicates that ad landing pages with lower bounce rates get higher LPE ratings on Google.
Now if your page is slow and the user bails before they get there, you’re going to have a problem.
So putting the last two tests together, the conclusion can only be that you need fast pages that encourage a user interaction. So make your users stay longer on your landing pages!
So now we understand the impact of the page itself, we looked at the inter-relationship between the page and the ad groups and keywords that trigger the LP to show.
Let’s look at a sample table showing how often an LP can have differing LPE scores.
It’s quite clear that the page alone, however well constructed can receive different scores for different ad groups. After all, it’s perfectly logical that building a page that contains 50 different keywords inside it’s html, and is sufficiently relevant to have a low bounce rate across many keywords is really difficult. So, seeing multiple scores where pages are triggered by different ad groups is entirely logical.
Let’s examine – LPE score vs number of keywords that triggered the page
Data shown on Figures 37 and 38 all corroborate with our previous finding – the highest LPE Score (Above Average) row has the highest number of impressions using 2, 3 and 4 terms in keywords. This holds true for the breakdown of impressions for other LPE scores. Impressions start to go down from 5 terms upward.
Our results show that keywords containing more words have higher LPE Scores than those with fewer terms (p < .05). Our statistical test proves this direct correlation (0.013) at the .05 level of significance. This implies that more terms in a keyword are more targeted so expect lower impressions. Clicks could also be lower but for as long as your CTR is high, QS will not be negatively affected.
Landing Page Experience is identified as the single most important element of QS, so one we need to understand fully and focus on optimizing.
For the best likelihood of an Above Average LPE score
One page per ad group
Make sure your page loads quickly
Encourage interaction on the page to drive bounce rate down
Ensure that you include keywords in the critical page source elements of Page Title, Meta Description, H1-3 tags and your body text
Create tight ad groups whereby it is possibly for one page to achieve the metatagging above.
There are some interesting special cases of QS in Google worth some attention of their own due to their real-life relevance.
Let’s look at:
Near me – search queries. In theory, these should be hard to score well for.
Brand campaigns – you might expect these to be QS 10’s all the way. After all, if you can’t score 10 for your own brand – then what can you score 10 for?
Competitor campaigns – in theory, QS here should suck. But does it?
The Near Me Paradox
Why describe “near me” keywords as a paradox. Well, it’s because in theory at least they should be hard to score well in QS. Because:
To write a relevant ad you would need to include the phrase “near me” – which is really difficult.
Similarly, you would expect to need the keywords on the landing pages.
Below you can see an analysis of the “near me” search terms and the number of them that had associated “near me” ads in the ad group.
Table 10. Distribution of Number of “Near Me” Phrases in Ad Copies
Table 10 shows the use of the “near me” phrase in ads for “near me” keywords. Almost 92% of our ads do not contain the phrase and the rest (8%) typically, the phrase is used once in the ad. There are a few exceptions where about 3% of the total ads use the phrase more than once.
It’s not surprising that this is the case
On the other hand, our “near me” keywords are only 1.8% of our total keyword population. So we’re not talking about a big issue here but an important one for local businesses.
When we examine their QS, we get the following results.
Somewhat against our expectations, QS for “near me” keywords has a higher average QS than the “all keywords” population and this difference is statistically significant (p < .05) at the .05 level of significance!
This makes no sense as it does not fit what we’ve seen elsewhere in relation to ad relevance and yet here we are.
Essentially, “near me” is NO different to any other keyword or search term that better meets Google’s published support information.
Why is that?
Well to be honest we don’t exactly know. We haven’t specifically tested but it seems that Google interprets the “near me” phrase as a special case, and scores them more highly than it does other non-matched keywords.
So don’t be afraid, start using your “near me”’s wherever appropriate.
To Brand or Not To Brand – That Is The Question
You would expect branded keywords to kick ass when it comes to QS. After all, there are few words more likely to feature throughout your ad copy and landing page than your own brand, and no easier click to win than a branded one.
Now in testing for this, we have to be honest and admit to a potential weakness in our approach. As it’s very difficult to know in every account at scale, what is a brand and what isn’t, we simplified our approach to this test. We filtered campaigns into those that indicated “Branded” or “Non-Branded” in their campaign name, and assumed that the contents of the campaign were actually branded keywords. We know it’s imprecise but in absence of a more robust approach we felt it would suffice at least for this test.
In our data, keywords in branded campaigns only accounted for around 7% of all the keywords in our population.
Unsurprisingly – branded campaigns significantly outscore non-branded in terms of average QS. Figure 43 shows that the average QS for Branded Keywords is 4.88 while Non-Branded Keywords have lower average QS (4.04). That’s a 21% uplift, in case you think the difference is small.
On the other hand, for some people there is always the “I don’t want to bid on my own brand” argument. “I’m at the top of organic”. I get it, but let’s look at another important aspect – the account as a whole.
Here’s the difference in average keyword QS across the whole account, between accounts that are running a brand campaign and those that aren’t.
So, we know that having a branded campaign in your account creates a halo across your whole account. It isn’t just the branded search terms that see a higher QS. Everything else scores better.
To double the validity of our previous result, we did another round of test by excluding QS = 0 from our dataset and found the same outcome (Figure 44). This further proves that “branded” keywords indeed have significantly higher average QS than “non-branded” keywords.
Note though, the difference is even more dramatic. The average (non-null) QS for branded terms is 7.65 – 67% higher than for non-branded terms.
There is little QS argument for not bidding on branded keywords. There might be commercial reasons not to do so though.
Branded keywords have a substantial impact on QS across the account. Not only do they carry a QS 67% higher on average than non-branded keywords but the average QS across the whole account when it includes a branded campaign is 21% as a result of a halo effect.
Based on what we have observed for CPC this difference could result in average CPC’s that are at least 8% cheaper across the whole account.
