How to control your PPC budget

A badly structured and unmonitored PPC account can easily burn through your marketing budget in a matter of hours.

There are plenty of horror stories recounting how small businesses have wasted hundreds or even thousands of pounds on PPC. Understandably this makes other small businesses nervous to start using channels such as Google AdWords.

It doesn’t have to be like that, and it is a shame they are missing out on sales, when all you need to do is follow some very basic rules.

Here are my tips on how to manage your PPC budget effectively.

Target the lower end of the conversion funnel

Think of the way you use search engines to search for a product or service you haven’t purchased before.

You start with broad terms such as “best headphones” or “headphones reviews”. After conducting your research, you filter down to the products you want to buy with transactional searches such as “Bose SoundTrue Around Ear Headphones”.

conversion funnel

The first search term is at the upper levels of the conversion funnel (the research stage). These traditionally have a low conversion rate because people aren’t ready to buy yet, which means higher CPAs if you bid on those keywords.

The second search term is at the purchase stage of the funnel. This is where you should focus your budget.

Only advertise on Google’s search network

By default you are opted in to advertise in Google’s search partner network. This includes websites that carry Google searches as part of their services.

These typically send lower quality traffic which means higher costs and CPA’s.

Campaign Management – Google AdWords

When I set up a new campaign, deselecting this is one of the first things I do. In some cases I have seen savings of up to 25%.

Use exact match and negative keywords

Broad match and phrase match are notorious for eating through PPC budgets. This is fine if you have thousands to spend and a high CPA is acceptable.

However, if you are on a small budget, and you need to work towards a low CPA I would recommend exclusively bidding against exact match keywords.

Additionally, don’t overlook your negative keywords.

I have had negative lists that run in to the thousands before. Some of the keywords to include in this list are obvious “sex” etc. Some are less obvious, and others are impossible to guess at.

Every week run a report to see which keywords triggered an advert. Fish out any that you don’t want to show an advert for and add them to your negative list.

The chart below is taken from Google’s support pages.

Match type

Special symbol

Example keyword

Ads may show on searches that

Example searches

Broad match none women’s hats include misspellings, synonyms, related searches and other relevant variations buy ladies hats
Broad match modifier +keyword +women’s +hats contain the modified term (or close variations, but not synonyms), in any order hats for women
Phrase match “keyword” “women’s hats” are a phrase, and close variations of that phrase buy women’s hats
Exact match [keyword] [women’s hats] are an exact term and close variations of that exact term women’s hats
Negative match -keyword -women are searches without the term baseball hats

Only show ads during busy traffic and sales periods

You don’t have to shows your ads 24×7, every day. You can pick and choose the time slots your ads appear, and the days, very easily.

To do this, follow these steps:

Go to your campaign > Settings > Ad schedule > Click on +Ad schedule > Click on + Create custom schedule

Use your sales data and Google Analytics to identify when your busiest periods are. This is clearly the optimal time to advertise, and rather than spreading yourself thinly over 24 hours, invest your budget to be seen as much as possible at these times.

Use geographic targeting

PPC isn’t exclusively a national channel. Google gives advertisers some seriously cool tools to target people based on where they are. This is super-important if you are a local/regional business.

If you service a limited geographic region, the last thing you want is someone the other side of the country clicking on your advert when they can’t possibly use you.

9 Location targeting map

This is done at the campaign level of your account: Settings > Locations > Click on “+LOCATIONS”

If this is something you’d like to find out more about, check out my detailed step-by-step guide on how to create a hyper local PPC campaign.

And finally… Set a daily budget you can afford!

Don’t set your daily budget to be more than you can afford. This may sound obvious, but I have been asked to help numerous small business AdWords account that have not thought about budget control on a day to day level.

Because Google AdWords asks for a daily budget, some account managers set the daily targets higher than the monthly budget.

Don’t do this.

The maths is simple. If you want to advertise 7 days a week, take your monthly budget and divide it by the number of days in the month.

