The Big Idea

The Big Idea Behind Prototyping

At the end of this lesson, you’ll know:

  • What “prototyping” actually means
  • What a prototyping success looks like
  • How you can use prototyping in your workflow

Why Prototyping Is Important

Prototyping allows you to better understand what your audience wants; it’s simply a way to gather feedback that can help your idea take shape.

Developing any kind of idea takes time and money. By starting with a prototype, you can quickly and cheaply start identifying what parts of the idea work well and which parts of the idea need further refinement.

Free yourself from your ego. See how your idea’s audience can help you make your idea even better by starting with a low-cost, easy-to-make prototype — be it a sketch, MVP, or something in between.

Defining Prototyping

What is Prototyping?

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Prototyping is the process of creating a draft of your idea and soliciting feedback before investing time and money into development.

The bottom line for prototyping: It’s a way to gather feedback on an idea.

This is a generic definition of prototyping. There are more specific types of prototypes — e.g. low-fidelity, hi-fidelity, MVPs, sketches, etc. — and those specific definitions apply to specific types of processes — e.g. agile development, lean methodology, etc. But all the different ways to define prototype still center around one thing: gathering feedback.

The Benefits of Prototyping

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Prototyping allows you to gain feedback on an idea. But how does that feedback help you to turn the idea into a reality?

Here’s a few ways receiving feedback from a prototype helps you:

  • Saves time and money
  • Minimizes risk
  • Tests assumptions
  • Encourages innovation

Feedback should shape everything you do — it tells you how to console your significant other, how to approach your boss, and generally how to improve your life and the lives of others.

But for products and services, feedback from your users is especially critical. Because after all, your customers will eventually be providing you feedback in a very direct way — by buying or refusing to buy from you.

Rather than waiting until your idea has been fully developed before listening to feedback, starting earlier will allow you to make critical changes that will pay off with more satisfied buyers.

Concepts Related to Prototyping

Prototyping is a general concept that can be applied in a ton of different ways.

Here are a few concepts that incorporate or relate to the type of prototyping defined above:

We’ll discuss the first two concepts — lean thinking and agile development — in a little more detail below, as we explain how we incorporate them into a digital marketing & website development mindset.

Ever-Evolving Lean Thinking

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Lean thinking is a type of “waste reduction” thinking. Meaning, the central principle is eliminating waste (e.g. uneven workloads) to create more value.

Lean thinking developed out of lean manufacturing. Most notably associated with lean manufacturing is Toyota and their manufacturing processes from the 1980s — their lean production system consistently pumped out cheap, high-quality vehicles which allowed their company to achieve explosive growth.

Another notable example of reduction thinking can be traced back to Henry Ford’s automobile plants, which were revolutionary in their ability to scale up and reduce the cost of the product without sacrificing the quality of the product or the workers’ conditions.

But lean thinking has been further adapted for the digital age. Mary and Poppendieck applied the principles of lean manufacturing to software development and lean software development was born.

Lean thinking continues being stretched to fit specific industries and business needs, but the 7 principles identified by the Poppendieck’s remain at the core of it all. The 7 principles of lean thinking are:

  1. Eliminate waste: Anything not adding value to the customer is waste, e.g. partially done work, extra processes, extra features, task switching, waiting, motion, defects, and management activities.
  2. Amplify learning: Getting feedback often to identify the need for new ideas and changes. This means iterating more often and more actively soliciting feedback from users.
  3. Decide as late as possible: The best decisions are based on facts. So by leaving a project’s ultimate deliverable open-ended, you limit reliance on assumptions and leave room for any necessary changes that spring up.
  4. Decide as fast as possible: Lean thinking requires frequent iterations, i.e. additions or changes. And because these iterations happen more often, the objectives of each iteration is smaller in scale and can be decided faster.
  5. Empower the team: Less micromanagement and more motivation leads to more productive workers. The idea behind this is finding good people and letting them do their job. And to do their job, you need to equip them with access to the right people (e.g. customers) and the right resources (e.g. employee development opportunities).
  6. Build integrity in: Idea development should be driven by perceived integrity and conceptual integrity. Perceived integrity is the overall customer experience — how it is being advertised, delivered, deployed, accessed, how intuitive its use is, its price and how well it solves problems. Conceptual integrity means balancing flexibility, maintainability, efficiency, and responsiveness by understanding the entire problem being solved by the idea.
  7. See the whole: Systems are more than a sum of their parts — how each part interacts with another defines the experience. This means inter-team communication must be strong and related tasks need to be broken down to identify related defects.

At the end of the day, lean thinking principles can be further summarized by this Poppendieck-created slogan: “Think big, act small, fail fast, learn rapidly.

Enter Eric Ries and The Lean Startup

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Eric Ries re-introduced lean thinking back into 21st century mainstream business thinking with his book, The Lean Startup.

In the book, Eric encourages businesses to use validated learning when building out an idea. Validated learning involves small, frequent iterations that follow this process:

  1. Specifying a goal
  2. Doing something to try to achieve the goal
  3. Measuring what you did and seeing if it helped achieve the goal
  4. Incorporating what you learned into another iteration

Mainstream adoption of this validated learning process means that some of the terminology used in the book has bled into business discussion around the world.

Some of the more commonly heard terms that were popularized by the book include:

  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Split Testing
  • Actionable Metrics
  • Build-Measure-Learn

We’ll dissect these terms momentarily. But before we do, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a pseudoscience. These are business principles that can have negative effects if applied incorrectly.
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Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

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The purpose of a minimum viable product (MVP) is to gather feedback. The purpose is NOT to deliver a bare minimum final version of the product.

That means that your MVP is not going to be delivered to your entire audience. Rather, the MVP should be shared with a subset of your audience. After all, the goal is to gather feedback and learn, NOT to release a product.

Once you’ve gathered meaningful feedback about what’s working and what’s not working for the MVP, you can update your development plan accordingly.


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The continuously-repeating “Build-Measure-Learn” process focuses on delivering incremental improvements through data. Basically, it’s a framework for saying “good enough is never enough”.

One important characteristic of the process is speed. This is because in order for incremental improvements to pay off, they need to be frequently and sustainably delivered.

There’s always room for improvement. And by prototyping new ways to improve through the build-measure-learn process, you can safely test more evolutionary ideas.

Now Let’s Talk Agile

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Agile software development is a set of principles emphasizing incremental progress, flexibility, and autonomy. These principles were built on top of the foundation established by lean thinking processes.

Agile software development entered business discussions around 2001. A history of its use can be traced further back, but 2001 is when the Agile Manifesto was released.

In the Agile Manifesto, seasoned software developers identified four core values that were critical for being “agile”:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

In addition to these four core values, the authors of the Agile Manifesto outlined these 12 principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Management: That’s What It’s All About

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If you consider prototyping to be a management principle, then it helps to understand why the concept shows up in lean, agile, and a countless other management processes.

For example, prototyping in the product management sense can be seen in the minimum viable product; an MVP allows product managers to gather important information in a cheaper, less-risky way than waiting until launch.

Similarly, prototyping shows up in project management with Agile and in business management with lean startup practices.

Prototyping Is Not A Fad

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Management fads are best characterized by their short lifespan. A rule of thumb for separating management fads from something more long-lasting would be whether there is a significant decrease in articles discussing the idea after 3-5 years.

Fortunately, prototyping and many of the related processes pass the management fad test. They’ve been talked about for several years and there’s no sign of them fading away, like the 1-minute management fad.

For external validation of prototyping and its offspring, we can look towards the world-class organizations that have adopted these principles, such as Dropbox, Intuit, and even the White House.

Prototyping Is Not Always The Best Fit

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Prototyping doesn’t work for every situation. And even if it is a good fit for a situation, misuse can mean seriously negative consequences.

A situation where prototyping wouldn’t fit would be when the audience receiving the prototype has conflicting expectations; if they’re expecting a finished product, using “prototyping” as a shield against missing feature criticism is simply an abuse of the term.

An example of prototype misuse would be the failure to collect meaningful feedback. By failing to collect feedback, you’ve only succeeded in creating waste by diverting resources away from the goal with nothing valuable to show for it.

So, if you’re going to prototype, do it right!


Examples of Prototyping

Example 1: Google Glass

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Glass was an incredibly ambitious project by Google — a moonshot, if you will. The goal of that project was to create an incredibly powerful and versatile wearable computer. And to make it even more difficult, they wanted it to be worn on your face.
To prototype their ambitious idea, Google followed 3 simple rules:

  1. Find the quickest path to experience
  2. Doing is the best kind of thinking
  3. Use materials that move at the speed of thought to maximize your rate of learning

Regardless of how powerful and functional the wearable would be, Google knew nobody would want to wear it if it wasn’t comfortable. To solve this issue, Google employees started by prototyping the size and weight of Glass with some wire and clay. They then went around asking other Google employees if something roughly similar would be comfortable to wear.