Don’t pick them pick me
When it comes to bidding on competitor terms, other than trademarks there is nothing to stop you. And of course there are lots of views on both sides of the fence whether bidding on competitor terms is good or bad.
We’ll leave the commercial debate to one side, but let’s at least look at the QS implications of a competitor campaign.
If you want to bid on competitors, expect QS to be – well let’s just say “not nice”. Take a look at our real data:
Now you might be able to run competitor campaigns profitably and power to you if you can. But just as brand campaigns give the whole account the benefit of a high QS halo, competitor campaigns carry a penalty across your whole account as evidenced by the lower average QS (2.05) against non-competitors’ average QS (4.10).
The range of QS ratings for keywords with competitor terms are short (from 0 to 3) while keywords with non-competitor terms are longer (0 to 7). This means that there’s a higher probability of getting higher QS ratings (4 and above) with non-competitor keywords.
This penalty has been proven by the significant difference between keywords with competitor terms and keywords without competitor terms. Based on our tests, non-competitor keywords perform significantly better (p < .05) than those with competitor terms at the .05 level of significance.
Competitor keywords have an average QS of 2.05, 50% of the average of non-competitor keywords in the same sample, and carry an average CPC premium of +$0.67.
Worse though, there is a penalty “negative halo” that we have observed across accounts that contain competitor campaigns.
Given what we already know in terms of the price benefit of improving QS, you can anticipate a premium on your average CPC of +12% across your entire account. That’s a big price to pay unless your account profitability depends on your competitor campaigns.
You might want to consider two options:
Move competitor campaigns to an entirely separate Google Ads account and make sure you are not breaking any Terms of Service with accidental double-serving.
Be extra careful with your negative keywords to avoid accidental competitor targeting.
Here’s our evidence driven guide on action steps for QS. These are based on:
All-Prioritizing impact areas
As we know that Landing page experience has the highest impact – start here. And within that we recommend the changes that we have identified as the biggest impact.
Then, move on to Expected CTR and repeat.
Finally, tackle ad relevance.
So: let’s wrap this up with some action steps:
Getting past null
Null is your enemy. It is the home of high click costs, and should be considered a transitory state that you need to get through as quickly as possible.
Create a branded campaign
Heavily negative competitors
Make your ads super clickable, including your keyword (it’s easy – it’s your brand)
Follow the steps below to get your landing page in good shape
Then add proven, high-value converting keywords. Give them plenty of budget to get their required impressions (300 phrase, exact, 2,000 broad) as quickly as possible
Gradually add more keywords
Get your keywords in the source of your page – titles, descriptions and h1-3 in particular. But remember – don’t spoil the human experience. You can’t bank Quality Score.
Aim to engage the user so that they don’t bounce.
Make the page load as fast as possible
Create engagement devices so they click something that leads to an Analytics event.
Expected ClickThough Rate
The key action here is to use copy to drive your CTR. Keep it engaging, valuable and make the call-to-action as strong as possible. Of course, make sure you deliver on the Landing Page.
Keep your Ad Groups small enough such that each keyword in your ad group can trigger a highly relevant ad (and that the keyword can feed through to the landing page).
Use strong negatives to avoid irrelevant searches
Get your keywords in your ad copy
Test Responsive Search Ads
Make sure that you are running some of your spend on a branded campaign, your whole account will benefit with a reduction in average QS and therefore average CPC.
Consider the whole account QS penalty carefully when considering competitor campaigns. Only start one if you are prepared to pay a 12% across your whole account.
“Near me” is a special case, and you should consider it for local businesses.
And that’s almost it for this report …
What Don’t We Know
There are still things that we don’t know after all the testing and analyses we’ve done. We’ll revisit this report in due course and see where we think the biggest opportunities for further analysis exist.
Impact of previous account experience, i.e., possible QS of new keywords in old ad groups
Impact on Ad Relevance scores of the following variables:
Size of ad group
Consistency of words in ad group (ie a few core words with variants)
Ad formats (e.g., New Dynamic Ads)
Influences of the following variables on Landing Page Experience scores:
Phone number on page
Indexability of the ad landing page
Differences in the % of ad spend on keywords with and without the “near me” phrase
Differences in the % of ad spend on competitor vs non-competitor keywords
Differences in the % of ad spend on branded vs non-branded keywords
Wow… What a difference four months can bring. But before we jump into EVERYTHING that has happened during this time, I have an apology to make…
“I’ve just been SO busy”
I am tempted to say this, but we all know that there is no such thing as being “too busy” and only such thing as being “too busy for a specific thing“.
I this case I was “too busy” to continue with our daily podcast and monthly blog post.
Though the radio silence did not actually occur because I didn’t have the time… it happened because so much has changed in the Virtual Valley world that I wanted to wait until we had some clarity around the situation before sharing it with the world.
By the end of this post, you will be aware of EXACTLY what has changed and what this means for the future of Virtual Valley… and let’s just say…
We are very excited for what is to come.
Back in with the Goal Pyramid:
As you can see, we didn’t make a huge amount of progress with some goals, though did make steady progress with others:
MRR/Hours Charged – Both of these have been either maintaining month on month or have decreased slightly, with the reason for this being that I have been tied up in the negotiation of the partnership that I believe will see the platform growth significantly over the next year.
More on this later in the post…
Blog Subscribers – Again, slow growth over the past few month due to a lack of focus from my part, though leveraging the marketing prowess of Virtual Valley’s new partner, this metric should also experience further growth over the next 12 months.
Guest Content Spots – Interestingly this figure still continued to grow regardless of the lack of focus… partly due to the fact that there is a lag time between creating the content and it being posted but also due to the fact that once you have “influencer” status, you get invited on a weekly basis to contribute to roundup posts… that do provide some traffic and quality links.
To summarise ALL of those numbers and to give a clear picture of the core metric movement over the past few months, this is the graph you need:
Now you are clear about the numbers, let me communicate to you EXACTLY what has happened over the past 4 months…
After spending 10 months of my life building, organising and marketing the Virtual Valley platform, I decided that if we were to hit our ambitious goal of selling the platform for $4 Million in 2 years… we were going to need some help.
