Best Practices for Digital Advertising with Marc Poirier

Digital Advertising: Best Practices for Bid Management with Marc Poirier

How do smaller business handle bid management?  When is it right to tie in call data and CRM data into advertising and bids?  How can phone calls be traced back to performing ads?   Marc Poirier, digital marketing thought leader and CEO of Acquisio takes some time to share his expertise.

This episode is brought to you by: Concordia College–New York’s fully online, advanced-technology master’s degree programs in Digital Marketing and Digital Media.

The OMCP Online Marketing Best Practices Podcast is where top authors and industry leaders share authoritative best practices in online marketing which are covered by the OMCP standard, competencies, and exams.  This is an OMCP pilot program that may continue based on member interest and support. Stay subscribed to the OMCP newsletter to get new episodes.

Download your MP3 of “Digital Advertising: Best Practices for Bid Management” here.



Best Practices for Digital Advertising and Bid Management:

Michael: Allright!  Welcome back to the OMCP Studio and  With us today is with us today is Marc Poirier, Digital Marketing thought leader since 1996 and CEO of Acquisio, Named one of the top 25 most influential Marketing Technology experts, Marc is a frequent speaker at industry events and contributes to marketing publications including Advertising Age,

Marc Poirier is CEO of Acquisio and a popular speaker at industry conferences.

AdWeek and more. Marc’s academic background covers PhD studies and cognitive science and research and experimental design and advanced statistics.  

I’m your host Michael Stebbins. And today, we’ll be discussing best practices for digital advertising. Marc, welcome to the OMCP best practices podcast.

Marc: How are you doing sir?

Michael: Marc, most of us in the industry have watched your success building Acquisio to a leading acquisition software provider for marketers. But before we get started, for those who haven’t used Acquisio tools or heard you speak, tell our audience, who are you and what is it that you’ve been up to lately.

Marc: Well, you know, Acquisio is a company I started in 2003, I want to say. So it’s been 14 years. But the first few years were more of an agency trying to help, you know, companies here. We’re Montreal, Canada, so helping companies figure out their way through the digital mess. And we did that relatively successfully.  

And while we were doing that, we realized that a lot of the companies we worked with needed, you know, as we’re their agency, they needed really good information on what are we doing for them, you know, because they send us a check every month. And they wanted to know what was the work that was done, why, what we’re going to do next month, or the results that we’ve got and, what are we hoping for and so forth. So for us, just a good reporting practice, which in the beginning, we didn’t really do. You know, we’re a little bit arrogant at the time thinking, you know, we understand SEO and paid search and so forth.  

And we’re just going to deliver a great quality work for our customers, but we didn’t realize there’s an expectation on their end that you need to report to them, you know, on a periodic basis.  

And that was the origin of Acquisio. The origin of the software company Acquisio was that we we’re an agency where many of our customers required a lot of hand-holding, and they needed to understand the data. They need to even business consulting from us a lot of time just to try and understand what is it that they should be hoping for, you know, like what’s possible? And, you know, this was the idea that this…I mean this problem triggered the idea that we should build a solution that’s more technology than service to help agencies like us automate some other stuff, you know.  

And at that time, the idea was just to automate communication and reporting around paid search, specifically, so it wasn’t so much about SEO or anything like that just, you know, handling the…At the time there are three sort of major search providers. Google was pretty big already, but the Yahoo had been around forever, and Microsoft had their own product as well. So, how do you tie all this stuff together and tell a story to the advertiser so that, you know, you can engage them and try to get them to do more, you know, hopefully next month and nurture a good relationship. So that was the origin of the company.

Michael: Excellent.

Marc: And, of course, you know, over the years, things change, you know. So it’s not just about reporting. After a while it’s, okay, how do we automate bid management, you know, because a long time, ago bid management was a thing.  

Michael: That’s right.  

Marc: Like a long, long time ago, that was the game. And then Google came along and they had a different approach to the auction. It wasn’t a transparent auction anymore, you know. You didn’t know who was bidding what on what keyword, which was what overture would provide us. That was the origin of bid management. And then that space went dead for a while. For a few years, I would say, there was not much going on. That’s when we came out. It wasn’t so much about bid management at the beginning, it was more about how do we get reports out, and we had other problems to solve.  

