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20 Years of Paid Search Evolution: Insights from a PPC Industry Veteran

In Conversation with Melissa Mackey

In this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Melissa Mackey, Director of Paid Search at Compound Growth Marketing, Located in Boston, MA. Join us as Melissa shares her extensive journey in the industry since 2002, providing valuable insights into the ever-evolving landscape of paid search and digital marketing. Discover the challenges and triumphs faced by agencies, the transformative impact of automation and AI, and the unique approach of Compound Growth Marketing in achieving compound growth for its B2B clients. Melissa’s passion for the industry and her role as one of the top 50 most influential PPC experts make this episode a compelling exploration of the dynamic world of digital marketing.

AI is like automated bidding; initially met with skepticism, but its efficiency is undeniable. It saves time on tasks, allowing us to focus on strategic, human-driven work.

Melissa Mackey
Director of Paid Search at Compound Growth Marketing

Hey, hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay, your host for today’s episode. And today we have Melissa Mackey, who is the Director of Paid Search of Compound Growth Marketing with us. Hey, Melissa.

Hello. It’s great to be here.

Lovely. Melissa, before we Move any forward, pick your brains or why you talk us through your journey so far, which has been, a white one, like you were talking about in the green room and then we’ll take it forward from there on.

Sure, that sounds good. So yes, I am the director of paid search for compound growth marketing. We are an agency specializing exclusively in B2B. A lot of our clients are in the tech space, but not all of them. And really fun company to work with.

We do not only do media and SEO, but we also do revenue operations for our clients. Getting deep into their buyer journey and how their customers progress from lead to sale. As far as my journey, I’ve done paid search since 2002. So, way back in the beginning when Google ads were new and the overture was still a thing and looked smart and all these other engines have gone by the wayside.

I started in-house was an in-house role for about five years and then moved to the agency world and Compound Growth is the third agency I’ve been with since 2007. So, it has been very exciting. I’ve done a little paid social along the way, and done a little bit of display. Always kept coming back to search.

Cause it just really is where my passion lies. It’s such, an interesting thing to work in and always changing. Every day is different. People ask, how do you spend this long in an industry? The answer is no two days are the same, so I’m never bored.

Yeah, that’s a good thing about it, about our industry, right?

You get to learn. something new every week or every fortnight, depending on the kind of business interaction that you have with business owners. And Melissa, as you’d said, you have been on both sides of the table, right? Being on the client side, now you are in an agency.

Talk us through, how is it different? What are the challenges that you feel now that you’re on the other side of the table? Which is our side of the table, right? So now that you’re on this side, what are the challenges that you feel that any agency has, and, probably how can they overcome those challenges, coming from an experience of being a client yourself to an agency?

Sure. So, when you’re the client yourself, you get very deep into the business and you understand a lot of aspects, and a lot of times you’re doing more than just search. For example, you’re working on a generalized marketing team and you’re responsible for the website content and other things. When you’re in an agency, you tend to specialize in one particular area like paid search paid social, or SEO.

The difference with an agency is you’re constantly having to find new business. It’s just the nature of the beast. We have clients that, will turn over you try to keep clients as long as you can but you have a lot of clients you work on and they aren’t always the same.

So, you have to be very good at quickly learning how a client’s business works, and what their goals and objectives are. What they’ve done historically may be different from another similar business. So even if you’ve worked on one SaaS client, another SaaS client may be very different in terms of what works for them.

And you also have to be able to juggle a lot of priorities. If you’re working on five clients, you’ve got to figure out how to prioritize them and get all the meetings in and still get some work done. It’s a balancing act. You have to be good at prioritization and time management.

But I find it exciting. I find it interesting to learn about different businesses. I frankly got a little bored when I was in the house. And I think that this is exciting because you make a difference to the clients. They’ve hired an agency because they have problems they need to solve and we help solve those.

Lovely. And then. As you mentioned, every business is different, right? And so, is every agency, while we all claim to be very unique and all of that, right? And then we all feel it genuinely, right? Like we were talking about, you have your processes, we have our own, while we are all doing it, let’s say SEO and PPC content for our clients at the end of the day, what do you genuinely feel that, makes your agency different from all the ones out there, how is compound growth marketing, different from any agency out there now? How does it compound the growth of its clients?

Yeah. That’s a great question. It’s funny.

My husband works in the finance world and he thinks that the name of our company is interesting, compound growth because it’s a concept that he works with daily, but it’s really what we do, for our clients because we get so deep into the client’s business and how leads progress and how they close those leads.

We’ve gotten on sales calls with clients not to, Participate, but just to listen and hear what the salespeople are doing. So, a lot of agencies are very big on the front end. Let’s put things at the top of the funnel. And then it’s kind of, once it gets in the funnel, it’s client, now it’s on you too, to move those on through, we take it a lot further and try to work with the client to help them with sales enablement, to help them get.

Remove additional barriers that might be happening after that initial online lead comes in so we get very deep in their business. We will get into their salesforce instance or whatever CRM they’re using and dig in and understand how we can help them score leads better and how we can help them Prioritize leads and follow up on them efficiently.