If you only want to advertise during the working week, divide your monthly total by the number of weekdays in that month and so on.

More about Google AdWords

If you are just getting started with Googe AdWords, have a read of my Teach yourself Google AdWords post. If you are looking some advanced tips, you should read my How to target mobile phone users using Google AdWords.

Tools to instantly improve your marketing for only £15.47

Now more than ever, we all have free (or low-cost) access to marketing tools and technology that used to cost thousands of pounds.

The extent to which you manage and analyse your marketing efforts is no longer a budgetary decision.

Marketing performance is an area that is full of amazing free, and super low cost tools. Here are the tools you need to improve your marketing, that are either free, or ridiculously cheap.


A/B testing


Tool: Google Analytics Content Experiments

Instead of guessing, or using educated assumptions, use data to direct you towards the perfect page.

Google Analytics comes with A/B testing built in, allowing you to statistically determine the best way to present information to achieve your goals. Read my post about running your first A/B test.

Cost: Free


Email Marketing


Tool: MailChimp

I use MailChimp myself to manage this blog’s subscribers and automated emails. MailChimp is very easy to use, and quick to pick up. You’ll need to upgrade to a paid account (starts at $10 per month) to remove their branding or use the automation tools.

Cost: Starts at free


Brand awareness tracking


Tool: Google Consumer Surveys

You can use this service to run a survey asking “Which of the following companies have you heard of?” listing your own and your direct competitors. After your brand campaign has finished, run the survey again and track the changes in awareness. I’ve covered this in more detail in my post “How to do brand awareness tracking without spending thousands.”

Cost: £60 per survey


Customer surveys


Tool: SurveyGizmo

A very easy to use, hosted survey tool. Everything is point and click, and you can easily add your own branding. Analysing your survey results is made as simple as possible as well.

Cost: $25 (£15.47) per month


Project/ task management


Tool: Trello

I am a huge fan of Trello, and have used it extensively for large and small projects, across multi-office teams. Trello helps to stay on top of all your projects and tasks, including documents and comments.

Cost: Free


Event marketing


Tool: Get Invited

If you organise events for your customers (and here is why you should), don’t run it through email and Excel. Get Invited has all the tools (including sign up form) to keep on top of all the admin surrounding any event. Here are my 9 tips for running a successful customer conference.

Cost: Free (free events) or 2% + 50p per ticket (for paid events)


Giveaways and competitions


Tool: Rafflecopter

Run competitions on your website with this copy and paste tool. You can also incentivise people to share the competition via social media. Plus it integrates with leading email platforms (including Mail Chimp) to help you generate more leads. You can see a live example here.

Cost: Free to $84 per month


Image creation


Tool: Canva

I only came across this excellent online image creation and editing tool, but the more I play with it, the more impressed I become. It comes with ready made templates (e.g. Social media profiles, blog graphics, posters, business cards, presentations etc.) and a huge library of free pictures, icons, shapes, illustrations and more. I used Canva to create the images in this post.

Cost: Free (with some images charged at $1 each)

Grand total = £15.47

How to rebrand your small business

A strong, recognisable brand is vital for any business, no matter how big or small. Strong brands stand out in the market, attract more customers, and keep more of those they already have.

However, times change and with it so do customers, trends and technology. What was once a strong brand identity 10 years ago, doesn’t necessarily translate in to one now.

Change for the sake of change is never a good idea, so how do you know when it is time for a rebrand?


Good reasons for a rebrand include:

  • Growth is too small, flat or even negative
  • Your customer base is changing – or you want it to change
  • Your business linked to something you don’t want to be e.g. bad customer service
  • Your company – logo, service, pricing – simply feels out of date

Just changing your name isn’t a rebrand. Rebranding is about changing the way your business operates, and how it addresses your customers.

Without that depth of change, customers will see through the superficiality of the process and you will see no positive return or uplift.

In fact, you will probably end up losing the brand equity you currently have.

You must be able to deliver on any brand promise.