But then, shortly thereafter, you know, like bidding, it was always an issue. You know, but for us, it’s maybe a little bit less of a problem. But it became a big, a big, big problem. How do you allocate the money correctly all the time, you know, considering you’re serving, you know, through the platform, you know, like thousands of customers? How do you make sure that everybody gets the right attention, the right level of attention at the right frequency and that you’re making the best decisions possible?  

And I would say that these changes around the importance of bid management and how it’s sort of reflected back to us by our own customer base, change the DNA of the company completely about five years ago.

Michael: Well, we’ve all admired the growth. And I think Marc’s being humble. Those of us who’ve been in the industry for a while have seen tremendous growth and great product and results out of Acquisio. But, Marc, I know that’s not all you do. I mean even on your Twitter profile, you mentioned that fishing and boxing are things that you’re in. So I’m going to skip the boxing, and I’ve gotta ask, what kind of fishing and tell us something that happened lately?

Boxing or Fishing?

Marc: So I’ve, you know, fished my whole life. I think my father was the big influence for that. I like to fish for…My two favorite things to do, a walleye fishing just as freshwater fish. It’s prevalent in northern U.S. and in Canada. And so this requires specific tactics. There’s special ways to go about it and sort of technical fishing, so I love doing that.  

But I’d say over the past 5 to 10 years, I’ve taken an interest in trout fishing, salmon fishing, things like that, so more of a traditional fly-fishing approach or it’s quite different from the, you know, the other approach with the motorboat. So it’s very, very different, and I love both equally. That’s it.

Michael: And you’ve got something coming up real soon here, that’s right? This is…

Marc: Friday.  

Michael: Yep. All right.

Marc: So today we’re recording this, it’s Tuesday. And on…Yes, it’s a Tuesday. And on Friday, I’m off for my first fishing trip of the season with some…actually, some buddies from Acquisio here. So we’re going to take off for two and a half days. And we’re going walleye fishing in the New Lake, so this should be interesting.

Michael: So, Marc, you’ve invented some of the powerful tools in the market that drive digital advertising. The industry, including myself, hear you speak often at conferences. I’ve been reading your articles for over a decade. I’m going to bring up four best practices from the OMCP standard for PPC and see what you have to say about them. So for our audience, I’m just going to read them off in order before we dive in.  

One of them from the OMCP competency standard is that:

  1. A professional must estimate required conversion rates profits and match them to the business goals.

  2. Set initial bids based on those goals

  3. The professional must understand the role of tools in estimating initial bids.

  4. Describe generally accepted systems used to set bid strategy.  

So for the first one, Marc, most of us agree that we need to map our bid strategies back to company numbers that we can track. In your experience, what are some of the processes for planning that work best?

Matching Conversion Rates to Business Goals

Marc: I think it’s…Sometimes, still today, like you force business owners to get into the core of their own business. And a lot of the times, you end up challenging their business assumptions around their business model.

So it’s not only, you know, digital marketing, but it’s even fundamental, like what does it cost you to acquire a new customer, and what are the first tactics you’re going to implement, then what are you going to do after that to continue to grow? And at what point do you stop, at what point does it make no sense anymore? And what’s the value of branding for you and awareness? You know, these are difficult questions to answer even for us who are experts. But for like a standard business owner, these are fun. I think they typically enjoy going down that path and trying to size what’s the right price, how much should I pay for a lead that may be qualified maybe not, right?  

So you have to have all these conversations with the business owner. And you need to also understand their context to be able to give them advice because not everything is the same. In a B2B context, you have typically very long sales cycle. And there’s our leads that are going to need to be developed by a sales team. And, you know, there’s a lot of work that goes behind the scenes until you finally capture revenue and so forth.  

So it’s walking down the waterfall with the customer…how is it that you work? And who are the people that are going to touch these and these, and what are the questions they need to ask and so forth? Then you need to build the assumptions to be able…Okay, I understand…you need to understand maybe the size of, for example, a classic B2B company questions you’re going to ask on a form. Of course, you going to want to know what the company name is. You going to want to know what their role is. Typically, is going to give you indication on who you’re talking to and their ability to move the discussion towards a close. You want to know what’s the size of the business as well, is it a tiny little company, is it a giant company? So there’s a few standard questions, but then, you know, there are things that are specific to each business.  

