TCC Podcast #55: Paid search for copywriters with Amy Hebdon - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #55: Paid search for copywriters with Amy Hebdon

Paid search expert (and copywriter club member) Amy Hebdon joins Kira and Rob for the 55th episode of the podcast to talk about search marketing, the tools and skills you need to do it right, best practices for testing and messaging, and whether copywriters can drive quality leads for their own businesses with paid search. Here’s what we cover:
•  how Amy went from inexperienced copywriter to web designer to paid search consultant
•  what paid search is and the various places you can participate in it
•  why copywriters need to know about paid search, keywords, ads and landing pages
•  how writing for search is different from typical ad writing
•  when you should write for Google and when you should write for people (you can do both)
•  why you should work backwards from your landing page before writing your ads
•  why traffic and clicks are a terrible metric in paid search
•  best practices for testing ads so you get better insights, and
•  the tools Amy uses to monitor her accounts and ads

We also talked about what copywriters can do to attract clients who understand search (and want to work with a paid search specialist), how copywriters might use paid search to drive traffic to their own sites, and where the opportunities are for paid search today. Don’t miss Amy’s straight-forward perspective on the future of paid search and why there needs to be more collaboration than ever in this area in 2018. To hear hear it all, click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.

The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

Sponsor: AirStory Amy Hebdon, Paid Search Magic
Find Amy on Twitter
Joanna Wiebe
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Outro: Gravity

Full Transcript:

The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at

Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes, and their habits, then steal and idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.

Rob: You’re invited to join the Club for episode 55 as we talk with paid search expert Amy Hebdon about search marketing, the tools and skills you need to do it right, best practices for testing and messaging, and whether copywriters can drive quality leads for their own businesses with paid search.

Kira: Amy, welcome.

Amy: Hi! Good to be on here.

Kira: Yeah, thanks for hanging out with us today. I think a great place for us to start is with your story and how you got into paid search.

Amy: Sure! So, I am one of those people who always wanted to work in advertising. It’s been my dream career, basically, since I was seven, and I majored in marketing communications in school and I spent the next several years temping, trying to find jobs.

At the time, I was living in the Bay area and it was right around the time of the dot com bust, so I wasn’t able to find anyone who wanted to hire a brand new copywriter with no experience. I ended up a few years later… I got a job in New York as a web designer, so I was going to work every day basically hoping that wasn’t the day that I got fired because really, my web design skills were not that great.

I was not that good at coding and I had all these design challenges that I had no idea how to solve. Looking back, I don’t think they actually would’ve fired me, like I think it was fine for what their clients needed, but it was really stressful for me to not know what I was doing and not really know how to do a good job with that. Working in this little design agency… it was a really cramped office space and the woman who sat behind me – there was no space between our chairs.

So, every time she even stood up, she would bump me and it was really uncomfortable. She was doing adwords and digital marketing and one day, she had gone to this conference, about web marketing, I think. And she had come back and management had asked her to give a report on what she had learned and during her presentation, they asked her what click through rate was, and she wasn’t able to explain it. She didn’t know what it was. Which, it’s pretty essential if you’re doing digital marketing to even have a basic understanding of click through rate… so they fired her immediately after that and they offered me her job.

I was kind of in heaven because I was discovering adwords, which it turned out I really loved, and I was able to move in my chair because there wasn’t someone sitting behind me. I think I would’ve liked anything that got me out of doing web design… but I really took to paid search and to adwords, just with how much accountability there was.

At the time, Google didn’t even own an analytics tool yet. There was really no good way to test and measure different kinds of optimizations but here was this platform that we could really test everything we wanted and learn what changes we were making that were able to influence the growth of this account and really accomplish what I’m trying to. So, I was really drawn to that and I’ve been really drawn to it ever since. Doing adwords now for 13 years.

Rob: So Amy, I wanna be sort of dumb, like that person who was fired and get really, really basic on this. Tell us what is paid search, what does it include, what are all of the moving parts of paid search?

Amy: So, paid search has really evolved I would say from those days. Basically, the idea of paid search is it’s a way to show up on the search engines or search engine results pages in a sponsor listing, as opposed to you know, an organic listing or Google just find you.

You’re paying to participate and show up in the top of the listings. Now, what a search engine is and does has definitely evolved. So, instead of just having google proper that you go to, well, Google owns YouTube, and so YouTube basically is its own search engine as well, so video ads is a way to participate in paid search.

Google owns Gmail, so Gmail sponsored promotions, Gmail ads are another way to participate in paid search. Google offers app ads, they have quite a few apps that you’re able to market on as well as the display network, which is over two million websites that are involved somehow with Google, with adsense, or whatever, that you’re able to run ads on. It really has grown pretty far beyond just the search engine listings and results pages to really help your company get found anywhere on the internet, for the most part.