More specifically, help to scale my marketing efforts, which would bring in the much needed cash in the short term to allow us to improve the experience for our Entrepreneurs & VA’s, which would in turn bring more revenue.
Now, I think I’m pretty sweet at marketing… but only a specific field…
Bootstrapping growth through content and social media (as I documented in this post).
I’ve done this for many businesses…
What I have not mastered is SEO and paid traffic.
What if I could somehow incentivise a parter that has massive experience in these areas, which would then allow me to continue my bootstrapping methods and also manage the development of the platform?
Well this is exactly what has happened.
And this is the reason why you have heard radio silence until now.
Our partnership has been formed, the legals are in place… and we are now ready to blast off.
More details on this partnership, how to build such partnerships yourself and most importantly HOW to find the right partners coming up on this blog and the podcast over the coming months.
Let’s just say that the pro’s have arrived… and that things are going to change around here going forward 😉
And of course, don’t worry, everything that we are about to do to explode Virtual Valley is going to be documented right here, so you can do the same… if you wish.
Three Key Learnings
1. You Must Find The Right People
I used to think that I could do it all alone.
And then I started to look back at off of humanities achievements that I admire:
The light bulb
Each of these were not created by a GROUP of people, NOT by a semi talented individual.
This was the driving factor behind Virtual Valley’s new partnership… and how that pans out, remains to be seen 😉
2. Empower Management
You can see from the figures above the Virtual Valley’s metric progression has been slow over the recent months.
And the reason why becomes clear when you understand that the total amount of time that I have invested IN the business (there is a difference between working in the business as opposed to on the business as we know from this post) has been close to 0 hours over the past 4 months.
Now if I had been spending the majority of my time as a manager or a technician during the period between Virtual Valley’s launch and June, then the platform surely would have collapsed.
I had trained AND empowered a responsible and competent leader to manage the day to day running of the business to allow me to work on the business (developing our new partnership).
3. Be More Than Just A Business
When you form a greater purpose around your business… you will find it much easier to attract equally passionate customers and partners.
Without our purpose and personality that we inject into the Virtual Valley platform, do you think we would have been able to do so much with our limited resources?
Or managed to secure a partnership with a group of highly talented marketers?
I am not sure.
If you are struggling to get the word out or to get replies to your partnership outreach mails… then maybe it’s time to start thinking about why you exist.
As mentioned above, I have been pretty much non-existent WITHIN the Virtual Valley business for the past 4 months, though our numbers remain solid and we are still helping tens of VA’s and Entrepreneurs each day.
How did we manage this?
We have a solid and consistent manager/leader that is completely competent at running the Virtual Valley platform without my direct input.
If you have been following our journey for any period of time, you have probably experienced my incessant outreach attempts in order to build early traffic and links to this very blog, in fact most of them are listed here.
It’s been a hard and transformation journey.
And just 10 days ago, something incredible happened.
For the first time ever…
Virtual Valley was linked to and included on a HIGH PR blog… with NO outreach!
I used to think viral giveaways were cheesy and that the lack of list quality built through this method was not worth the hassle…
And then I spoke with my good friend Kieran at Maitre and he persuaded me to roll out a giveaway for another project.
And we smashed it.
100’s of emails addresses for a minimal investment… and guess what? The leads generated from the contest CONVERTED.
Now my viewpoint has changed considerably.
So, if you want to double/triple or even quadruple your list for a minimal investment, I highly suggest you click this link and take advantage of Maitre’s outrageously simple to use software.
Three Key Focus Areas
1. Initial Paid Growth
Taking advantage of the marketing prowess of our new partners, we will commence to drive paid traffic (primarily through Facebook) to Virtual Valley, which will drive an increase in revenue AND actionable data to determine how the platform can be improved.
That said, we are still aware that previous feedback has suggested that the two areas need to be worked upon: VA Quality and Ease Of Use.
This is where this fresh burst of cash will be invested.
2. One Single New Metric
To take a leaf out of Y Combinator’s book, going forward Virtual Valley will be tracking JUST 1 single metric that the whole team agree on and will review each and everyday.
Early discussions show that this metric will be: Total Hours Charged.
As this reflects both new business AND engagement (so we don’t just focus on driving new growth without understanding how “leaky our bucket is”).
I would strongly recommend that your business does the same (if you are not doing so already).
3. The Complete Funnel
It seems likely that the current product/service that you are working on is simply your core product.
And that there are offers that could be made both prior to AND after a core product purchase that increase the ability of your customer to reach the end goal that they are striving for.
With this in mind, we will commence to built out other offerings to support out perfect customer, these could be “done for you” packages OR even information products focussed on the Virtual Assistant niche.
Keep your eyes peeled…
Another host of unforeseen events have been and gone over the past 4 months…
Much has changed, people have been and gone and clients have been won and lost.
But what remains?
We still have 1 hungry entrepreneur, 1 awesomely consistent virtual assistant manager and one new extremely competent marketing partner…
All striving towards that same goal:
To give Entrepreneurs back 1 million hours of their time by January 2018.
Will we do it?
Only time will tell, so you better keep watching 😉
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just wasting your time?
Like, everything you do is not actually helping any person or any business?
It’s as if the business child you have just given birth to didn’t exist, no one would care?
Though it may sound extreme, this is a common problem for startup founders…
Here’s an extract from Ben Horowitz: The Hard Thing About Hard Things:
“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”
The reason I raise this is that it was the feeling I got when I checked our May Revenue forecast after the booming, best ever month for Virtual Valley in April.
Less than half…
Here are the goals we are working towards for the next 2 years:
And metrics from the past month:
MRR/Hours Charged – A significant reduction in the amount of hours charged and therefore MRR through the platform from April, this was mainly due to technical glitches in the marketplace driving the churn of a couple of key Entrepreneurs plus inactivity on the marketing side with resources tied with with AskTina.
