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PPC: Is Vertical-Specific Experience Really Necessary?

George Michie just wrote a really cool blog post about PPC RFP’s (requests for proposal). So I was a list of what should you ask a PPC firm before hiring them. It’s a really authoritative, awesome looking post that I find too intimidating to read completely, but I do like George, and really respect him as an expert.

I just want to examine the importance of one question in the RFP.

What fraction of your clients are in my vertical? (retail, financial services, travel, etc)”

This is all he says- he doesn’t suggest whether this is crucial, or just a nice thing to know.

My contention is that it can help, but it’s not critical, it can’t be- and I’ll tell you why.

[And just for fun, count how many times I use “really” in this article. Whee! Lots of fun!]

1. What’s the Real Value of Expertise in a Vertical, Really?

Don’t get me wrong, we have a main vertical. A majority of our PPC clients are hotels and golf courses. And our company has expertise, experience, and custom applications for those industries. It helps to have worked with seasonal business, because that affects how you manage, structure, and optimize your campaigns. It helps to know what’s normal, what’s really good, what’s really bad, and what to look out for in a vertical.

However I achieved a really great ROI for the first hotel group I ever did PPC for. What was responsible for the results? Mainly the things I mentioned in my article, “8 Ways Clients Can Help Their PPC Agency Succeed” – things like:

  • PPC savvy, skills, and experience
  • Good communication with the client
  • Destination websites with good conversion rate
  • Big enough budget to test and optimize

Did I know anything special about the vertical? About seasonality? About why people book hotel rooms? No. Only what the client told me. But really the most important of those things was room rates- information that doesn’t require me to be an expert in the vertical.

Even after a year deep into this vertical, can I create one campaign for all hotels? No. Even in Myrtle Beach, we find that variations on keywords like “myrtle beach resorts” versus “myrtle beach hotels” have to be tested for each offering. It would be nice if there were a magic key that worked for every property, but some do better with “hotel” and others with “resort”.

2. How Much Real Experience Can You Have in a Vertical, Really?

If you’re an agency, and you’re dealing with really similar keywords for multiple clients, you have two major limiting factors:

  • Do you treat clients fairly, not favoring one over the other?
  • How many spots are there for you to place ads in?

We typically find that the top four ad spots are best. That leaves us room to place four clients on the major keywords in a specific vertical. So you can do really well for four clients. Does that really provide you with enough vertical-specific experience to really do noticeably better than another well-trained, experienced PPC firm? I don’t think so- I think it’s the other factors I mentioned in point number one.

Expertise in PPC generally is more important than vertical-specific experience.

3. Isn’t the Value of Cross-Vertical Expertise Really Important Too?

Yeah I’m the guy with the Interdisciplinary Studies degree (what?) who’s going to talk about the value of being really well-rounded.

Before I started doing hospitality and golf marketing, I did PPC for a variety of clients. And even now, we also work in verticals like medical, real estate, transportation, and communications. There’s no way for me to be really certain, but I’m really glad I’ve worked with a variety of factors:

  • Ecommerce and Lead Generation
  • Products and Services
  • Low and High Prices
  • Low and High Margins

That not only means I can handle a variety of situations, but also that the way I think about designing PPC accounts and various optimization problems isn’t really limited by the typical configurations and situations of just one vertical. It also means I can bring the lessons and tactics learned in one vertical to another. That can create a big competitive advantage in certain industries.

4. Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

Sometimes when you think you know it all, you don’t ask all the right questions, and you miss really important information. Sameness inspires apathy and stagnation.

When you’re sitting with the client or account manager, trying to understand a new client, you have to ask all the right questions to get the information you need to create the optimal PPC account. Unless you’ve completely systematized a really comprehensive discovery process for your industry, you may fall victim to shortcuts and miss something critical.

Sometimes the dumbest guy in the room asks the smartest questions. Not that I’d know from personal experience. I find that when you think you don’t know, you ask more, find out more, and are better equipped to do the job right.

Really, really right.

Brian Carter is the Director of Search Engine Marketing for Fuel Interactive, an interactive marketing agency in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is responsible for the SEO, PPC, SMM, and ORM programs at Fuel and its partner traditional agency Brandon Advertising & PR.

Category SEO
Brian Carter The Carter Group

Brian is author of The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money With Facebook and Facebook Marketing: Leveraging Facebook’s Features For ...

PPC: Is Vertical-Specific Experience Really Necessary?

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