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5 Less Obvious PPC Testing Ideas That You Should Try



As PPC marketers, there are certain A/B tests we are always running.

Landing page, ad and audience tests are all important.

But if you have been regularly testing these items and are looking for new features and ideas for testing, look no further!

Below is a list of less obvious PPC tests that you should try out.

Let’s hop in.

1. Test Increasing Brand Awareness with Target Impression Share Bidding

Smart bidding strategies are a way to incorporate some automation while not relinquishing complete control of your campaigns.

Google has a smart bidding type that is perfect for increasing brand awareness: Target Impression Share.

Using this smart bidding model, you can choose the amount that your ads will appear in the auction in conjunction with page position and a Maximum CPC you are willing to pay.

5 Less Obvious PPC Testing Ideas That You Should Test | SEJ

How to Get Started

This bidding strategy works best when you want to increase or stabilize visibility and brand awareness.

If your competitors are encroaching on your brand terms, it’s a great time to test IS bidding.

If you’re seeing cost per leads that are trending too high and want to decrease the impression share your ads are receiving, you could set the IS at a lower percentage to be less competitive.

We ran a test for a client who also wanted to increase leads while decreasing costs by decreasing IS, which we found to be a delicate balance.

If you have a new brand that has a core group of highly competitive terms, this could also be a useful bid model, but you’d want to be careful and potentially only test a few core terms to begin.

2. Test Competitor Keyword Campaigns

5 Less Obvious PPC Testing Ideas That You Should Try

Some advertisers are opposed to competitor campaigns and some are all for it. In today’s landscape, I always recommend at least testing competitor campaigns.

Competitor campaigns are a delicate balance, as it can inflate CPCs and ultimately CPAs, but when done right, it can also allow you to gain brand awareness amongst an audience that has shown intent.

How to Get Started

Head to Auction Insights in the search channels to check out who your biggest competitors are currently.

When drafting ads, make sure not to use the competitor’s name in the ads – those ads will get disapproved. Instead, use this as a starting point to highlight your brand, call out what’s different and how you stand out.

Starting with a smaller scope can allow you to test the waters before jumping in and potentially spending a great deal on folks who are looking for your competitors.

There are a few ways to do that:

You can start with a limited set of keywords, perhaps long-tail keywords like “ dog food” instead of just “”.

Test a limited geographic area. Instead of targeting the entire state of California, try testing 1 DMA (designated market area) to start.

Keeping bids low but competitive can also be helpful in long-term success.

3. Test Dynamic Search Ads

5 Less Obvious PPC Testing Ideas That You Should Test | SEJ

Feel like you have plateaued with traffic and can’t seem to find additional ways to grow?

Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) may be able to help you uncover additional keywords and search trends.

DSA has gotten a bad rap in the past. But this campaign type has seen a lot of improvements since its initial release.

How to Get Started

I always recommend having a page feed in place. This will allow you to have the most control over a campaign that has the potential to wreak havoc.

Always make sure to add every search keyword you are bidding on in other campaigns as a negative for DSA.

The ultimate goal of DSA is to render it useless in the sense that you are either:

  • Gathering new keywords that are outside of your current list that match your site content.
  • Or are negating the terms because they are outside of your scope.

Using both of these techniques, your DSA may (and most likely will) eventually be producing so little traffic that you pause the campaign.

Keep a close eye on queries and traffic – this is not a set-it-and-forget-it campaign type!

Google rolled out some cool new features in late 2018 and Bing recently introduced page feeds so both of these channels are a great starting point.

4. Test Broad Match Keywords (Gasp!)

If you have killer performance with some keywords and money to test, then give (monitored) broad match keywords a shot!

How to Get Started

Break your keywords out into their own campaigns so they don’t impede on other match types.

As with DSA, don’t leave this campaign to run without supervision.

Create a separate negative keyword list that includes negatives you have already identified along with modifiers of long-tail keywords that are included elsewhere in your account.

Start with low keyword bids to begin in case things go awry.

I would also recommend turning off eCPC, which is the default for new campaigns since Google can now increase eCPC bids as much as it deems necessary to generate a conversion.

Set your initial daily budget to be half of what you’re OK with spending during testing.

Since Google can double your daily budget so you “don’t miss out on valuable clicks” (I know, I know, it will probably average out – unless you’re just testing and turn it off, in which case you’ll likely be mad at the overspend).

5. Test Audience Targeting + Demographic Data

There has been a lot of talk about layering In-Market audiences and Custom Affinity audiences into your campaigns for observation.

You can take audience targeting one step further and couple it with some basic demographic targeting for a next-level audience test.

5 Less Obvious PPC Testing Ideas That You Should Test | SEJ

How to Get Started

Run some initial tests on audience targeting and narrow down your desired audience demographics.

