Pamela Lund has been a part of the online marketing industry for almost twenty years. She is well-known and respected for her knowledge and expertise in PPC, ecommerce marketing, and as a business efficiency consultant.
I am honored Pamela took time to answer some questions for me. We started off talking about PPC but then moved into how consultants can optimize their work day and be more efficient. With so many marketers telecommuting and working as consultants, I felt Pamela's recommendations would be very helpful to our readers. So check out the interview, and share your thoughts, tips or questions in the comments section.
Wasted spend is all too common in PPC. What are the biggest mistakes you find when you take over accounts?
Every account is different, but the most common issue I see is being inefficient with negative keywords. I see managers use long-tail exact match negatives when they should be using a smaller list of broad match single keyword negatives to exclude a wider range of unwanted queries before they ever show up in the search term report.
Another issue I often see is using too many match type variations for the same keywords due to a lack of understanding about how keywords and match types work. For example, I will see something like:
“red kitten heels”
“kitten heels red”
+red +kitten +heels
+kitten +heels +red
+red + leather +kitten +heels +size +8
“read leather kitten heels in size 8”
[red kitten heels]
[kitten heels red]
[red kitten heels in size 8]
…you get the point :)
Using this many variations of the same keywords with match types that don’t really make sense for the type of keyword results in a few things:
- The same queries will be matched to multiple keywords which dilutes your performance data and makes it harder for you to make optimization decisions.
- If the keywords are in ad groups by match type you have to have ad group level, granular negative keywords to try to force the right queries into the right ad groups, which significantly increases management time and the chance of mistakes like adding the wrong negative keyword and blocking quality traffic.
- You will end up with a lot of low search volume, low quality score keywords in the campaign which affects cpcs and makes management more time-consuming.
Finally, I see people fighting the shift to automation so hard that they don’t take advantage of the automated features that are actually performing really well for many businesses. Dynamic Search Ads and Smart Shopping campaigns, for example, can work extremely well and require less time to manage once they are set up properly. This strategy frees up your time to focus more on strategy and big picture growth rather than getting lost in day-to-day minutiae.
Google is continually changing and updating options for ads. How are people supposed to keep up?
If you are a consultant or work at an agency, the best way to keep up is to test the new options in your clients' accounts. Not every option will be good for every client, but if you have a varied client roster, chances are you have accounts in which you can test most new features. Most clients will be okay with you testing new features as long as you do it wisely and don’t negatively impact the results from their current strategies or waste too much money testing strategies that don’t pan out.
Participating in #ppcchat on Twitter is also a great way to keep on top of changes. There are people in that group that are on top of the latest and greatest and will talk about it as soon as they try out a new feature.
If you are a business owner who is trying to run your own campaigns, it becomes much more difficult to stay on top of new features and ad types. I believe that Google has done most business owners a disservice with their marketing that claims you can run ad campaigns yourself. While they are moving to more automation and less complexity, it is far too easy to waste your marketing budget on poorly managed campaigns if you don’t know what you are doing. Yes, business owners could figure it out for themselves, but with the time it takes to learn and the focus it takes away from doing what you do best (run your business), I don’t think it is worth it for most business owners to try to learn how to run ad campaigns.
What tips do you have for businesses looking to hire a PPC consultant? We know they are not all created equal.
You need to decide if you want to work with an agency that can offer a wider range of services, like web design and SEO, and that may assign an account manager to you for communication or if you want to work with individual consultants and speak directly to them. Both situations have pros and cons, so you need to decide what you prefer.
The best way to find a consultant is to ask for a referral from someone you trust. If you don’t have someone to ask, you can try a service like Credo (getcredo.com), or you can tweet what you are looking for with the hashtag #ppcchat and you will get plenty of responses. You can also attend marketing conferences to meet providers face to face, look at speaker profiles on conference websites, or check out people who blog for sites like this one.
Before you spend much time talking to potential providers, let them know your monthly ad budget and the industry you are in; this will help filter out the ones that are not a good fit.
Once you have a handful of people or agencies you want to talk to, schedule calls with them to tell them about your business, your needs, your concerns, and your goals. After you have shared your info, ask for an idea of what type of strategy the provider recommends. They should be able to give you a rough overview of how they would proceed with your account. Ask them how they structure their fees: flat monthly retainer, hourly, or based on spend. And ask for a proposal but don’t make your decision solely based on cost. Like with most things, you get what you pay for. Yes, people can charge more than their work is worth too, but if you take price into consideration along with reputation, you will make a better decision.