The feedback from Google’s low-fi prototype helped them shape the final product, which itself underwent several iterations before being scrapped based on feedback. So while the project has not yet been a success, it could have been significantly worse if Google failed to continuously iterate and gather feedback.

Example 2: Kickstarter

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Kickstarter and crowdsourcing have opened up a new channel for funding ideas. And an important concept underlying these crowdsourcing campaigns is prototyping.

Kickstarter projects use prototyping in a few different ways, which include:
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  • Gauging your audience’s interest in a project. This comes down to either being successfully funded or not being successfully funded. Generally speaking, if your idea has merit and doesn’t require major iterations, it should get funded.

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  • Pimping hi-fidelity prototypes to your audience. Oculus most famously did this — they kickstarted their idea to get funding for building and distributing hi-fidelity prototypes. Then based on the feedback, they continued making tweaks until they earned enough success to be bought for billions by Facebook.

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  • Buying time to add more features. This is commonly seen with stretch goals, which allow the creator to designate extra features if funding goes above a certain amount. This allows the creator to present the additional features and the community’s feedback helps that creator to identify each feature’s value.

Example 3: Publishing Schedules

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Content creation can be a significant investment of time and money.

Some content, like tweets, take about as long to create as it takes you release a good fart. But even that type of content can have serious reverberations — like inadvertently tweeting out something racist. But big or small, the content you publish can have a real impact and require real resources.

So in order to make sure your content correctly captures your vision, you can prototype it with a publishing schedule.
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A publishing schedule will often be an abbreviated form of the content — title, premise, keywords, and a few other components. These components can then be reviewed by a team member representing your audience, who can then give you feedback on it.
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Project management software provides more great examples of prototypes. The outlines and descriptions in tasks, particularly for content, are a minimalist representation of the final product that can solicit feedback and learning that can be incorporated into the final product.

How We Prototype

How We Prototype

Our Lean, Agile, Pivoting Methodology

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As tough as it is to say, our company does not adhere to any 1 of the methodologies listed. Instead, our management principles are an amalgamation of everything discussed.

Blending the methodologies may seem sacrilegious to advocates of 1 methodology or the other.

But, the reality is that we’re not a gigantic organization. We’re a tight-knit SMB with unique needs and personalities. We enjoy a flexibility that organizations with several dozen or more employee don’t have. So we’re gonna enjoy that advantage to it’s fullest.

How You Can Act Lean and Prototype

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“Think big, act small, fail fast, learn rapidly.” Those Poppendieck words-of-wisdom are the bottom line for what we want to accomplish.

To do that, we incorporate these particular tools and techniques for acting lean and creating prototypes:

  • Sprints
  • Scrums
  • Sketches
  • MVPs


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A “sprint” is a timeboxed effort — it starts and ends at specific times. Anything features that don’t make it in then get added to the backlog for the next sprint.

A more typical approach to building out an idea is via scopeboxing — fitting in every single feature originally envisioned, regardless of how long it takes.

Typically, a sprint period will be less than 4 week; this rule of thumb reflects the necessity of speed and frequent iterations to prevent idea stagnation and delays. After all, many of those “would be really nice to have” features that miss in one iteration end up being obviated or become less important based on feedback.

But again, it’s critical to set your audience’s expectations regarding timeboxing and iterative development of the idea.


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Scrum is a collaboration framework that incorporates:

  • Daily check-ins: This typically just involves asking team members, “What did you do yesterday? What are you doing today? Do you have any roadblocks?
  • Assigned roles: This requires dedicating certain team members to certain facets of the project; namely, an idea owner, idea developers, and a scrum master.
  • Artifacts: A wonderfully mysterious sounding word, but this basically means managed tasks and projects.

We’ll discuss the different roles needed for an effective scrum below. But again, this is a description of what works for our small, particular group of employees. So if you’re a certified scrum master, remember that process for the sake of process isn’t what we want.
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  • Idea Owner: This person translates and prioritizes a customer’s needs into value-adding ideas to be developed. He or she acts as the face of the team to stakeholders, largely handling communications to and from members outside the team.

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  • Idea Developer: These are the people developing your idea. And it doesn’t just have to be the people building it, marketing, sales and other skills should be represented here.

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  • Scrum Master: The master acts as the buffer between the team and the owner + their outside influences; the scrum master insulates the team and eliminates unnecessary distraction and impediments. But because autonomy is stressed in the lean framework, they’re not necessarily dictating via commands and controls like a traditional project manager might.


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Sketches are one of the easiest and most effective ways to prototype ideas.

To start, they allow to you quickly capture your idea; a pen and paper are precisely the kind of materials that move at the speed of thought. With a pen and paper, you can draw words, shapes, and other complex ideas that can quickly be abstractedly represented with a few strokes of the pen.

Sketches also communicate a lot of information very quickly — we’ve been using drawings to communicate for several thousand years, after all. And when you’re dealing with big, expensive, and complex ideas, starting on paper helps you extract your vision in a simple, clear format.

And to cap it all off, those drawings that are quickly communicating large amounts of information also help you to start identifying defects and mistakes in the idea. Because by abstractedly doing and building the idea on paper first, you start to see where oversight and complications will rear up.


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Minimum viable products, as discussed before, are tools for gathering feedback. They’re not something you’d ship as your final product, rather, they should be delivered to audience subsets prior to launch for the purposes of feedback gathering.

A few ways we create MVPs include:

  • Sketches: Just like above, we build these to share with team members or stakeholder that act as a subset of our audience, providing feedback to later incorporate in future builds.
  • Wireframes: A slightly higher-fidelilty prototype, we present share these with clients and co-workers who stand in the audience’s shoes and provide feedback.
  • Staging Sites: Another step up from sketches and wireframes, a staging site allows us to create a private version of the website. There, new ideas can be implemented and our clients or a test group can be invited to provide feedback.
The Idea

Getting Started with Competitive Analyses

This lesson will help you achieve two goals:

  1. Pinpoint where a client’s competition is actively targeting/showing up online and
  2. Figure out what to do once you’ve pinpointed the places competition exists.

By understanding where the competition is and how they are performing in the space, we can develop more comprehensive digital marketing strategies that will help improve a business’s bottom line.

Templates for Competitive Analyses
Make copies of the deliverable templates below to record the results of your competitive analyses.

And to help you with your analysis, each section of the audit guide provides you with:

  • A checklist
  • A brief explanation
  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Important tools
  • Common problems & examples
  • References for further reading

Good luck!

We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.
– Calvin Coolidge

Master Checklist for Competitive Analyses

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Online
  • Identifying Online Competitors
    • Determine your client's priority products/service areas
    • Investigate how these products/services are being discussed online
    • Take note of commonly listed brands/orgs
  • Monitor Online Competitors
    • Analyze SERP for primary keyword searches
    • Run analysis of top ranking pages
    • Leverage online tools for ongoing monitoring
    • Sign-up/Follow the competition
Competitive Analysis Checklist › Paid Analysis
  • Gather Competitor Data (PPC)
    • Login to Spyfu or similar competitor analysis tool
    • Run overview reports on key competitors
  • Analyzing Competitor Data
    • Review core keywords and competitors' priority terms
    • Perform ad analysis
    • Review competitor landing pages (starting with priority terms)
    • Analyze competitors' & create hierarchy
    • Prioritze and strategize
Competitive Analysis Checklist › Backlink Analysis
  • Find backlinks
    • Use Moz to compare link metrics
    • Use Moz to export inbound links and linking domains
    • Organize data into Excel or Google Sheets
  • Analyze backlinks
    • Sort links by quality (page & domain authority)
    • Determine what type of sites and content are linking back to your competitors
    • Create a list of websites to target
Competitive Analysis Checklist › Content Analysis
  • Review competitor websites
    • Find where their content lives
    • Make a list of content types available
    • Find the quantity of each content type published
    • Determine how frequently each content type is published
    • Evaluate content quality
  • Conduct a competitor backlink analysis
    • Determine the number of guest posts or news articles written by the competitor
  • Use a tool like Social Crawlytics & Buzzumo to analyze content sharing
    • Determine which content & pages are the most shared/most popular
Stop talking. Start walking.
– L. M. Heroux

Identifying & Monitoring Online Competitors

The first part of a competitor analysis is identifying who your competitors are. This section of the guide shows you how to use keywords to find out what other web properties your audience is likely to come across when searching for information related to your business.

Template for Identifying & Monitoring Online Competitors
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Identifying & Monitoring Online Competitors

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Online
  • Identifying Online Competitors
    • Determine your client's priority products/service areas
    • Investigate how these products/services are being discussed online
    • Take note of commonly listed brands/orgs
  • Monitor Online Competitors
    • Analyze SERP for primary keyword searches
    • Run analysis of top ranking pages
    • Leverage online tools for ongoing monitoring
    • Sign-up/Follow the competition

Identifying Online Competitors

The Big Idea Behind Identifying Online Competitors

Online competitors are actively decreasing the number of opportunities available to us and our clients. Identifying the competition is the first step in reclaiming these opportunities and driving more business back to our client.

