£180 per click….yes, that’s a scary number! And to be fair, it is the highest we’ve seen in the auctions for online casino keywords, but it does highlight one thing – the competition in the online gaming space is heating up fast and squeezing out margins of efficiency is becoming trickier in mature markets like the UK. However, when compared to other channels, PPC remains one of the most reactive, transparent and scalable digital acquisition channels.
What’s Driving the Surge?
With the recent SEO penalties against the likes of bwin and Jackpot Party, Google made it clear that it is keeping a close eye on attempts to influence organic search rankings and is not afraid to issue harsh penalties to sites that are in breach of current best-practice guidelines. As such, it is no surprise that more and more affiliates and operators are turning their eye to PPC to lessen the reliance on organic traffic and build a business model that can survive the host of algo-updates Google is throwing at webmasters. With more advertisers chasing the same keywords, the impact on CPC’s in the auction is clear – they can only go up! Already this year, we have seen the auction of key terms during the Cheltenham Festival being pushed up by a host of aggressive offer comparison sites, with CPC’s on core volume drivers increasing by as much as 30% year-on-year. This raises an interesting challenge for the big brands in the industry: whereas they previously enjoyed a largely untested position off the back of substantial budgets, they now face a host of super-efficient affiliates establishing dominant positions across a wide range of key search terms. You only have to google to see this powerplay in action and appreciate the scale at which affiliate commissions are being re-invested into PPC-traffic…it’s not yet certain how this will play out, but it’s certainly a trend we’re watching!
With the growing competition in the PPC auctions, advertisers are increasingly looking for specialist PPC knowledge to achieve the competitive advantage.
At The Media Image, we have the opportunity to work on some of the largest PPC advertisers, both from an operator and affiliate angle, and I’d like to share some of the specific insights we’ve acquired over the years
Account Structure & Keyword Selection
We often get clients asking what the ideal “size” of an account should be in terms of keywords and to be honest, it’s a difficult question to answer. It almost depends entirely on budget, objectives and the specific product being advertised. Generally, Sportsbooks have a much more complex account structure, largely due to the 100’s of markets that have be covered! As such, from a keyword optimisation point of view, there’s normally a lot more potential here for “quick wins” by mining search query reports or reviewing data feeds. The keyword research process is thus a lot more dynamic and resource-heavy as it is key that PPC campaigns reflect and address the changes in the sporting schedules and cover off the core events. The casino side of things is much more static, in that keyword selection is mostly reactive and driven by mining search query reports, brainstorming new keyword variants or reviewing traffic logs. With much higher average CPC’s, identifying “negative keywords” – keywords that you do not want your ads to appear against – is crucial and can by itself save an advertisers £1000’s in wasted advertising spend. Depending on the business model, advertisers should also experiment more with various match-types – a Bingo site for example, would be less concerned about the exact keyword variation that drove the visit as long as the cost for that click was below a certain threshold. Having a test campaign cover off all 4 match types can sometimes uncover some unexpected CPC differentials…
Tracking – The Basis for Effective Optimisation
The real test for any successful PPC campaign is the approach to optimisation. Whilst the keyword selection and account structure are crucial in establishing the benchmark performance, advanced markets such as the UK – where most advertisers have a similarly developed list of keywords – require a much closer focus on optimisation efforts to squeeze out every last bit of efficiency! Tracking – that is the implementation of tracking pixels to monitor various KPI’s such as deposits and registrations – is the basis for any optimisation and a crucial element in the setup for any PPC campaign. Whilst a seemingly simple step in theory, it is generally a lot more complex in practice. Tags have a tendency to get lost in seemingly endless release cycles or plagued with integration issues due to the way the site is set up. The best advice I can give you here is to commit to a tag management solution from the beginning! This will allow for tags to be rolled out outside of release cycles and cuts down on the implementation time massively. Whilst tracking is equally important for both operators and affiliates, the need for as close to real-time data as possible actually throws up a host of additional challenges for affiliates. When spending up to £180/click it is absolutely crucial that advertisers have full confidence in the conversion funnel and with most affiliate platforms reporting on a 12 hour lag, it can turn PPC into somewhat of a boom-or-bust approach. We’ve had significant successes in setting up custom solutions which limit the delay between click- and conversion data and subsequently allow us to make aggressive campaign changes with confidence and exploit in-day opportunities much more effectively.
