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How to Create an Effective Weekly PPC Workflow [Interview]

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We recently interviewed J.C. Hewitt of Hagbard Group to learn more about his PPC workflow and how he creates an effective weekly schedule that helps him consistently optimize accounts to perform better.

We learned a lot from the interview and hope you will too.

By reading the interview, you’ll learn:

  1. How J.C. came up with his PPC workflow.
  2. Why he checks on the accounts he’s managing every single day.
  3. How he gets in a better flow by scheduling different AdWords tasks for different days.
  4. Why he blocks out time to learn more about his client’s businesses and doesn’t just spend all of his time in AdWords.
  5. Some of the personal productivity practices he uses to be more productive while working remotely on PPC accounts.

And much more.

This is definitely an interview you won’t want to miss.

The Interview:

Joe: Hi J.C., we really appreciate you’re joining us today to talk about PPC workflows and how to productively manage campaigns. In order to kick us off, could you tell us a little bit about who you are, the kind of work that you’ve done, and what you do currently?

J.C.: Sure. I’m J.C. Hewitt, founder and owner of Hagbard Group. We do conversion consulting, and the way we do that is mostly through pay-per-click campaign management, copywriting and content marketing. I’ve been mostly working on SEO campaigns since 2007, and I’ve worked on campaigns for companies like Airbnb, First Round Capital, Uber, Mint, Pressnomics, and Survey Monkey. For PPC, I’ve worked on eCommerce campaigns, mostly for a Swiss multinational, and some other small to medium sized businesses.

Joe: OK, very good. It’s helpful to know more about your experience and background. Related to our topic for today, what can you tell us about your workflow and your recommendations for how people can build a schedule to be more productive when it comes to PPC campaign management?

J.C.: I’ve actually taken most of the workflow from the Advanced Google AdWords book by Brad Geddes and melded that with my own productivity system that I’ve developed over the last several years from working remotely because when you’re working from a home office or from a co-working space, you generally have to be your own boss. So you have to make sure that you’re on target, you don’t waste time, and that you also work well with other people.

I think the reason why you need to have a good PPC schedule is so you don’t waste time on irrelevant stuff and so you make sure you know what you did on certain days. It makes it easier to keep a log and do full reports and tell the client what you’re doing in order to show progress on the account. It also helps you to maintain a continuous, predictable, and proven process on the account as well. And finally, when you’re working with other people, it’s really important to be able to break down the responsibilities for different aspects of the account.

There’s a concept in management that you generally want people to feel they have ownership over a particular area, and you never want to have shared ownership of a particular responsibility because people have a tendency to foist off the responsibility onto the other person. What you really want to say is, “This person is doing this, this person is doing that, and this person is responsible for everything there.” It just makes it much easier to delegate, coordinate, share responsibility, and make sure that certain things get done on certain days at certain times. It saves a lot of time, a lot of headaches.

Joe: That makes sense. I wouldn’t consider myself a productivity expert by any means, but I do some productivity reading of my own. Somebody sent a Medium article to me recently where the writer was talking about how the process you put in place is just as important or even more important than the goals you set. You might set a certain goal, but having a system in place to accomplish the goal is even more important.

Which means setting daily tasks or weekly tasks are what are going to enable you to reach the end result that you’re looking for. I see this being very helpful for PPC as well, where maybe whoever’s managing the account, they have a certain goal to hit. But really, the daily or weekly management process of spending time in a scheduled way is what’s going to help them get there. What can you say about this, related to the system you have and how having a schedule helps in that regard?

J.C.: To loop back a little to what you were saying, if you have a goal, you really need to have a plan to get there. If you’re trying to get to San Francisco, you have to know if you’re going to buy a ticket on a certain time, you’re going to be at the gate at a certain time, the ticket’s going to cost X dollars, and you have to either pick a cab or take public transportation to get to the airport, something like that.

Pay per click is just like that, except for PPC goals, it’s a little different when you’re setting up the campaign because there’s more initial work and expectation setting and discussion with the client in the beginning. The management process is really more for when the campaign’s up and running and you’re trying to improve the account every week.

