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13 Must-Know Sound Bites from #HeroConf 2019 (And Why You Should Care)

The biggest names in the industry. Crowds of people losing their minds at every stage. Kanye West screaming into a microphone about nothing in particular.

No—I’m not talking about Coachella. I’m talking about Hero Conf.


I went to Hanapin Marketing’s eighth annual US conference to learn from the best and brightest minds in PPC—including WordStream’s own Navah Hopkins and Mark Irvine! Here are the 13 most brilliant sound bites I heard.

(Disclaimer: I’m only a man. I wasn’t able to attend the majority of the sessions at the conference. I’m certain that every single speaker dropped some serious knowledge, and I’m sorry that’s not reflected here.)

1. Isadora Coelho (Facebook Blueprint)

Representing Facebook Blueprint—the educational brand that Facebook created to train and certify business owners and digital marketers in all things Facebook advertising—Isadora kicked off the conference with a keynote address about ad delivery.

That sounds boring as hell. Trust me when I say that it wasn’t.

During the lead-up to the meat of her presentation—which focused on the ad auction, bidding strategies, and advertiser controls—Isadora had this to say about Facebook’s approach to ad delivery:

“At Facebook, when it comes to ads, we’re always trying to maximize value both for businesses and for people.”

I think it’s essential for anyone who’s running (or considering) Facebook ads to understand what Isadora is saying here. Facebook, not unlike the Federal Reserve of the US, has a dual mandate: keep advertisers happy by driving returns on their ad spend and keep users happy by delivering relevant content.

In other words, you have no chance of winning the ad auction if your ads aren’t relevant to the users you’re targeting. If you segment your campaigns according to funnel stage and craft your ads accordingly, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of beating your competitors and driving returns on your Facebook budget.

2. Akvile DeFazio (AKvertise)

The founder of the California-based social media marketing agency AKvertise and a regular contributor to the WordStream blog, Akvile used her session to give us insights into the social network that’s been taking over the world for a while now: Instagram.


Via @michellemsem

The conventional wisdom is that, unlike search engine users, social media users are passive—that is, not actively looking for solutions to their problems. On the contrary, Akvile pointed out that 60% of Instagram users—for those of you keeping score at home, that’s the majority—use the platform to seek and discover new brands, products, and services.

Instagram users, in other words, are active. So how do you capitalize on that commercially motivated mindset?

In a word: video.

“Viewers retain 95% of a message when they view it in a video compared to 10% when they read it in text.”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. If you’re advertising on Instagram to make people aware of the awesome product or service you offer, static image ads are going to let you down. By incorporating video into your social strategy—you don’t have to do anything fancy!—you substantially improve the likelihood of your ads making lasting impressions on consumers.

Why is that? Because video ads give consumers a much more complete idea of what it’s like to be your customer. On that front, static image ads are far less effective.

3. Amanda Farley (SSDM)

Just because something’s obvious doesn’t mean it can’t be profound. That’s what I what realized when Amanda Farley, partner at digital agency SSDM and frequent contributor to industry-leading publications like Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, said this:

“Buying a $15 t-shirt is different from buying a house.”

This was the most obvious thing I heard Tuesday morning, and it was also the most impactful. Basically, it was Amanda’s way of illustrating a really crucial point: There’s no one-size-fits-all customer journey. Whereas someone may very well buy a piece of clothing after seeing a single Facebook ad, they’re probably going to take a bit more time to settle on a piece of real estate.

Accordingly, taking a full-funnel approach to digital marketing is going to mean different things to businesses in different verticals. If you’re in the affordable apparel sector, you can expect a lot of your prospects to convert after only a few touchpoints. Alternatively, if you’re in the B2B software sector, you’re going to have to invest in truly educating and nurturing your prospects if you want to forge lasting partnerships.