Kira: Okay, let’s say I’m a copywriter who has been doing my thing, has not dived into paid search at all—why is it important? Why do I need to know about it, even if I’m not in a role where I’m an expert? Why is it really important for all copywriters today to know about?

Amy: I think that if you’re a copywriter who’s involved in landing pages at all, the overlap between ads and landing pages is really significant. Like, I could create the best campaign in the world, but if it’s going to a 404 page, it’s not going to convert. Or if it’s going to a home page that doesn’t have a compelling offer on it, I’m not going to get those conversions. So, it’s not gonna work in terms of the paid traffic that we’re driving, and on the flipside, being a copywriter or being involved in that page can really affect how everything works together.

So, everything from the page speed load time can affect the quality score of your adwords campaign, which can affect how much you’re paying and essentially how much traffic you’re able to drive to whether the landing page includes the keywords that we’re bidding on. If there’s a high degree of relevancy, the page is going to do better and convert better, but if you’re not aware of what keywords are being used or how people are finding the page, then the page can’t perform as well.

As a copywriter, it really behooves you to understand how the traffic is getting there so you can really speak to those people who are finding you and make sure that they get the best experience possible. Then you’re able to improve conversion rates and frankly, up your pricing and up your game and your performance that you’re able to provide.

Rob: So, let’s say that I’m working on a paid campaign, or I’ve been assigned a paid campaign, and I haven’t really done one before. What are some of the basic things that I need to be starting to think through, knowing that I might be working with someone like you who’s going to be managing the ad buy or managing the placements of the different ads. As a copywriter, what do I need to know?

Amy: As a copywriter, I think it’s really important to understand the relationship between the keyword, the ad, and the landing page. I think copywriters don’t always think about this, and if you’re a copywriter that does SEO, this probably doesn’t pertain as much to you, but if you’re not SEO, and you’re used to being able to go in and write a headline that’s just designed to capture attention, the importance of including a keyword in that headline and making sure it’s really relevant to the keyword that we’re bidding on for the campaign—it’s gonna make a big difference.

You can’t just have a headline that says, they laughed and sat down at the piano, it has to really speak to the query that had someone go to a search engine in the first place and ask a question, then find an ad that looks like it’s going to answer that, and then get on a page that matches that expectation set by the ad. So, being able to have a certain degree of transparency into what are the keywords and what are the search terms that are involved in this is really going to help you better understand the intent of the page and the purpose of the page and how to craft it in a way that’s going to help it convert better.

Kira: So I imagine you’ve worked with your experience – I think you mentioned 13 years – working with multiple copywriters – what are some of the mistakes you’ve seen copywriters make repeatedly? Maybe in ads, messaging, those landing pages? You mentioned possibly a 404 page. What are some of the big mistakes we need to be aware of with the copy that we’re working on from your perspective?

Amy: I would say that one of the challenges to kind of get used to – and this goes for anyone who is starting in paid search, whether you’re a copywriter or not – people’s instinct is to write copy with kind of the AIDA mentality, where I need to capture someone’s attention. They’re thinking billboards and “what can I do to make someone stop in their tracks” and that’s really NOT how the ad side of paid search works at all. If you’re typing your problem into google, you’re not looking for an ad – you’re going to skip right by anything that feels like an ad. You want something that feels native. It feels like an answer to your question.

Seeing those same keywords that are really speaking bare bones – you’re looking for a car wash, come over to our car wash. Getting really specific and using that keyword and giving back to that person – repeating back to them – what they were looking for is going to be a lot more effective than trying to spend too much time looking into the emotional reasons behind what someone’s looking for without acknowledging their actual question. I see that happen a lot and it’s kind of funny because copywriters will come in and say, Oh, paid search, they don’t know how to write an ad. Everything’s boring. Everything’s the same. I’m gonna be different and show them how it’s done and I’ve never seen that be an ad that is relevant to what someone’s specifically looking for. I just haven’t seen that happen.

There are occasions where you could potentially get a higher click through rate by doing some kind of a click baby ad that can capture people’s attention, but on the other side of things, you’ve just paid for that click whereas you wouldn’t have otherwise, and if it doesn’t exaclty match what someone is ultimately looking for, it’s just a curiosity click, you just wasted budget. It’s not like an email where you just send it, and if someone clicks through that’s gravy – you’re paying every time someone clicks so you want to be cautious and make sure that the ad really matches that intent of someone who is going to convert on that following page. And I think that ends up being something that can take people a while to get used to if they aren’t used to attention meaning straight-forward solution to what someone typed in.

Rob: Interesting. Amy, you mentioned things like including keywords and headlines that are in ads and that kind of a thing, but we often hear advice that we shouldn’t be writing for Google – we should be writing for people. Does that only apply to things like blog posts and maybe landing pages or does that also apply to ads and is there a conflict there? How do you resolve it, if so?