Blog Subscribers – If you follow our podcast, you will aware that I spent some time learning more about opt in rates and list building, and then used this knowledge to destroy our optin rate, to be continued…
Guest Content Spots – I am still participating in and hunting down podcast interview opportunities, couple this with the weekly requests for us to submit to expert roundup blog posts should see us hit the target of 100 guest content spots by the end of June.
Twitter Followers – As per our learnings from #garyvee last week, we will discontinuing this vanity metric in Q3 despite the steady growth and my account almost reaching 10k (real) followers:
Anyway, after re-watching the Y-Combinator course: “How To Start A Startup”, I decided to analyse some more meaningful metrics to try and derive some learnings from the data we have collated over the past 5 months:
Note the steep drop of total revenue and hours in the month of May. The Virtual Valley revenue continued to rise due to the sale of a $497 sponsorship package for the 0-$4 Million podcast.
The amount of Entrepreneurs that have signed up and have used the platform to charge time with one or more Virtual Assistants each month since launch:
And the amount of Entrepreneurs that have signed up, charged time with one or more Virtual Assistants and then stopped the next month (churn):
The churn rate of 30% in May suggests that we may be yet to reach product-market fit.
Over the next two months, we will be hiring a part time PHP developer to work with the qualitative and quantitative feedback from this survey to improve:
The user interface and experience of the hiring process for our Entrepreneurs
The ability of our Entrepreneurs to derive insights from our tracking software
As we believe that the reason for our high churn rate is simple:
Our Entrepreneurs are not able to derive value worth equal to or more than the 20% salary uplift we charge, and if Virtual Valley is to scale into a thriving platform, this needs to change.
In other news, our Net Promoter Score is currently 6.38, this will be tracked over time.
And then mixed results to this question:
When selling a business, the new owner/owners will look to see how independent the system is from the current owner (more independent the business, the lower the risk associated with the transfer of ownership).
Thus, the results above show that both I AND our existing customers have been instrumental in driving new signups.
If this system is ultimately to be sold, I need to find a way to reduce it’s reliance on me.
Three Key Learnings
1.MORE SKILLS NEED TO BE LEARNT/ACQUIRED
We have successfully built and launched an online marketplace with approximately a $5k investment to $1k per month in revenue. Our current skillset have enabled us to reach this stage.
“What gets you from A to B, does not get you from B to C”
In order to take Virtual Valley to the next level, I or someone that I hire needs to either have or develop the following skills:
User interface design
Extreme product management
Membership site set up
Information product creation
Once we have this skill set in place, have optimized Virtual Valley for the Entrepreneurial experience and have built the best Virtual Assistant training program that exists in the world today, reaching our next revenue goal will become a triviality.
Moving forward to scale to the $4k revenue projected for the end of 2017, assuming product market fit has been achieved, the following skills will be required:
Referral program set up
2. “THIS IS THE REAL WORLD HOMIE, SCHOOL FINISHED…”
Yes, that is a Kayne West lyric.
It became brutally apparent this month that being an Entrepreneur and starting a startup occurs in the real world.
If you are not contributing enough value to the environment, you will either die from lack of resources or be eaten by a competitor.
This is not sitting within a 400k person corporation, where the total amount of value provided per month can reach billions, though is not averaged evenly amongst the human resources, allow those that do not create the value to be sheltered from reality.
3. SEO IS A LONG TERM GAME
Check this out:
Despite the fact that the actual Virtual Valley domain itself: http://virtualvalley.io/ has little on-page SEO optimisation, we have still seen some love from Google re. a couple of significant keywords:
And with the help of the awesome SEO tool: Ahref’s (our podcast sponsor) and some hardcore link building, we expect our ranking for further search terms to increase dramatically.
Three Key People
In this edition of Three Key People I have select three very young and promising online entrepreneurs that we have interacted with recently, I would highly recommend bookmarking and checking in on their progress over the next few years…
Stephen is a young AND very advanced internet marketer, to help others become as successfully as himself, he built this BEEFY list of online tools that any marketer should be using that I highly recommend checking out, he is also an online sales funnel ninja.
Tung built his first WordPress site when he was 13, he’s now 20 and is tracking his journey to a $10k a month online business on his blog: Cloud Living. We collaborated on a couple of pieces of content (including him mentioning us in his Simple Virtual Assistant System), if you are trying to build an online business, I highly recommend going to check his stuff out.
We usually share three key tools of the month in this section…
However, the full month I have almost been completely focussed on learning how to boost organic Google rankings with a BIG tool that any online business should probably want to be using if they are serious about SEO: Ahrefs.
To learn more about what we are actually doing with Ahrefs, check out this podcast episode and lookout for a interview with Tim Soulo, Head Of Marketing at Ahrefs and a full brutally honest review of what has been achieved with the Ahrefs tool over the three months we will be using it.
Three Key Focus Areas
1. UPGRADING VIRTUAL VALLEY BASED ON FEEDBACK
I had this as a focus area for May, however, we made no progress.
I guess this was becuase we were basking in glow of Virtual Valley’s best month EVER in April. Couple this with a lack of focus on the platform with AskTina’s emergence, it feels like Virtual Valley has been neglected (Here is a post about Tina’s early startup traction).
But no more…
Now we have the results of our survey, it is clear what needs to be done:
Virtual Valley’s users interface AND experience must improve to support our Entrepreneurs to give back 1 million hours of their time by January 2018.
2. INCREASING VA QUALITY
As the second “most frustrating thing” about the current Virtual Valley service, we must increase the quality of Virtual Assistants that are registered and available for work on the platform.
Now, there are two ways we could approach this:
a. Invest heavily in recruitment – just as we did prior to launch (as described in this post), we could head out and recruit more awesome assistants.
b. We could create the best training program for Virtual Assistants that exists anywhere in the world to attract new Virtual Assistants. Only those Virtual Assistants that have passed through the training would have access to the platform.
