Author Archive

Keep Your Adwords Campaigns Tight and You’ll Make More Money

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Our resident PPC stud, Bryan Rahn, helped contribute to this post.  Bryan has been running PPC campaigns in some of the most competitive industries online since 2004.

As seems to happen every new moon or so, a friend came to me today looking for help with his pay per click campaign.

He is selling a book that helps to increase memory, focus and brain activity. After giving the account the old “once over,” I noticed some common problems I see with most people’s campaigns.  These are fairly standard suggestions that could apply to any account, so I hope it will help with your campaigns as well.


Tight Keyword Ad Groups
The most common mistake people make in Adwords is in structuring their campaigns.  The best campaigns, those with the highest click-thrus and quality scores, are broken down into numerous Ad groups.  Each Ad group consists of tightly-related keywords.  Each Ad group points to a specific landing page containing those keywords.

That’s how you setup a great Adwords campaign.

Truth be told, my buddy’s was set up pretty well.  Each Ad group matched the Ad group name to a set of tightly related keywords.  That is, each Ad group contained 8-12 keywords that were closely related to each other, and matched well with the ad copy.


A Common Mistake
The exception was his “AdGroup #1”. It was way too broad, and similar to what I see in a lot of people’s starter campaigns.

It included keywords about Life Coaching, the 4 Hour Work Week, Make Money Easy and what just felt like random keywords. Plus, it had way too many keywords for one Ad group, nearly 100. These should be split out into smaller groups with matching ads.

A lot of the keywords also had a ‘poor’ quality score. As an example, the keyword ‘increasing creativity’ had a poor score.

Better, Specific Landing Pages
Part of the problem is ‘creativity’ is nowhere in the ad or the landing page.  It also stems from having so many random keywords in “AdGroup #1”.  Remember kids – keep ‘em tight.

Nearly every PPC campaign I audit could benefit from creating more landing pages, specific to a subset of keywords in a new Ad group.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, really it’s quite simple. You just need to dig in and do it.  In my friend’s campaign, if he would split out his ‘Life Coaching’ keywords into their own Ad group, then that Ad group needs a landing page that talks about ‘Life Coaching.’

The content on that landing page doesn’t have to be real in-depth. Just get those keywords on the page somewhere.

Think about Your Title Tags
The <title> tag on all my friend’s landing pages was “Pre Order.”  Not good.  Even though this was a no-index page, and SEO/organic CTR didn’t matter, I still believe each landing page should have a relevant page title and meta description.

Think like an SEO here – it looks better in the browser and may affect conversions.

Remember what You’re Selling
Some PPC ads seemed to leave out the most important part. My friend was selling a book, but the ads did not mention it was a book.

People looking for a seminar or some online help guide may have clicked on the ad when they had no intentions of buying and reading a book. Just letting the user know in the ad that we’re selling a book here will help prevent wasteful clicks,

Nix the Mobile When You’re Just Testing
Since he was just testing and had a small budget, I removed ads from showing on iPhones and mobile devices. For well-established campaigns, it may be ok to have ads showing on iPhones.  If you are just starting and testing out what you will get, you should probably leave them out (in my opinion).

Be Wary the Content Network
Right now, my friend’s campaign is opted “in” to both Search and Content. If you do want to show on the content network, then I suggest making a duplicate campaign, one for content and one for search. Then you can bid, write ads and track separately.

The reason I recommend this is the type of traffic you see from the content network is different than straight searches.  Run them separately, analyze them separately.  You’ll be better off.

Negative Keywords are Important
My friend’s campaign initially had no negative keywords. (Quick tip: Here is a great resource for a list of standard negative keywords that apply in almost every campaign. Before adding these to your campaign straight up, make sure there is nothing on the list that you do want to bid on. Once you confirm, add the whole thing at the Campaign Level.)

To find out what negative keywords to add, I ran a search query report.  I saw he was getting a ton of impressions, but very few clicks from these exact matches –
[retirement wishes]

I immediately added those keywords as negative exact matches at the campaign level, Without attention, they could kill his quality score.

Why? Because they are too broad for what he is trying to drive traffic for, and all the impressions with no clicks will just drag down the overall quality score of the campaign.