Amy: That’s an interesting question. I think for SEO, that certainly holds up. Either way, you want to be writing for people, but if I’m typing something in, I want to see that result in the listing. I want to know that that’s what you’re offering. So, writing for me means that you understand what I just asked for and you’re giving it to me. With Google ads, we have very small spaces.

Last year, it kind of opened up to something called expanded ads, but prior to that, for more than a decade, we have 25 characters for the headline and a total of 70 for the description, which is less than a tweet. It’s really not a lot of space. We have a little more space now with the double headline and an expanded description, but it still ends up being 140 characters, which isn’t much room to play with. Making sure you’re covering the basics: what are you looking for, I’m going to show you I understand what it is, I’m going to show you I have an answer to your problem… that’s about as much room as you get.

So… you don’t have a chance to be really clever or to say anything other than “Here’s the benefit of clicking on this ad” and then getting them over to the landing page. I think it’s really important – there’s this adage, “A confused minds says no,” and nowhere is that more true than on the search engine results page. I have a problem and I’m looking for something, if I don’t know what you do, I’m not going to click on it, I’m going to keep on looking for something that does speak to my needs.

Rob: So, if I need a plumber because I’ve got a clogged sink, I don’t want to spend any time with things like, “Founded in 1974” or “I’ve been serving the Denver area for however long” or “I’m certified by the US Plumbers Association” – I don’t want to waste any time on that. I want to see something like, “I fix clogged sinks”.

Amy: Right! So let’s get right to the problem. Say, “I fixed clogged sinks” – “I’m a plumber that fixed your clogged sinks” as opposed to – and this is where I see people go wrong so I’ll mention it… “Are you tired of not being able to have clean dishes because…” starting out with that emotional connection. What’s the problem underneath the problem? You don’t really have room to do that, you need to get right to the point. “We’re going to clean your sink.” “We are plumbers who can help with that.” Other things you mentioned that might help build credibility – those can still have a place in the ad because once I understand that you’re a plumber, what will make me choose you over someone else? So that can belong in the description or it can belong in the ad extensions, which are those different little snippets that you see that are underneath an ad. Those parts that are really long.

There are different kinds of ad extensions that gives you room to say different things like, “Since 1974” or “Serving the Denver area” or different things that are going to help you understand this is important to me, it’s near me, it’s credible. Your headline space, though, is going to be focused on the plumbing aspect of what you do and getting that sink unclogged.

Kira: So, it sounds so basic but I just want to repeat it. You’re basically saying, the ad needs to have the correct keyword so that you are answering that question that someone is asking in Google, and then when you jump over to the landing page, you need to make sure you’re not getting too fancy and that you’re still speaking to that same question. You know, when you jump over to the landing page.

Amy: Yeah! Exactly. You say that it sounds basic, and I think that’s right – it is really basic. It genuinely surprises me how much people manage to screw this up. Because it seems like the most obvious thing that’s hard to not do well. So when I first started, I was like this is really easy to do.

Anyone can do paid search, because it’s just know what your keywords are, include them in the ad, make sure the ad describes the landing page, have a good offer. That’s really all there is to it. But people overthink and underthink it all the time, so regularly I’m going to these huge accounts that have just completely messed it up and missed the mark. You’d be really surprised at how rarely that’s actually applied.

Kira: I’ve messed it up too! And I think part of the challenge is that multiple people are managing different parts of a project, so where a copywriter might come in and write the landing page, they may not even be aware of what those ads actually look like or are saying. There’s just a bigger problem – so I’m interested in hearing how you overcome that and specifically, what does your process look like when you’re working with a client, just to give us some context!

Amy: I think it’s really important to honestly start with the landing page. You want to start with the offer – what is someone going to get? What is the client offering? What are their business goals? Why do they want to pay to send traffic here in the first place? Sometimes, clients aren’t thinking about that path between keyword and landing page, they’re just saying we want to buy these keywords and they don’t even realize where they’re sending people.

That’s how we end up with a home page. Using a contact us page as a lead gen form, because they think that’s the way for them to capture information but they aren’t at all thinking about that process of what someone’s going to do, why they would take the time to fill out that lead form.

So, starting with what’s your business goal, what’s the best offer that’s going to help you accomplish your business goal, making that the call to action, making that what someone gets from the page, and then working backwards. One thing that I think a lot of copywriters have an advantage of that I don’t, is if you’re hired to write a landing page, you usually have some sort of budget to interview someone or do some sort of research – data mining – to find out what people’s real needs are. I don’t get a budget like that.