So, this is the first place I’ve worked that’s gone that deep into that process with clients and it makes a difference.

At times, it is so much about, going just beyond your contractual obligations, just. Having those lead forms getting filled, which is our job, and it is so much about, stitching together an entire story and looking at the back-end side of things, what is happening after that, the form is being paid what, how, what is happening to those calls, like you mentioned, just.

Being a silent listener to understand what is happening after, that form is filled. What is happening after that sales call has taken place? What are the next steps, that the operations of that particular business are looking into? And so much of it is, beyond your contractual obligations, which I feel makes any agency unique in itself because there’s so much invested in your business, let’s say as a client, there’s so much invested in your business that they looking at your day-to-day operations and not, putting in those reports at the end of the month to say, hey, look at this.

We have done our job. Now it’s on to you. So yeah, I love the fact that you mentioned it. Great. Melissa, you have been in this industry since 2002, which is almost like more than two decades now. And you have witnessed the evolution of paid search, right? And you would have witnessed those early days, wherein.

Budget for the constraint. Now people have budgets, even small businesses. At times we say no to a lot of businesses where they have the budget, but you understand when I see this, they’re not prepared, to get paid right now. So, a lot of education. Is being done from our end to clients to say no, which is difficult for us as well, saying no to revenue, but to help them understand that they’re not ready for that piece right now, but I, so you have witnessed the evolution of paid search since last 20 odd years now, talk us through, what do you feel has changed over these years, how it all, was there when you started, what was the client’s approach to let’s say budgeting, for a particular campaign to how it gradually changed to what it is right now.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s so different now. It’s hard to imagine what it was like back in the beginning. When I started. We didn’t even have a daily budget. We would spend as much as we wanted to on Google ads because we made money on every single sale. So, this was back when I was in the house. Clicks were so inexpensive and there was so little competition that, we said, hey, if we’re making money, if we’re on the positive in terms of row as which we were from day one, we’re going to pump as much money as we possibly can into this thing and take as much search volume as there is.

And that’s what we did for five years for the whole five years. I was there. No one’s in that situation now. The click costs have really, exponentially increased and the other thing that’s in play now that wasn’t in play much at all. Then is automation. We’ve seen automation go from really.

Very small, like just things like what sites your ads would show on all the way now to bids and bid strategies and even writing ad copy and creating videos for your business out of just assets that you have on your website. A lot of that was unimaginable 20 years ago when I started doing this and it has its Good and its bad side.

And I like the fact that we don’t have to be managing bids daily. That was a waste of time. So, I love not having to do that, but I get concerned, especially in the B2B world, which the search engines do not understand. Still, they’re very focused. And frankly, their algorithms have been built on e-commerce.

So, they understand e-commerce well. They don’t understand B2B. So, the automated assets that are created are often terrible, as are automated recommendations and other things that just don’t perform. So, you still have to have that human element and be very careful, but it’s been, it’s gone all the way from bid jamming where we used to, bid like one cent less than the next competitor.

And the old overture used to show what the bids were. It showed what everybody was paying. That is also hard to imagine now, we don’t even see our bids with automated bidding now. But it’s gone from that to the machines making a lot of decisions for us.

Machines, we all got headed around the same time of year last year, with ChatGPT AI, and everything.

You know what is your take on AI? How do you feel? It’s going to be, let’s say, three, six months down the line from now. Exciting times. I, we all adapted to it, during the year. But what is your take and how have you guys implemented or executed it at compound growth marketing with your day-to-day lives?

And where do you feel are we headed with AI? And yeah,

that is a tough question. Yes. And there is a difference between AI and machine learning. Google likes to call everything AI and a lot of what they call AI is machine learning. But actually, machine learning. Yeah, let’s not get too technical here.

But with ChatGPT and whatnot, it helps with keyword research. It can, what I find with AI right now anyway, not to be confused with where it may go in the future is it’s good for thought starters, right? You can give it a prompt to write an article for you or to write some ad copy or give me a starter list of keywords or, take a look at this landing page and tell me what it’s about and it will give you those thought starters.

But we still have to put our own human experience on top of that. I find that it’s time-saving in the beginning to give me something to react to, which is always easier than, if you’re sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, it’s really hard to write an article. But if you’re sitting down with something that you have to edit you can say, okay, now I know where I want to take this, and you can go from there.

I find that it’s still often very wrong and leads things in the wrong direction. It’s getting better very fast and it’s scary how much better it has gotten just in the year that we’ve all been using things like ChatGPT and artificial intelligence as far as where it’s going, it’s.

The way I see it is like automated bidding, which is machine learning. When that first came out, a lot of us were very opposed to that. We didn’t want to let the machines make decisions for us. We said Google’s just going to make more money for themselves, which has been true to an extent, but honestly, it’s so much more efficient that the small cost of the performance is something that we accept.

And I see AI in the same way. It’s going to save us time on tasks that. We don’t need a human to do and free up the human to do strategic work that I don’t think a machine is ever going to be able to do.