So developing that information, and maybe being able to sort of score them for B2B would be a good practice to be able to say, “Okay. Well, you know, this is a very large company. This guy’s a VP. He’s in charge of the division I’m interested in. And their time to decision is right now.” This is a like a really high-quality lead, versus, “I’m a student and my budget is zero dollars, and I’m interested in, you know, I’m doing a research project for my school.” At which point, that lead has a different value, you know, probably not zero, but it’s not the same, right?  

So it’s walking the business through this, understanding their own business, classifying their leads correctly, this for B2B, and understanding the process and then being able to score them so that you’re then able to sort of understand that some of your efforts are producing really great quality leads, and some are not, and then that will…then in turn allow you to allocate your efforts and your budgets more intelligently.

Michael: And a lot of this is really determining the value of a prospect in certain stages of the funnel, you know, the value to the company. Now, you just talked more to B2B. And I know that Acquisio is helping smaller companies now. Do you have anything that can be typical data points for a B2C or a smaller company?

Typical Data Points for a Smaller Company

Marc: A lot of the small businesses have…maybe a little bit more simpler way to look at the world. And it’s that they want to get people to walk into their store. They want people to call them. They’re interested in appointments, you know, like if they’re, like, I don’t know, like a salon or something like that, there’s many businesses that revolve around booking appointments, home services, companies, and so forth. And then, you know, they want to understand that the money they’re investing in digital advertising is returning customers, you know, that they’re able to verify that.

Michael: Yeah, a little deeper in the funnel, yeah, those shorter sales cycle.

Marc: Yeah. I think for years they’ve been sold…I hate to use the word snake-oil, but, you know, our industry has its share of, unfortunately, of people making representations that are not true, you know, who better than a very small business who’s maybe wants to hear that you can make them very successful. And, you know, they want to hear those things. And they will be a little bit more gullible. Unfortunately, there are companies who call on them and make representations or they make claims that they can’t fulfill. And this happens all the time, you know. So they get burned once or twice. They hear stories from their fellow SMB friends, you know, who had the same story, and they get really afraid, you know, they have a bad taste in their mouth from digital advertising.  

And so I think it’s important for them to hear that, you know, their advertising efforts can be tied to real world success. And, of course, you know, we all know that it’s doable today. Everyone knows that. The problem with the small business is to do that, you need to service them. You need to do…there’s work that’s required. Things need to be done. Things need to be put in place. Systems needs to be put in place to record…that success to record the calls, for example. It records the sales and the appointments and brings them back into your management system to make their decisions. And that can be a lot of work..And because the small business doesn’t have a huge budget, it makes them maybe less attractive to the people who service them, you understand?  

So they’ll start, you know, that’s why the whole idea of servicing companies that spend at least say, just an example, $10,000 per month. You hear that a lot like people will say, “We’re an agency and it’s fine,” you know, they’ll say, “That will only work with companies that spend X amount of money.” And this is true even for a local service providers where they’ll have like a bottom like they won’t serve someone who doesn’t spend at least this much because they need to invest so much time and effort and money, of course, into servicing them that it would be unprofitable. And because they’re trying to run this business at scale, you know, losing $100 a month times 10,000 customers doesn’t work. It never works.  

And so I think the reason, you know, we took the company in this direction of helping SMBs is because of the rise of AI, machine learning and automation, and good product practices, and good digital marketing practices. We feel like it’s time, you know, to bottle that stuff up and to automate all of it for the very small guys in a very responsible way. And, you know, that’s why, you know, measuring success even…it applies for everybody. You know, selling clicks and impressions, that’s not going to fly anymore, you know, that’s not…If someone’s looking to build a successful service company and you want to target the smaller guys, you can’t sell them impressions and clicks, they’re all…not all, but you know what I mean? Most of them are aware that that’s not what they’re looking for.

Michael: It’s just too early in the funnel.

Marc: Yeah. I think it calls (no joke) every day they received a phone call from a salesperson. And, you know, they’re tired of hearing that. They want to hear that you’re going to be a business partner and you be held responsible and held accountable for their success, and you’ll grow with them, you know, that they’ll grow with you. I think that’s a much more interesting cause for a company like us.  