4. Larissa Hildebrandt (Unbounce)

You’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into thoughtfully segmenting your campaigns and tightly grouping your keywords. You’ve tirelessly experimented with automated bidding solutions to find which ones work best for you. You’ve obsessively tweaked your ads’ headlines and descriptions to get your copy to the point of perfection.

So why aren’t you driving conversions? Probably because your prospects could rebuild the Phoenix Suns into a championship basketball team by the time your landing page loads.

According to Larrisa—who works as a product marketer at CRO solution provider Unbounce—only 3% of digital marketers prioritize improving page speed. I’ll let her explain why that’s a problem:

“Speed impacts conversions. And when you pay for each click, the stakes are high.”

Again—dead simple, yet pretty profound. 52% of mobile consumers will bounce from your landing page if it takes more than four seconds to load. In ecommerce specifically, every second of landing page load time can cost you up to 20% of your potential conversions.

A paid search marketer (or any digital marketer, for that matter) who neglects to reduce their landing page load time is akin to a brick-and-mortar store owner who neglects to unlock the front door. In fact, neglecting to reduce your landing page load time is even worse because you’re coughing up a fee regardless of whether a particular prospect converts.


5. Kirk Williams (ZATO)

Let’s be honest—there’s a lot about Google and Bing Shopping that’s hard to wrap your head around. With acronyms like SKU and GTIN and UPC flying around, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. That’s why I love this straightforward excerpt from Kirk’s presentation on shopping ads:

“Shopping campaign organization is all about bidding.”

With this statement, Kirk touched on a fundamental difference between standard search campaigns and shopping campaigns: Whereas the former involves bidding on individual keywords, the latter involves bidding on product groups. And because you’re setting a single bid on a group of several products, it’s extremely important that those products are similar to one another—in more ways than one.


Via @zmste

Price, profit margin, and conversion rate. Those are three crucial metrics that you need to take into consideration when building out your product groups. Why? Because the more expensive, profitable, or well-converting a particular product is, the more you should be willing to pay for a click on an ad for it. You really, really don’t want to bid the same amount of money for clicks on ads for your best- and worst-performing products.

6. Joe Martinez (Clix Marketing)

There’s a phrase I used earlier in this post when talking about the perceived differences between search engine users and social media users: conventional wisdom. As it turns out, the notion of conventional wisdom was at the core of the presentation given by Joe Martinez—director of client strategy at Clix Marketing and another regular on this here blog.


Via @_GilHong

By my count, Joe addressed two iterations of the conventional wisdom when it comes to paid search. One: You must include the keyword you’re targeting in your ad’s headline. Two: Quality Score is the metric to end all other metrics. He had this to say on those matters:

“Your CPC going up isn’t always a bad thing.”

Allow me to clarify. As your Quality Score for a particular keyword goes down, the CPC you have to pay for that keyword goes up. So, when Joe says that your CPC going up isn’t always a bad thing, he also means that your Quality Score going down isn’t always a bad thing.

Here’s why. Let’s say you have a high Quality Score and low CPC for a particular keyword. One of the reasons your Quality Score is high is that you’ve included your target keyword in your H1 and Google has deemed your ad highly relevant. However, because you’re so focused on targeting the keyword and not so much on connecting with prospects’ needs, your conversion rate for that keyword is sub-par.

Consider an alternative. Rather than using your H1 to target the keyword, you use it to connect with your prospects according to their position in your marketing funnel. Because Google deems your ad less relevant, your Quality Score goes down and your CPC goes up. However, because you’ve made that connection with your prospects, you drive a higher conversion rate. Yeah—you’re paying more for clicks. But you’re also getting more revenue out of those clicks.

Something to think about.

7. JD Prater (Quora)

Hero Conf day one wrapped up with a keynote address from Quora Ads evangelist JD Prater regarding the challenges digital marketers face at a time when consumers’ eyeballs are more elusive and expensive than ever.