So basically, all I can do is take what’s on the landing page and make a small ad from that. Because if it’s not on the landing page, there’s no point in me saying it in the ad. If I were going to say, “I’m a plumber since 1974,” and you get to the page and there’s no evidence that I’ve been doing this for any amount of time, that’s ruining the trust that I just tried to build. If it’s not on the landing page, it ends up not being true to the consumer/prospect. They can’t find evidence of it anywhere. So making sure you’ve got that landing page that really addresses everything that needs to be addressed, then I can create a quick ad that almost acts like a teaser, kind of a trailer for the movie.

I can test some different messages and play with it, but I have that ad and the keywords that are gonna go along with it, so working backwards makes a lot more sense than spending a ton of time researching keywords to drive to a page that doesn’t even address those issues.

Rob: That’s really interesting because it seems to me that a lot of clients work forwards. They start with the ad, then they think where is this going to point, which is how you get with the homepage as often being the landing page or if they’re smarter, they’re looking to have a specific sales page created but it’s very rare that it’s like let’s start with the offer, let’s start with the landing page, or the sales page and back up, go the other way.

Amy: Yeah, I would say it currently is pretty rare that people are thinking about that. It’s in their best interest to, and I always try to encourage my clients to, like, let’s start with what you’re trying to accomplish and work backwards from there, but a lot of times to be honest, clients aren’t expecting that so they’re not ready to think that way. They’ll say, well, this is what we have. These are our landing pages.

Which is when a solution like Leadpages or UnBounce can really come in handy. If I’m working with someone who can work with Unbounce, I can say hey you know what? I just found this need – we have all these keywords – and I don’t have the right page to drive them to – can you build out a page that supports that? And then we’re able to solve that problem really quickly and still make sure we’re getting a high conversion rate on the terms that are important for them.

Kira: Sounds like a lot of teamwork.

Amy: Yes! And I would say more so than usually exists. There’s a need to get more collaborative than we tend to be.

Rob: So, earlier, you mentioned clickbait and I’m trying to think through this: a lot of times, I think clients look at paid search and think okay, the metric here is clicks. That’s what I’m guessing you’re probably measured on most of the time, but I could be wrong about that. If clickbait works, why would you say that we should avoid it?

Amy: That’s a good question. I think people measure what they know. What is the appropriate KPI or measurement of success for paid search? In my mind it’s business growth. It’s figuring out the purpose of paying for this whole operation. Of putting your best offer in front of people who are most likely to take action. The purpose is to accomplish more of something – more conversions, more sales, or more clients. And so, when you’re paying for that, that’s what we’re measuring. We’re looking at how many leads were we able to get from this? Or what’s the revenue from it? What’s the ROI? What’s the cost per new acquisition?

We’re starting with a bigger metric like that. There certainly are still a lot of agencies and paid search practitioners that are just measuring things in clicks. I took over a client a few months ago where their previous agency had given them a report and they were like, Hey, this keyword is your best keyword because it drove 22,000 clicks. But, it made no sales, so I would not qualify 22,000 clicks on something that didn’t make any sales as a win. I wouldn’t categorize it that way. But again, they didn’t know what questions to ask so they’re just thinking oh, this is great! Because they think traffic equals sales eventually. I think people just have this idea of the funnel, like, well, you have to get traffic and then you have to convert it into interest, and then eventually it would be more sales, so if I want more sales, I have to get more traffic! But there’s good traffic and there’s bad traffic.

Good traffic will convert eventually and bad traffic never will. They’re just going to bounce and it was a waste of your money. So I think there’s a real responsibility of anyone doing paid search to make sure that we’re driving the right kind of traffic that’s likely to convert at some point, and not just driving clicks and hey, look how many clicks I got and look what my clickthrough rate is! If it never results in any meaningful business growth for the company.

Rob: Kira, I think we should name this episode “Amy’s One Weird Trick for Driving the Right Kind of Traffic.”

Kira: (laughs) So, Amy, what are some best practices for testing ads and messaging to get better insights?

Amy: No matter what, the ads should really reflect the landing page. I know at this point, I’m saying what I’ve already said before, but I want to make sure that I’m consistent and on-brand with that so that it doesn’t sound like I’m just throwing out all these random tips that contradict with each other. Make sure that you have a strong call to action on your page and that that’s reflected in the ad. From there, to really test the performance of the ad copy, there are a couple things you need to keep in mind.

One is that you can set the rotation of the ads. You can set it to either be optimized for conversion or I guess, that’s going away, so it’s going to be called the Optimized, or you can do the even rotation. And if you’re going to test messaging, you want to make sure you have an even rotation so that it’s more controlled. Your different ad variations each get a chance to play and participate in the auctions. I think it’s really important when you’re testing messaging and coming up with different messages to test, to focus on something that’s going to result in a learning.

You can learn something about your audience – like oh! They value price over prestige. Or having something that’s fast acting works better for them than having this on-going benefit. What I see too often is that people are testing really meaningless things like “What happens if I capitalize this word as opposed to leaving everything lowercased” or just testing one word inside the description that no one’s really paying attention to anyway.