Below, we discuss how to leverage the tools at our disposal to pinpoint the competition that exists in the realms of organic and paid search. With a better understanding of who the competitors are, and how they are marketing online, we can take the next steps – monitoring and strategy development.

Common Problems when Identifying Online Competitors

The following problems tend to occur:

  • Competitive research starts with too narrow a scope

Suggested Tools for Identifying Online Competitors

Step-by-Step Instructions for Identifying Online Competitors

  1. Determine your priority products/service areas
    First determine the main products or services your organization is most interested in marketing; the website and the client’s stated preferences are the best places to turn to for this.

You’ll then want to write down what you think are commonly used keywords representing each the organization’s highest priority products or services in the Competitor Keyword Essentials document.

  • Investigate how these products/services are being discussed online
    Once you have a a keyword for each of your organization’s main products/services, leverage Google’s Keyword Planner in order to understand the search volume associated for those keywords. When you think you have the highest volume keyword representing your organization’s products/services, then move on.
    Two things to remember:

    1. Your industry and market position are big factors; if your organization is locally-bound and/or newly-founded then it may help to focus on local keywords (e.g. Greeting card stores in Baltimore) or more specific keywords (e.g. “funny greeting card website vs. greeting card website).
    2. The keywords your organization is targeting for organic search engine traffic and via paid traffic may end up being quite different, depending on budget and competition.
  • Take note of commonly listed brands/orgs
    From here, we take different courses of action depending on the channel we are most interested in (e.g. organic vs. paid).To identify competition on organic search, Google search the 6-10 terms related to each product/service area and include the commonly included brand/orgs on organic SERP listings within the Competitor Keyword Essentials document.

    To identify competition on paid search, complete the same types of searches using the priority paid search keywords. Take note of the brands/orgs which typically occupy the top 2-3 ad positions for each of these relevant searches, and include these names on your Competitor Keyword Essentials document.

    For analyzing competitors on email, social, and other channels, simply use those keywords to find email lists to join, social media profiles, etc. and record them as well.

    After conducting these searches, you should be able to confidently say “XYZ is a key competitor because they are often appearing for highly relevant terms very closely related to my product/service.”

Outcome After Identifying Online Competitors

You should have:

  • A firm understanding of your client’s offering
  • A large set of keywords (6-10) related to each core offering
  • A completed Competitor Keyword Essentials document

Monitoring Online Competitors

The Big Idea Behind Monitoring Online Competitors

Now that we have pinpointed the main competitors that are encroaching on our ability to close the deal on all prospects in our client market, we need to begin monitoring these clients in order to glean methods of improving/pivoting our client’s strategy.

Common Problems When Monitoring Online Competitors

The following problems tend to occur:

  • Competitors are observed but not consistently monitored

Suggested Tools For Monitoring Online Competitors

Step-by-Step Instructions for Monitoring Online Competitors

  1. Analyze the SERP
    Using the set of keywords that now exists in your Competitor Keyword Essentials document, conduct regular (read: monthly/quarterly) searches for these terms to understand how the landscape is changing, and which brands/orgs are consistently ranking well for these keywords – these are likely your client’s main sources of competition.For organic search, look at the information included on the search engine results pages (SERPs) — do you see any trends with the page titles, URLs, descriptions, publish dates, SSLs, etc? If so, we may want to implement these seem features for our organization’s site!

    For paid search, look at the ad extensions, headlines, copy, and display URLs of the top 1-3 ads to see what may be missing from our client’s ads, or what our ads may have in common with the top ranking placements.

  2. Run analysis of top ranking pages
    We also want to take a hard look at the actual pages that are ranking for the keywords we care about most. Clicks the links for the top 1-3 pages/ads, and see what content exists on these pages. Take note of:

    • Content that makes each of these top listings unique
    • Content that top listings all share but our client doesn’t have, and
    • Content that the client and the top listings share.
  3. Set Up tools for on-going monitoring
    For organic and paid search, we recommend setting up Google Alerts for the prominent competitors to understand how they are trending in the industry. These alerts will continue to provide you with up-to-date notifications related to particular competitors.Similarly, we recommend using BuzzSumo to help monitor how brands/keywords are being discussed socially.

    For paid search, we should use SpyFu to understand changes in paid competitors, and stack our efforts directly up against those of our competitors. From SpyFu, we can see which keywords our competitors are targeting, the keywords we are all targetings, and the ones no one is targeting.

  4. Follow the competition
    Lastly, we can keep an eye on the competition by signing up for their regular emails and following their social presences (if applicable). This way, we hear messages straight from the competition itself, which can help us adjust the way we communicate our offerings, the way we target users and even our newsletters/approaches to social outreach.
Outcome After Monitoring Online Competitors

You should have:

  • Completed an analysis of the SERP for the keywords in the Competitor Keyword Essentials document
  • Analyzed competitor landing pages
  • Set-up alerts to help constantly monitor key competitors
  • Leveraged SpyFu for deeper insight into PPC opportunities
  • Begun following the competition via newsletter signups/socially
The greatest amount of wasted time is the time not getting started.
– Dawson Trotman
Paid Analysis

Competitor Paid Analysis

Periodically analyzing competitor campaigns is critical for paid search. This section provides an in-depth look at how to gather important advertising data from your competitors, and what to look for when analyzing that data.

Template for Competitor Paid Analysis
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Competitor Paid Analysis

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Paid Analysis
  • Gather Competitor Data (PPC)
    • Login to Spyfu or similar competitor analysis tool
    • Run overview reports on key competitors
  • Analyzing Competitor Data
    • Review core keywords and competitors' priority terms
    • Perform ad analysis
    • Review competitor landing pages (starting with priority terms)
    • Analyze competitors' & create hierarchy
    • Prioritze and strategize

Gathering Competitor Data

The Big Idea Behind Gathering Competitor Data

Competitor data gives us insight into the strategies our greatest paid search competitors are usings to market to our shared audience. Before we can analyze the data, we have to find methods of collecting and organizing it.

  • PPC Hero Article
  • touches on why competitive research is so important, and provides a short-list of additional tools you can leverage for gathering information about rival PPC players.

Suggested Tools for Gathering Competitor Data

Step-by-Step Instructions for Gathering Competitor Data

  1. Login to Spyfu or Similar Competitor Analysis Tool
    SpyFu is a competitor analysis tool that lends insights into competitive SEO and PPC data. For the purposes of this task, we will focus on the PPC related features of the platform, though peeking into SEO insights can sometimes help improve upon paid search strategies through analysis of organic keyword trends and blindspots.SpyFu’s core PPC features include:

    • Overviews of competitor PPC metrics such as: estimated media spend, keyword portfolio size, and more
    • The ‘Find Competitors’ features which lists competition based on the client’s own domain.
    • ‘Kombat’ which offers comparative data between your client and the two most relevant competitors like: keywords all parties bid on, keywords some parties bid on, and keywords no parties bid on
    • ‘Keyword grouping’ which organizes a domain’s keyword portfolio into recommended ad groups based on relevance
    • ‘PPC Keywords’ which will generate lists of new keywords to target based on the client’s business
    • ‘Ad History’ which shares actual ad data over a 9 month lookback window for individual domains
    • ‘AdWords Advisor’ which provides keyword-level optimization recommendations based on a domain’s paid search history
  2. Run Overview Reports on Key Competitors
    Begin by visiting the ‘Find Competitors’ tab of Spyfu and entering in your client’s domain. SpyFu will generate a short-list of the two most relevant paid search competitors, based on size and keyword targeting. Take note of these competitors on your analysis document, separate from the list of direct-business competitors.Next, visit the ‘overview’ tab and begin referring to the lists of direct-business and search-specific competitors. Include any valuable notes to the analysis document in order to maintain a record of findings.

Outcome after Gathering Competitor Data

You should have:

  • A clear profile of the client’s industry
  • A list of business and search competitors created
  • High level notes related to each competitor

Analyzing Competitor Data

The Big Idea Behind Analyzing Competitor Data

Analysis of competitor data can be important for remaining current with industry offerings, staying competitive on the SERP, and keeping PPC profitable in the long term.

Common Problems when Analzying Competitor Data

The following problems tend to occur

  • Miss out on certain key areas like landing page analysis

Suggested Tools for Analyzing Competitor Data

Step-by-Step Instructions for Analyzing Competitor Data

  1. Review Client & Competitor Priority Keywords
    After collecting high level notes related to each competitor, it’s now time to conduct a keyword analysis between our two specific groups: business competitors and paid search competitors.Using the ‘Kombat’ tab, enter in the client’s domain and the domains of the two largest direct and paid search competitors, respectively, based on previous knowledge and overview tab data.