I was also able to pick out a few specific keywords for negatives -
“focus vitamins for kids”
“get rich online”
“does moss always grow on the north side of trees”

Adding specific negative keywords at the Ad group level can also help increase quality score, and ensure both you and my friend get the exact traffic you want coming in.

Most PPC campaigns I see have a good start, but remember- keep your Ad groups tightly bound to specific keyword sets.  You cannot have too many Ad groups.  Make specific landing pages for each one.  Mind your negative keywords.

Images: Follow*Sound and delitefulimage

A Domain is Worth What Someone Will Pay for It

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

For all the factors that can affect the final price of a domain purchase or sale, it still comes down to a unique agreement between two parties.

Your domain may have all the traffic in the world, high conversion rates and a big fat upward trend surrounding it.  It may be the best in the big money niche.  Still –

A domain is worth what someone will pay for it.

Investment bankers and the big companies that gobble domains (Demand Media, Internet Brands, Bankrate, QuinStreet, medical conglomerates) will regale you with their ‘process’ of valuation.

Key factors?
- Organic traffic
- Trend in that traffic
- Over/under monetization
- Domain strength (i.e. Exact match? .com?)
- Clean SEO
- Competing sites

That’s important stuff to consider and to know, yes.  But there’s so much more that affects how much one party will pay another for a domain.  Largely, these are factors that are out of your control.

Things like:
- Is your niche hot?
- Have competing sites been bought already/recently?  By who?
- Is VC money flowing in to your niche?
- Is someone trying to go public, so they’re buying up domains like hotcakes?

This list could go on forever.  The point is, with so much that’s decidedly out of your control, can you ever sit there and place a dollar value on your site?  Can you reasonably expect to sell it any time you get the urge?

No and no.  A domain is only worth what someone will pay for it, at a specific time, if you’re lucky.  It’s got so much more to do with the unpredictable factors than the ones you can control.

Talking from Experience
On the selling side, we’ve sold 2 “companies” that were akin to selling “domains”.  Both were sold to buyers who were looking to add assets (read: traffic, properties) with an eye on going public or getting acquired themselves.

The price we were paid was more about them managing their budget and expectations of a future payout on their end, rather than anything we created consciously with our business.

The acquiring companies got bought and went public, respectively, and now our old properties are on the sale block. Our achievement was simply a means to an end for someone else’s purpose.

We buy domains all the time.  You know how we price them?  Might as well be a dart board.  Seriously.

I think $25,000 is a sweet number to ballpark a great domain that is currently doing nothing and could become a real business.  So that’s where we start.  No idea where this came from.  It’s just what I’ll pay for a domain.

Other buyers on the market are just as likely to have obscure, unscientific reasoning behind what they offer you.  We were offered $1 million for a domain a few weeks ago, and it had nothing to do with some multiple of revenue or a trending market.  The offer had more to do with the buyer’s desire to accumulate assets, and leverage other related properties in the mortgage and lead-gen space.

See?  Right there, the offer doesn’t have anything to do with the investment banker checklist.  We couldn’t chase it intentionally.  We wouldn’t get the same offer from anyone else, competitor or otherwise.

The domain is worth what someone – some 1 – will pay for it.

It’s Dangerous out There
This makes for a proverbial field of landmines for most domain owners.

So many questions arise about how to price a domain you’re buying, how to trust the other party, how to gauge the potential, etc.  When selling, there’s questions of seeking professional counsel and the buy vs. hold arguments that go through your head.  It’s rough.

The best advice I can give you is to talk to people who’ve done it before. You can pickup some lessons learned the hard way, and try to apply it to the situation at hand.

Every single domain sale in history is a different situation, though.  What Johns Wu did isn’t what Shane Pike did, it isn’t what we did, it’s not what you’ll do.

In buying and selling domains, there’s no blueprint.  It’s a freaking blank canvas, so proceed accordingly.  Go off your instincts.  Don’t bank on building a site only to sell it.  Too much is out of your control.

Images: Hibb08 and Leona Shanana

The One and Only Way to Market Online

Monday, March 15th, 2010

marketing online

There is one way to effectively market online, only one.  And it is never-ending.

To “win” the online game, you have to consistently work on building links.  You have to constantly test your conversions.  You have to be absolutely obsessed with your analytics.  You have to constantly interact with your customers.