Have a clear mission

Make sure you know what are you looking to achieve as part of the rebrand, and then do everything you can to ensure your stakeholders understand it as well.

Are you rebranding to stay in touch with your evolving target audience, are you facing increased competition and you want to stand out in a crowded market place, have you started to look old-fashioned in an industry where image matters, are you consolidating multiple sub-brands into a simpler structure..?

Create a mission statement supported by SMART objectives to gauge success, and keep everyone focused on what you want to achieve. For example:

Mission: To always put our customers first.

Objective one: “Reduce telephone support response times to 30 seconds, within 3 months of the brand re-launch”

Objective two: “Upgrade our customer support database content and navigation reducing our phone support calls by 30%”

Research and customer insight

You can’t know where you need to go, without understanding where you are and what the road ahead looks like.

The first step is to gather feedback from your customers and employees about what they think about you, what they like and what they dislike.

Look at key areas such as customer support, product quality, pricing, positioning, and your competition (direct and indirect).

By combining both qualitative (e.g. focus group, interview…) and quantitative (e.g. survey) methodologies you will build a picture of your current strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities to move your brand towards.

Define your marketplace

As well as looking internally, you should map what your marketplace looks like. This includes both the market’s customer segments, and where you and your competitors fit on a perception map (with each axis representing two key factors that matter to your customers).

With this data you can identify the segments you want to appeal to, as well as how successfully you are currently doing this.

Research what matters to these customers? Is it value for money, reliability, security, personal service…? You can these align your new brand around these principles.

Unless you work in an industry that is already extensively covered by industry reports (Mintel is a good source of those), this is very difficult to do yourself.

For something this important, I would strongly recommend using a professional market research company.

They will be able to:

  • Segment the market
  • Give a value to each of the segments – Which segments to target
  • Identify the characteristics of the segments – How to position brand

Support the change with a story

People are traditionally averse to change and customers often equate a steady brand with reliability.

The best and most successful rebranding projects are usually wrapped in a positive story for customers and staff to get behind.

A fresh new look isn’t a story to lead with. The story should be one that benefits your customers, and runs deeper than a new graphic.

Here are some examples I have created to illustrate my point:

  • Responding to customer feedback to improve your customer service = “You spoke, we listened, we changed”
  • Upgrading your technology/platform = “Become a faster, more agile business”
  • A new control panel = “Everything you need to manage your business online”
  • Repositioning your business to a younger audience = “Now with added awesome”

Testing and feedback

I would strongly recommend using a professional designer to update your brand’s look and feel. Marketplaces such as 99Designs will connect you with professional designers who can create collateral, including a new logo, for as little as £189.

Test your new brand proposal and the basic design aesthetics before you commit to a new brand. Get feedback from a focus group that represents your target audience.

Do they express what your brand stands for accurately unprompted?

Don’t be afraid to take a step back and make changes based on this information. These are your customers after all, and the purpose of this rebrand is to attract more of them

How to communicate the change

Your most important asset are your customers. You must be clear why these changes are happening, and why it benefits them.

Give them the chance to ask you questions and get involved.

There are three general approaches to rebranding your business.

  1. Launch your new brand in parallel with the old
  2. Do it in stages
  3. The big reveal

There are pro’s and con’s to doing any of these:

Launch your new brand in parallel with the old

Orange and T-Mobile’s launch of EE (Have a look here)


  • Lower risk of disrupting your existing customer relationships


  • More expensive to support two brands
  • Run the risk of competing with yourself
  • Can confuse the marketplace

Do it in stages

Norwich Union’s evolution into Aviva (Have a read of this)


  • Less risk of anything going wrong
  • Customers see an evolution over time


  • Increased cost to support each iteration of the brand
  • Loses PR impact potential

The big reveal


  • Create excitement within the market = huge PR opportunities


  • A higher chance for something to go wrong
  • Can confuse your customers is it is too abrupt
  • Requires communication spend to make sure everyone knows your new brand
  • Ideally needs a strong story to back up the change

Whichever approach you decide to take, a good rebrand will tick four boxes.

