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5 Essential Skills Every PPC Professional Needs to Have

Want to get ahead in the search engine marketing industry? Learn the top five skills that every PPC professional needs in order to succeed.

5 Essential Skills Every PPC Professional Needs to Have

I might be a bit optimistic, but there are so many possibilities and opportunities within paid search.

The opportunities are limitless.

Don’t believe me?

I did a quick LinkedIn Search for jobs in the U.S. with “paid search” included in the title or description and there are more than 10,000 open postings ranging from entry level search specialists to VP of Search Engine Marketing.

With this in mind, I wanted to share five skills that I think are essential for every search manager to have.

1. Communication

Every marketer needs solid communication skills to survive. This includes:

  • Verbal communication.
  • Written communication.
  • Curiosity.
  • Willingness to ask questions.
  • The ability to listen.

Good writing skills are a must – your words need to be understood and interpreted correctly.

Emotions don’t come across in written communications – or it’s easy for others to misinterpret motions that you may not have intended when writing a communication.

We need to think about how our communication and messages may be received.

Poor written or verbal communication can lead to a waste of time (and money), as well as misunderstandings of thoughts, intentions, and facts.

2. Storytelling

One overlooked still in search marketing is the ability to tell the story of performance and what we are doing and infusing it with data.

Storytelling isn’t just for your brand or your content marketing team.

We love and crave stories –  the human and emotional connection.

In fact, when you tell a story people are more likely to remember what is said because our brains activate in a similar manner when we are reading about an experience and are actually having the experience.

In monthly reports you are doing more than just reporting back on the numbers, you are telling a story of what happened and why and infusing the story with data.

It might not be the personal and emotionally connecting storytelling, but think about telling a story rather than reporting back numbers.

3. Attention to Detail


For a paid search manager – our lives are lived managing and structuring around the details.

Every setting and option:

I’m going to get a bit real. If you’re a pie in the sky creative person who isn’t interested in the little details – paid search most likely isn’t for you.

I’ve managed an in-house team of 18 and an agency with 25 paid search managers — and in both scenarios, there have been significant issues in the accounts managed by individuals who weren’t detail-oriented.

You don’t have to a person who lives by a checklist. It can help, but you need to pay attention to the details. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s, to make sure your accounts are in tip top shape.

There are so many possibilities and so many ways for things to go horribly wrong when a search manager isn’t paying attention to the details.

Don’t believe me?

Here are a few of my favorite examples from my past:

  • I’ve seen a water distribution company whose PPC manager misplaced a decimal point and put a $256-bid into their account instead of a $2.56. Roughly five clicks later their monthly budget was spent.
  • I’ve seen Black Friday ads live in July and Mother’s Day ads reactivated for back-to-school season.
  • I’ve seen French ads to a French version of a U.S. site live in the U.S. because they copied the U.S. campaigns and forgot to update the geotargeting settings.

The little details are important.

4. Analytical Thinking

Data. It’s everywhere and it isn’t going away any time soon.

In fact, we’re on the precipice of accessing even more data as we start to integrate analytical capabilities into more devices. Think: internet of things (IoT), connected car, and smart home speakers.

Search marketers need to be closely monitoring performance data to optimize and improve their search campaigns.

As search professionals, we live in the weeds of the data – digging into Excel sheets ripe with data and insights which leads me to the essential skill of data-driven analysis.

The ability to dive into the data to see the proverbial tree in the forest; however, you also need the ability to step back and see the entire forest.

Often, we get so used to being deep into the data we forget to step back to understand the bigger picture. Within analytical analysis, there are two (and a half) skills set you need.


For the last decade, I’ve been living and breathing in Excel. It’s my go-to tool to quickly look at my performance data so that I can slice it, dice it, and analyze it.

To survive in search you need to be proficient in the language of XLS – shortcut keys, functions, nested formulas, and pivot tables.

At a minimum learn the following formulas:

  • Math Basics: SUM, AVERAGE, min, max, SUMPRODUCT,
  • IF statements (and their conditional counterparts: SUMIF, SUMIFS, COUNTIF, COUNTIFS, IFERROR)

Statistical Analysis

I took stats in college and at the time I thought I would never use it in my professional career. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The basis for analytical thinking and understanding data and campaign performance is part of my everyday life.

Being able to understand statistical significance has been helpful in evaluating performance, and in running tests.

I’ve been able to create test plans and use data to explain how long a test might take and how large of a sample size would be needed to be statistically significant, meaning the results are unlikely to have happened by chance.

Additionally, I feel like a strong understanding of statistical analysis has given me an extra layer of credibility with my senior leadership team when I’m reviewing performance and making program recommendations.

Now, I’m not saying that every campaign or every test has to have statistical significance, but understanding this concept can help you run your tests and understand sample size – or how much traffic or conversions are needed to be relevant and not from chance.

Basic Coding

The half is some basic coding skills.

I’m proficient at Excel but often I sit down to do something fairly completed that hits the bounds and limitations of nested formulas within Excel.

My life would be leaps and bounds easier if I could code to automate the tasks that I’m trying to do.

Take a coding class so you can learn the basics and start to automate when/where it makes sense instead of doing what I do, which is piecemeal together multiple 60 layer deep nested formulas.

5. A Growth Mindset

Your current skills and your knowledge is just the starting point, your mindset and how you perceive your abilities – the ability to learn and grow can bolster your performance and achievement.

Author Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset as where a person believes that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

A fixed mindset is one where a person believes that they are born with specific abilities, talents and traits; that talent creates success regardless of effort.

Always Be Learning

The only thing that is consistent in search is change.

You need continual development of skills, abilities, and knowledge to remain at the top of your game.

PPC managers need to have the desire to learn and the willingness to change.

The Convergence of Skills Across Digital Channels

Over the last decade the skill sets across comparison shopping, social, paid search, and display have been converging and the lines blurring.

Remember when display advertising was focused on reaching consumers with a single static image?

Remember when Facebook was purely organic posts?

Remember when paid search a keyword set to either broad, phrase, or exact match with a title and two lines of description?

The lines have blurred as audiences and remarketing, first available through display and social, are now embedded into the search marketing skill set.

Today, the lines of display and native are blurring with new search ad formats like Microsoft Audience Ads, a native ad using AI-based targeting to reach your idea customer.

Audience ads perform best with images (which makes sense when you think of native ad formats) but I would wager that the average search marketer hasn’t spent much time thinking about image-based advertising formats. It’s a new element that we’ll have to learn.

The Ability to Take Risks

Be brave.

Fail often and fail fast – as long as you learn from the failures.

Part of the growth mindset is the ability to take risks.

It’s an important skill as a search manager because so much of what we do is experimentation and testing of new strategies and ideas.


Is that it? Is that really the full list of essential skills that a search manager should have?

No, there could be more essential skills.

However, I wanted to share with you some of the essential skills I’ve looked for when I was hiring and managing teams of search professionals.

When it comes down to it, I’ve had some absolutely amazing experiences with individuals with non-traditional backgrounds (special ed teacher, ex-military, failed entrepreneur, and even a Masters of English Literature focusing on Arthurian Legend) who all:

  • Showed the capacity and desire to learn.
  • Had solid communication skills.
  • Had a growth mindset.
  • Had some analytical experience and capabilities.

The skills you need are more than just a mile deep understanding of all of the technical aspects of paid search – those details can be taught.

More Paid Search Resources:

Category Careers PPC
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Christi Olson Head of Evangelism at Bing Ads @Microsoft

Christi is the Head of Evangelism for Bing at Microsoft and is a member of the board of SEMPO. For ...

5 Essential Skills Every PPC Professional Needs to Have

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