    Review the three key reports provided from SpyFu for each group: 1) keywords all parties are bidding on 2) keywords competitors are bidding on but the client is not 3) keywords the client bids on, but no others.

    By analyzing these categories for these two competitor buckets, you should be able to better understand where the untapped opportunities are, and which areas may not be relevant for our client’s business needs.

    Before moving onto the next step, have a list of priority keywords prepared. These are keywords the client is particularly interested in, or keywords you give priority to give the opportunities discovered through the Kombat reports.

  2. Perform Ad Analysis
    Visit the ‘ad history’ tab, and entering the domains of the top 1-2 competitors for each competitor bucket, and running ad reports. Focus primarily on the priority keywords you marked in the last step, and review historic ad data to see if any new ad concepts can be be gleaned from this data.
  3. Review Competitor landing pages (starting with priority terms)
    By this point you should have a firm understanding of which keywords are the most important for your client’s paid search account (either keywords you have success with, or those you are interested in competing for).Run these terms through Google search, and visit the landing pages for the top ranking ads. Review each respective landing page, and compare them to the existing client landing pages for each individual keyword/topic area. Are there any competitor conversion mechanisms that could be useful on the client site.

    Using ghostery, do you notice any interesting widgets or tools running on the competitor sites which could be useful for your client or your marketing team as a whole?

  4. Analyze Competitors and Create Hierarchy
    Having complete analysis of competitor overviews, keywords, ads and landing pages, prepare a hierarchy of paid search competitors. This will help establish priority, and keep any newly developed ideas organized based on where they originated and what purpose they seem to have served.
  5. Prioritize and strategize
    By having the competitors/ideas organized, you can more easily decide which new strategies, tools, or ideas should be put to use first for the benefit of the client and their paid search efforts. The analysis document you have been completing can now be easily referred to for future strategy development.
Outcome after Analyzing Competitor Data

You should have:

  • A clear list of priority keywords your client should focus on
  • A better understand of how competitors or communicating their value to searchers
  • What experiences are being provided on competitor landing pages, and how they differ from the client’s
  • Which competitors are the most influential, or are the best to focus on
Ideas won’t keep; something must be done about them.
– Alfred North Whitehead
Backlink Analysis

Competitor Backlink Analysis

Use this walkthrough to find competitor backlinks and create a list of sites with content relevant to your client’s business. With this information, you can create off-site content and generate links that will increase your search engine rankings and traffic.

Template for Competitor Backlink Analysis
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Completing a Backlink Audit

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Backlink Analysis
  • Find backlinks
    • Use Moz to compare link metrics
    • Use Moz to export inbound links and linking domains
    • Organize data into Excel or Google Sheets
  • Analyze backlinks
    • Sort links by quality (page & domain authority)
    • Determine what type of sites and content are linking back to your competitors
    • Create a list of websites to target

The Big Idea Behind Finding Backlinks

External links are one of the many factors Google uses to determine search engine rankings. Links from sites with high domain authority, using relevant alt text, can greatly increase your site’s SERP rankings and generate traffic. Promoting your product or service on multiple sites throughout the web also allows you to reach new audiences and increase brand awareness.

Common Problem When Searching for Backlinks

The following problems tend to occur:

  • It may be tempting to target directories, but you must take care to avoid the untrustworthy ones and avoid pay to play schemes.
  • A page containing a high number of external links will pass less link equity per link.

Examples of High Value & Low Value Backlinks

Links from trusted sites with page and domain authority at 80 and above

Links from spammy, keyword stuffing, and low equity directory sites with page and domain authority lower than 40. I won’t link to a spammy site like that but you’ll know one when you see one.

Suggested Tools for Finding Backlinks

Step-by-Step Instructions for Finding Backlinks

  1. Use Moz to compare link metrics
    Focus your analysis on the sites with the highest domain authority and the most value passing links. In Moz Open Site Explorer, type in url of the the first competitor, then click on “Compare Link Metrics” in the sidebar menu. From there you can add up to four additional urls. Compare the numbers of equity passing links and choose the competitors with the most links and the highest authority. It may be helpful for your final report to take a screenshot of this page.
  2. Use Moz to export inbound links and linking domains
    In Moz, type in the url of a competitor. Filter your results. Under Target select “this root domain” under Link Source select “only external” then for Link Type select “link equity.” Then request a CSV of all inbound links.Click on Linking Domains in the sidebar menu and select “this root domain” under Target. Request a CSV. You can find your exported data under Recent Reports in the top lefthand corner.
  3. Organize Data in Excel or Google Sheets
    Have linked page and linking domains on separate sheets (in the same document). Take a look at this template doc for ideas on how to organize your work.
Outcome after Finding Backlinks


Analyze Backlinks

The Big Idea Behind Analzying Backlinks

Acquiring backlinks is important because links can help search engines determine the content and quality of your site. When an outside page links back to your website, Google crawls that page to determine the topic, and then crawls your site to see if the link is relevant to the content. If your site gets a highly relevant link from a popular and trustworthy website, Google will view your site as an authority on the topic. This can increase your search rankings.

When analyzing backlinks it helps to know your ultimate goal. Are you looking to post unique content on other websites? Or are you looking for someone to review your product/services? Keeping an end goal in mind make it easier to determine which sites to target.

Suggested Tools for Analyzing Backlinks

  • Excel or Google Sheets – you can use this as your format.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Analyzing Backlinks

  1. Sort links by quality (domain authority)
    We only want to target sites with high authority and link equity, so sort your links by domain authority. Page authority may vary within sites, but domain authority tells us how search engines view the domain as a whole.
  2. Determine what type of sites and content are linking back to your competitors
    Look at the linking domains. What types of sites are linking back to your competitors? Are they social media sites, news sites, blogs, etc? How many links are these sites providing? Make note of this so you can include it in your final report.

Look through the sites to see if you notice any that stand out as ideal opportunities for off site posting, reviews, etc. When you have found all that you recognize (or what seems to be a good opportunity from the url) search through your inbound links to find how and why they linked to your competitor. You can typically learn why from reading the page titles, but for some you may have to visit the page to get a better understanding.

After you have gone through the recognizable links, continue searching through the rest of the page titles to find potential opportunities. Be sure to focus on the pages with higher domain authority

  • Create a list of websites to target
    Create a new tab in your file and create a list of pages or domains that are good opportunities. Try to find at least 10.


Outcome after Finding Backlinks


  • Write a brief summary of your findings. What types of sites link to your competitors the most? How many links to do they have? Which of those sites are the easiest to target? What is the strategy moving forward? It may help to have a screenshot of the link comparison report in Moz. Here is an example.
  • Create a new tab with a list of linking opportunities and contact information. Here is a template.
The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.
– Vance Havner
Content Analysis

Competitor Content Analysis

Use this section to learn how to review competitor content and determine how you can modify your content strategy to incorporate their strengths.

Template for Competitor Content Analysis
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Completing a Competitor Content Analysis

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Content Analysis
  • Review competitor websites
    • Find where their content lives
    • Make a list of content types available
    • Find the quantity of each content type published
    • Determine how frequently each content type is published
    • Evaluate content quality
  • Conduct a competitor backlink analysis
    • Determine the number of guest posts or news articles written by the competitor
  • Use a tool like Social Crawlytics & Buzzumo to analyze content sharing
    • Determine which content & pages are the most shared/most popular

The Big Idea Behind Reviewing a Competitor’s Website

Doing a content analysis helps you create engaging content that surpasses what your competitors produce. By reviewing their content, you can determine how much content they produce, how frequently they produce, the kinds of content they create, and the quality of it. Using this information, you can create a publishing schedule that can rival your competitors.

Common Problems When Reviewing a Competitor’s Website

The following problems tend to occur:

  • Content analyses tend to be time consuming; it may be difficult to review sites with large numbers of pages.
  • Sites with unnested or improperly nested pages may be more difficult to analyze.

Suggested Tools for Reviewing Competitor Sites

Step-by-Step Instructions for Reviewing Competitor Sites

  1. Determine the number of guest posts or news articles written by the competitor
    Visit the site’s navigation. Where is the content housed? Click through each link to see if submenus lead to hidden content resources.
  2. Make a list of content types available
    Search through the site and make note of what content types are available. Are there case studies, data sheets, news articles, press releases, blog articles, testimonials, informative videos, infographics, etc?
  3. Find the quantity of each content type published
    Crawl the site using Screaming Frog. If page urls are nested/organized in a clear way, you should be able to quickly sort through the links when you export the data into an excel file. For example, you can search through all URLs with /blog/ to find all blog articles.
  4. Determine how frequently each type is published
    Look through the blog to determine how frequently they publish content. Do they publish, weekly, biweekly, etc?
  5. Evaluate content quality
    Read 3-4 pieces of content. Ask yourself: how accurate is their content? Is the tone formal or informal? Is their content long or short? Who is writing their content? Do they have multiple contributors? Are the writers well-known? Is their content gated? Do they follow standard SEO practices (keyword rich text, headlines, etc)?
Outcome After Reviewing a Competitor’s Site


  • You should have a Google or Excel sheet with the information you have found. You can use this template.

