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Exploring the PPC Journey with Navah Hopkins: A Friends of Search Interview

07 March 2024

In this interview with Navah Hopkins, a well-known expert in the PPC industry, we delve into the strategic decisions and data-centric insights that have shaped her career in search engine advertising. From her early days in marketing to her current role as a thought leader in the PPC industry, Navah Hopkins shares valuable experiences, successes, and forward-looking perspectives on which she will elaborate during Friends of Search 2024. Discover her story in this interview done by Mark Grasmayer, head of marketing at Producthero.

How did you move from SEO to PPC?

Fresh out of college, my initial role was with an SEO company, which focussed on directory SEO. But the shady and icky side of it didn’t resonate with me. Simultaneously, I also worked as a freelance Google Ads specialist, as Google Adwords was just emerging. Which gave me experience in paid search engine marketing which I liked more. That made me switch to PPC, which also in 2014 brought me to Wordstream, which was a launchpad for numerous PPC professionals. Via Wordstream I grew into the speaking circuit. It was during this time that I crossed paths with my current employer, Frederick Vallaeys, the CEO of Optmyzr.

Meanwhile, I also learned the ethical side of SEO and appreciated it, which made me learn that the more you branch out, the more you thrive. After helping an SEO agency to start their paid branch and growing it to manage 1 million dollars in ad spending, I realized that I’m happiest in a Software-as-a-Service company as it’s more scalable. As I already did consulting for Optymzr and truly believe in their vision and leadership style, I was thrilled to join them when they invited me.

Meanwhile, you are very well-known as an expert in the PPC field, what are your biggest successes that people could know you from?

People might recognize me from my geeky-themed presentations that integrate data and geeky icebreakers. I’ve been using this distinctive style throughout my career, the very first time was at Pubcon, where I was a first-time speaker. Here I combined the geekiness with data to bridge the gap between SEO & PPC.

Another important factor is that while working at a SaaS company, you get insights into data from many accounts. Both at Wordstream and Optmyzr, I’ve had the privilege of accessing data from thousands of accounts. This wealth of data allowed me to rigorously test a hypothesis and share compelling insights with fun stories so that people can make an impact.

That is why I would also strongly recommend people to be your authentic self. In my case, the infusion of a geeky theme into my presentations is a reflection of my genuine passion for interests like Star Wars, board games, and a love for metal music.

Who inspired you during your career in PPC?

In cultivating my soft skills, I’ve drawn inspiration from some truly remarkable individuals. Purna Virji, a fellow speaker at Friends of Search, inspired me to just have tremendous self-love, grace, and peace with myself.

Ginny Marvin’s journey has been another source of inspiration. Starting in the trenches, she transitioned into a prominent platform by consistently approaching challenges with a positive mindset and a commitment to fixing things. Lastly, I’d also like to acknowledge Mark Irvine, a former colleague at Wordstream whose impactful mantra of doing less still resonates. This is truly powerful, as success is not solely measured by the quantity of work but by the cleverness and efficiency applied to your work.

Thanks, now let’s dive a bit deeper into your topic at Friends of Search. The topic that you’ll talk about includes your research on keywords/match types, could you share how you came up with the idea for the research on match types?

Yes, so this is quite funny. My initial motivation was to validate Google’s claim that broad match had evolved and deserved more acknowledgment. I entered into the study with the preconceived notion that the results would advocate for giving broad match its due credit. However, the first set of findings surprised me; while people did utilize broad match in their campaigns, it was far from the majority. Contrary to my expectation, the initial study indicated that exact match outperformed broad match on numerous metrics.

This revelation sparked a conversation for us—how should we gauge the success of a match type? Should our benchmark be the averages, or should success be measured based on the volume within our accounts?

Subsequently, Google’s series of updates in the past year prompted us to reevaluate our findings. We made the decision to update the study. During my presentation at Friends of Search, I’ll delve into the numbers. It’s worth noting that the updated research came out much more in favor of broad search than I expected. So, Google’s ongoing enhancements have undoubtedly shifted the narrative surrounding match types.

This seems like a good cliffhanger to get people into your sessions! In a recent article you described the evolution of paid media and how PPC becomes more like paid social, why is it important for ‘traditional PPCers’ to follow this trend?

I frequently engage in discussions about this topic with industry peers. Paid media revolves about serving creatives to people in audiences that we want to serve. And in recent years you see that Google and Microsoft shifted to channels outside of search. It’s essential to recognize that these shifts are interconnected. For everyone in paid advertising, it is important to create empathy for audiences and to learn about privacy compliance (on tracking).

Could you share how PPC’ers should take audiences and compliance into account for Google campaigns?

As you know, different campaign types act differently with audiences. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that, while still, many people think that Performance Max can target an audience, it can’t. Performance Max only uses the audience data as a signal to steer the algorithm. That is why it is important to have enough data. And this is where privacy compliance comes into play, you now also need to share the consent for that data. For a small advertiser, this is a hard threshold to reach.

Next to this, many Google-first marketers, are very analytical and brilliant users of spreadsheets. However, the quality of content keeps getting a bigger role. For example, big streaming services that allow advertising, like Netflix, even have a high bar on ad quality. But also when running advertisements on other channels it’s important to have good creatives. So, one advice that I would like to give, is that people who are good at creatives are hard to find. So, if you have a good creative, make sure to keep them happy. The number of things that you have to do while managing an account is going down, but creatives always play a role.

Do you see the number of things that you have to do in an account as an easier entry to start advertising on Google?

To be honest, before you could easily set up an account. Now, you need to verify your account and add multi-factor authentication. Additionally, for many things in Google, there is a need for data. A threshold such as a customer match is too high for many starting advertisers. And a brand new account also has a learning period. So, these are new hurdles to get started. This does bring a golden opportunity to agencies and software companies that use the hidden features to boost campaigns. But for an SMB with less than 1000 euros ad spent, it might be more interesting to look at TikTok, Meta, and Microsoft, as the auction pricing in Google is higher. I believe you need at least a 5k budget to run a realistic small campaign. That being said, of course, there are talented PPC specialists, who can make a small budget work, but at scale, this is harder.

That’s an interesting take. To close off, what can people expect from your session at Friends of Search?

One of the things that I’m really happy about is that in my presentation at Friends of Search I’ll explore ideas about account management. I’ll dive into which ideas are still valid and which are not so much. Specifically, we’ll be looking at match types, performance max, and how privacy factors into location targeting. I’ll also share some benchmarks about the general state of PPC. And what I’m excited about is the theme that I’m planning to add to the session, which I now think might be puppies.

Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?

Yes, Friends of Search was a conference that was on my list for a long time. There are brilliant speakers and I’m happy that Friends of Search also tries to elevate brilliant voices that don’t always get heard. As for others in the industry, the only difference between people on stage and in the audience is if you pitch your ideas. If you want to grow your career I would advise you to reach out to pitch your presentation to event organizers to get heard.