In my previous life, I was a social worker who helped mentally ill and chemically addicted adults on their road to recovery. I see many of the same symptoms of addictive behavior in too many pay-per-click (PPC) advertisers today. After all, there’s something terribly seductive about the simplicity of creating a PPC (define) ad; within moments your ad shows up and gets you clicks. As the high continues, you crave more, adding more keywords and new campaigns to keep increasing your dosage. However, sooner or later you realize that you have to put more and more into it to keep getting the same effects. Like every other addiction, it eventually catches up with you. The return becomes more limited; you need lots more to keep up your addiction, often times at the risk of pain.

As in all addictions, the first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem. I often find most advertisers I speak with have a feeling something isn’t right, but they aren’t really sure what the issue is. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve performed PPC audits for clients to show them where things were failing. Nevertheless, to help people get over this addiction required us to find some simpler and faster ways to give advertisers the intervention they need to get help and recover. So, next week I’ll be offering a new workshop, PPC Addiction: The Road to Recovery, in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City.

To make sure the content would jolt attendees into recovery mode, I’ve been testing it on some former clients and friends. Let me share with you the letter one of my friends and former clients sent his agency (I changed the names to protect the guilty) after our 30 minute conversation:

I just had a long conversation with Bryan Eisenberg about some PPC audits they’ve been doing for clients. He said that a few months ago, Google really changed the game, and it’s all about Quality score, and it’s no longer just about bids. [Author note: If you don’t understand this relationship, you should watch Google Chief Economist Hal Varian explain it.] And clients are contacting him to look at their accounts because they find themselves paying MUCH more for MUCH less.

So we pulled a few reports to see how our account is doing. The results are a bit frightening. Yet, they give some validation to a question that has been nagging me, “Why does PPC seem to be getting worse?”

1.) Conversion Per Month – As you recall, we stopped bidding on brand related keywords in Feb 2010 as an experiment. The PPC conversions went way down. No surprise there. Thankfully, my thesis has been proven correct as overall revenues have stayed the same. Unfortunately, PPC spending has increased without a jump in non-branded conversions!

2.) Impression Share – This shows how many impressions we’re getting for each campaign. Except in our case, our ads are hardly ever showing up. According to Bryan, this is a huge part of what changed in PPC and is directly related to Quality Score.

3.) Quality Score Distribution – We exported all the keywords and their corresponding quality scores, then totaled up the number of occurrences for each number. 7 and above is good. 6 and below is bad. 65% of our keywords are 6 and below. Ouch!

I believe Bryan has uncovered and demonstrated the reason for the numbers going down. In general, the problem – as best as I understand it and am able verbalize it – is that we’re going for “long-tail reach” with broad terms without using enough (any?) negative keywords, and this radically lowers Quality Score over time. Instead, we should be aiming for super-strong relevance using exact matches in small ad groups going to very relevant landing pages.

In addition, we looked at the ad copy, which frankly, has also been nagging at me. Our ads seem to lack keyword relevance and strong value statements. Plus, from what I can tell, very few (if any?) new variations have been tested in the past 12 months.

Joe Smith, you and I have a long history. And I like you very much. But I think I’ve let my personal feelings and faith in you get in the way from drilling deeper into this nagging PPC issue. I’ve sent several emails to you looking for your help to try and figure this out – and MAKE PPC WORK BETTER. Yet nothing your team has done has moved the needle in a positive direction.

This brings us to a fork in the road. Is your agency interested in keeping my company as a client? If yes, I need to know that you’re interested in doing everything it takes to improve Quality Score; starting with changing from broad to exact match on keywords, adding negative keywords, and re-arranging Ad Groups.

If not, then I’m afraid I’ll have to discontinue service with your agency immediately.

The first step to recovery is recognizing and admitting you have a problem. I think my friend has certainly done that. If you recognize you have a problem, you’ll be on your path to focus on improving relevance and quality and focused less on reach. Over $10 billion dollars were spent on PPC advertising last year. A portion of that came out of your pocket.

Are you satisfied you’re getting the maximum return on investment from it? Do you find it more and more challenging to continually increase your PPC effectiveness?

P.S. I have 1 Free ticket to give away in each city. If you are interested and can make it to the Boston, Philadelphia or New York event next week let me know in the comments below.