  1. The new brand message is clear and easy to understand
  2. You differentiate yourself from the competition
  3. The process respects the emotional attachment your employees and customers have to your existing brand
  4. You deliver on your new brand promises

9 tips for running a successful customer conference

Running your own conference can seem like a daunting prospect, and one that only large businesses have the resources to do.

From my experience, this just isn’t true.

Even the smallest of companies, with limited marketing resources can (and should) seriously consider having an event, with informative talks for their customers.

These can range from a morning or afternoon session with a dozen or so customers, to a full day event with 100 attendees and beyond. It depends on your customers and your resources.

Whatever the size, I personally view them as a worthwhile investment. Benefits include; differentiation from your competitors, increased engagement with your base, content marketing opportunities, social sharing and positioning yourselves as thought leaders.

Here are my top nine tips for running a successful conference for your customers.

This isn’t a sales opp, add value for your customers

What information can you give your customers that will help make them be more successful? Is you approach your conference with that always in the back of your mind, they will have a great day.

No one will want to spend a day sitting through glorified product walk through/sales pitches.

Real-world, useful and practical advise about how they can do something better will go down a storm. “How to get more customers online with a limited budget” instead of “How to use Widget 6000!”

Start planning early

With so much to do, start your planning nice and early because time will fly. Before you know it, it will be the day of the event, and you’ll wonder where it all went.

Planning far ahead reduces what is going to be a stressful experience any way. It means you have time to adapt to unforeseen humps, and get new plans in place.

People dropping out, suppliers not delivering on time, subjects not being suitable for a talk any more…

I would recommend creating a Gantt chart with all the tasks you need to complete in the build up to the big day along the X axis, and dates on the Y axis.

Here is a very basic example:

3rd Aug
10th Aug
17th Aug 24th Aug 31st Aug
Customers  Owner
Email to prompt sign up Name  x
Confirm they have been chosen Name  x
Itinerary for the day Name  x
Reminder Name  x  x
Design/ logo style finalised Name  x
Landing page Name  x
First draft ready Name  x
Final draft ready Name  x
Slides designed Name  x
Rehearsal 1 Name  x
Rehearsal 2 Name  x
Rehearsal 3 Name  x

By laying out the information this way, you can instantly see where you are overloaded a week, or underestimated resources.

Get everyone to buy in to the idea

For an events like this to succeed the whole company needs to have bought in to the idea, and view it as everyone’s responsibility to make it  a success.

With hand out to design and buy, talks to write, slides to design, venues to book… planning a conference for your customers requires a lot of work, and you can’t do it all yourself.

Maintain oversight to keep it all consistent and on time, but delegate areas of responsibility to other team members to help spread the load.

The more they feel they own their area, the better job they will do.

You will also need volunteers to help on the day. They will help with attendee sign in, covering questions and generally making sure the day goes smoothly.

Hold regular meetings with the team

One of the biggest mistakes I made when organising an event, was not keeping everyone in the loop for areas they weren’t contributing to.

I took the approach that as long as I knew it was in hand, that would be enough. The speakers and volunteers knew enough to do their job.

But that meant only I had the complete picture, which caused some confusion about progress and responsibilities.

In some cases it also led to de-motivation, because they didn’t feel they were part of the whole experience.

I would recommend a kick off meeting to explain the objectives, the outline of the day and who will have responsibility for what. From there start with monthly meetings, with the meetings and catch-ups becoming more frequent as the day gets closer.

Getting people to sign up and attend

You are asking people to take a day off from work, or even their own business, to come and join you for a full day.

You have to make it clear what is in it for them, and why it is worth their time.

In your email to the customer base announcing the day, and driving them to landing page to sign-up, make the benefits of them attending clear, and give an insight in to the areas you will cover.

For example:

  • Getting your customers to buy more: How to implement timed and targeted upsell messages, increasing your average basket size.
  • Supporting customers in the social age: Managing and exceeding customer expectations in the social era with limited resources

I have had the luxury of working for companies that have in-house development resources to build sign-up forms. If you don’t, there are two options you can choose.