Analyze Content Sharing

The Big Idea Behind Analyzing Content Sharing

Social media shares is a measure of how popular content is. To get a deeper understanding of how people interact with your competitor’s content online, analyze the number of social shares by social media platform. With this information you can determine how to modify or create your social media strategy.

Suggested Tools for Reviewing Competitor Sites

Step-by-Step Instructions for Analyzing Content Sharing

  1. Determine which content & pages are the most shares
    Using a free tool like Social Crawlytics, you can enter in a competitors website and get a report on the number of shares per page, number of shares by content type, and more. Social Crawlytics requires a twitter account to use but is free. Simply signup and enter in the website address to get your report. Because it is a free service, only only a certain number of pages can be crawled per week.
Outcome after Analyzing Content Sharing


Do not despise the bottom rungs in the ascent to greatness.
– Publilius Syrus

Why Marketing Automation Is Important

Marketing automation helps you deliver the right content to the right people at the right time. It’s not autopilot and it won’t replace your efforts. Rather, automation is used for amplifying the impact of existing marketing efforts.

What You’ll Walk Away With

After completing this lesson, you’ll know:

  • What marketing automation is
  • What types of marketing automation solutions exist
  • What kind of features & benefits marketing automation offers

Defining Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is a system that ties together many of your marketing tools, allowing you to nurture your leads and delegate administrative tasks (e.g. email list management) to the cold, calculating touch of a robot. We will address lead nurturing more depth in an upcoming lesson.

Getting Started

How to Approach Marketing Automation

Automation, like all things, is best in moderation. Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s best used for enhancing your existing efforts, you can more easily identify ways that automation can make your marketing even better.

Understand the Role of Marketing Automation

The role of marketing automation can be summarized as follows: automation allows you to automatically send the right content (e.g. emails) to the right people (e.g. lead score >70) at the right time (e.g. during business hours).

Marketing automation is meant to supplements existing efforts. It’s not autopilot. It won’t make your job any easier, but it will make you more effective at your job.

Automation allows you to do things like:

  • Improve email open and click rates with conditional email sequences
  • Make forms easier to fill out with progressive profiling
  • Better monitor the performance of your campaigns
  • Get a clearer picture of lead preferences with detailed contact records
  • Save the sales team time with predictive lead scores

The tools that are standard to most marketing automation platforms can help you do all of that and more. Successfully implementing the automation examples above, however, will all depend on the time and resources committed to the project.

Know The Challenges For Marketing Automation

The planning, monitoring, and maintenance needed for marketing automation typically pose the biggest challenge. This is because the time and resources needed before and after implementation are often overlooked or underestimated.

Automation can substantially amplify your marketing efforts, but it still requires somebody to identify use cases and ensure they’re actually improving marketing performance. This is very complex stuff you’re dealing with.

So if your organization isn’t ready to commit the resources and time (~1-3 months) needed for a proper marketing automation implementation, then it’s best to investigate other digital marketing supplements (e.g. additional ad buys) that may take you less time to implement.

Learn the Features and Benefits of Marketing Automation

In essence, marketing automation software stitches together as many marketing tools as possible.

Some platforms offer slightly different features (e.g. integrations). But, there are some key features that virtually all automation platforms offer. We’ll discuss these key automation features below.

Web Tracking

Every marketer dreams of closed-loop reporting — i.e. the ability to report on the entire buying journey. This would allow you to trace the route taken by each of your best customers, going beyond clicks and showing you exactly which channels and types of creative are actually resulting in sales.

And with marketing automation, you take one step closer to that kind of closed-loop reality.

Your tightly integrated marketing automation toolset all works together in unison, harmonizing to whatever tune you set forth.

But while automation’s integrations allow for some closed-loop reporting, the capabilities of each platform’s reporting often leave something to be desired and isn’t the game changer the providers often make it out to be. So don’t expect Google Analytics to go anywhere anytime soon.

Content Creation

Content is critical to most all marketing campaigns. Automated marketing is no exception to this.

After all, marketing automation can be said to be all about delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. So one of the biggest benefits relates to creating and publishing content.

With automation, you can create the content types listed below:

  • Email
  • Landing Pages
  • Social Media
  • Webinars & Events

Creating content may not seem like much of a distinctive feature, and you’d be right. It’s the level of personalization that you can achieve that separates content created in a marketing automation suite from somewhere else.

Not only can you swap out first name, last name, and other personally identifiable information, but you can schedule your email sends to be at times most likely preferred by the contact. And, you have fine-grained control over who’s receiving this content — it’s not just being sent out to everybody.

Conversion Rate Optimization

Marketing automation does more than just improve the volume and timing of your content sends.

Personalization and other features can also dramatically improve how your audience interacts with the marketing content on and off your website.

To do this, most platforms offer big upgrades for the following elements of your content:

  • Forms
  • Calls-To-Action
  • Split-Testing
  • Personalization

By using your integrated contact database, marketing automation platforms can help you figure out what small changes to your content can lead to big impacts in performance.

CRO Example
For example, after subscribing to your email list, contact A might receive version 1 of a split-tested email. And in that email is a call-to-action specific to the page where contact A signed up for the email list. Upon clicking on that CTA that’s personalized to contact A’s inferred interests, contact A then goes to a landing page that has contact A’s first name front and center on the page. And the form on that landing page is also personalized, removing fields that contact A has already submitted and replacing them with fields that have been queued up and not yet answered by contact A.

Routine Task Reduction

Automation allows you to delegate routine tasks to robots, who can easily handle repetitive tasks with a minimal setup and maintenance. Here is a sample list of the types of activities it helps with:

  • Contact List Maintenance
  • Recruiting Efforts
  • Sales Qualification

For example, rather than manually updating every single contact record after a recent career fair, you can program a workflow that automatically appends information to contact records. So, that workflow might say “anybody who filled out the intern application form this quarter gets a “Q3 intern prospect” property assigned to their record. This way, you instantly have a up-to-date contact list for communications, reporting, and more.

Choose Software That Matches Your Needs

There are dozens of marketing automation solutions available. Here’s some of the more popular options:

There are generally just minor feature differences between each tool type because these marketing automation solutions typically try to provide a one-size-fits-all set of automation tools for different kinds of marketers and industries. So be aware that the minor differences (e.g. CRM integrations supported) may or may not be a major consideration for the organization paying for the platform.


Try This Automation Exercise

Complete the exercise below before moving on. You’ll gain critical hands-on experience that will help you become the marketer you were meant to be. Plus, it makes completing the quiz at the end of the lesson even easier.

Exercise: Workflow Nominations

Automation has infinite applications for both online and offline marketing. So, depending on what your organization’s priorities are (e.g. new sales vs. returning buyers), what you choose to automate will depend on what will have the biggest impact and will require the least amount of resources to maintain.

Exercise: Instructions & Template
Follow the instructions on the document linked below.


Lesson Goal

To explain common bidding strategies and techniques used to create profitable AdWords campaigns.

Terms to Know

Before we get into specifics, there is basic terminology you should understand.

  • Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising. Hopefully you already know how to define PPC. With pay per click ads, you do not pay for your ads to appear on search engines. Instead, you pay only when your ad is clicked.

A benefit of PPC advertising is that you only pay for interactions with individuals who express interest in what you have to offer. If users aren’t interested in your ad, they won’t click it, and you won’t incur a cost. This can help you maximize your return on your advertising efforts.

  • Cost Per Click (CPC). The amount you pay when someone clicks on your ad. You can limit this cost by setting your max CPC bid in AdWords. You won’t always pay your max CPC–sometimes a lower bid can “win” the auction. (To review how PPC advertising works, refer to this lesson). How much you do pay is called your actual CPC.
  • Cost Per Acquisition. The average amount of money it takes to get a user to convert (submit a form, purchase a product, call the business etc). This number is calculated as:

Total Spent on PPC Advertising in a Given Time
   Total Number of Conversions in that Time

The lower this number, the better, because this means you don’t have to invest a lot of money to get new business.

  • Click Through Rate (CTR). The rate at which individuals who see your ad click on it. To find CTR:

Total Number of Clicks on an Ad in a Given Time
Total Number of Impressions for that Ad in that Time

A higher CTR is favorable here, because it indicates that individuals are interested in your ad and want to find out more. However, if the clicks do not lead to conversions, a high CTR can mean a high cost with minimal return.