For example, you have to go with a status check every day, because unexpected things can pop up. You generally don’t want surprises, but surprises will occasionally appear. You need to open up the account every day to eyeball it and to look at what’s been happening. You check clicks and see if there are any significant changes in the click-through rate or conversions. This tends to be pretty easy for most of the accounts that I manage because I usually just target first page bid with spending caps based on what the goal for the campaign is. If I’m trying to sell a higher margin item or service, it will tend to have a higher cap, and if it’s less of an important item, it’ll tend to have a lower cap.

So these kinds of checks every day tend not to be too significant. I also get email notifications for the bid rules that run every day. But this is just to see if anything noteworthy happened in the account. It can take a long time, or a short period of time, depending how familiar I am with the account. For example, one account that I manage is seasonal so inventory turns over every single season with totally new products every spring, summer, fall, and winter. With that, you have to be a little more active. In a store where the inventory doesn’t really change that much over time, status checks won’t take as long. I usually do it at a set time for each account, and I just go through them one at a time. Then, if there’s something significant that I have to communicate to the client, I send an email or make a phone call.

Joe: Do you check all of the accounts first thing in the morning? Or do you check one at a time throughout the day? What’s your process for that?

J.C.: Some of the accounts that I manage are international so doing it in the morning isn’t necessarily as important. Instead, it’s something I do throughout the day, depending on what else I have on my plate.

For my personal productivity, I set the agenda before I go to bed, and then in the morning, when I’m having my coffee, I take my items from the agenda and set times for when I’m going to do them.

Joe: That makes sense. You determine the tasks you’re going to do the next day the night before, review it in the morning, and then set times for each task.

J.C.: But for a lot of these accounts, those tasks are pre-scheduled ahead of time, so that’s part of the reason why there’s a system. But as far as what time I do it at, I always do that the day before because things like this call come up that I don’t know about ahead of time.

Joe: Got it. So to closeout the daily check, do you check on all of your campaigns once every single day, or do you do it every other day? What does that look like?

J.C.: Once every single day because you don’t want the client to be the one who notices something. You want to be the one who notices if something good or something not great happens. And you want to be the one telling them about it, rather than them having tell you. It also depends on whatever shared responsibilities might be on the account. If they have their marketing person handling some things, then that can be a little bit different.

Joe: What are some examples of things that might take you by surprise? I know I’ve worked on an account before and I woke up one day and found out that something was wrong with the website so conversions couldn’t go through. Instead of a 20% conversion rate, it was .5%. Seeing this drop helped us identify a technical glitch that affected conversions. Do you have any other examples like this?

J.C.: Yes, it’s stuff like that. I think one of my more common problems would be an ad that’s really great with a landing page that’s not so great. Or an ad with superficially good metrics, like, “Oh man, the quality score is very good and the click through rate is incredibly high, but the traffic that it’s attracting is not converting.”

Those are the kind of surprises that would come up, i.e. that you want to react to. Or more positive things where, for example, an ad group or a particular keyword is doing very well and you might want to take preemptive action of some sort, either moving it out of that particular ad group and turning it into a single keyword ad group. Something like that, where it’s a small change, not an all account change, but you’re just trying to react to opportunities. Or it may be you have to raise the daily budget on a campaign that’s doing well where there are chances for more clicks. Things like that where you’re making changes on a daily basis.

Joe: Excellent. Now what about drilling in a little bit. You have your scheduled time for certain accounts, you open it up, and you’re doing your daily review. Can you walk us through what it is that you look at and what order you do it in?

J.C.: I usually start with keywords because I prefer browsing by keyword to look at what’s happening. I just click on the keywords, go through, and look for significant changes. And there are some email alerts set too. I kind of prefer to look at the whole thing at once, rather than relying on a bunch of different email alerts. It’s not my habit, because I’d rather look at the whole thing at once.

Joe: Right. So we’ve talked about a daily review, checking in every day to see if there are any significant changes, positive or negative, and being able to react to that. What’s the next thing you do? What’s the next part of your workflow and the schedule you have for campaigns?