  1. Add a simple contact form to your website that emails you the sign-up forms, and you manually add them to a database or spreadsheet.
  2. Use a purpose built tool like Get Invited that comes with everything you need to manage your attendees.

Incentivise attendees to get social

Get your attendees talking about their day on Twitter or Facebook. You can do this by linking their use of a hashtag to a competition, or Q&A session at the end (or both).  For example:

Share a photo of your day using #WidgetConf to enter our competition to win a MacBook Pro


Ask a question via Twitter for today’s Q&A session using #WidgetConf

This also helps to get fellow attendees interacting with each other on social media.

Post-event marketing

The day itself is only the start.

Record the talks and take plenty of pictures during the day to share after the event, encouraging people to share.

  • Your website: Create a landing page with a summary of the day, and pictures and videos available to watch, download and share. Also make the slides available to download.
  • YouTube: Upload all the talks from the day for people to discover and share.
  • Slideshare: Put the slides on slideshare for people to discover and share.
  • Instagram and/or Flickr: Upload pictures of the talks, people enjoying the day and any social event you have after the conference finishes.
  • Twitter/Facebook: Thank everyone for coming and drive traffic to your videos and pictures from the day.
  • Email/newsletter to all customers: Thank those who came, give a summary of the day and drive traffic to your videos and pictures from the day.

Get post-event feedback from attendees and staff

I would send a survey the day after the event to everyone who attended, thanking them for coming along and asking them to rate various aspects of the conference.

This way it is fresh in their memory and they are still engaged enough to make the effort to reply. For example:

  • Which was their favourite talk?
  • How did they rate the venue?
  • Would they attend again?
  • How did they rate the refreshments?

You can use this information to gauge success, and make changes to your next event.

Don’t scrimp on quality

Your own conference is a great opportunity to present yourself as a reliable and trusted brand. You won’t pull this off by being tight with your budget.

Hold the event at a quality venue, with good quality hand outs (booklet, note pad, pens…) with enough refreshments for everyone.

What I’m looking for in a marketing CV

As someone who hires team members for my department, I get to see a lot of CVs. The quality of presentation and content from candidate to candidate varies a lot, in terms of both the CV and cover letter.

I have previously given advice on how to get your first job in marketing, and questions to ask hiring your first full time marketing employee. In this post I’m going to share what I look for in a cover letter and CV when hiring for my team.


An understanding of my business and industry

This get you some serious bonus points! Your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate you understand what our business does, and how you can contribute.

As a real world example of how not to do it, I have honestly had candidates ask me at the end of the interview what we did as a business!

A passion for marketing

I appreciate there aren’t always marketing jobs out there for people leaving university or those looking to get into the sector.

The candidates that really stand out for me are the ones who have done voluntary work, extra courses, or internships to get that all important experience. This shows real desire and a commitment to succeed that separates them from the pack.

Facts and figures

Over the years I have learned how to spot generalist statements that have very little meaning e.g.

“Optimising our strategic output for maximum impact”.

What I want to see are specific examples of the work you’ve done and the positive impact this has had on the business e.g.

“Restructured our AdWords account delivering a 12% increase in conversions and a 20% reduction in CPCs”.


If you make  a claim in your CV that is designed to catch my eye, I’m going to ask you questions about it in the interview.

So, for example, if you say that part of your job is keyword research for SEO, I’ll ask you how you do the research.

Pretty straight forward, but you’d be amazed how many candidates throw in claims like that but clearly have no experience of doing it.

They know SEO is an important skills to have and hope that by using a buzzword like “keywords” that will be enough.

Unfortunately, within two questions I know you have lied and you aren’t getting this job.

Me: “What are the most important areas of on-site SEO to get right on a website?”

Candidate: “Keywords”

Me: “OK, how do you apply that to the website?”

