What Kobe Bryant can teach you about succeeding with AdWords


April 13, 2016, marked Kobe Bryant’s final game in the NBA. He went out in a blaze of glory, scoring an insane 61 points. Kobe’s career will most likely be remembered for three things: the contents of his trophy case, the rings on his fingers and the color of his jersey.

His achievements should be applauded, but it’s important to keep in mind what it took for him to reach “legend” status. He became an all-star on the court by giving everything he had to the game of basketball. This requires a ton of mental focus and dedication, but the results speak for themselves.

Although the court you and I play on looks a little different from Kobe’s, we can learn a lot from him about how to take our digital advertising game to the next level. Let’s take a look at what Kobe Bryant can teach us about being an AdWords All-Star.

By Keith Allison (Flickr: Kobe Bryant) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Keith Allison (Flickr: Kobe Bryant) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Kobe lesson #1: Study the film

Watching game film is the best way to spot what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. The same way of thinking can be applied to Google AdWords; and thanks to YouTube, the number of optimization tutorials available to review is endless.

My team at AdHawk recently brought on a new digital marketing intern. His game was good, but it was clear he needed a little polish to ramp things up a bit. So we went ahead and put our Kobe Film Theory to the test.

We told him to walk through each of 65 online advertising tutorial videos we had recorded, and then had him create and launch a test campaign. The results were pretty shocking. Not only did his knowledge of AdWords improve, but with that knowledge came the confidence to experiment with new strategies that led to new areas of success.

Kobe lesson #2: Play without the ball

Shaq, a long-time teammate of Kobe, said he would come into the practice court to find Kobe running through their offensive plays and drills without a ball (grunts, squeaky shoes and everything).

The Ad Preview & Diagnosis tool and the AdWords Sandbox tool allow you to simulate the real thing without the ad spend. Get in there, do your homework, and practice!

Kobe lesson #3: You need to get creative to stay on top

Theory and studying alone isn’t going to translate into 18 All-Star games or 10:1 Return on Ad Spend. You have to stay agile, adapt to changes and get creative. Kobe faced more than 2,000 new opponents during his career, so he had to come up with some pretty spectacular methods to beat them all.

Similarly, the PPC landscape is constantly changing due to trends in the industry, new campaign types and competition. Do you know what happens when you’re afraid to take shots to stay ahead? Hmm, I think there’s actually a famous saying about that. Let me think for a second… oh yeah!

michael scott

Kobe attempted more shots than anyone except for two players in NBA history. He also scored more points than everyone except those two players in NBA history. See the correlation?

Here are some shots you need to try to stay on top of the AdWords game:

  • Gmail Ads
  • Customer email match
  • Automated scripts
  • Remarketing to similar audiences to your YouTube subscribers

Kobe lesson #4: Play through the ups and downs

There are going to be good days and bad days with your ad performance. Each level of return offers an opportunity to learn.

The good days

Look at what’s working, and double down on it. Greatness doesn’t come from sitting back and appreciating your work. It comes from finding what you did well and determining how you can reproduce and build on that success.

When I worked on the AdWords team at Google, I would use this simple routine to double down on the areas of the campaigns that were working well. It can take a big chunk of time out of your week, but I promise it’s worth the effort.

Goal: Build on Success

Routine: The Double-Down Workout

  • Go through each of the demographic reports and take note of the highest and lowest CPA or CPC (depending on your goal) for the following:
    1. Gender
    2. Age
    3. Income level
  • Go through the devices report to identify any major differences in your key metrics between mobile and desktop.
  • Head to the locations report. Pull out the top and bottom five locations.
  • Increase your bids (in the 10- to 20-percent range) for the top performers.

The best advertisers in the world will do this kind of optimization every single day, so it’s important to know what you’re up against. If you can only get to it a couple of times a week, that’s okay — just make sure you stick to the routine.

The bad days

Kobe was once asked whether a player who misses his first nine shots should stop shooting or sit the bench. Kobe said he would rather miss his first 24 shots than miss his first nine. Now, maybe my math is wrong, but 24>9.

The key here is that going 0/9 means you gave up, you got psyched out, you didn’t stick to what’s worked for you in the past. Sometimes you’ll have bad hours, days, weeks in AdWords. That leads us to our final Kobe lesson.

Kobe lesson #5: Stick to your pregame routine

All these Kobe-isms — the film study, morning workouts, incessant shooting and simulations — have one key thing in common: they were all habits. They were all a major part of his routine.

What you need to be an all-star campaign optimizer is a killer optimization routine. I just walked through our routine on how to double down on your AdWords success, and I wanted to show you one last routine before I wrap things up.

This one is called “Trim the Fat,” and it will push you to cut the parts of your campaign that just aren’t working.

Goal: Spend Less

Routine: The Trim the Fat Workout

  • Trim the fat on your search ads by using the Search Terms report to add all the poorly performing keywords and irrelevant traffic as negative keywords.
  • Adjust your bids based on the time of day or day of the week that’s converting terribly with Ad Schedule Bid Adjustments.
  • Adjust your bids on poorly performing locations that are converting terribly with Location Bid Adjustments.
  • Adjust your bids on mobile if it’s performing poorly with Mobile Bid Adjustments.
  • It’s important to remember that you want to decrease your bids for the poorly performing segments. You can do this by bidding down from zero percent to -100 percent. To simply remove an ad from being served to a certain demographic, device, or location, adjust the bid to -100 percent.
  • Take a look at your conversion rate on AdWords versus your overall website conversion rate.
  • Your ad may not be the issue. If you see a high click-through rate (CTR) but an extremely low conversion rate from ads, you need to tailor your landing page to more closely represent your ad’s offer.

As I mentioned after the previous routine, the best advertisers in the world are doing something like this every single day to maximize their performance on AdWords. If you can only get to it a couple of times a week, that’s okay, just make sure you stick to the routine.

Kobe Bryant’s insane hustle and dedication to the game of basketball made him one of the all-time greats. If you step up to that level of preparation, work ethic and mental toughness, you’ll be an AdWords All-Star in no time.

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