Does Your PPC Budget Match Your Conversion Optimization Budget?

This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.

Last week we put a bunch of fruit trees and bushes in our back yard, including blueberry, cherry, pear, elderberry, peach, and pomegranate. The total cost of the plants was under $400, but the total invoice was close to $2,000.

The rest of the money was for labor, and for compost, topsoil, mulch, bone meal, green sand, azomite, rock phosphate, lime, liquid seaweed, and endomycorrhizal inoculant to improve the soil into which the plants would take root.

When we got to work digging the holes, I was amazed at how long it took to prepare them. We broke up clay subsoil with mattocks (think medieval executioner tool with an axe head added for good measure), added tons of organic matter, babied the plants for hours in nutrient baths, mulched heavily, and raised the beds high above the surrounding yard for protection and water runoff.

When I remarked to the owner of the landscape company who was guiding our efforts about how the plants themselves seemed to be the cheapest part of the affair, he replied with an old saying: “It’s better to plant a $10 tree in a $100 hole than a $100 tree in a $10 hole.”

Now as I look out my home office window onto a back yard of happy little fruit plants, I appreciate the wisdom of those words. And what applies to gardening also applies to AdWords.

The $10 PPC Tree

When people start using PPC, they get very concerned about the cost of a click. After all, all those clicks cost money, and they can add up to a hefty monthly chunk if you aren’t careful.

Just like the plants we put in our yard, the clicks appear to be the thing we’re paying for in PPC. After all, PPC does stand for “Pay Per Click.” So it’s natural that we get caught up with finding the highest quality clicks we can get, just as we picked out the healthiest-looking plants whose climate requirements matched what we were able to provide and whose yields matched what we like to eat.

But too many PPC advertisers give short shrift to the hole that PPC tree is trying to take root in: the landing page.

If you spend $10,000 a month sending PPC traffic to your website, then arguably you would do well to at least match that amount in aggressive landing page testing. And depending on the economics of your business, you might spend a lot more than that.

The click can be perfect – the right person at the right time seeing the right ad message – but if the landing page you’ve prepared for it is just a bit off, you’ve wasted everything you’ve done right in an instant.

Too many PPC advertisers are perfectly willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars a month on clicks (and may grudgingly pay a percentage of that for management expertise), but can’t bring themselves to “spring” for new landing page designs, strategies, and copy.

Once you accept that you should be matching your click budget with your conversion optimization budget, all sorts of things become possible.


Now it’s easy to test all the stuff you’ve been wondering about: orange or red button, Verdana or Arial, 320 or 480 video, and so on. While many design decisions aren’t earthshaking, they do add up. And you can now afford to run multivariate test that will let you know which elements of your design matter most and least.

You can also go crazy with design contests, reaching out to an eclectic design community and generating hundreds of ideas that you would never have come up with in-house. Sites like 99designs, DesignCrowd, and DesignContest are wonderful places to blow some cash in search of a breakthrough.


You can test several different “slope” strategies. Slope refers to the speed and intensity with which you invite website visitors to take you up on your offers. You might find that your best bet is a “Buy” bottom right next to a photo and brief description of the product.

Or your visitors might want to slow things down, watch a video demo, read some testimonials, check out your shipping and return policies, even initiate web chat or spend some time with you on the phone.

Perhaps your strategy should slow way down, where your first offer is a white paper or special report or email course that prospects can go through slowly and carefully, and you don’t start talking business for days, weeks, or months.


Visitors reach your site because they want something they don’t currently have. To the degree that they care about this gap, they’re also suffering a bit. When we suffer, one of the responses we appreciate most is empathy. Yes, it’s nice when people offer to solve our problems, but sometimes it’s even nicer to feel understood.

It’s easy to empathize with people when we really care about them and want them to be happy. So let’s just start with that orientation toward prospects and customers as a given.

The anonymity of online search, however, means that you can’t know the nature of someone’s suffering from their click. The keyword and ad that triggered the click can help, of course, but even a single keyword/ad combination could represent dozens of different outlooks on a problem.

So what should you empathize with? Their fear of making a bad choice? Their anger over their current situation? Their confusion? The amount of time it’s taking them to place an order? Their bad past experiences with this sort of purchase?

Beats me. And beats you too. Only your visitors can tell you, by responding favorably to some forms of empathy and hitting the back button when encountering others.

With your new $100 landing page hole mindset, you can now devote some time and money to discovering better and better answers.

Because those clicks won’t seem so expensive once they start bearing sweet fruit.


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