You also have to intimately involve your online marketing with the ‘backend’ of your business.

Then, and only then, will you create a beast of company that dominates its niche online.

Two Bad Misconceptions of SEM
There are two common beliefs about running an online business built around search optimization (organic/paid) that you must banish right now.

The first, is “Set it and forget it”.

Popularized by affiliates and early-movers, this concept describes creating a website that makes money and then letting the money roll in while you smoke doobies on the beach.  Cool idea, very appealing to human sensibilities.  It might even work for awhile.  Like 2 years even.

Increasingly by the day, “set it and forget it” doesn’t exist online.  The reason you should abandon this concept in your online marketing is that eventually something is going to change.

Someone is going to come along and kill your cash machine.  It could be Google, it could be the next net-stud up the block, but it’s going to happen.  If you’re too busy “forgetting it”, no way you will see it coming.

Consultants Don’t Work Long-Term
Number two is the idea that a consultant on a 3 month contract will take care of your online marketing.  This does not work long-term.  As a business owner, you care about the long term right?

The reason this does not work is because things change.  It is because the search engines demand your participation.  It is because your customers demand it, too.

The products you’re marketing in months 1-3 may change greatly by months 10-30.  The conversation around your product or service may shift over time.  The pimp blog review you got in ’07 isn’t paying off much in ’10.

Make Marketing Your Heart
Or liver, or lungs.  Whatever makes it a part of you and your company every day it exists.

The talent you have working on your online marketing needs to be as intimately tied to your business as you are, or else you’ll miss opportunities to succeed. Get them in on the sales meetings and brainstorm with the accounting team.  Constantly.

The “set it and forget it” and consultant models fail in keeping a pulse on your company and your industry.  It has to be there every day, in the trenches of “.com” land, or else you’ll falter.

Marketing doesn’t start and stop. You can’t “forget it”.  Marketing online, more than any other medium in history, requires testing and daily interaction.  Act accordingly.

Photo: Bob.Fernal

Invest in Something You Can Control

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Part of the beauty of angel investing is the idea that you’re investing in a person or idea that you can speak to, see, and interact with.

This as opposed to dumping your hard-earned cash into stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.

Investing in a company as an angel is an intimate affair. You commit only after a thorough due diligence process evaluating the potential success of the idea.  You evaluate the talent and drive of the founding team.  It’s about people, and the company comes to hold a special place in your heart.

Traditional investments like stocks?  They’re just a ticker symbol in a chart, affected by powers far-removed from your own.

Right?  Isn’t one of the best things about angel investing that you get to participate in how well your investment turns out?

It’s Not Just Your Money They Need
My ideal vision of an angel deal incorporates something much more than money.  Forget about being a “passive investor”.  That’s just as boring as a mutual fund.

When you put your money into a company, hopefully it’s partly because you feel it can benefit from your experiences in business.  So you’ve grown 2 online companies through strong search marketing and sold them?  That’s awesome, and you should be finding companies that can benefit from that experience.

Of course you’re not necessarily going to come in and be the CMO.  But the 1 email per week you can give your entrepreneur could be worth $100,000 to the bottom line.  The one answer per week that you can provide about a tough marketing decision could make all the difference in the world.

Go With What You Know
It’s only natural for people to be drawn to things they understand.  In angel investing, that means you’ll likely gravitate towards companies that mirror your own past experiences.

That’s a good thing!  Take your money and your advice to places where it’s mostly likely to be useful.  I’m not about to invest in a pharmaceutical manufacturer, but I’ll jump all over

Remember – You Can Contribute
The “passive” angel investor annoys me, especially if he/she bemoans the poor performance of their investments.  If it’s your Energizer stock, that’s one thing.  If it’s the $50,000 you put in 2 angel deals in 2008, well do something about it. I’m sure your entrepreneurs are open to ideas, help, connections, and insights.  Get dirty!

(If they aren’t, sorry.  Probably shouldn’t have invested to begin with.)

A big reason we coined “growth partner” is because angel investing is the perfect opportunity to actively invest.  Embrace the opportunity to solidify your investment, and get dirty with your entrepreneurs.

Photo: Birdsmack

In Business, There are No Maps

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I read an article from the 37signals blog entitled “There’s No Room for the Idea Guy (in a Startup)” today, that stated:

The truth is that most everyone has plenty of ideas that could work out to be great businesses.