How to Set Efficient CPA Targets
In order to get the most out of PPC, nailing down the performance metrics from the get-go is crucial. And in iGaming, these normally translate into a CPA-target for new, depositing players. However, having a one-size-fits-all target for the entire PPC activity seems somewhat crude, when most optimisations happen at keyword level! As such, where possible we try to break down the performance into much more granular segments based on keyword theme or CPC and track Life Time Value against these buckets. This will allow us for example to understand how customer values differ between “free casino”, “no deposit casino” and “bonus casino” and whether having separate targets for each bucket is advisable. Particularly for niche affiliates with limited budgets, knowing where to invest these funds to get the most ROI in terms of Revenue Share can be the difference between a successful PPC campaign or money down the drain. Once the target CPA is established, it’s worth sense checking the numbers and mapping out top line conversion metrics. Based on average CPC’s, the CPA might be at odds with what could realistically be achieved. Take Bingo for example – average CPC’s trend around the £15-£35 mark and with a sub-£100 CPA target, the conversion rates would have to be high in order to hit the target. Knowing and understanding what these limitations mean for the campaign – from setup to bidding – will already put you ahead of the competition before even spending any money. Ultimately, the CPA determines the scope and opportunity within any PPC campaign, and knowing how high the target can be pushed to still deliver positive ROI is a key insight!
Manual vs Algorthmic Bidding – Which One is Best?
When it comes to bidding, the approaches generally fall into one of two categories: manual or algorithmic through specialised 3rd party search tools like Doubleclick or Marin. We have this on-going internal debate over which is actually better, and to be honest, the answer varies on a client-by-client basis! Generally speaking, smaller advertisers in terms of budgets and ultimately click volume are probably better off evaluating keyword bids individually and updating the changes via Excel or using AdWords’ built in bidding rules. However, when campaigns start to drive 1000’s of clicks per day across a large subset of keywords, the computational power of algorithmic bidding will kick in and most likely outperform manual bidding.
CPC’s fluctuate wildly during the day – bidding algorithms can help in capitalising on these lower CPC’s Since bidding algorithms use historic data to identify trends and calculate the most efficient bid given past performance, they tend to be better suited to campaigns where performance is more or less stable. We generally see better performance from algorithmic bidding across Gaming verticals, and prefer a more hands-on approach to bidding in Sportsbook accounts, where performance can spike up depending on fixtures and results and new keywords are added all the time to get immediate coverage. On top of that, most bidding algorithms upweight more recent performance statistics in their calculations – in the case of Sportsbook for example, if there was a week of no sporting activity, the algorithm would be biased towards underbidding going into the weekend, and cripple performance if left unchecked. Bid rules are certainly not a set-it and forget-it solution to bidding, but need to be used with a clear understanding of their limitations and advantages – however with the correct setup it is not unusual to see CPC’s drop by 20% on a like for like comparison!
The importance of Ad Copy
More than simply communicating the brand to the potential customer, adcopy in PPC is a crucial optimisation element that is often overlooked. For one, adcopy establishes the relevancy between what’s on offer and what’s being searched for. This requires that each adcopy is customized to the search term – a fairly labour intensive process and one that often gets brushed over due to resource constraints. However, it’s very important that this investment is made as it is guaranteed to pay off in the long term! The reason relevancy is so important, is that it ultimately drives Click Through Rate! A higher CTR not only delivers more visitors to the site, but also dramatically impacts the amount you have to pay for each click. This is most noticeable in results where competition is fierce on core keywords such as or , where relatively minor jumps in CTR can have a disproportionately large impact on decreasing CPC’s! As such, we always recommend splitting out top performing keywords into individual adgroups and making adcopy testing an integral part of account optimisations. Adcopy also doesn’t exist in a vacuum – every time a customer searches for a term, your adcopy variation essentially gets judged against the whole peer set of competitors! Oftentimes it helps looking at adcopy from the customer’s point of view to understand why a certain ad is underperforming – would you click a £5 Free offer when a competitor is shouting about a £10 Free No Deposit Bonus? Getting into a customer’s mindset at the point of consumption is key and understanding how to leverage adcopy to entice the clickthrough is as important to effective PPC management as bidding and keyword selection.
£50 Free or bet £10 Get £20 – finding the balance is key!
A holistic approach to PPC management
Hopefully, the insights above provide some idea of key considerations that are shaping PPC management in the gaming space. Certainly, the rise in CPC’s over the last couple of years paints a clear picture of increasing competition and on-going opportunity. The higher costs however also make PPC more complex, with campaign management requiring specific expertise and increasingly integrated approaches. The advertisers who we see as being the successful are those that take a holistic approach to PPC management and grow the channel with support from the wider business teams in order to deliver the most efficient performance.
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE IGB AFFILIATE, ISSUE 45 JUNE/JULY 2014.