There’s gonna be some natural variants there, but you can learn a lot when you have two ads that are significantly different that reveals to you more about what your audience really needs and you can actually take that learning, apply it to the landing page. Maybe price isn’t nearly as important as we thought it was and we were leading with price, so let’s reframe the landing page a little bit so it reflects more of what our customers are actually looking for and are willing to convert on. I think that makes for some really good message testing.

Rob: So Amy, earlier, you mentioned a couple of tools for landing pages: Leadpages and Unbounce. What are the tools you use to manage paid search campaigns and what tools should a copywriter who’s working with a client be aware of and be exposed to? They may not necessarily be in, say, an adwords tool, but maybe there are other things they need to be doing.

Amy: So I’m not much of a tools girl to be honest and I feel like this really disappoints people because there is so much data and science behind what’s going to make something work, so there’s this real desire to basically get everything kind of AI and machine-learning about it that we possibly can, but outside of using the actual engines like adwords interface or adwords editor, I end up doing a lot that’s in excel or supermetrics.

Supermetrics is a tool that can grab data from different sources and put it together, either in sheets or data studio or excel, and that’s going to help me monitor pacing and budget and how my accounts are doing, which means I don’t have to rely on a bid management platform that I used to have to use and I’d have to pay a certain percentage of spend just to be able to look at adwords performance and bing performance at the same time.

Now, I can do that automatically and I tend to not like to use bid management tools because I have never worked on an account where it’s actually been a lift for me. Usually it’s just we’re paying more and we’re not getting any real value from it. Sometimes, I’m sure they definitely help the people who are using them, but that just hasn’t been my experience.

Kira: I’m really curious to hear about how… okay, let’s say I’m interested and I want to get more into this space, and I want to attract clients who will hire me to work with someone like you. So, how can I improve my process as a copywriter so that it is more effective, big picture, and then also, process-wise it’ll also sell better on my sales page because it will speak to the client and what they need as far as paid traffic and a copywriter who understands it and can write a great landing page. So what can I do to up my game so I’m attracting better clients in this space?

Amy: I need to think about that for a minute… (laughs)

Kira: (laughs) I’m basically asking you how I can make my sales page better to get better clients. So, yeah no pressure.

Amy: Are you saying, to get better clients using paid search or that you want attract a client who’s using paid search?

Kira: Yes! I want to attract a client who is using paid search and, let’s say they’ve already hired you, right? And they’re looking for the copywriters who are speaking the same language and understand and even may be new to this space, but have a process that will feed into what actually works as far as in an ad campaign and in a funnel.

Amy: I’m going to reveal something… this is an area that I haven’t figured out yet, Kira. I’m trying to figure it out. Because I’m on the opposite side of that. I want to work with really good copywriters – I don’t want to just go to these bad landing pages that someone built who had no idea how to set up a landing page or just going to a page on the site; I want to be able to offer that CRO or that copywriting side for landing pages is really important and having paid search traffic that’s driving the right traffic to that page… those need to go together and those tend to not go together. So I don’t have a whole lot of clients who are like, alright, we’ve found you- we just need a copywriter now.

They often think that they don’t need a copywriter – that these pages are fine. For me to be able to convince them like, no you actually need to invest in copywriting – that can be a big upsell because they weren’t really aware of it. And I would imagine that the opposite is true for you, that if they’ve hired you on as a copywriter they’re not like oh, we have to make sure we have a paid search person who really gets it and isn’t just wasting our budget. Because I’ll go in and audit clients all the time and it’s like, well, you’ve got a lot of traffic, but the point of paid search isn’t just to drive traffic. It’s not just a paid version of how can we get the most traffic possible? It’s really, “How do we get the right clients?”

I think that the client who is ready to invest in everything at once and say I need a landing page person and a paid search person to work together… I haven’t seen that person really exist in a way that I wish that they did. But it’s something that I’m trying to figure out. How can I better partner with people who can get those results for their clients? And I don’t know the answer yet.

Kira: That’s good to hear and I appreciate that because I’m just thinking, I would love to work on a landing page project with someone like you where we can both speak the same language… that would be a successful project, but how often is that actually happening? So maybe the key is for the paid search person to find the copywriters that understand and speak the same language to partner almost, and then bring each other into these projects and pitch it to the clients so that they know it’s like, a package deal! Maybe that’s the direction we need to go.

Amy: Yeah, I do think that there’s an opportunity like that for more collaboration. I’ve worked with Joanna Weave on projects where she’s been able to write the copy for the pages but I can come in and say you know what, let’s not waste our time with that one because there’s no search volume for it at all, so let’s not test that one out…. let’s try this other one. Here’s this opportunity. When you’re working with someone who gets it, it’s really easy. But yeah, it’s about finding that opportunity to be able to move forward with that that I would say is a little more tough. I think it needs to be more common than it is!