And then, you know, the previous cause was…Let’s help agencies automate a bunch of stuff so that they can take on more customers. I think that was the old approach to things which, you know, we were quite successful doing that. But I feel much more motivated by helping the small guy take a day off because he doesn’t need to worry about that stuff, or to hire a second employee because he has too much demand, you know, they can’t keep up.  

These stories are much more…for me, anyway, I think for a lot of us here, much more stimulating than, you know, helping a really large hotel chain, let’s say, book 3% more rooms as I see as, you know, that’s great. But it’s not where we’re at anymore.

Michael: Very rewarding to see SMB succeed. And maybe they can get out there and fish with you, Marc, right? So setting the initial bids can be confusing for a lot of folks. You know, we just covered how we can map our bid strategy back to things that we can measure. we have our company goals. Setting initial bids is tough. What are some guidelines for doing that right?

How To Set Initial Bids

Marc: I think you should…You know, if you don’t have previous experience, you’re starting something new, you have nothing to rely on. I would always look for information coming from Google on this. So there are tools like the Keyword planner where you can go provide the keywords that you intend to bid on. And they’ll recommend some default bits like a range that you can use to start.

Everybody always forgets that the bid is not what you’re paying. 

So you can go right in the middle, probably is one place to go. If you have budgets, if you have money to spend, to experiment, you can go a bit on the high-end. If you don’t, you go bit on the low-end. Of course, all these things have pretty important impact on the outcomes, you know, the decision you’re going to make there. So you’re right that it’s an important decision.

I think what’s even more important…So they’re setting that bid, but it’s quickly reacting. So there’s the initial setup is one thing. But you need to react rapidly because you’ll have an indication of success right off the bat. You’ll know it within hours or days.

Michael: Depending on the keyword, yeah, you might know in minutes.

Marc: Oh, absolutely. You should be able to react rapidly and adapt and change that bid. But changing bids…the bid is one thing. Everybody always forgets that the bid is not what you’re paying. I think it’s obvious. We should know this. But people always forget that, you know, maybe you set your bid at $10, but you’re really paying 325, right? The most important thing is to pay attention to what you’re effective CPC, your average CPC bids.

Michael: That’s a great point. You know, a lot of people who knew this system are, perhaps, suspect, and they feel like, “If I enter $20 as a maximum bid then, you know, they’ll probably just charge me $20.” And once you’re familiar with it, it doesn’t work that way.

Marc: That’s right.

Michael: So Marc, the standards say that a professional must be able to understand the role of tools in estimating bids. I can’t think of anybody in the industry who is more qualified to walk us through. How can tools be used to help us set those initial bids?

How To Use Tools for Estimating Optimal Bids

Marc: Well, to set the initial bid, again, you want to, you know, we have our own data that’s available. But Google has great data as well. And Bing has great data. Facebook have. Well, they’re not going to tell you what to bid, but they’re going to recommend a budget. So you can get initial information there about role of tools there. Okay, there’s setting up the, you know, a local.  

So if someone’s reselling to very small businesses, right sizing the package is a big deal like so…let’s say a yellow page-type company has a small hair salon somewhere, they want to sale them a digital advertising package, you know, you can’t oversell, you know, in which they’ve always done. They still do unfortunately. They don’t have the tools to stop them to say, “Don’t sell this guy $5,000 package because, you know, they’ll never spend that money.” You know, you can maybe stop them out of thousands.  

So right sizing the packages based on understanding of the auction and what’s going on, and how much you can spend is important for that space, for the small business. So that’s an issue. But I would say, more importantly, it’s, you know, having a tools that can control, not only your default max CPC for the ad group, the max default, max, so that’s your bid in other words, maybe even control at the keyword level, how much you’re willing to pay, and maybe control device level bid modifiers, so understanding the relative performance of a desktop versus mobile, you know. And then you can do the same thing like geo [SP], so you’re able to say, for example, “I want to spend up or down depending on where that click came from inside of one campaign.” So that’s another bid modifier that’s available.  

There’s bid modifiers for content. I mean there’s tons of opportunities to modify those bids, so not only do you have your base bid, but now you have the opportunity to boost or decrease that bid as a function of, you know, where is that person located, what devices they’re using, and so on.  