J.C.: On Tuesdays of every week for all the accounts I’m handling, I check Quality Scores, and, of course, Quality Score touches a lot of things, so I also use it as a chance to look at the site itself and pick new inventory items and take notes to look at copy and compare the landing page copy, images, other material, things that might be in the markup. I also take some time to compare the page to the ad groups and keywords. I look at Quality Scores that are below 6 and try to decide what to do with them. And Quality Scores above 8 are candidates to be separated into their own single keyword ad group (SKAG).

So on Tuesdays I look at Quality Scores and if any keywords have particularly low click through rates, which is something I spend more time with on Fridays, I look for problems and make note of them.

Tuesday is spent on improving the strongest and either culling or improving the weakest Quality Score keywords. And also taking note if they’re weak, about what I might want to do with it in the comments, in the AdWords desktop client.

Also, when I’m going over the site, I collect landing page recommendations so if there’s a particular set of keywords that are not really working too well, for example, I’ll sometimes recommend a special landing page just for those. If they’re trying to go after a general term, for example if it’s apparel, and we’re trying to go after a particular category of apparel and there’s no appropriate category page that shows relevant products, I’d recommend a new one and start writing about how we’re going to do that.

Basically, I’m checking to see what the problem is because it can be multiple things. It could be the click through rate, there could be something that’s a problem on the landing page, it could be things are loading slowly because of a humongous image and it’s not loading in the correct order, or any number of things really.

Joe: Do you do anything else on Tuesday or does that wrap up Tuesday?

J.C.: Well I do a bunch of other things, but this is just for the AdWords ongoing management. If there’s some other thing that I’m working on, which is frequently the case, then I will also do it on Tuesday. It depends on how long it takes too. If there are a lot of problems on the account, if it’s an account I’m taking over from somebody else and it requires a lot of surgery, then it can take a whole day. But in other cases, I’m doing other things, I’m marketing my own business, talking to people, etc.

Joe: What comes next?

J.C.: On Wednesday, I do keywords which is mostly spent on keyword tools and analytics. The analytics would be looking for negative keyword ideas, so if there are a lot of phrase matched or even broad matched or modified broad matched keywords on the account, and the intent is to do discovery, I look for opportunities that might not be there. I also look for totally irrelevant queries, going through Analytics, taking note of that, saving them into a text file, and then uploading them to different negative keyword lists later.

The other thing would be spending time on keyword tools, Google keyword tool and some others, looking for opportunities, looking at landing pages for products that aren’t doing particularly well and trying to find alternatives and also trying to find low-cost, high-intent keywords that may be overlooked by other people. And trying to fit them into ad groups that I think are going to do well.

Generally speaking, I don’t write ads when I’m doing keyword research. I try to do the keyword research first, and then I write ads. I don’t design ad groups or campaigns until I feel I have viable keyword groups.

Joe: You mentioned that you don’t do ad groups right away, you don’t plug them in and write ad copy, does that mean on Wednesday you’re just saving them into an Excel spreadsheet and then later you’ll build them out? What does that look like?

J.C.: Yes. Exactly. I’d either do that later in the day or on Friday. It depends on what the client needs, really. And how much stuff there is. If it’s for a smaller account, I might just do it right then. But I tend to like to leave time between doing it and actually writing the ads just because my head works better that way.

Joe: OK. So Wednesday for the most part is devoted to keyword discovery, is that the way you would describe it?

J.C.: Yeah, I get into a better flow when I’m just looking at keywords and thinking about keywords and using that tool because when I switch between keywords and ad copy, there’s a mental switching cost there that I don’t like to incur. I also find the the ideas are better and the writing is a higher quality when I don’t try to mix keyword research and the writing in the same block of time.

Joe: I’m curious, what’s a quick list of the tools you use for your keyword research?

J.C.: I’ve used a number of things. I generally have become more comfortable with Google Keyword Planner, I guess it’s called now. I used to really hate the new interface when they swapped from the old tool to the new one and it took me a while to adjust and stop feeling outbursts of rage. But it’s kind of grown on me. Another one that I’ve been using recently is KeywordTool.io. I’ve found it to be useful.

Joe: Have you seen KWFinder.com?

J.C.: It sounds familiar.

Joe: It’s simple to use and is my new favorite tool for quick and easy keyword research. It’s more simple than the GoogleKeyword Planner and makes it easier to find keywords faster

J.C.: Cool, I like the look of it.