Rob: So, one of the biggest problems that we see copywriters in the Copywriter Club struggling with is finding new clients. If I’m listening to this, I might think “Maybe I could use paid search to start to drive some clients to my own page!” If I wanted to do that, Amy, what are some of the things I need to be thinking through to make sure that I do it right? And then, secondly, what is a realistic budget? Could I drive good clients to my page for $50 per conversion? Or is it $500? Without saying “it depends”, is there an answer to that question?

Amy: (laughs) Well, I think it’s worth saying that almost every answer to a paid search question is “it depends”. So, it’s really frustrating because if you ever ask a paid search question, the answer is, “Well, it depends.” Yeah, of course it depends, like let’s think through the question, let’s get an answer that actually is going to be useful. I think something that is really important – if you’re going to be going into this yourself, there is a fundamental difference between spending your own money and spending a client’s money.

It’s hard to understand, so if I say to a client, Hey, we’re going to be learning from this budget, and they’re like, yeah, okay, I totally get it and I’m totally invested in the idea of testing and learning, I’m on board, and then they see that they spent $75 or even a couple hundred dollars and they don’t have a lead yet, they get sick to their stomach and they turn it off. It’s so easy to say yeah, I’m an advocate of testing, but when it’s your own money, and you’re not seeing immediate results, it is so difficult. Without exception, everyone that I’ve ever seen who has committed to spending their own money on a project, they hate it. There’s something really visceral about it.

At best, just acknowledge that that will happen. If you’re going to commit money to it, be committed. Otherwise, you’re going to go in and spend all this time setting it up, and shut it down when it’s spent $200 and you didn’t see any results from it. There is definitely a learning curve. You have to have a certain amount of data before you can even start making any sort of decision about where to go with it.

That’s my first recommendation. Just be willing to either feel sick about it or to just say “that’s not for me,” but there’s going to be that process and it’s going to feel very very difficult when it’s your own money. From there, I think another area that’s important to understand that’s easily misunderstood is who you’re competition is. We assume that our competition is other people or practitioners or service providers that over the same thing we offer. And, in terms of the adwords auction, that’s not true. Our competition is anyone who appears in the same listing that we do. That means, I sell cupcake decorations, my competition is Amazon.

Even if my competition is NOT Amazon, like if I was filling out my competitive landscape I would never list Amazon as a direct competitor, but it becomes a competitor in the auction and that’s really important to understand. Amazon’s capacity to spend money to acquire clients is far greater than mine.

And for copywriters, you’re gonna be facing the same sort of thing. Your competition isn’t just fellow copywriters – it’s the marketplaces that are showing up where someone who doesn’t know how much a copywriting project should cost is trying to find that out and they’re seeing Indeed or frankly, Upwork, or any markup place, where someone could go in and then scan through hundreds of profiles and choose one they want so it’s really easy for the marketplace to make back their investment. Whereas, with you, the only way for you to make back your investment is for someone to specifically choose you. So, it can be more of a challenge when there’s just one specific product when you’re competing against a marketplace. Does that make sense?

Rob: It does make sense. Are there things that you could do to stand out then, using paid search? Is it something like, “I need to niche down” or “I need to choose a product or develop a product that’s very specific”? Would those kinds of things help or are we still looking at the same kind of problem?

Amy: Yeah, well, I mean those sorts of things help, and the more specificity you can get, the better it is. What you’ll find is that when you’re at the point where you’re bidding on the keyword Rob Marsh, you’ll do very very well, right? So, that’s something I’ve seen come up a lot lately, like this did not use to be the case where you could just easily bid on someone else’s brand name and actually capture their traffic because of space issues and because of how the algorithm worked.

If Kira comes in and says I want to bid on Rob Marsh, okay, but you’re Kira, so there’s really very little relevance there and so we’re not going to show you very much and you’re going to have to pay this crazy amount-

Kira: I will pay that crazy rate!

Rob: Take that, Kira!

Amy: No, but adwords recently changed their algorithm. This is important to know. So now Kira can write an ad that says, “Are you looking for Rob Marsh? Well you shouldn’t cuz he sucks.” And then have her ad and then someone just used Rob Marsh and clicks on it and goes to her page and that’s it! It’s so weird because it’s really hyper-aggressive. There are really hyper-aggressive ads now that didn’t used to exist – I mean, honestly, six months ago I never saw anything like this.

And if there was something, it got disapproved right away. But this is really how the game is being played right now, because of it extra space in that change and the algorithm. So it’s something to keep in mind, right? People really need to protect their own brand because consumers are very easily misled which again, never was the case before.

Kira: Wow, playing dirty!