I also advocate for hiring providers that you personally get along with. It is much easier to do business with people you like talking to and feel comfortable being honest with. If you “click” with someone on the intro call, it is likely that you will work well together.
Finally, understand that finding a good provider is sort of like dating. You may have to try a few different consultants or agencies to find the right one for you. That is okay as long as you have clearly communicated your goals, given the provider everything they need to meet those goals and have also given them enough time to show what they can do with your account. It can take months to achieve goals in many cases, but you should feel confident that you are moving in the right direction within 4-6 weeks with a new provider.
You often talk about efficiency and optimizing your day. What are some ways that marketing consultants can become more efficient, reduce anxiety, and work shorter hours?
I have been a self-employed, work-from-home marketing consultant for over a decade now, so I have had a lot of experience wasting time, procrastinating, and doing work that feels productive but really isn’t. 😉 I used to feel anxious about how much work I had to do and stressed out because I could never get it all done. I worked longer and longer hours but my income didn’t increase accordingly and I still never got everything done. I didn’t want to work 12 hour days anymore, so I had to learn how to get everything done in less time.
The keys to being more efficient, in my experience, are being honest about how you are actually spending your time and having processes that help you maintain the schedule you want.
1. Track Your Time
The biggest change in my productivity (and profitability) came from tracking how I was spending my time during work hours. I used a free time tracking tool (Toggl and Clockify are great options) and set up projects for clients, business development, bookkeeping, content development, and anything else that I spent time on for my business. I tracked every minute I spent working, and at the end of the month, I was able to see where all of my time went. This information made me better at bidding new projects, showed me where I needed to raise my rates, and even highlighted a few projects that I needed to spend more time on. It also showed me what I needed to outsource or automate and what tasks I used to avoid bigger projects. (I am probably an outlier but I love accounting, so I use budgeting and bookkeeping to procrastinate.)
The shocking thing was that I would only have 2-4 hours of billable time per day even though I thought I had worked 8 hours. I was able to figure out where my time leaks were and where I was wasting time on tasks that didn’t need to be done so frequently. I also learned to set realistic expectations for how much I could get done in a day which reduced the anxiety I felt about never getting enough done.
2. Implement Processes
There are a lot of repetitive tasks to do when managing ad campaigns, such as reviewing search query reports or checking on budget pacing. These repetitive tasks are easy and make you feel like you have accomplished something but doing them too frequently is a waste of time at best and detrimental to performance at worst. You will be tempted to do these types of tasks when you should be working on something more difficult. I call this productive procrastination, and it is the worst type of procrastination because it still feels like you are getting work done.
You can waste a lot of time on productive procrastination if you don’t have repetitive tasks processed and scheduled. To avoid getting caught up in doing repetitive tasks too frequently, have a schedule for your tasks and block off time for each client. For example, you may schedule two hours every Tuesday to do repetitive tasks for all clients or 30 minutes every day for a different client. The details of the schedule will be unique to your business but having a schedule (and sticking to it) is what matters. Having a schedule also reduces anxiety and cognitive load because you know the task will be done at a specific time, so you don’t have to worry about it, which frees up your energy to focus on more important tasks.
3. Know What Your Priorities Are for Each Day
How often do you get to the end of your day and realize you didn’t do anything you meant to do that day because you got caught up in email, putting out fires, or those repetitive tasks we just discussed? More often than you would like, I’m sure. There are a lot of strategies for staying on task—such as time blocking, not checking email first thing in the morning, and using a Pomodoro timer—but before you use those strategies you have to know what you need to accomplish to consider your day productive. No trick or timer is as effective for focusing on priorities as a simple list.
Before you begin your day, make a short list of what you absolutely need to get done; this is your list of priorities for the day. Don’t include everything you wish you could get done, only what has to get done for you to feel good at the end of the day. If you complete everything on the list, you can always add more, but you don’t want to start out with more than you can reasonably complete or you will feel like you failed (again) when you don’t get through it all.
Use your priority list to guide what you focus on and to get you back on track when you get sucked into your inbox, lower priority tasks, or social media. I keep a note on my desk that asks “What’s my priority right now?” as a reminder to stay focused on my list.
You mentioned email a few times in the answers above. Do you have tips for spending less time on email?