The title threw me off a little (and I won’t debate it here), but I couldn’t agree more with the idea that almost everyone is full of viable business ideas.

I also think most of those people are waiting around for someone to show them how to execute their idea.

Where’s the roadmap?

So You’ve Got Ideas . . .
Every group of people I’ve been around since childhood has discussed grand plans for business.  From candy in the lunchroom to the internet era notions of blogs or UGC (and we’ll wrap ads around it!) . . . the ideas are plentiful.

Easy to come up with ideas.  Hard to decide which ones to give attention to.  Even harder to give them an honest try.

Why is that?  Why is it so rare that a person or a small team can take a novel idea and make a run at it?

Besides the typical fear and anxiety, it’s a reliance on being shown what to do.

Trained to say “Show-Me”
In Seth Godin’s Linchpin, he talks about how our education-to-job system is broken.  We train people from a young age to take in information, spit it out on a test, and move on.  We train them to sit in their chairs and do what the teacher says.  It creates worker bees ready for instructions.

Worker bees are necessary for many things, but starting a new business is going to take a level of execution that creeps into the unknown.

Embrace it!  Have confidence in yourself to make smart moves.  The intimidation factor is high for many people in taking an idea and putting it to work in the real world.  The distance seems much greater than it really is.

You should remember that every other entrepreneur who put his balls on the line for an idea knew just as little as you do right now about what the future may hold.  You’ll make mistakes, but at least you’ll make something.  And no one’s going to show you the way to success.  YOU have to DO IT.

Cue up a little DIFN.

Otherwise your ideas will be nothing more than a rush of adrenaline, followed by decades of cubicle jockeying.  And do the rest of us a favor – return to your distractions.  The grown ups have business to do.

If you want to start a real business, there is no roadmap to follow.  None.  Make your own.

Images: Jasperdo and 5348 Franco

Investing in People is the Game We Play

Monday, February 15th, 2010

An age-old adage from investors and entrepreneurs is they’ll always take an “A-quality person with a B-quality idea”, and not the other way around.

This means I’ll happily invest in a person or team I believe can produce a successful business.  The business idea itself?  Less important.

Because whether you realize it or not, business is all about things like execution and the ability to adapt to change.  Not a phantasm that solves the world’s problems like a lightning bolt.

Bad Investments
Ask most angels about their mistakes and the answer is usually people-centric.   They lament investing in the wrong person, not the wrong idea.

Look at these key characteristics of a successful business relationship.  Each is tantamount to a profitable and enjoyable experience, long before any dollar is made or lost.

Trust.  Communication.  Leadership.  Determination. These plus the aforementioned Execution and Ability to Change are what make a business successful over time.

As an investor, you want the opposite of the guy who’s chasing a lifestyle business.  You want the most determined business leader you can find to lead your investment to the promised land of a 10x exit.

Why Does the Idea take a Backseat?
Because most businesses start off doing one thing, only later to figure out what really works.

It’s more about talent, determination, and adaptability to change than the million-dollar idea.  Everyone knows this by now.

Personal Investment Contracts
One cool concept that exemplifies this point in the extreme is a ‘Personal Investment Contract”.  Compliments of Rafe Furst and EmergentFool, a PIC is when an investor offers a cash payment to a promising individual in return for a % return on their individual income in subsequent years.

In English (and in Rafe’s example), they gave $300,000 to a promising young mind in a lump sum payment.  In return, this budding star has to forfeit 3% of their income each year so long as the contract remains in place.  Read more about it here.

What’s crazy is I almost like this concept better than a traditional angel deal or investment.  It doesn’t have a single pesky business idea getting in the way.

Our Success has Come from People
When I look back on the past 8 years of businesses I’ve been a part of, here’s what I see:

-Innumerable Ideas.
-Many failures.
-A few successes.
-1 team.

The very reason that we’ve been able to do “growth partnerships” and other investments is because we have a team of people that exemplify the traits I listed above in bold.  (It’s also why you should team up with us!)

As an investor, look past the idea, and see only the people behind it.  That’s what you’re after.

(pic from Cybernet)

“Showmanship” Can Increase Your Chances of Getting Funded

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Want to get funded?  You might consider hiring Lady Gaga to sing your pitches.