As well as increasing the quality of the Virtual Assistants on the platform, this will also form an additional profit centre for the business.
3. LINK BUILDING TO INCREASE ORGANIC TRAFFIC FOR KEY KEYWORDS
Now we have secured the number 1 ranking positions for “virtual valley”, we are turning our focus to ranking for a number of highly potent keywords for our industry:
virtual assistant philippines
hire a virtual assistant
filipino virtual assistant
hire a filipino virtual assistant
Through onsite optimisation of blog posts, specific pages within the marketplace itself and some tactical link building we plan to reach page 1 for each of these by the end of Q3. Progress will be tracked in upcoming podcast episodes.
Let me take you back to the question I raised at the start of this post:
“Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just wasting your time?”
As you may expect, the answer is a resounding… No.
Therefore, we decided to build the definitive guide to virtual assistants from the Philippines that collates ALL of the best information concerning this topic from the best blogs and websites around the internet.
To bring clarity, we have broken down this subject into the following topics:
Chapter 1: What’s The Point?
Why bother going through all of the hassle recruiting, managing and dealing with all of the issues around outsourcing some of your work to a virtual assistant? Surely, it would be much simpler (and cheaper) to just do all of the work yourself?
Let’s find out…
Why Use A Virtual Assistant From The Philippines?
And then why specifically should you work with a VA from the Philippines? Why not India or even a Virtual Assistant within your own country?
Chapter 2: How To Hire, Train & Manage Your VA For Maximum Efficiency
Now you have made the decision to invest time and resources into outsourcing some of your workload to the Philippines, you need to know EXACTLY how to hire, train and manage your team, if you are going to be successful.
How To Hire AWESOME Virtual Assistants
Should you use freelancer marketplaces, Virtual Assistant recruitment services or complete outsource service businesses to build you virtual team?
Chapter 3: Your Relationship With Your Virtual Assistant
From my experience of working with virtual staff for the past 5 years, I have realised first hand that if you have the ability to develop a win-win employer to employee relationship with your virtual assistant… your entrepreneurial life will be MUCH easier.
But What Should Your Virtual Assistant ACTUALLY do?
OK, this all make sense, you should hire a virtual assistant… But what tasks and processes will they operate in your business?
Travel to the Philippines to meet Zandro and the boiz in person for the FIRST time
And despite these “distractions” the platform actually saw it’s largest month on month growth, but how?
Let’s find out…
A reminder of the goals that we are working towards over the next two years:
And each metric we are tracking along the way:
MRR/Hours Charged – We saw strong growth in MRR and Hours Charged towards the end of April to reach $5,223 for the platform by the end of the month which equates to 47% of the monthly revenue goal we have for July of this year as shown by the pyramid above (more detail in this podcast episode).
Blog Subscribers – We grew by just 25 over the month hitting 23% of the quarterly goal, expect significant growth during the month of May as I focus further on content for the Virtual Valley Blog.
Guest Content Spots – Steady growth in guest content spots which puts us well on the way to hitting 100 by the end of the quarter, this will give a solid foundation of traffic and SEO as we move to marketing Phase 2.
Twitter Followers – As per our learnings from #garyvee last week, we will discontinuing this vanity metric in Q3 despite the steady growth.
In other news, podcast downloads seem to be increasing slightly on average:
And finally, I made a cute little graph to show our progression in hours charged and revenue since launch day:
In addition, we also released:
With Tina, the mission of the company remains the same:
To give Entrepreneurs back 1 million hours of their time by 2018.
Yet, we believe we are solving the “management problem” to a greater extent than with Virtual Valley.
Tina is effectively a “black hole” for admin tasks, essentially eradicating the requirement for an entrepreneur to manage a virtual assistant. Both direct and indirect feedback from our current entrepreneurs has shown that this is one of the biggest challenges our entrepreneurs are facing with outsourcing.
Since launch day (learn about our launch plan in this podcast episode), 29 Slack Teams have integrated her and 4 of these have subscribed to Tina at $197 per month (for unlimited small admin tasks 24/5).
This has been achieved with a total of 4 hours promotion from myself (more on this in a later blog post).
So we are now left with a quality problem…
Which validated business model should we focus on?
Wil (our new technical cofounder) and I discussed this at length in the past week and have decided to continue with both business models and then review growth at the end of the quarter.
That said, going forward we will combine and track the combined MRR and Hours Charged metrics for both business models.
Three Key Learnings
MEET YOUR VIRTUAL TEAM IN PERSON
In April, I went to Hong Kong to set up a bank account for our new parent company: One Million Hours Limited:
And how could I NOT jump over to the Philippines to see the team that I had been working with (virtually) for the past 8 months.
Here is Zandro (Virtual Valley Manager) and his assistant Stephen:
And even during this past week since I have returned to Europe, the productivity efficiencies gained through the deepening of the relationship have become apparent.
Therefore, if you have the opportunity, I would strongly recommend to meet regularly with your virtual team.
2. ALWAYS LOOK FOR GROWTH HACKING OPPORTUNITIES
As will be shared fully in an upcoming blog post…
We managed to get 45 Entrepreneurs to integrate our new Slackbot Tina into their Slack Teams with a grand total of 4 hours of my time spent on promotion on launch day.
We drove people from the Virtual Valley audience, Facebook and Slack Communities to our Product Hunt entry that was posted by an awesome influencer (See Jeffrey Needles below).
However, I don’t believe any of those actions were directly responsible for the 45 signs ups (and 4 customers), I believe that there is something else at play…
This is the message that Tina sends to ALL members of a Slack Team when she is integrated.
To make this clear, one person within the Slack Team clicks the two links required to integrate Tina as we automatically get exposure to the full team (sometimes up to 500 people)?
This is the reason for our organic growth with minimal effort (and is also the reason that Apple adds: “Sent from iPhone” to the end of all your emails sent from your phone).
3. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY BIAS TOWARDS ACTION
We had the idea for Tina 3 weeks ago, now she is live and we have 4 paying customers
2 weeks ago we thought it would be a good idea to register a parent company in Hong Kong, now we have a parent company set up in Hong Kong.
We had the idea for the 0-$4 Million podcast, 30 days later we were #1 in iTunes New & Noteworthy for business:
And all becuase we try to maintain a bias toward actions when we believe we have enough information to make a decision.
It seems to me that the success of an entrepreneur (or any person) hinges almost exclusively on their ability to direct their focus.
Your focus is your biggest asset and must be protected stringently against the external time vampires (your friends, Facebook and phone) if you are going to be able build a sustainable business.
The fortunate thing is that you don’t actually have to invest a massive amount of focussed time in order to get ahead (as so many people don’t actually invest any focussed time themselves).
To ensure that I am able to invest focussed time into projects like Virtual Valley and AskTina is due to the fact that I carefully track my focussed time with a simplistic desktop app called: Pomodoro One.
I have the settings tuned to:
10 Min Rest
50 Min Focus
30 Min Rest
Bearing in mind that focussed work is without email, Slack, Skype, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin… the list goes on.
If I achieve 2 full cycles of the above in 1 day, it is deemed a success.
Three Key Focus Areas
1. ASKTINA MARKETING
We reached the dizzying height of 4 customers paying the monthly rate of $197 in 10 days with just 4-6 hours of my time in promotion.
Now we have secured the delivery of Tina’s tasks, we can look to grow this number of subscribed customers significantly during the month of May, but how?
Tina has no blog, Twitter handle or even email form submission on her site, though what she does have is the ability to direct message all of the people within the Slack Team that she is integrated into.
And if we supercharge this growth hack with a double sided referral schemed fueled by free tasks, I believe Tina can grow to 10 paid Slack Teams by the end of Q2.
2. ASKTINA DELIVERY
As per the growth forecasted above, Tina will need to have a solid delivery model in order to deal with this influx of tasks.
Currently tasks are delivered through Tina with the following model:
Automation – Tina speaks with Entrepreneur to gather task info
Admin – Clarifies task requirements and either completes the task if has capacity/delegates to an assistant
Virtual Assistant – Completes the task and returns to the admin for review
We currently have just one admin shift in place during our busiest time (80% of tasks are submitted to Tina during PST office hours) meaning that tasks are just completed by ad-hoc assistants during downtime.
As we grow, we will need 1 or more admins working 24/5 with a pool of assistants waiting in the wings to pick up tasks. The whole model will also need to be built into a flawless system that operates completely independently of Tina’s two founders.
3. UPGRADING VIRTUAL VALLEY BASED ON FEEDBACK
And don’t worry, we haven’t forgot the platform that we started this journey with…
Over the next month we will be requesting feedback from each of our 19 paying customers in the month of April and will prioritise the updates to be made to improve the Virtual Valley experience.
In summary a solid month with steady revenue growth and an exciting new addition to the team: Tina.
And interesting contrast in business model between Tina (productised service) and Virtual Valley (online marketplace) led Tina to almost eclipsing Virtual Valley’s monthly revenue figures in a fraction of the time.
Though will Tina eventually become profitable?
Currently she is not at the $197 price point with 4 paying customers.
Will we need to increase price or invest further in marketing to boost customers?
Find out next month…
If you are sat there thinking:
“I don’t really care about your startup, I just want to outsource some stuff so that my business can grow…”
I choose to use Virtual Assistant’s because there are not enough hours in the day for me to do everything that needs to be done.
Personally? I still get just as much done as I did before I was using Virtual Assistants. But overall – way more stuff gets done in my business. Instead of doing all of the writing and various tasks – I instead spend my time managing a small team to do most of it for me.
We’ve been working with our small team of VA’s in the Philippines for years and they’ve become an integral part of our organization.
Once we have established Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) we’re able to hand over the day-to-day work to our team in the Philippines. Constantly replacing ourselves allows us to continue to grow exponentially.
I has become impossible to keep on top of everything without assistance.
Many tasks that would not be done at all due to time constraints can be accomplished – provided I can make the time to train the VA to do them.Once trained, specific tasks can be more consistently completed.
Low cost, scalable solution for getting things done.
Having virtual assistants has allowed me to outsource large blocks of repetitive work, saving countless hours over the last 7 years.
In many cases I’ve hired VAs who are part of an agency that handles many clients, which allows me to scale up or down as needed without taking on the burden of hiring full-time staff. Agency VAs can handle a few hours a week up to full-time+ when business is booming.
Hiring VAs is a good option when on a strict budget, or any time you can’t automate with technology (e.g. a developer or Zapier.com).
I’ve also used VAs extensively for personal research and scheduling tasks (e.g. finding the best hotel or Airbnb accommodation for a specific trip).
Impossible to run a successful business without one IMO so it’s a necessity.
It free’s up more time for me to focus on money tasks….or be lazy. :/
OK, now I’m not going to comment on each of these separate opinion as I am sensing a common theme…
Each of these top online players have certain abilities AND tasks that they enjoy doing, are good at doing and will have the biggest impact on their business.
And probably the only reason that they are reached such heights in their respective markets (an average of 9632 followers on Twitter) is becuase of their ability to focus on these tasks over the long term becuase they are NOT handling menial, low $ value tasks that could be completed by a competent and experienced Virtual Assistant.
But what are they actually outsourcing?
Of course, I also went on to enquire as to what each of these players are using their Virtual Assistant for:
It seems as though that in order to really start pushing boundaries in your industry, become an influencer in your marketplace and to truly add value to a large amount of people, you need to join the 61% of these top online players and start outsourcing your general admin tasks.
If you want to take the first step on your journey to becoming THAT person and building THAT business, head to this page or click on Zandro’s face:
Start a conversation with him (or his assistant, Stephen), give brief outline of the tasks you are looking to outsource and we will pair you with a competent and experienced Virtual Assistant to get you started building your success system TODAY.