I have a love/hate relationship with email. It is such a great tool when we use it correctly, but inbox anxiety is a real problem. Slack and tools like it have tried to reduce our email problem, and while they are really useful for many things, they’ve just given people another way to hijack your time. (And if you are anything like me, you get just as much anxiety from a Slack notification as from a new email.)
1. Turn Off Notifications
Imagine if 50 times a day one of your coworkers or clients walked up to your desk and just started talking about whatever was important to them with no regard for what you were working on. That is basically what email and chat notifications are.
I turn off all notifications and close the apps, so I am not interrupted when I am working (or when I don’t want to be working). I schedule time to check email and Slack throughout the day, so I am not tempted to check it every few minutes, and so nothing important will go longer than a couple of hours without a response.
2. Set Boundaries and Expectations (with yourself and others)
One of the biggest problems with email and chat is that we feel pressure to respond as soon as we get a message. I know people who set an auto-responder if they will be away from email for a single afternoon. I think these expectations of quick response are unreasonable, unhealthy, and unproductive. I also think they are self-imposed.
Setting boundaries is the only way to alleviate response time stress. I communicate boundaries with my clients, so they understand that I will generally respond to an email within 1-2 working days, depending on the topic. If something is urgent, it will get a faster response of course, but I find that last minute or urgent requests become rare when you proactively set expectations.
You also need to set boundaries with yourself to ensure you don’t check email when you should be working on something else and so you don’t put pressure on yourself to respond quickly when no one else expects you to.
3. Read What You Wrote Before You Hit Send
If you have ever fired off an email at the end of the day only to come into work the next day and find the conversation went off the rails because you weren’t clear, you know how important it is to read your emails before you hit send. But, because we are often in a rush, we don’t usually take the time to proof what we write.
Taking a few minutes to read your email and consider if you have answered all of the questions the recipient asked or covered all the essential points, if you have used terminology they will understand, and if you were clear with any requests will reduce the back and forth that all too often happens when we rush through writing emails.
If you are writing about a particularly complex topic or had trouble conveying what you wanted to say, ask someone else to read it and give you feedback.
4. Pick Up the Phone
I know, phone calls are the worst but sometimes you can accomplish more with a 5-minute call than you can with 10 emails. If email isn’t getting the job done, pick up the phone and get everyone on the same page so you can get back to being productive.
Do you have any more tips for consultants who want to be more productive?
I think understanding mindset and inherent biases is paramount to becoming more successful at anything, including efficiency and productivity; this is one of my favorite topics because understanding how our brains work and why we think the way we do is very effective in creating behavioral change. Once you know why you procrastinate or why you are afraid to launch your passion project, it is much easier to get over what is holding you back.
This awareness of our thought processes had such an impact on my professional success and personal happiness that I created a self-directed course called "The Life Manifesto by Pamela Lund" so others could benefit without having to do hours of reading as I did.
Finally, one of my less popular opinions is that multitasking is counterproductive and if you stop doing it you will be more efficient and effective. People think that multitasking means doing two or more things concurrently, but your brain can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, so you actually switch back and forth between thinking about each task. If you have ever checked your email while on a conference call only to have someone ask you a question and make you realize you stopped listening to the call as soon as you started reading your email, you have experienced how poorly our brains handle focusing on multiple things.
Studies show that even though people think they are getting more done when they multitask, multitasking actually creates more frustration, makes you feel like you have less time to complete tasks, and makes you feel like you are working harder than you are. You are also more likely to make mistakes, forget something, or do an inadequate job when you multitask; this all results in more stress and anxiety than a unifocal workflow does.
It is hard to work on one thing at a time when we have so many distractions, but if you use the strategies discussed above to stay focused, you will be less tempted. And, once you see how much more you can get done and how much calmer you feel when you focus on one task at a time you will never go back.
- Be careful using long-tail exact match negatives.
- There are good reasons not to fight the shift to ad automation.
- Always test new ad options, based on clients' needs.
- Businesses may have a hard time running ads themselves; Google isn't making somethings clear to novices.
- There are several factors to consider before choosing a PPC consultant to work with.
- If you are working from home, you can reduce your anxiety over the amount of work you have.
- You can become more efficient; tracking time is the best way to start.
- Establish daily priorities.
- Set boundaries for chat software and email.
- Real efficiency and productivity are attainable.
Thanks to Pamela