Joe: I do too and definitely think it’s worth checking out. Ok, let’s move on to Thursday. What happens on Thursdays?

J.C.: Thursday is actually a bit unorthodox, and it’s not something I’ve stolen from Brad Geddes. I spend as much time as I can learning about the client’s line of business. I schedule a block of time to look for discussions of their brand and their products online to learn more about the industry specific jargon and vocabulary.

This is especially difficult for me when I’m working in a type of company that I’m not a consumer of the goods. Women’s apparel would be an example that had a big a learning curve for me. I didn’t know about different types of cotton, different types of silk, and different dress cuts, which means I didn’t know what a boatneck was or knotted skirts and things like that, and I really had to lean on my female family members for answers and also just Googling a lot, picking up books, and reading publications and other things like that.

I’ve noticed that, at least from my experience, you don’t often get a full creative brief that you might get if you were working on a more conventional ad account. So what I often do is look at all the advertising, all the marketing, all the interviews for the people at the particular company that I’m doing work for and take notes and look for their taglines and hooks that they use in their other material to make sure that what I’m writing in the copy matches because that really matters in some cases, especially when they’re spending a lot on display and TV or if they have physical locations with certain signs, signage, slogans, and things like that. I want to make sure that what I’m writing is in line with the brand.

It’s also necessary, like I mentioned before, if it’s an industry that I’m personally not familiar with, to find out what kind of questions to ask for keyword research. It’s easier to do keyword research based on whatever’s already on the website and just to leave it at that. And I think that’s what a lot of people do, but you can sometimes find very attractive keyword opportunities if you look a little deeper into the industry and what kind of language the salespeople and the customers use to describe the product. Because often you’ll find people use rather unconventional terms and those are good for further research.

Joe: Would Amazon reviews be something you would check out?

J.C.: Absolutely.

Joe: That’s very interesting. I don’t know if I would’ve thought to spend some time one day a week to learn more about the business which obviously is very important and makes sense. If you’re doing it once a week it’s less daunting, and you don’t have to learn everything at one time. I can see this being very helpful.

J.C.: Yeah, consistently I hear from clients that they’re surprised that I take the time and effort and initiative to do it. I think it’s very useful and important to do. I kind of picked this up when I was doing more SEO and not PPC because I wound up working assignments on a lot of industries that are a little bit obscure but lucrative. If you look at the top industries, a lot of them are pretty boring, like insurance. I’ve had to read a lot about that stuff. It’s more interesting to me to learn more about strange lines of business that are not necessarily things that consumers know about themselves. It also gives me weird things to talk about at bars.

Joe: Is there anything else to add about Thursday or should we move on to Friday?

J.C.: Friday is mostly for testing. And part of testing is also writing new copy. Any new keywords that I’m adding to the account or moving around in campaigns, I’m going to do on Friday. It’s like a testing and writing day because I look for statistical significance on tests that are already running. Sometimes that’s clear and sometimes I have to run it through a calculator and pick a winner or pick a loser.

If the ad is doing well and it’s already won a test, the new variation is going to be smaller. Instead of a whole line or a new call to action, I’m only going to change part of it for the new test. If it’s doing well, it’s a small test; if it’s doing poorly, then it’s going to be a bigger test.

It also depends on if the landing page itself is being tested or just the ads. I generally don’t do multivariate testing, just because the accounts I’ve managed have not been large enough to do that well.

Joe: Do you have a method for keeping track of which ads you are testing or do you just click through and find which one has multiple ads?

J.C.: Everything has two ads. That’s the method I picked up.

Joe: I’ve always found it interesting, I don’t know if you have any thoughts on this, but I’ve seen some people who talk the most about click through rate and Quality Score, but for the campaigns that I run, I’ve found that conversion rate and cost per converted click matter much more than those other metrics. What would you say about that?

J.C.: You really have to. It’s different on AdWords because of Quality Score and if you have a terrible CTR it’s going to make your costs higher, but at the end of the day, it’s always going to be the return that’s what matters, i.e. your return on the ad spending. It also depends on the product category too, so there’s a bit of a judgement call there at least at this point in my level of knowledge.