You will note that our blog subscriber and MRR revenue goals are still marked as red, and thus are at risk of not being completed by the deadline. Though we have more confidence about our content marketing and working procedure goals.
The table above tracks these goals at a more granular level, we have made steady improvements through each metric but not at the rate that is required to hit the stretch goals that we set. Regardless, we will continue striving forward.
Whilst MRR has been rising steadily since we launched, I have yet to find a scalable method to increase signups on the blog, any ideas? Tweet us.
I have taken a breather with regards to guest content spots but will be using Ninja Outreach over the next couple of months to land further podcast interviews (will share the results of course ;)).
With the influx of customer support inquiries and recruitment requests for Zandro, we have decided to pause blog commenting. Stephen is doing a FANTASTIC job managing and growing our Twitter presence and we have not invested any further time into creating Working Procedures this month.
Three Key Learnings
1. A BIG PODCAST LAUNCH WON’T SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS
I was happy with the launch, but as you can see from the download statistics above, an awesome launch does not guarantee sustained listener growth. I did not invest any further time in promoting the podcast during February partly to see what would happen to download figures and partly as I had other areas to focus on.
Moving forward I will be investing more time in promotion and we will be reviewing this effort in these monthly updates.
A SIGNIFICANT portion of my time this month was invested in managing freelance developers to improve the Virtual Valley experience for both Entrepreneurs & Virtual Assistants.
However, if we are to hit our ambitious monthly revenue goals, I need to invest my time 100% in the marketing of the platform to Entrepreneurs.
I would be prepared to give away up to 40% of Virtual Valley to the right person, as I see this as a crucial role as we look to differentiate our offering from other marketplaces and Virtual Assistant services to command a higher purchase price when we do eventually decided to sell the company.
I sent this plain text email to 1,900 startup owners:
Quick one, as I know you’re busy…
Just stumbled upon [[startup name]], and thought I would drop you a quick mail to explain how I think I can help you grow.
We recently launched Virtual Valley: a marketplace connecting startups and virtual assistants based in the Philippines. We have spent 4 months recruiting a database of the best VA’s that are hungry to enable startup founders such as yourself, spend more time working ON your business and not IN your business.
We have just moved out of Beta and are looking to bring just a couple of new startups to the demand side of the platform.
As I think that what you guys are doing is pretty cool, I would be happy to have a 30 minute, 1 on 1 consultation with you/your operations guy to deep dive into the tasks and processes that you could potentially outsource to maximise productivity and cost savings.
As a background, I spent 3 years working on large outsourcing projects with Accenture and have been outsourcing with startups for 2 further years, so know a thing or two about this stuff! Plus my hourly consulting rate is normally $100 😉
Furthermore, as we are in the early stages of our journey and would really value your feedback on our platform, we would offer you 1 month WITHOUT the Virtual Valley charge, this would reduce your investment in the salary of your new Virtual Assistant by 20%.
Before we jump into why I think this mail converted so well, let’s have a look at one of the responses:
The mail was sent less than 24 hours ago and we have already had 26 responses and ONLY 1 of them suggested that they knew the mail was automated.
A number of them enquired about our services and a couple of them have already gone on to create a Virtual Valley account and even hire Virtual Assistants, sort of like free revenue right? (Apart from the costs to build the email list and mailing software).
Here are the three reasons why I think this mail converted so well:
1. Build Value
I built the value of myself, Virtual Valley and the offer by making the following true statements:
That I used to work for Accenture
That my consulting rate is usually $100 per hour
That we are looking to take on just a couple of new clients
We have just come out of Beta e.g. people have already used us and we are a startup just like you
Offered an exclusive discount
Think about ways that you make make your offer more valuable to your prospect.
2. Sneaky Personalisation
The mail was sent in plain text to increase the personal feel, I also personalised the Founder Name and Startup Name naturally in the mail and made sure that the link was not tracked so it was pretty hard to tell that the email was automated.
3. Take The Perspective Of The Lead
Scroll up and review the first two sentences of the email again..
I am basically saying that I am not a normal spammer as I understand that they are busy AND that I want to help them with their biggest frustration as an early stage startup: growth.
To increase the amount of people reading your cold emails you MUST open the mail whilst talking from their perspective and NOT start talking about yourself straight away.
Three Key People
MARREN KATE (FOUNDER OF ZIRTUAL)
When looking for individuals in this world that have actually done what we are trying to do, there is no one better suited than the Founder of Zirtual: Marren Kate.
I reached out to Marren through her blog: and she generously agreed to a 1 hour Skype Call.
I will not go into further details here as I covered the majority of our discussion in this podcast episode, but let’s just say it was eye opening.
DAVE NEVOGT (FOUNDER OF HUBSTAFF)
Another individual who has been on a similar journey is Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff Founder. For those of you who are unaware of Hubstaff, I am more than happy to propose that you go and check them out, their time tracking software FAR surpasses what we have built here at Virtual Valley.
I first interacted with Dave on the Hubstaff blog:
I then followed him on Twitter:
And connected with him on LinkedIn:
And then decided to book a Clarity call with him:
My biggest takeaway from the call was the requirement for relevant content marketing. Over the past 4 months I have produced numerous guest blog posts focused on marketing… NOT outsourcing, virtual assistants and systems (the content that supports the Virtual Valley mission). Thus moving forward, Virtual Valley’s content marketing will be more focussed on these topics.
Zapier have been instrumental in our campaign to systemise our lead generation efforts, so much so that I have dedicated a whole podcast episode to how we are using different Zaps to automate different parts of the process, it is being released this week.
And as you are aware, Virtual Valley is looking for a Technical Co-Founder, so I have spent time browsing through different Co-Founder dating sites and have found CoFoundersLab to be the most effective. I have had two conversations with potential Co-Founder’s that I have met through this platform and who knows… maybe they will be the chosen one.