Via @ppckirk

After sharing some alarming information—for example, the fact that Americans have a more favorable attitude towards CONGRESS than they do towards advertisers—JD dove into his four big ideas for breaking through the noise. The fourth one was simple: Create an awesome experience for your existing customers and they’ll bring you new customers in return. Along those same lines…

“91% of B2B customers are influenced by word-of-mouth marketing.”

If you’re in the B2B sector, pretty much everyone you’re prospecting would be more likely to become your customer if someone gave them a glowing review of your product or service. People trust people. It’s that simple.

So how do you grow your B2B business? You win new customers. And how do you win more customers? You make your existing customers really, really happy.

Go above and beyond with your customer support. Consider yourself an extension of their businesses. Listen to their pain points and change your product or service accordingly (and with your discretion, of course). You’ll all be better off for it.

8. Matt Myers (NPR)

Day two of the conference kicked off with a roundtable of sorts—a four-way conversation between a Hanapin Marketing rep and three of the agency’s clients, including NPR marketing chief Matt Myers.


For about 45 minutes, the four of them talked about what businesses expect from the digital marketing agencies they bring on board. The quotables were flying off the stage like you wouldn’t believe, but I managed to hurriedly jot down this gem from Matt:

“I think the key is accountability—an orientation towards those goals that everyone on the team has agreed are important.”

When you’re working with somebody else’s money, it can be all too easy for it to become an abstraction—disconnected from anything concrete. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, could it? As an agency, your job is to help another person grow their business. And if you ask 100 business owners what they think about most throughout the day, I’m willing to bet that pretty much all of them will respond with “my business.”

I think that’s what Matt was driving towards when he said that accountability is the key to a strong business-agency relationship. If you take ownership of the fact that you’re partially responsible for the success of another business, you’ll do a better job.

9. Michelle Morgan (Clix Marketing)

This presentation—delivered by Michelle Morgan, director of client services at Clix Marketing and yet another regular contributor to our blog—was awesome not only in terms of the content itself, but also in terms of how much content there was. 


Of all the insightful things she shared, this excerpt—from the part of the session regarding lead quality—was my favorite:

“Use your ad copy to deter people from clicking in the first place.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would you want to deter people from clicking on your search ads? Isn’t that going to hurt your CTRs, your Quality Scores, and your CPCs?

Yeah, probably. But fewer clicks isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you write your ad copy with a narrow (read: qualified) audience in mind, the clicks you drive—although fewer in number—will come from people who are much more likely to become your customers. Accordingly, you’ll drive a lower CPA and make your sales reps’ lives a hell of a lot easier.

An example is useful here. Let’s say you sell enterprise software for ecommerce businesses that spend millions on marketing and advertising. If you don’t make it clear in your ad copy that your software is for big businesses, you’re going to drive clicks from mom-and-pop shops that will never, ever become your customers. Alternatively, if you use your H2 to say something along the lines of “Software Solution for Big Brands,” you’ll substantially improve the quality of the leads you deliver to your sales team.

10. Aaron Levy (Elite SEM)

As I alluded to in the section about businesses’ expectations for their digital marketing agencies, we’re all here—ultimately—for one reason: to grow. And we grow, of course, by driving more revenue this year than we did last year.

That’s not a secret, right? We want people to buy the stuff we sell. That’s the whole point.


Nonetheless, it’s important to discuss this quote from Aaron Levy, director of SEM at the still-rapidly-growing digital agency known as Elite SEM:

“Don’t ask for marriage on the first date.”

In other words: Don’t ask the person who’s literally never heard of your business to buy your enterprise software. It’s a waste of your money, it’s a waste of their time, and it’s guaranteed to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Aaron said this while talking about the role of content in your marketing strategy. Just because whitepapers don’t drive revenue, doesn’t mean they’re unimportant to your business. When you make the effort to share your knowledge and educate the people who are in the market for whatever you’re selling, you improve your brand perception and give yourself a better chance of winning customers when those people decide to buy.

11. Navah Hopkins (WordStream)

(Note: Sadly, Navah and Mark presented at the same time and I had to choose one or the other.) 