Candidate: “Keywords are important”

Me: “…”

Stick to areas you can confidently talk about in detail and be questioned on.

A critical and honest eye

I like cover letters that give me an opinion on our business/marketing. It shows the cover letter is original, and they are really thinking about who they are applying to.

Additionally, in the interview I always ask candidates if there is anything they would change about our website. This serves two purposes:

  1. One of the characteristics of a good marketer is to instinctively critically analyse any marketing they come across. This questions probes that skill.
  2. It shows whether they have bothered to do any research on the company. Again, I am always surprised how few to even look at the website, let alone do any real research.

Easy to digest format

As a candidate, you think you are unique and special because it is you. You know you would smash this job, and be  a valued member of the team.

As an employer, you are a faceless piece of paper amongst many, many others. Finding the people to invite in for an interview is also another job amongst many others that day. I don’t have time to read dozens of text heavy cover letters and CVs.

Use a modern and simple design, highlighting  the key marketing experience you have at the top of your CV, using bullet points and key facts.

A look back on my first 100 blog posts

I have been writing this blog on and off for nearly four years now. I noticed last week I had broken the 100 published posts barrier which got me thinking about the past four years.

I started this blog pretty much as a direct response to another marketing blog that continues to frustrate the hell out of me. I won’t name the blog because I’ve no interest in making anything personal, but it wraps up vague, generic thoughts in to claims he is providing helpful, practical advice.

There is literally nothing you can take away from the blog other than hollow statements such as “Customers are important, so make sure you treat them as being important”. I can feel myself getting worked up as I write this!

This gave me the motivation to start a blog with the complete opposite values. I wanted to write practical blog posts, with specific ideas and tips that small businesses could apply straight away.

I think I have achieved this.


Peaks and troughs

As is the case with a lot of personal blogs, during these four years I have gone through periods of not writing a great deal (or not at all), and other periods where I’ve been writing almost every day.

This is where the advice of writing about what you love really comes true. Finding the energy and time to write takes a lot of effort sometimes.

It makes is much easier if you are writing about a topic you already have a passion for.

About 18 months ago I settled in to a nice routine of targeting at least 2 new posts per month. This regularity and consistency led to an almost instant boost in page views and subscribers.

Each year I break the previous year’s record for number of visits to the site. In 2014 traffic was up 228% on 2013, which was up 139% on 2012.

So far this year I’m on course to break it again. In the first 3 months of 2015 I have already has as many visitors as all of 2013.

The evolution of the themes

This is the fourth version of the blog. I was never terribly happy with the first two WordPress themes I chose, and I felt there must be better.

When I came across the theme that was to become version 3 I knew it was a big improvement and loved how my blog looked.

This would remain my theme for a couple of years, and I was more than happy with it. That was until I came across this current theme, which is version 4.

I fancied a change, simply for changes sake, so one evening I bit the bullet and bought this new theme. It took a few hours to make the necessary changes to images etc. but it wasn’t as time consuming as I had thought.

Almost immediately my bounce rate halved, the amount of time people spent on the blog doubled and the average number of pages viewed went up by 10%.

Clearly V3 wasn’t as good as I thought it was!

My top posts so far

In order, here are the most read posts so far. I think a few of these have benefited from just that fact they’ve been around for a long time:

Writing a marketing strap line that means something
5 lessons to learn from McDonalds’ marketing
30 online marketing quick wins you can do right now
Why sponsoring local events should be in your marketing plan
Tips on how to create effective remarketing banners
How to run a survey & get data you can use
Why I love using BuySellAds
As an advertiser, why I dislike cash back websites
A career in marketing
7 questions to ask a web designer pitching for your business

When I look back at the content I was publishing in 2011 compared to now I think this blog has come on by leaps and bounds.

I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the early stuff, but I am very confident and happy with most of the posts from the past couple of years.

Thank you for reading!

If you are a regular reader, if you have subscribed to my newsletter or this is the first time you’ve come here, I would like to say thank you for taking the time to do so. I honestly appreciate it.