Absolutely. It just does give you a head start for sure. As you mentioned, rather than starting with a blank sheet of paper, if you have a task to submit, let’s say around three o’clock, you start at noon. And then it just gives you those. Head starters are then searching for all those facts yourself or pointers yourself, right?

But still, you’ve got to humanize it in terms of having those human audits in place and the prompts are still being done by humans. So you have to still have to you know, You know get yourself trained enough, you know with your let’s say, you know You’re learning or your day-to-day experience or?

Your written trials initially to get better at using the machine in itself, right? So, it’s not going to, serve you everything on the platter, right? So, you still have to get better as to, kind of start using the machine or the software or the platform in itself.

But yeah, it’s still at the end of it. It is not a deliverable. Piece of let’s say content or whatever you still have to humanize it to ensure that whatever is being delivered to your end consumer is bulletproof in terms of fact verified in terms of all the other checks that need to be there So yeah, very valid point Great, Melissa.

But the last one, yeah you have been recognized as, one of the top 50 most influential PPC experts. And that is quite an achievement. What makes you so good?

Wow. A few things. For a long time in the industry, there’s no substitute for experience. Sometimes I’ve seen things come around and I’m like we’ll see how this goes and frankly life experience, to have been in the industry for 20 years.

I’ve been in the work world for a long time. So, I’ve seen a few things come around. But really, I think one of the other things is my passion for the industry and how we like to share it. I’ve always been all about sharing and networking. When I started, it was so small, and I didn’t have anybody to learn from in my organization.

I was the only one doing paid search. And so, I had to find others doing this somewhere else that I could learn from. And back then we had Bulletin boards and forums and things where people were sharing ideas. And that was how I got started just networking in the industry out of necessity.

But I made so many lifelong friends there and we all just try to help each other out. I like to have a take on things. I like to say what I think about things. And the other piece is the B2B world. I started working in B2B in 2012 and just really found a passion for it. And it’s something that it’s, it is a niche within paid search.

A lot of people are focused on B2C, but this is a very growing area and something that I’ve been involved in for a long time and have been advocating for. Google, every example it seems they give on like a Google marketing live is, here’s Reebok and here’s Nike and here, all these huge consumer brands, and I’m like none of this.

Marketing advice applies to any of our clients. So, I just want to be that voice to keep pushing like, hey, we’re out here to B2B, don’t forget about us.

Lovely. All right, Melissa. But yeah, before I let you go, I would like to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you are game for it.

Yeah, let’s do it.

All right. Your last Google searches.

Oh my gosh. It was for one of my clients. It was one of their keywords. I don’t want to say it because I don’t want to give away who the client is. But it was for a client.

You don’t need to. Don’t worry. All right. Your celebrity crush.

My celebrity crushes. Oh, boy. You’re asking me hard questions.

I would say

Paid media was easy for you.

Yeah, paid media is easy. This is the hard one. Patrick Stewart. Love him.

All right. All What did you do with your first paycheck, Melissa, the first paycheck of your life?

Oh my gosh, I probably went to McDonald’s or something stupid like that. When I was in high school, I taught clarinet lessons and that was my first job.

So, I’m sure I like taking my friends to McDonald’s.

Lovely. Where do we find you on Friday evenings after work?

At home with a book, man, I’m wiped out and that’s time to chill out and just sit down and decompress and I love to read. That’s where you’ll find me, in my comfy chair.

Brilliant. The last one, I’ll not grill you any further.

That one thing, Melissa, that you love about, your job let’s say our industry, that one thing that you love about, that we all do.

I love how we all share. So many industries are so competitive and people don’t want to share what’s successful for them because they’re afraid competitors are going to steal it.

We’re the opposite. We’re out there sharing, hey guys, I tried this or I found this, or, here’s what’s going on. It’s so open and so collaborative and everybody just wants to see everybody succeed. And that I think is what has kept me in it so long. It’s just this community of people that want to help each other.

It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

Yeah. We have all these groups where, and, people sharing all these charts, the traffic has grown, what did they do? People are seeing them. They’re sharing those mantras, those tricks, which they’ve used for that particular campaign, which has worked for them, which is very rare to see in other industries as you mentioned, people sharing what has worked for them, with their competitors, which.

We all are glad to do. We all, share it with a lot of pride and, a sense of responsibility as well at the same time, which I feel it is, if this has worked for me, let me share this with Melissa. Maybe, she can apply it to one of her campaigns with her clients. Which has nothing to do with me or my business or my agency, but she will be able to succeed, it might work for her since it has worked for me with a similar kind of strategy, but yeah, very valid point there, I also love it about our industry that we are also open-minded, when we talk about our successes, what has worked for us, what hasn’t and how you should be, approaching any particular new client or, campaigns and all that brilliant. Yeah. Lovely Melissa. It has been a great conversation. I enjoyed it and I’m sure our audience would have benefited a lot from what they heard from you. So, thank you. Thank you for doing this with us.

Absolutely. It was a pleasure.

Great.

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