  • Conversion Rate. The rate at which individuals who have clicked on your ad convert. This helps you determine if your ad and site experience provide the user with what they wanted to find. To calculate conversion rate:

Total Number of Conversions in a Given Time
Total Number of Clicks on Your Ad in that Time

You want to have a high conversion rate because this means your ads are actually leading to sales.

Getting Started

Bid Strategies

How do you decide what to bid? Look at the keywords you are interested in and review Google’s suggested bid for that word. You’ll generally want to bid a bit higher ($1-2) than that amount. Then monitor your performance for that word and adjust your bid accordingly.

Increasing a Bid

In general, it’s a good idea to consider increasing your bids when:

  • You’re not getting as many impressions or clicks as you’d like
  • You’re under budget
  • Google tells you that your bid is below the required amount to get on the first page
  • Your ad has a low average position
  • Your ad have a low quality score
  • You think converting keywords might do even better with a bid boost

Decreasing a Bid

Think about decreasing your bids when:

  • Your keywords aren’t converting, have a low click through rate etc.
  • Your CPA is higher than your goal

It’s key to make bid changes in small increments. Little changes do add up, and it does take time to see results. Making small changes also helps you narrow your most successful bid range.

AdWords Bid Strategy Options

AdWords gives you several bid strategies to choose from, including:

  • CPC bidding. Focused on bringing customers to your site. You have the ability to improve your CPC efforts by enabling enhanced CPC.
    • Enhanced CPC (ECPC). With this option you give AdWords the ability to increase your bid by up to 30% (after bid adjustments have been applied) if it seems more likely that a conversion could occur.

To enable this feature, click on the Settings tab of a campaign, navigate to the bid strategy section, and click Edit. Then check the box next to Enable Enhanced CPC. Your ad rotation setting will automatically be changed to optimize for conversions as well.

We recommend using CPC bidding, optimizing for clicks. Once you’ve gathered enough data, you can decide if you want to optimize for conversions.

  • Cost per Impression bidding. Focused on getting your ad shown on Google’s Display Network, which we’ll talk about in the next lesson. Your bid is the maximum you are willing to spend for 1000 impressions.
  • CPA bidding. Emphasizes getting the most conversions on your site. You must have at least 15 conversions in the past 30 days to be able to use this method. You still pay per click, but have your choice between two types of bids.
    • Target CPA: With this bid type, you can set your desired average cost per conversion. AdWords bids might go above or below this number, but the overall average should be the same.
    • Maximum CPA: In this case you specify the most you’re willing to spend per acquisition. The majority of your bids should be below this value.

Target CPA is generally the better option, as it’s easier to track, and according to AdWords, those using this option tend to get more conversions.

You can select your bid strategy in the Settings tab of a campaign. Scroll to Bid Strategy and click Edit. There is also an option for flexible bid strategies, which you can learn about here.

Setting Bids

We’ve reviewed how to set bids based on keyword match type, as well as which words are leading to conversions. Now we’ll go over how to set default bids and when to change bids.

You should check on your AdWords campaigns regularly to monitor how much you’re bidding for keywords and if you are on track with your budget.

Be sure to regularly update your negative keyword list to prevent spending money on words that aren’t related to your site or campaign.

Manual vs. Automatic Bidding with PPC Advertising

To get the most control over your bids, select the option to manually manage your bids. You will be able to set the maximum bid you are willing to pay per click.

Automatic bidding, on the other hand, allows AdWords to adjust your bids for you to maximize clicks. You can set a bid limit, which will limit how high AdWords can go with your bid. Note that if you have day and time bid adjustments in place, these will no longer be in effect with automatic bidding.

You can select your bidding strategy under the Settings tab of your campaign. When you activate automatic bidding, it will apply to all of your keywords in that campaign. We recommend using manual bidding.

Default Bids

When you are setting up a campaign in AdWords, you can set the default bid. This will apply to your campaign’s first adgroup.

You can also adjust the default bid for established adgroups. To do so, click into the adgroup, then at the top of the page where it says Adgroup Default Bids click Edit.

Bid Adjustments

AdWords provides the option to set rules for automatic bid adjustments. You can create rules that will increase or decrease your bid automatically in certain circumstances. For example, bid adjustments can be set to occur depending on:

  • Device being used. You can set rules to change your bids for an entire campaign or adgroup when a search has been conducted on a mobile device.
  • Location. Set a bid (at the campaign level) to be increased or decreased based on a user’s geographic location.
  • Ad scheduling. Have your bids be adjusted based on the time of day, days of the week, etc. This is great for if your customers tend to be online at a specific time, as you can have your bid automatically increase at these times, and decrease at other times.
  • Remarketing lists. This allows you to adjust your bid based on users’ interactions with your site. You can set remarketing lists in AdWords, so if an individual visits your site but doesn’t convert, you can alter which ad they see, or adjust your bid for these individuals so your ad is more likely to show for them.

Bid adjustments are calculated using percentages. For example, you can set your bid to increase by 20% if the search occurs on a mobile device. You cannot set a bid to increase by a set amount, such as to increase by $1.50.

To set a bid adjustment, navigate to the appropriate campaign, and then click Settings. Click on Locations, Ad Schedule or Devices. Next, select the checkboxes for the item you want to change and click Set bid adjustment. Bid adjustments can only be set at the campaign or adgroup level.

Remove a bid adjustment by clearing the cell under the Bid adjustment column and in the row for the item you want to change.

Google provides a thorough explanation of bid adjustments here.



Lesson Goal

By the end of this lesson you should:

  • Understand why appropriate keyword targeting is essential to PPC success
  • Know where to find keyword ideas
  • Be able to distinguish between keyword match types
  • Know how to build a negative keyword list

What is Keyword Targeting?

Keyword targeting is the process of selecting the search terms you want to trigger your paid advertisements. It also involves specifying terms you do not want to trigger your ads. Proper keyword targeting helps you focus your advertising efforts on audiences who are more likely to convert. This is because they are interested in and searching for terms you have deemed relevant to your offerings.

Getting Started

How to Choose Which Keywords to Target

For your keywords to be useful and your PPC efforts to be profitable, keywords need to be relevant to your audience, have significant volume, and be within your budget.

Consider Your Audience

To know which keywords will generate the most qualified leads, you need to understand your audience. When determining keywords to target consider the 3 Ls:

  • What are users looking for? What do they hope to get from their purchase? Remember to focus on benefits rather than features.
  • What is the logic behind their search? Are they using general terms because they’ve just started their search? Are they searching out of interest, or are they ready to buy?
  • Where are they located? Are the users in your service area? Have they limited their search by geography?

If you think about these questions as you brainstorm and evaluate keywords to target, you’ll be more likely to narrow your audience down to more qualified leads.

Balance Volume and Competition

It’s a good rule of thumb to estimate that your PPC campaigns will have a click through rate of 1-2%, and a 2-4% conversion rate. This will generally give you a good ballpark on how your campaigns will perform.

Since these percentages are low, it is important to select keywords that have large enough search volume. If individuals aren’t searching for your terms, they won’t see your ads, and you can’t convert them.

On the other hand, it’s also essential to ensure that your keywords are relevant to your offerings, and that you can stand the competition for those words. If a keyword has better volume, but doesn’t reflect your product as well, it might not be worth the trade off.

Similarly, if one of your words has very high competition, you it might be a good idea to search for a term that has a bit less volume, but less competition as well.

Bidding and Budgeting

When deciding on keywords to target, focus on maximizing your budget. Bid more on words that are more likely to convert, such as those that are found on your website, and exact match terms. Spend less on terms that are broad match or are very general. (We’ll give you a refresher on match types in a minute).

Typically, we use the following bidding structure:

  • Broad match terms: $x
  • Phrase and Broad Modified match terms: $x *1.2
  • Exact match terms: $x *1.4

So, we might spend $5 on a broad match term, $6 on a phrase or broad modified term, and $7 on an exact match term.

Tools to Use for PPC Keyword Research

The best way to do this with regard to keyword targeting is to discover which search terms are being used to talk about your product type or industry and which have brought people to your site.

Researching keywords to target for PPC purposes is similar to conducting keyword research, which we discussed earlier in the course. When searching for keywords related to your product or service, using Google Trends, and the Keyword Planner are great places to start.

Note that in the Keyword Planner, you can now pay attention to the columns on the level of competition and suggested bids. Take the information in these columns with a grain of salt–they are best seen as estimations.

You can also take a look at the terms your competitors or related businesses use on their site.

To see which terms have actually brought users to your site, refer to the keyword subsection of the Acquisition tab in Google Analytics, or the Search Queries section in WebMaster Tools.

Another option for finding keywords relevant to your audience is to look at the searches users have conducted while on your site. You can find this information in the Search Terms section of the Behavior tab in Analytics.

The benefit of targeting terms individuals have searched that have led them to your site is that you know they find them relevant to your offerings, and that there is interest in those terms.

Forms of Keywords to Target

Once you’ve determined which keywords you are interested in, you need to decide which forms of the keyword you want to target.