Joe: I think it’s interesting, but I also weight conversion rate and cost per acquisition the most highly at this point.

J.C.: I’ve certainly had the experience of writing a really awesome ad in terms of copy and in terms of click through rate that doesn’t convert. At the end of the day, you can say, “I’m a champion because my click rate is 15% on this ad,” but if nobody’s buying, you’re not actually delivering much value to the client. It’s nice, but they have to be selling.

Joe: I agree completely. At this point we’ve closed out the week, covered Friday, running tests, evaluating previous tests, things like that. Is there anything else you have to add? Did we miss anything?

J.C.: Something else, which would be stolen from Brad Geddes, is to look at geographic trends once a month by looking at performance according to geography. Purchasing behavior is very different for different geographies, so you can look at where the conversions are happening and modify bids as needed for different regions.

This is more of a floating task depending on the account. Some of the accounts that I manage, they only really run in some geographies, and they’re not too many geography trends to see, but if it’s a global campaign or it’s an English speaking world campaign, then there’s more to sort through.

This is a particular area that I would really like to get better at because I think there are a lot of opportunities and very specific geographic targeting for a lot of companies that are probably not being realized, but if you really get into it, you can draw lines on a map and do zip codes and other things and you cross reference with other data, which I’ve done and is pretty nifty.

Joe: I haven’t done much of that, but I like that it’s a monthly thing, so something you take a look at and spend a little time every month to do.

J.C.: Yeah, and it’s really dependent on the account, whether or not it could really make a big difference. And another thing that I would fold into that is looking at mobile. Some clients are going to be very, very interested in mobile campaigns, especially click to call ones. Others are going to want to kill the bids 100% because their website doesn’t work too well on mobile or they don’t think it has a chance of converting and they don’t have the budget to spend on it, so it depends on the customer, depends on the service that’s being sold, etc.

For example, if mobile stuff is converting really well, or a particular device like an iPad is converting really well, you can change bids based on devices which is a smart practice that has potential to improve the campaign performance.

Joe: Do you have anything else to add, or do you feel like you’ve covered everything at this point?

J.C.: No, that’s about it, and these are really just maintenance tasks. For other things, I’ll schedule time to think about new directions I want to try and talk to the client to identify their business goals because the goal is not just to create an account that spends money for them. The goal is to help them solve business problems, achieve their business goals, and make money. You want to keep customers happy by making sure they’re attracting quality traffic.

Joe: Right. So you try to spend time with them periodically or once a month or something to see how you’re meeting their goals?

J.C.: Currently, I try to email with people more frequency to keep the channel open. I’ve also tried it where I’m less available, and I think right now my clients tend to be happier when I make myself more available. I would say I talk to some people every day and other people less, depending on what their role is and what their personality is. I’m just trying to make myself more available at this point.

Joe: That covers all the questions I have. We really appreciate your taking the time to talk about your process with us. What could you tell our readers about where they can find more about you and where they can learn more about your business?

J.C.: My business website is HabgardGroup.com, and I try to publish blog posts 5 days a week. We only recently launched, but it’s really neat folding in my freelancing under a company name. I’ve written about a lot of different things, but I really wanted to focus on what I do for work under a particular name so that’s what you’ll find there.

And just in general, I try to help businesses with their marketing. The idea behind my website is for people to get to know me better, to understand how I think about problems, and also to solve some of their own problems. So it’s not just me trumpeting myself. It’s always about helping customers think more clearly about issues and also to de-jargonize some of the space because there’s a lot of jargon out there. Something I learned when I moved from Silicon Valley to Kansas, is that the number of people who don’t know the jargon is much larger, much, much larger than the number of people who do. And part of the task is to help people get to the point where they can ask the right questions to evaluate different service providers, different agencies, so that they get the most out of the relationship.

That’s really what I’m trying to do with my website and what I do when I participate on Reddit, where I met you. And on other forums throughout the web. I also have a very followed account on Quora that I haven’t used recently, so that’s another place where you can see my writing, although most of it’s not related to work.

Joe: Very cool, and thank you again. We really appreciate the interview and look forward to publishing the post and sharing all of your insights with our readers.

J.C.: My pleasure, Joe.

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