Ma-Ma-Monah-Ma, Fund Me, Oh La La.

Don’t Be Boring
Startups and other entrepreneurs in search of funding have a tall task in convincing investors to take a chance on their ideas.  Your ability to be a good salesman in your pitch is very important, so don’t be boring.

Lulling well-fed money men to sleep with a boring PowerPoint and meek personality will kill your dream.

Proof you want?  I got me some proof.

geodelic demoGeodelic Wins Twiistup
Last week I was in Los Angeles for Twiistup, a tech investor and startup event.  (Fun times by the way.)

On Thursday morning, 10 or so companies took the stage and pitched their startup to the panel and audience.  While all the presentations featured generally well-spoken and passionate folks, one company took it to the max.

That company was Geodelic, a location service that lets you locate eateries, drinkeries, and other “around you” things.  They also have a sweet deal with airports watching departure times and showing terminal amenities.  View the demo here.

When it was their turn to take the stage, the CEO, who is Indian, took the stage with a ukulele.  He queued up some gaudy pink slides and started talking in corporate speak using a heavy Indian accent.  The collective thought was “This has to be a joke”.

It was.  He had 2 other Geodelic team members placed in the crowd, and they shouted out some taunts- “We can’t understand what you’re saying!”.

On point, he quickly pulled out the ukelele and began singing.  Then a girl danced to “Everybody dance now”.

The Geodelic slides simultaneously flipped from the gaudy pink stuff to a video demo of their technology in action – very fast-paced and demonstrative (something befitting of the attention span of people in 2010).

And surprise, surprise – They won the event.

geodelic twiistup

The Takeaway
Geodelic got people on the edge of their seats, played to our senses, and put on a show.  

While they have a great product, everyone at the event admitted it was the way they nailed the presentation that pushed them to victory at Twiistup.

While I haven’t been an angel investor long, I suggest putting some serious thought and creativity into how you pitch investors.  If nothing else, a good “preso” makes it harder to dismiss your idea.

You can save time if you hire Gaga.  Oh La La.! Your Internet Startup is Stupid

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Ninety percent of internet startups fail within 4 months of their founding. And you want funding?

Count me among the angel investors who’d like to see a better return.

Where did all the real businesses go?

You want to know a surefire way to make money online? Take a traditional business, one that already works. It has customers and provides a needed service.

Now, take that business online. Use the internet as a means of communication and/or commerce to connect to a greater number of customers with greater efficiency.

Zippy startup and need not apply.

The more ‘boring’ the better

I’m tired of reading all the crap hype that comes out of Silicon Valley, LA, and Seattle about lean tech startups with a new web idea.

You can integrate all my social network profiles into one place? So can the last 8 presenters. Shouldn’t you guys have called each other first?

You need to get more boring. Seriously. Everyone that runs in these circles spends all their time online, in real-time, following every tweet and TechCrunch article like it’s going to unveil the next great thing.

STOP. Go read some obscure industry publication that only comes in (gasp!) print. I know I am.

Hot? Hot?
The businesses that intrigue me have a real product, like Yurbuds. Maybe they manufacture their own skin care products, like SkinCareRX.

Annuities. Snowblowers. Or how about one that takes old oil drums and repackages them for resale. I’m seeing dollar signs all day.

Two Reasons Why

1. It’s a much safer bet to take something traditional like that and make the magic of online marketing work for you, than to chase the trends.

I have a lot of ‘internet friends’ who’ve made millions online, with blogs or affiliate marketing or lead gen. Also, everyone knows the stories of Google, YouTube, Twitter, et al. They’ve all emerged as revolutionary web properties, and some have made money ☺.

It seems the dime-a-dozen web startups are chasing that same dream.

Do you know how much money banks make? Insurance companies? Bed spring manufacturers?

It’s insane. But here’s the real treat – you can be the 121st largest insurance company in the U.S., but if you have a niche online that fuels your biz, you’ll make millions online. Wouldn’t that just bore you to death?

You never hear the stories of the millions of bloggers who make $.02/month, or the ho-hums of startups gone bad. Which reminds me . . .

2. 90 percent of internet startups fail within 4 months.

I’m ready to invest. I just want it to be boring.

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