So it gets extremely complicated, you know, to make the right decision. And this is where tools come in. You know, we have so much data pouring through the system. We are able to…and we do use that information to set those bids correctly, you know, and to adjust in…not in real time, but every 30 minutes in our case as we go and review budget distribution across new campaigns in Google Adwords and Bing ads, but also the CPCs like, so…and your bid modifiers. So we’ll make changes, very small changes. It’s very small. We never like…we’re typically don’t make dramatic changes to bids. They’re always small because we’re in there every 30 minutes. We just keep changing it, you know, until we observe what we’re looking for, a change. You know, we’re trying to effect a change on the performance of the account.  

So that’s the important of tool is that they never stop. They’re on 24/7. They don’t get tired, they don’t make mistakes, and they learn more and more. You know, more and more of the algorithms that we can build now, improve themselves, you know, it’s just fantastic. This is not possible three years ago. But, you know, now we’re able to do this more and more.

Michael: Now, Marc, I know you have some background in AI and some machine learning. And I know you’ve implemented that in your tools. Just kind of in the context of the next one. You know, I expect that tools should be able to feed data to adjust bids based on our profits, return on advertising spend ROI, revenue per click. What else can be done with tools to maintain the bid now that you have machine learning?

Tools and AI in Bidding

Marc: You know, in our space where we play, there are, what we call them vertical, some people call them business categories or headings, you know. So a roofer, for example, so roofing is like a category, right? It’s like a lot of companies offer that service, a lot. So in every city, every town, every village, there are roofers. So there are, you know, probably hundreds of thousands in the U.S. So there’s a dynamic there. There’s something that happens in the roofer category, you know, that can be sort of discovered at scale. And it’s very difficult to do that if you only have one because you don’t have enough data, you know, there’s not enough data flowing through a system to learn anything. And machine learning like any other learning requires a lot of examples, you know, it requires training and a lot of data.  

And so if you have built out like a significant amount of customers in a specific vertical, then you have, you know, the ability to train your systems that’s to say, “Hey, you know…” Okay, I have a specific advertiser with its history, perhaps, or not, but let’s say it has history so we can see what happened in the past and day of week, performance, and, you know, maybe specific ads are working better another, so we could…there’s learnings to be had there but more so at the category level. You could say the same…although we’re not doing that today, but you can say the same about geographic distribution, say, “Okay, well, maybe people in the Northeast, maybe companies there perform differently in the roofer verticals, and people in the Southwest,” which I’m sure is true. I just made that up, but I’m sure that’s probably a fact.  

But, you know, these are things that technology can help sort of decide for us. And, you know, we talked a little bit earlier about setting default bids, you know, I wouldn’t say that it’s there today, you know, it doesn’t work like that on our end anyway. But I can then…you know, we could, for sure, train our systems to do that, to set the initial bid-based on observations across the category, you know, especially when you’ve seen enough, you should be able to do that. I don’t know if that answers your questions, by the way.

Michael: It could, and perhaps the question isn’t valid at this point, but with the…So you’re able to look in a vertical for trends and make decisions based on the data you’ve seen. Is that data tying into …like a CRM?

Each vertical will have an ideal type of call and it should be no longer than nor shorter than. 

Marc: Yeah. Typically, you’re going to see a lot of call driven actions. So for this small business, driving phone calls import, quality phone calls, right, so how do you gauge that? There’s a proxies for that, which is usually called duration, but by vertical will vary dramatically, you know. So generating phone calls, there are systems, of course, there are many companies that provide, you know, good technology to provision call numbers, and then to record phone calls and give you some analytics on, you know, what happened during the call. Some companies even…are able to process the voice files and give you an indication of sentiment like a positive calls that a complaint like the, you know, I think experimental but it exists, and it’s out there, it’s available.  

So there’s a lot of work going on there. But from a small business perspective, you know, at a high level, they’re looking…like, for example, a taxi company is expecting like a 15-second phone call, no more. A call that last five minutes is no good for Taxi Company. That’s not a customer, you know, that’s a…maybe someone calling a friend or something like…It’s not a business.  

Taxi calls, 15 seconds. General contractor, four, five minutes, you know, they’re real meaningful conversations, so they’re looking for longer calls. So each vertical will have an ideal type of call and it should be no longer than nor shorter than. So these are the kinds of metrics…That’s one type of metrics around phone calls that are applicable.  

