Originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in December 2008.
It was 5:00 on a sultry, simmering Friday afternoon when she walked into the office. Trouble, spelled with a capital T, a capital R, and several other letters.
“Hello Sugar,” I said as I slipped a bottle out of the bottom drawer of my desk and poured myself a belt. “Care for a drink?”
“No thanks,” she responded as she wriggled herself down into a chair across the desk from me. “I’ve got to watch my figure.”
“Mind if I don’t smoke?” she asked, pulling out a cigarette but not lighting it.
“Nah, don’t kill yourself,” I answered. This was Minnesota, the state where nothing is allowed. I was used to people not smoking in my office.
“I’ve got another job for you,” she purred.
I had figured as much. I’d done a job for Sugar a few months earlier. Government stuff, on AdWords. Went great. Door-busting CTRs, conversion rates as respectable as that lady always sitting in the front row at church, nice ROI.
“Sure,” I said, taking another sip of my drink. “Another government job?”
“No. Private sector this time.”
Well, that was fine. Government, enterprise, it was all business to me. Sugar explained the plan. Same product as before, only they’d made a few tweaks to optimize it for business use. Sweet new white paper to go along with it as well. No problem, I thought; knock out a keyword list, crank out a few ads, test a couple of different landing pages, keep an eye on things to weed out the bum search phrases and keep bids in line, piece of cake. I could do it in my sleep. Heck, a couple more drinks and I might have to.
“No sweat, Sugar,” I said. “Leave everything to me.”
Except things didn’t go quite as planned. Two months down the road, the AdWords campaign was in trouble. Trouble, spelled with a capital T, R, and those same other letters. Sure, the CTRs were decent, but the conversion rate was uglier than the business end of a sharpee. Nothing seemed to make the conversion budge either; I threw up new landing pages like condos in Shanghai, but lead production stayed stubbornly low.
Sugar wasn’t going to like this, and as the old saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman with an underproducing SEM campaign. Or something like that.
So I downloaded a keyword report and went through it with a fine tooth comb. I tried running the numbers by campaign, by CTR, by landing page—everything seemed random. Finally I sorted all the keywords in the entire program alphabetically, and suddenly the columns lined up like a slot machine hitting the jackpot in Vegas. It seemed that everyone searching for a certain phrase, or variant of it, beginning with a letter of the alphabet that won’t be named here, was bailing out at a scandalous rate.
Why hadn’t we seen this sooner? Because we’d made a big mistake, thinking private sector yahoos would search for our offering using the same lingo as government schmucks. But it don’t work that way. Not in the city.
Once I’d cleaned out the unsuitable search terms, the campaign started humming like the V8 in my `66 Ford. I could breathe a sigh of relief, put my feet up on my desk, and pour myself another round.
She came strolling in again. “Hello Sugar.”
“Nice work,” she said. “But things were looking a little dicey there for a while. I thought you’d lost your touch. I didn’t think you had any more tricks up your sleeve. Thanks for proving me wrong.”
“No sweat, Sugar,” I tossed back. I know how to play good cop / bad cop with an AdWords report. I’ll talk nice to the analytical data set and buy it a few drinks, but if that don’t work, I’ll take it out back and knock it around until it gives up the answers. “It’s what I do.” That, and dodging bullets in the rough-and-tumble world of search engine marketing.