Amy: Yeah, it gets really dirty. It’s nuts how different it is. But, assuming that people are really interested in what Rob has to offer, and they get to Kira’s page, they’ll be like, nope, I was looking for Rob and they’ll go back.

Owning your own brand and getting as close to that as you can and things that are really gonna describe you, you’re going to have a lower cost per acquisition on those terms than you do like if you’re just bidding on “copywriter”. I think that’s pretty obvious. The thing is, people don’t like to spend money on their own brand. They think, well, I could’ve gotten that anyway because if someone really wanted to work with me, they could’ve just seen my listing in the organic results – I didn’t have to pay for it. So there’s always that back and forth that you’re going to go through and it’s a natural process to kind of have those questions.

But, if you do want to be successful at paid search, you are sometimes gonna cannibalize the clicks you could’ve gotten for free, but you are also going to get additional clicks so it’s something called the “Halo Effect” basically, that if you’re on the page with your paid ad and your organic listing combines to really say, Hey, this person can really dominate this space and knows what’s up, they’re more likely to click one or the other and it does help.

Kira: Wow, okay. You’re giving us a lot to think about as far as strategies for world domination! (laughs) So, what is the future of your space and paid search and as far as what is relevant to copywriters, especially? What should we know about what’s coming in paid search?

Amy: What’s coming in paid search is it’s becoming keywordless, which is really interesting, because it has historically been so based on keywords. But, Google is getting really really good at implied intent, which means that if I’m looking for a restaurant and it’s 8 o’clock in the morning in Seattle, Google knows how to serve me ads and local listings that are gonna say “Seattle Breakfast” – I don’t have to describe, by the way, I’m in Seattle and it’s this time. It’s learning about that. It’s learning about what searches or queries are commercial.

Example: “Who won the Superbowl?” That’s something that a lot of people want to pay money to show up for because oh, someone who is interested in the Superbowl is going to be interested in my Superbowl product. Well, Google has decided that no, someone just wants that answer, so they’re gonna give them an answer right away and ignore the fact that I’m trying to bid on it and not even show my ad because they don’t think it’s going to be relevant to that search.

So, I mean, it’s kind of a mixed bag, like, it’s ultimately a better user experience, but if I’m really trying to reach a certain audience then I have fewer tools to do that in some cases because they are paying a lot more attention to commercial intent. But in terms of copywriting and how it all works together, I think that better landing pages – right now, we’re so weirdly in the infancy of like, we can have ads that go to horrible pages. I have a client who literally, their ads go to a contact us page and we’re getting $5 leads. And the reason is, because, you know, I’ll try to find one example of a competitor that’s doing it better than they are and say hey look, you should be like these other guys. They’re killing it! There isn’t one. Everyone is equally horrible.

So, if you’re actually a consumer looking for this, all of your options are horrible and so it’s like well, they can get away with it for as long as they can, but as soon as that first player comes into market and has a better experience, it’s gonna change the game for the rest of this particular industry. And so I think being able to be there, as that progresses, like, everyone is eventually going to have to up their game to be able to participate and get the leads that they want in response to that.

Kira: Wait, so, can you share what industry this is? Because this seems like a big opportunity for copywriters.

Amy: (laughs) It’s the food service industry.

Kira: Ohhhh, okay.

Amy: It’s really just like, “Hey, we offer quality products! Work with us!” You know? And that’s really all that it says. There’s nothing psychographic; there’s nothing interesting about it at all. We can’t get them to say anything that’s really meaningful for them, so yeah. If you’re the first one who can come in and do that, you’re going to change everything.

Rob: So, Amy, so far we’ve really been focused on Google, but there are a lot of search interfaces… Facebook, even Amazon, I think, has some search ability; there are search opportunities for people. Bing, Duck Duck Go, like, should we mostly just focus on Google because they are a big player? Or are there opportunities in these other search engines and platforms for us to be doing search and attracting the right clients?

Amy: Well, Google definitely has the most volume, so if you want to put in your effort to set up your settings and targeting and keywords, you’re going to get the most instant results from Google. There’s just more volume to be had there. Both Google and Bing, who are the two big search engine proper players, have the option of participating on the search partner networks as well, so if you’re using Google, you can also be opted into showing up on or sometimes it’s – like, they are not transparent at all about their list but there are many other partners that you could potentially show up on in addition to Google that’s going to syndicate out to a bunch of other engines that aren’t Google. Bing is the same way. Bing has Yahoo traffic, Bing has Duck Duck Go; if you wanted to advertise on Duck Duck Go, you’re using Bing. That’s the only way to advertise for them.