I have spoken with 5 potential co-founders during the past week and will be meeting those that I believe to be suitable IN PERSON later this month and expect to have made a decision and finalised the agreement by the end of March.
2. ENSURING WE CONTINUE TO STAFF THE BEST VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS
As I have stated from Day 1, one of the most important factors that will determine the success of Virtual Valley is our ability to source the BEST Virtual Assistants and connect them with exciting Entrepreneurs.
Our pre-launch recruitment process has been well documented, though we paused recruitment during the January and February as we had a sufficient amount of Virtual Assistants for the demand that we were experiencing. Now we are starting to experience increased demand (we had 12 paying customers during the month of February), we MUST ensure that we continue to provide the best Virtual Assistants possible to ensure we continue to add value to our Entrepreneurs.
3. MAINTAIN CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS WITH EACH PAYING ENTREPRENEUR
As Virtual Valley grows over the coming months, it will be crucial to maintain open and honest communication lines with all of our paying customers (we had 12 in February), for two reasons:
To collect feedback to enable continuous improvement
To ensure that Virtual Valley continues to provide value to the Entrepreneur once the connection has been made to increase chance of referrals AND to reduce churn and platform leakage.
In summary, February was a rollercoaster of a month that saw us DOUBLE the amount of hours charged through the Virtual Valley platform and therefore revenue, we connected with individuals that have done what we are doing and were all confident that it could be achieved AND helped 12 Entrepreneurs to such an extent that they were willing to pay for our service.
Not bad for a bootstrapped online marketplace that has been live for less than 2 months?
That said, we are significantly behind on our Q1 Goals so will be trying everything we can to catch up in the rest of March to try and get us back on track…
Speak then and you have an awesome month.
And finally, you know that one technical friend who is looking to join a PROFITABLE startup? It would be AWESOME if you could click the button below to help us in our search for an AWESOME CoFounder:
In this post, you will learn ALL about how to outsource admin
You wake up, complete your morning ritual to nourish your physical, emotional and intellectual self and then sit down at your laptop…
Open up you inbox and are immediately bombarded by requests from other people.
3 hours later you realise that you have been frantically working on the agenda of others and have created NO value for your marketplace.
The situation above pretty accurately describes an average morning for myself prior to working with Virtual Valley’s Virtual Team Members…
But now, my agenda and schedule has a bodyguard:
My Virtual Assistant
… who is responsible for allowing me to focus on spending my most valuable hours on the tasks that add value to the Virtual Valley community, which ultimately, will lead to the success of the platform.
Thus my question to you is:
How much time per day do you spend creating value for your marketplace?
Becuase if you are spending to much time working to other people’s agenda, could potentially be killing your business.
Now, imagine waking up to a pre-organised and filtered inbox and calendar, this is a wondrous feeling.
It leaves clarity of mind, which you can then use to direct 100% of your effort straight into your most important tasks of the morning.
However, in order to set this up with your virtual team member you need identify strict guidelines:
Folder structure and guidelines
Structuring calendar invites
Your availability for meetings
Emails to unsubscribe to
Emails to respond to
For the following tasks:
Replying to/unsubscribing from and categorising emails
Collating content for your consumption
Monitoring Google Alerts for specific keywords
Scheduling and setting up appointments
To do list creation
My VA will then send me an update for me to review mid way through my work day that will alert me of any truly urgent tasks that require my attention. But remember, by this point I have already invested my most valuable hours into creating value for the Virtual Valley community.
Finally, it is important to note that outsourcing email and calendar management is definitely a learning process and the greatest time rewards will be experienced after a number of months working with your Virtual Team Member.
OK, now you are aware of what needs to be outsourced in relation to your inbox and calendar management, jump over to Step 2 of The Efficient Outsourcing Formula and follow the process.
LEGENDARY customer service can REALLY set you apart from your competitors.
But it get’s better…
You don’t actually have to service the customers yourself to truly realise this benefit, if you outsource effectively.
If you read this post to the end, there should be NO reason why each and everyone of your customers will receive this legendary service, whether you are working, sleeping or laying a beach in Thailand.
And just so that you are aware that Virtual Valley really live and breath AWESOME customer service, here is a direct quote from one of our first Entrepreneurs:
“Virtual Valley has given us a level of service never experienced before in our work with a outsourcing company.” – Arthur Radtke – More Prospects Now
As social media amplifies the effect of word of mouth marketing, it is of paramount importance that your customer experience is flawless.
Now, you may feel that as business owner you are able to provide the best customer support…
And you are probably correct.
However, is that the best use of your time?
Would your customers prefer that you spend 4 hours per day addressing menial support tickets or developing that value new product they have been waiting eagerly for?
Let’s get started:
1. Understand Your Tone Of Voice
How do you want your customers to feel when they interact with your brand?
Exited? Confident? Happy?
Once you are clear on how you want your customers to feel, you can then work on how you will elicit these feelings through your customer service interactions.
With Virtual Valley, we want our customers to feel both secure but relax. It is for this reason that our customer service tone of voice and approach is casual yet re-assuring.
2. Identify Areas Of Customer Contact
Now we need to understand exactly when and where your customers will come to your for support with your product or service.
For Virtual Valley we have the following:
ZopIm (Live chat app on the site)
Email (Responding to autoresponders or contact form submission on the site)
Twitter (Responding to tweets or just reaching out)
3. Understand Key Customer Issues And Build Perfect Responses
There will be certain issues that will surface multiple times, instead of having to deal with these individually, it is a good idea to produce content guides and FAQ’s that you can refer your customers straight to, this saves time for both you and your customer.
For example, when we get question about what our Entrepreneurs could potentially outsource, we can just direct them to the How To Outsource Series page on our blog.
For those issues that it is not possible to cover in a content guide, e.g. refund requests/complaints, build out perfect responses so that each customer that does submit the request will ALWAYS receive a consistent and high quality response.