Another one are appointments. So there’s, you know, a lot of the… let’s use salon, for example, have booking systems because they have their staff, they have different hairdressers, for example, and they have their schedules. And then customers want to book with a specific hairdresser sometimes, sometimes they don’t care. And so there are, you know, several systems like My Body and Booker that are very successful at providing salons, a booking system that has like a web form attached to that so that they can take appointments from the website, for example, okay?  

So now being able to generate bookings has like a predetermined value. You know that if you’re booking…I don’t know, a haircut, and for women, it’s very expensive. If anybody has ever seen me, I have no hair, so I don’t spend money on that, but my wife certainly does, right? These are meaningful actions, meaningful conversions, if you will. If someone goes on your site and says, “I want to book an appointment with Jody at 3 p.m. And I want to get this service and that service,” they know exactly what that phone call is worth, right? So that’s another important conversion type for the small business.

Michael: And, Marc, how does those get tied back into bid management tools? Is there a mechanism through API? Is that a custom engagement, or are there some common hookups that you’ve seen?

Tying Data Back to Bids Via API

Marc: It’s API, so we get that information back into our system so then we can make the bid adjustments knowing that, “Okay, this campaign is generating calls,” so they are the right…they’re right durations, or, “We’re confident that these specific campaigns are performing well. And these ones over there are never generating phone calls.” So we’ll take budget away from them and put them over here as much as I can, you know, where it’s performing well.  

So, yes, that’s through API integrations. It’s not magic. It’s work. But you typically do it once, you know? So a company like us will build a relationship with a company like say, Booker or like Square. You know what Square, like, payment system, or…So we’ll connect to them to get that information back into our system so we can make the adjustments on the bids.

Michael: Awesome, awesome. I expect that OMCP certified should be using those types of systems to give the best to their customers and their clients and their own companies. Marc, you’ve covered some of the best practices for digital advertisement success that are in the standard, that’s what we covered. Those are on the exam in large and you covered them very well. Any other tips out of that scope, or general guidelines that we should practice, things that you’re seeing that professionals should know about?

Marc: So, you know, I’m very focused on search.

Michael: That’s why we’re talking to you, Marc.  

Some Tips on Ad Extensions

Marc: Yeah. It’s an obsession. Probably, you know, like follow Google, follow their blog there of Google AdWords, right, to be clear, like they have a pretty active blog where they announce product releases. Everything has new, you’ll see it coming through. And you’ll see if you’ve been, you know, following for the past two, three years that there’s something called ad extensions that’s taken on a life of its own, you know, there are…I don’t want to say dozens because that’s an exaggeration, but there’s a large number of ad extensions that exist, you know. And taking advantage of those is very meaningful, very important. So, you know, site links, location extension, call extensions, and so on. There are many, many, many.  

So I encourage everybody to become familiar with them to use them. It’s not waste of time. And it will have significant impact, or you will have an impact on your campaigns. So typically, it’s a positive impact,, you know, so it’s just a little bit of work. You typically do it one [SP]. Every time you launch a new campaign, you want to make sure you cover the right ground. You don’t need to build all the extensions. I mean if you don’t offer app downloads, don’t build the app download extensions, that would be silly. But take the time to build those. It’s a time very well-spent.

Michael: Great advice. So that is all the time we have today. And a big thank you to Marc Poirier. Check out Marc’s writing at  The Daily Campaigner  Follow him on twitter at  MarcPoirier  and of course reach out to Marc’s team at to try out his tools for online acquisition.

Marc, any other ways that people can engage with you or see you at your next speaking engagement.

Marc: Whoa, what’s my next speaking engagement? I don’t know. I think you covered it pretty good. You can email me marc at any time, of course. Now we’re great as well.

Michael: That’s very generous of you. I’m your host Michael Stebbins, and you’ve been listening to the OMCP, Online Marketing Best Practices Podcast. . OMCP maintains the certification standards for the online marketing industry in cooperation with industry leaders just like Marc.

Join us inside of OMCP to maintain your certification, get special offers, and engage with other certified professionals, universities, and training programs that teach to the OMCP standards.  

So we’ll see you inside of OMCP as a certified professional where we’ll be learning and improving our professional careers and teams.. together.  

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