Everyone has something they obsess over. For Captain Ahab, it’s the white whale. For Fall Out Boy, it’s mainstream relevance. And for the average search marketer, it’s high Quality Scores. We’ve been inundated for years now with the idea that if you optimize for nothing else, you should optimize for Quality Score—which, for those who don’t know, is determined by historical CTR, ad and landing page relevance, and landing page experience.

Navah Hopkins, our in-house service innovation strategist, thinks differently:

“Quality Score is a health indicator, not a key performance indicator.”

A key performance indicator, otherwise known as a KPI, is a metric that you’ve determined is worthy of optimization given your marketing goals. For example, if the goal behind your search campaign is to drive qualified leads at or below a certain cost threshold, cost per action (CPA) is a KPI you’ll want to track and optimize for.

A health indicator, on the other hand, is a metric that lets you know how closely you’re adhering to best practices. Take your Quality Score, for example. If it’s low (in the 1-3 range) for a particular keyword, that means your CTR is low or your ad-to-landing page relevance is subpar.

Navah’s point is this: A low Quality Score tells you nothing about performance. This ties back to what Joe and Michelle talked about, too. If your Quality Score for a given keyword is low, but you’re driving qualified traffic and delivering awesome leads to your sales team, who cares?

Should you keep an eye on Quality Score? Sure. Should you shape your entire search strategy around the goal of making your Quality Scores higher? Nope.

12. Carrie Albright (Hanapin Marketing)

Two things have become well established at this point: one, that consumers expect fairly instantaneous solutions to their problems; two, that they often turn to their phones to find those instantaneous solutions. Accordingly, if you’re advertising a business that depends on foot traffic—like a pizza place or a bookstore—it’s increasingly important for you to make yourself visible at the top of the SERPs.


But simply getting there isn’t enough, says Carrie Albright, director of services at Hanapin:

“It’s really important that you understand cultural differences.”

Let’s contextualize that a bit. Say you’re the director of the paid search program at an agency that helps brick-and-mortar retailers grow through digital channels. Within your portfolio, you’ve got clients across the United States, in every major city from Boston to Albuquerque.

Here’s Carrie’s point in a nutshell: Boston and Albuquerque are home to vastly different cultures, and your search ads should reflect that. The messaging that resonates with your clients’ prospects in one city probably isn’t going to resonate with your clients’ prospects in another. You have to familiarize yourself with colloquialisms and other cultural idiosyncrasies.  

That’s on top of all the fundamentals, of course—Google My Business listings, ad scheduling during business hours, radius targeting, and the like.

13. Rachel Vandernick (Context Travel)

Content marketing is a pretty straightforward gig. Basically, you write search optimized content to create positive interactions between people and your brand and bring prospects to the top of your marketing funnel. Sure—Google tweaks its algorithms. Keyword trends come and go. The organic SERP evolves. But, for the most part, you’re not caught off guard in any major ways.

You know where that’s not the case? Paid search. And that’s especially true if, like Rachel Vandernick, acquisition marketing manager at Context Travel, you’re using paid search to reach consumers on multiple continents. Here’s one of her insights from Wednesday afternoon:

“PPC does not exist in a vacuum.”

It’s true. Whether you want to admit it to yourself or not, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you can’t control that influences the efficacy of your search campaigns. Pretend you’re the PPC director at UC Berkeley and you drive traffic to a beautiful landing page by bidding on the university’s brand name. One day, the student body launches campus-wide protests and lands the school on national news programs. Suddenly, searches for “uc berkeley” are going through the roof and you’re getting tons of impressions and clicks from people who have less than zero interest in enrolling.

Within your control? Nope. Impacting your performance metrics? Big time.

Rachel’s point, of course, was not to bum everyone out. Rather, she simply meant to convey the importance of adaptability. Learn from your mistakes and implement the systems you need to mitigate the consequences when unexpected stuff happens.

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