Make sure to exclude any demographics that you do not want to target.

For highly desired demographics, say the 65+ age group, consider setting a bid modifier to bid higher for these users. Targeting a larger audience to start may help prevent traffic from being too low to gather performance data.

Keep in mind that targeting and observation layers have different functions and limitations depending on the type of campaign. In order to limit the reach of ad groups in Search to users only in that audience, you’ll need to flip on Targeting.

Create a separate campaign or ad group that looks to target your desired criteria separate from your normal search ad groups.

Group by audience themes. By making these divisions, it allows you to personalize the ad copy and landing pages without throttling traffic from normal search ad groups.

Additionally, when it comes to demographics, I rarely exclude the “unknown” categories.

These categories are often some of my best performers, which leads me to believe that there is likely a good chunk of my target audience hanging out in the shadows.


It can be easy to get into a testing rut after running many A/B landing page and ad copy tests, but there are a lot of great testing ideas out there!

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Image Credits

Screenshots taken by author, April 2019

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Rand Fishkin on optimizing for and against Google



NEW YORK – Google’s relationship with brands has shifted from referrer to competitor, SparkToro CEO and co-founder Rand Fishkin said at SMX East on Wednesday during his keynote about how the search engine’s business model has been evolving.

Now that the majority of Google searches are no-click, companies will have to find on-SERP opportunities to reach their audiences and strengthen their branding so that users will actively seek them out, said Fishkin.

The zero-click search trend

More than half (56.1%) of Google searches conducted from a mobile browser and 34.9% of Google desktop searches ended without a click to other content, according to Jumpshot data. “However, the trend is the same: organic, going down; while paid and zero-click searches are on the rise,” said Fishkin.

Source: SparkToro.

“In September, 7.5% of all searches resulted in a click to an Alphabet property,” said Fishkin. “Google is the biggest beneficiary of Google Search today. Nobody else comes close to that 7.5% number.”

From middleman to “competitor”

In addition to organic click volume eroding, Google’s direct answers and its foray into verticals resolves searches in numerous industries, such as weather, travel, local, and reviews, without the user ever having to click through to the sites that originally published that information.

“This is widespread, friends,” said Fishkin, citing results from Google Hotels, Flights, Jobs, the local pack and other types of rich results surfacing on the main results page. “We are talking about results that are taking business away from Skyscanner and Kayak in travel, from Eater and Yelp in local results, from U.S. News and FiveThirtyEight in the college rankings, from Wunderground and, from MetaCritic and PC Gamer, and basically everybody but Alphabet when it comes to a lot of popular culture and media stuff.”

What brands can do about it

“We have to find ways to make our brand what searchers seek out,” said Fishkin. “I don’t want searches for ‘weather’; I want searches for my brand: I want searches for ‘Weather Underground’ and ‘’ and ‘Weather Channel.’ I want to find ways to benefit from zero-click searches.”

Despite the bleak outlook for organic traffic in certain industries, there are still a number of ways that brands can influence what Fishkin refers to as “post-search behavior.”

Source: SparkToro.

Designing content with rich results in mind is one way companies can increase their visibility on the search results page — what Fishkin refers to as and “on-SERP SEO” — and the attribution from those results may help familiarize users with your brand. Buying ads will also help you do this, Fishkin said.

Offline brand campaigns, such as billboards, radio and TV ads can also influence search behavior. If users are actively seeking out your brand, claiming or suggesting changes to your knowledge panel can help you positively influence brand perception. To bolster your brand even further, Fishkin recommended reputation management SEO to help control branded search results.

The prisoner’s dilemma for brands

“The prisoner’s dilemma is ‘Do I optimize for zero-click searches, for providing these answers, for marking my results the way Google wants them — and potentially losing traffic as a result?’” said Fishkin, highlighting the predicament that many brands are now finding themselves in.

If your brand doesn’t benefit from ranking for a given query without traffic or doesn’t receive credit for it, you should instead optimize for keywords that do send traffic, Fishkin said. Source: SparkToro.

Fishkin’s mechanism for navigating this dilemma divides the issue into two categories: one for all types of content that can surface as a rich result (above), and another specifically for search results derived from structured data (below).

Brands should consider whether they will gain or lose value from adding structured data, and whether it’s more practical to cede the answer box to a competitor and pursue other keyword opportunities. Source: SparkToro.

“All of us have to try and build walls to protect against the competition that will absolutely come to sector after sector from Google as they search for growth … that is just the reality,” said Fishkin. “But, I think we have an opportunity to build our own brands and still succeed.”

Relying on search engines to reach your customers inherently makes brands susceptible to the way those search engines deliver results. However, by complementing your SEO efforts with a strategy that creates demand for your brand, you may be able to insulate yourself and stay ahead of the competition.