So they also have another sort of syndication, although for them, it’s much more limited as well. Being on Google and Bing is really gonna, for the most part, cover your bases as far as search engine proper. Anything Facebook, LinkedIn… we’re getting more into paid social and is effectively different than search engine marketing or paid search, but it also acts the same, in that they’re both pay-per-click model. So PPC used to be synonymous with SEM or paid search, PPC now, in a lot of people’s minds, means Facebook and they don’t even realize paid search might be part of that equation. Ultimately, that’s getting into a different set of tools and a different approach for how you would market to someone.

Rob: So, Amy, are there any other best practices or things that you know, we really should have that we haven’t talked about or questions we should’ve asked you that you’re just like, wow, people really need to know this about paid search?

Amy: Yeah, one thing I think is important to know if you’re involved in paid search at all is the difference between the keyword and a search term, because those can sound synonymous and they can effectively behave synonymously but they’re very different things. A keyword is what you bid on, and a search term is what someone is actually typing into Google.

So, if you’re running PPC or if you even work with PPC, you need to understand the traffic that’s going to your website. Looking at the search terms is really gonna give you a lot more details than the keywords are. What you’ll also find—this is another important thing—is that Google is always trying to increase its market share. Google is responsible, as a publicly traded company, to shareholders to be increasing its revenues year after year after year. And the way that they’re able to do that so aggressively is that most of its revenue is coming from the adwords platform. So, what they’re doing is they’re kind of changing, subtly, the way that the adwords auction works.

One way to do that is to drive up the auction or cost of bids – that’s part of it; the other is to really expand their reach. Expanding their reach and the display network, expanding the reach of even the search network. So, whereas a few years ago, if I said “I want to target United States but I’m willing to reach people who are in a different country if they specifically are looking for something that suggests that they are really relevant”, I could do that pretty easily. Now, if I say “I’m willing to reach anyone out of the United States”, a lot of my traffic is gonna come from there.

They’ve gotten really generous in how they define interest from a different area so I want to be really buttoned up in my settings. And then also, the same thing applies to keywords. I used to be able to just broadly search for something that’s related, and Google’s only gonna serve up ads against queries or search terms that are really relevant to what my keyword was, now I have to do a lot to try to get really specific, like saying “I’m only willing to bid on this exact match term” or there are different ways to modify the keyword… but if I’m not taking those precautions, I see a lot of, “Well, my keywords were great” but then I look at their search terms and like, 40% of their search terms are completely unrelated to what their keywords are because they weren’t being careful about it. So, I’d say that’s another thing to keep in mind: always check with what Adwords is doing with the settings that you’re giving them, because they are going to try to find ways to really expand your reach. It may be a lot further than what you wanted, so being cautious about that is going to prevent a lot of wasted clicks, wasted spend, wasted traffic, going forward.

Kira: I have one last question for you before we wrap, Amy. So, you’re in our space – you’ve worked with copywriters, you’ve worked with Joanna, you’re coming at it from a different angle … what advice would you give to copywriters, especially new copywriters, who are just starting out and building their businesses, that could help them? And it doesn’t have to be related to paid search; it could just be an area where you see a lot of opportunity or a big weakness… what advice would you give to that new copywriter?

Amy: I think that copywriting really benefits from understanding business goals. I think that that a lot of times, that gets missed. Copywriting can cover a lot of different ground and some people are very, very conversion-focused and looking at the metrics, and some people are kind of more wordsmithy and like to play with words. I think there’s a huge demand for people who understand how what they do ties back to business growth, and there’s less and less of a demand for people who just like to polish up words and make them sound pretty.

It’s really worth learning the conversion aspect of copywriting and getting into that if you really want to have a career in this. I think it’s another one of those areas that, the more we move toward the future, the future is, it’s nice to be able to write something that sounds nice, but it’s more important to be able to write something that you can prove. I understand your audience, this is speaking to them, and this is helping them solve a problem and then sell; helping them get focused on that conversion. I think we’re going to see more and more of that.

Rob: Awesome. Amy, I know you’re in the Facebook group; in fact, this episode came out of the fact that there some questions around PPC that you jumped in and answered in the group at one point. But if people want to connect with you or learn more about PPC, have questions for you that we aren’t smart enough to ask, where would they find you?

Amy: You can find me at or my Twitter handle is @amyppc. You can find me there. Either one of those areas and I’m always happy to talk and answer questions. I’m really, honestly, looking into further develop my relationship with copywriters, particularly conversion copywriters, for basically the same reason Kira was just mentioning: I think there’s so much opportunity there and we’re not there yet, but to an extent we can collaborate and partner and put together packages. We can really improve results for our clients and it’s an exponential win! It’s more than just my P’s and your P’s, we’re really going to move the needle on that business when we have both practictioners really understanding how it works so I think there’s a real opportunity there.

Rob: I totally agree. We really appreciate you coming on the show. This has been awesome.

Amy: I’m so happy to be here. thank you.

Kira: Thank you!


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