Keyword Match Types

We went over the different keyword match types for PPC ads in the previous lesson. Just as a reminder, there are four different match types:

  • Broad Match. This is the loosest possible match type, meaning that your ad will be triggered for the widest array of queries. However, in this case, relevancy is sometimes sacrificed for volume. It includes synonyms, plurals, common misspellings, etc.

When entering a broad match term in AdWords, there are no symbols around the word or phrase you use. This indicates that it is a broad match term. For our greeting card example, if we selected the word greeting card as a broad match, our ad might also trigger for:

greeting cards
birthday cards
online cards
funny greeting cards

  • Modified Broad Match. With modified broad match keywords, you can specify that your ad will only show for queries that include a specific word or words as part of a phrase. This ensures that it won’t show for synonyms or terms that might not be relevant. A + must be placed before each word that you deem as required to trigger your ad.

For instance, we could bid on the keyword +unique +greeting +card. This means that our ad would only be triggered if a search had all of these words. The order of those words, however, does not matter.

Therefore, we would show up for funny unique greeting card or greeting card that is unique.Our ad would not show for a query like unique e-cards.

  • Phrase Match. A phrase match keyword means that a search query must have the same words included, in the same order. Other words can appear before or after that phrase. Your phrase must be in quotes to indicate to AdWords that it is a phrase match keyword.

For example, if we bid on “unusual greeting cards,” our ad would show for colorful, unusual greeting cards, but not for greeting cards that are unusual.

  • Exact Match. With exact match keywords, the search query a user enters must be exactly the same as the keyword we bid on for our ad to show. An exact match keyword is specified by a pair of square brackets [ ].

If we bid on [cool greeting cards], our ad would only show for that query. It wouldn’t show for queries that are similar, such as fun greeting cards or neat greeting cards.

Negative Keywords

There are keywords that you do not want to trigger your ad as well. These are called negative keywords. For instance, as a greeting card company, Things by Bean doesn’t offer electronic cards. However, since electronic cards are a form of greeting card, Google might deem them an acceptable synonym for our product and trigger our ads for the term.

To avoid this, we would add electronic cards as a negative keyword. A negative keyword has a – sign in front of it. Negative keywords can be added at the adgroup or campaign level.

Add negative keywords by clicking on the campaign or adgroup you want to add negative keywords for, and then clicking the Keywords tab. Scroll down to see the Negative Keywords option. You’ll see lists of negative keywords at the adgroup (as shown in the example below) and campaign level. To add another term, simply click Add.

Negative keywords in AdWords

To remove a negative keyword, select the checkbox next to it, then click Remove.

Note that match types apply to negative keywords as well. If we want our Things by Bean ad to trigger for the term unique greeting cards, but not for the term weird greeting cards, we could add [weird greeting cards] as an exact match to our negative keyword list.

For more on negative keywords, read Google’s documentation.

How to Add Keywords to a PPC Campaign

Now that you know which words you plan to target, it’s just a matter of entering them into your PPC campaign. To add keywords, click on the appropriate campaign or adgroup, and then click the Keywords tab. Then click the red +Keywords button.

Remember that you must use the notation that signals your keyword match type as you enter the words into the field provided. Finally, click Save.



Lesson Goal

To provide an overview of running search ad campaigns on Google AdWords, including account structure, terminology, and techniques.

Getting Started

How Do Search Ads Work?

When you conduct a search on Google, you’ll often see ads at the top of the results page. These ads are triggered because they are set to appear when specific keywords are entered into Google. Where an ad appears on the page depends on its ad rank. A pay per click (PPC) ad’s rank is calculated as follows:

Maximum bid for the keyword triggering the ad x Quality Score

Let’s walk through a basic example. We’ll say that Things by Bean has bid on the keyword  “unique greeting cards.” Assume that the ad has a high quality score, and our bid is slightly above the suggested amount. These are all actions that a user never sees.

Now, if an individual searches for our keyword,  “unique greeting cards,” Google runs an extremely quick auction and sells the best ad space to the ad with the highest bid and quality score combination. If our ad was deemed the auction winner, we’d get the top ad placement. If another company’s ad was better, we might be bumped down to the second or third space, etc.

Quality Score

The quality score has a significant impact on your account’s performance. It will be used to determine:

  • Ad rank
  • Bid amount needed to get on the first page
  • Ability for ad to appear on other sites
  • If your ad will show on specific sites you’ve requested

How is your quality score calculated? According to expert Brad Geddes, it’s a combination of:

  • Your click through rate on Google. This is the most important factor in calculating quality score. The more clicks on your ad, the better it is for your quality score. Your ad position is considered to level the playing field.
  • The click through rate of your display URLs within an AdGroup. Google also considers the click through rate for your display URL separately from the text ad in which it appears. Again, the more clicks on a display URL, the higher its click through rate.
  • How closely related the keywords are to the ad copy within an adgroup. Your keyword should be relevant to your text ad copy. This is because when users enter a search term, Google wants to show results that will capture their attention. It seems spammy if your keyword doesn’t relate to the ad copy in the adgroup.
  • How relevant the keyword is to the ad copy and search query. Your ad copy and keyword should be reflective of the user’s search terms. Once Google has reviewed how well matched your keyword and ad copy are, it will evaluate how well matched they are to the user’s search query. Again, this ensures that users see ads that are on par with their search.
  • Landing page quality and load time. Your landing page is the first page of your site a user visits. Your landing page should be clearly related to your keyword, and the page should load quickly. For Google, it’s about making sure that users get where they want to go and providing a smooth experience.
  • Performance in the area where your ad will be shown. Your ad might have a higher click through rate in different geographic areas. If it has a higher click through rate in area A than in area B, it will be shown more often in area A.  This is more obviously related to ad positioning, but it does factor into quality score as well.
  • Account history. Your AdWords’ account’s performance history (click through rate etc) also plays into your quality score. Recent history is weighted more heavily.
  • Other minor factors. There are other factors that influence quality score, but they are difficult to differentiate and optimize.

AdWords Structure

AdWords accounts have a hierarchical structure.

  • Account. The highest tier that encompasses all of the other tiers. It’s usually at the business level. Our account would be Things by Bean.
  • Campaign. Includes adgroups that share location settings, budgeting, etc. For example, a campaign to advertize holiday greeting cards.
  • Adgroup. Includes ads that share a single theme. For example, one of our adgroups in the holiday campaign could be Christmas, another could be New Year’s or Hanukkah.
  • Ads and Keywords. Individual advertisements that revolve around the theme of their adgroup and the keywords for which those ads will show. Within the Christmas adgroup, we could have an ad for a sale on Christmas cards. Our keywords could include “greeting cards for Christmas,” “cool Christmas cards,” etc.

Note that keywords can have one of three statuses: Enabled, Paused, or Removed. When a keyword is enabled, that means it your ad will be triggered for that keyword. Pausing a keyword means that it’s not active, and your ad will not be triggered for it. If you’ve removed a keyword, it means it’s no longer a part of your campaign, and your ads will not be triggered for that keyword.

Search Ad Keyword Match Types

There are several keyword match types used in PPC advertising. They include:

  • Broad Match. This is the loosest possible match type, meaning that your ad will be triggered for the most queries. However, in this case, relevancy is sometimes sacrificed for volume. It includes synonyms, plurals, common misspellings, related terms, etc.

With our greeting card example, let’s say we decide to bid on the broad match version of unique greeting cards. Since we selected broad match, our ad might also show up for queries like funny e-cards, wacky cards or greeting card companies in Maryland. Our ad is related to these queries, but is closer to some than others.

  • Modified Broad Match. With modified broad match keywords, you can specify that your ad will only show for queries that include a specific word as part of a phrase. This ensures that it won’t show for synonyms or terms that might not be relevant.

For instance, we could bid on the keyword  +unique +greeting +card. This means that our ad would only be triggered if a search had all of these words. The order of those words, however, does not matter.

Therefore, we would show up for funny unique greeting card or greeting card that is unique. Our ad would not show for a query like unique e-cards.

  • Phrase Match. A phrase match keyword means that a search query must have the same words included, in the same order. Other words can appear before or after that phrase.

For example, if we bid on unusual greeting cards, our ad would show for colorful, unusual greeting cards, but not for greeting cards that are unusual.

  • Exact Match. With exact match keywords, the search query a user enters must be exactly the same as the keyword we bid on for our ad to show.

For instance, if we bid on cool greeting cards, our ad would only show for that query. It wouldn’t show for queries that are similar, such as fun greeting cards or neat greeting cards.

For a more on keyword match types, including the symbols used in the AdWords interface to differentiate them, check out Google’s summary of search ad keyword match types.

Bidding Strategies

Setting the right bids not only helps your ads show when you want them to, but also keeps your budget in check. We’ll quickly review bidding best practices to help you get started.