About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Understanding referrer clicks and how they can skew search engine market share



As every search marketer knows, clicks are a key metric in measuring search traffic, yet counting clicks can be a complicated thing. All clicks are not the same. There are paid clicks. There are organic clicks. There are mobile clicks. And many times there are clicks that get quickly redirected in the blink of an eye without a user even realizing it. These redirected clicks can cause discrepancies and confusion in click reports.

Consider this: a recent post from StatCounter shows a search engine market share of Google 88.37% and Bing 6.07%. At the same time, other sites such as Statista, show Google at 62.5% with Microsoft sites (Bing) at 25%. And even another site, comScore, places U.S. Bing share at 36% on PC and 20% across all devices. Why such large discrepancies? What is driving the confusion? The answer requires an understanding of the mechanics of ad serving and web referrals.

Referrers are links that drive traffic to other websites, moving people around the internet. A referrer site is simply the site that a person was on right before they came to your page. But sometimes referrer sites get misrepresented. A click can get diverted to an ad server, then quickly redirected to your page. Take for example the retailer, Kohls. A person is surfing the Kohls website and clicks on a picture of a TAG Heuer watch:

From a user experience, this shopper goes directly from the Kohls website to TAG’s website. And yet on paper, the referrer click gets credited to Google. Why is this? Through Google’s AdSense program, the click from Kohl’s gets quickly redirected to Google’s ad server before going to The click referral is attributed to Google not Kohl’s. The clicks from ad servers can add up and skew market share, even though these are not direct search queries from a search engine.

It’s good to understand how sites such as StatCounter or JumpShot calculate their data by combining search engine referrals with ads from syndicated websites in their referrer metrics. Referrer can be rich with insightful information, but should be carefully analyzed and understood before making any optimization or business decisions. Search marketers should also stay vigilant for redirects on referrer click reports as often times there is more to a click than meets the eye.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

​Christi Olson is a Search Evangelist at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. For over a decade Christi has been a student and practitioner of SEM. Prior to joining the Bing Ads team within Microsoft, Christi worked in marketing both in-house and at agencies at Point It, Expedia, Harry & David, and Microsoft (MSN, Bing, Windows). When she’s not geeking out about search and digital marketing she can be found with her husband at ACUO crossfit and running races across the PacificNW, brewing and trying to find the perfect beer, and going for lots of walks with their two schnauzers and pug.

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Want to speak at SMX West? Here’s how



Want to showcase your knowledge of search marketing to our SMX West attendees? We’d love to hear from you, and if you wow us with your proposal we’ll invite you to speak at the conference. To increase the odds of being selected, be sure to read the agenda. Understand what the sessions are about. Ensure that your pitch is on target to the show’s audience and the session. Please also be very specific about what you intend to cover. Also, if you do not see a particular session listed, this is because there are no openings for that session. Use this form to submit your request.

PLEASE NOTE: We have changed the pitch process. We’ve put together session titles that we plan to run at the show, and we’re looking for you to tell us what key learning objectives and takeaways you’ll offer to attendees. Detailed instructions are on the pitch form.

As you might guess, interest is high in speaking at SMX conferences. We literally sift through hundreds of submissions to select speakers for the show. Here are some tips that will increase your chances of being selected.

Pitch early: Submitting your pitch early gives you a better chance of being selected. Coordinators accept speakers as soon as they identify a pitch that they think best fits the session, just like colleges that use a rolling admissions policy. So pitching early increases the likelihood you’ll be chosen.

Use the form: The speaker pitch form ( is the way to ask to speak. There’s helpful information there about how your pitch should be written and what it should contain.

Write it yourself and be specific: Lots of pitches come in that are not specific to the session. This is the most effective ways to ensure that your pitch is ignored. And this year, we’re no longer accepting pitches written by anyone other than a proposed speaker. If you’re a thought leader, write the pitch yourself… and make certain that it is 100% focused on the session topic.

“Throw your best pitch:” We’re limiting the number of pitches to three per person, so please pitch for the session(s) where you really feel you’ll offer SMX attendees your best.

NEW: SMX Insights Sessions. What are they? 8-10 minute solo sessions that pack a punch and wow attendees with content they can’t and won’t see anywhere else. Tactical. Specific. Actionable. Speakers are challenged to deliver the goods in a limited amount of time: one must-try tactic, one nugget of sage advice, or one takeaway that makes you more productive. Have a gem to share with your colleagues? Pitch your idea and you may make it to the SMX stage!

You’ll be notified: Everyone who pitches to speak will be notified by email whether you are accepted or not.

And don’t delay—the pitch forms for each session will close as sessions are filled, with everything closing Friday, November 29.

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