Tiered Bidding

Tiered bidding involves placing bids based on keyword match type. Typically, the lowest amount is bid on broad match keywords, and the highest on exact match keywords. Phrase and broad modified keywords typically fall in the middle.

Using this bidding structure ensures that you place more emphasis on having your ad show for users who are searching for exactly what you have to offer. If people are searching the exact keywords you are bidding on, it’s more likely that they’ll be interested in your product and buy from you. If individuals are searching for more general terms, they might be less interested, and so you should not spend as much money on these customers.

Look at Your Data

Use your data from AdWords and Google Analytics to see which terms have led to the most conversions on your site. Try bidding more on these keywords, as they’ve already proven to be successful. On the other hand, if there are words that are expensive and aren’t leading to conversions, remove them from your campaign, or bid less.

We’ll get more into bidding management in a future lesson.


Using your money wisely is key to achieving AdWords success. Ideally, you’ll be spending your maximum budget and getting conversions. We’ll go over how to set budgets when we discuss how to set up a campaign. However, it’s also possible to overspend and underspend. Here are a few tips for when you find yourself in either position.

  • If you’ve gone over budget.
    • Cut your budget. Simply reduce your daily budget by clicking on the campaign whose budget you want to change, then click Settings. Scroll down to the budget section and click edit.

While this is a quick fix, it might have a negative impact on your profitability.

    • Lower your bids. Lowering bids across all of your campaigns, or on the most expensive campaign will likely reduce your cost per click, but because you won’t be reducing the amount you can spend in a day, this might not be the best method.

To reduce your bids, click the number under the Default Max CPC column.

      • Pause keywords that don’t convert. While this strategy takes time, it does ensure that you aren’t spending money on words that aren’t performing. However, sometimes the highest converting words are also the most expensive.
      • Segment your adgroups further. If you can, either pause or pull an adgroup or keywords out of an expensive campaign to reduce bids. Unfortunately, this could hurt your quality score because of the new association.
  • If you’re under budget.
    • Raise your budget. This is a clear option, but if your campaign is not limited by budget, it might not spend more.
    • Raise bids. Increasing your bids could improve your conversion rates and ad positions. However, this could bump your ad from its ideal position, and simply increase your cost per acquisition (CPA) rather than increasing actual conversions. Increasing bids only on keywords that convert could be an alternative.
    • Raise both your budget and your bids. This will definitely increase how much you spend, but could also increase your CPA.
    • Add keywords. If raising your budget and bids does not work, adding keywords is the next step. This can help you increase your volume and spend, but can also make your adgroups less specific, and you might spend money on words that won’t convert.

Limiting Your Audience

You can specify who you want to see your ads by selecting  geographic locations where you want your ad to run. You can do this under the settings tab of your campaign.

If you know when your target audience tends to be online, you can also limit the times of day and days of the  week your ad shows. This can also be accessed under the settings tab of the campaign, in the ad schedule section.

Choosing Keywords

Choosing the right keywords is essential to a successful AdWords campaign. You can use the keyword planner to find words that have a good amount of volume. The level of competition and estimated bids are shown in the keyword planner as well. Other ideas for keywords can come from Analytics and WebMaster Tools.

Landing Pages

It’s important for an ad to lead the user to a web page that is relevant to the ad and provides users with the information they want. The landing page an ad leads to also impacts the ad’s quality score. For a higher quality score, make sure the ad and landing page are in alignment.

Setting Up Your First Campaign

We’ll now walk through how to set up a campaign in AdWords for Things by Bean. AdWords is a complex and robust tool, so we will only be covering the basics to help you get started.

  1. Go to the AdWords homepage and begin the account setup process by logging in with your Google account.
  2. You’ll be asked for your website, and then directed to a page where you’ll create your first campaign.

AdWords Account set up

  1. For your first campaign, set a fairly small budget. You don’t want to risk overspending as you’re learning how to use the tool. We’re going to set our daily budget to $25. We’ll limit our location to the US, and for this lesson, we’ll only have our ads on the search
  2. Next, we’ll pick a few keywords to target from the list Google has generated for us, or pick a few on our own. Our keywords must be relevant to our product offering, so we’ll filter out anything that says e-card or free.

Creating a search campaign

  1. Then we set our maximum cost per click (CPC) that we’re willing to pay. This means that if someone clicks on our ad, we will pay up to that amount. There is no fee for simply having our ad show for a query. Here we’ll set our bid to $1.50, as AdWords suggested.
  2. Then, we write our ad! Remember the structure of a PPC text ad?

Headline (25 characters)
Description line 1 (35 characters)
Description line 2 (35 characters)
Display URL (35 characters)

 For help writing your PPC ad, visit the lesson on testing ad copy.

We’ll use the following:

Get Unique Greeting Cards
Find Funny, Quirky Cards for Every
Occasion! Browse Our Selection Now.

Creating an a search campaign

 Once you’re happy with your ad, click save, then save and continue.

  1. Next, you’ll be asked to enter your billing information. You cannot move forward with AdWords unless you fill out this information. Once you’ve completed this page, you’ll be prompted to review everything, and your adventure with AdWords will begin!

After you’ve set up your first campaign, creating future campaigns looks a little different. We’ll run through this quickly as well.

  1. When you’ve logged in to AdWords, click the campaigns tab. You can then click the red +Campaign button to create a new campaign.
  2. Select the network on which you want your ad to appear. For this lesson, choose Search Network.
  3. You’ll then come to a page where you can configure the rest of your campaign details. For this example, we’ll make a Holiday campaign.

Give your campaign a descriptive name so you know the purpose of these groups of ads. Is it a campaign for a new product line? For a major seasonal sale? Consider the structure of an AdWords account when making your campaign to ensure it’s following the right organization.

  1. We’re going to select All Features, which means that our ad can show on Google’s partner search engines, and we can include extensions for our ads, which can give us more text, allow us to include links, etc.

Creating an AdWords search campaign

  1. The bid strategy section, further down the page, is very important. Here you’ll set whether you’d like Google to automatically bid for you or if you’ll be setting bids yourself. We recommend that you choose manual bidding, so you can control how much you’re spending on your keywords.

You’ll also need to set your default bid. While the bid will vary depending on your industry and the keywords you’ll be bidding on, we’ll use $2 for this example. We’ll set our daily budget to $25 dollars.

Creating a search ad campaign

  1. In the delivery method section, you can choose to rotate your ads evenly over time, or accelerate them so they’ll be shown more quickly. We recommend rotating your ads because you’ll be able to reach audiences who search at different times of the day, and gather information about when your best customers are online.
  2. You can also choose to add extensions to your ads. We won’t go into that here, but you can learn more about ad extensions in this piece from Google.
  3. Next, is the ad scheduling section. Here you can determine when you want your ads to show, and the ultimate end date for your campaign. We’re not going to apply these settings for our example.
  4. In the Ad delivery: Ad rotation, frequency capping section, you can decide if you want your ads to be shown equally, or if you want Google to optimize your ads by showing the one(s) that convert more often than those that don’t.

In general, we recommend rotating ads evenly, and then optimizing after 90 days. This allows you to gather data for an appropriate length of time, and then make a decision.

Frequency capping allows you to limit the number of times a user can see your ad in a day. We’re going to skip the two sections on dynamic links as that’s more advanced.

  1. Once you’ve entered that information, you’ll be ready to create your first adgroup. You’ll name your adgroup based on the theme of the ads it contains. You can then write your ads and select your keywords. Review your settings and save your adgroup, and you’re ready to go!

Using Labels

Once your adgroups are set up, you can use labels to keep your ads organized. Labels can be used to denote which ad concept has been used in the ad, which landing page an ad leads to, etc. You can then view all statistics on ads sharing the same labels to a better idea of how they are performing as a group.

To apply a label, click the checkbox next to the ad you want to label. Then, toward the center of the screen, click Labels. Then either select the label you want to apply or create a new one by typing it into the text field and clicking save.

Metrics to Monitor

Once your ads are up and running, you have to keep an eye on them to make sure they are performing properly.

Impressions vs. Clicks, and Click Through Rate

Impressions are the number of times your ad is shown, whereas clicks are the number of times your ad was clicked. The number of clicks over the number of impressions is equal to your ad’s click through rate. The higher the click through rate, the better. This indicates that users feel your ad is relevant to their query, and it has captured their attention.

Average Position

An ad’s average position is where it appears on the page. Positions 1-8 are generally on the first page of search results, positions 9-16 are on the second page, etc. Generally, the higher the position (the lower the number), the better, because more individuals will see your ad. However, sometimes an ad performs better in the second or third position rather than the first. Keep an eye on your click through and conversion rates to determine which spot is best for you.

Conversion Rate

AdWords also lets you track your ads’ conversion rate. This is the rate at which those who have clicked on your ad perform the action you’ve deemed a conversion. Again, the higher this number the better.