Mike Ditka Can Teach You About Pay Per Click

I have a confession to make. I have an addiction … to sports. Those who know me best can tell you I can get a bit obsessive on the subject. If I’m on the computer late at night, my wife knows that I’m either a) working or b) reading the latest stories, rumors and blogs from my favorite sports writers and columnists. I can’t help it.

As a child, my dream job was to be a general manager for a major professional team – the guy who picks the players. I am intrigued by free agency signings, trade scenarios, and especially, amateur drafts. Whether it’s baseball, basketball or football (sorry, I can’t relate to hockey as I’m an Arizona native), I always find drafts to be extremely interesting. Drafts are an opportunity for teams to build for the future, fill glaring holes and match veteran personnel with promising talent.

Source: Associated Press Archive

In one of the most famous NFL drafts in recent years, one team made a trade never before attempted and not since repeated. In 1999, the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Mike Ditka, traded all of his draft picks away for the rights to select a running back out of the University of Texas. That player’s name is Ricky Williams.

Many football pundits were puzzled by the decision and openly questioned it. However, Ditka was unmistakably smitten. The mustached “man’s man” -who had previously won a Super Bowl as a player and coach – not only took a serious gamble for the New Orleans franchise, but he also posed in a wedding photo with Williams, in which the former Heisman Trophy winner wore a white dress.

So Ricky went to New Orleans, and the team that received all those picks from Ditka, the Washington Redskins, used their newly acquired selections to get several players and maneuver around in the draft. In the process, the Redskins picked up three eventual All Pros in 1999 and 2000 (Champ Bailey, Jon Jansen and LaVar Arrington). Washington went from a 6-10 record in 1998 to 10-6 after the 1999 draft. Meanwhile, the Saints won only three games with their new running back. “Iron Mike” Ditka was fired after the season. Williams left the Saints after three anticlimactic years. While he eventually became an All Pro with the Miami Dolphins, Williams was suspended for continuously failing drug tests, and he retired for a couple years, only to go back to the Dolphins, for whom he plays today.

Lesson learned: don’t invest too heavily in one very expensive asset.

Specific to paid search marketing (aka pay per click or PPC), successful campaigns do not rely on a few expensive keyword phrases. The most profitable and efficient campaigns drive quality traffic from a broad selection of keyword players. Some of the most popular keywords can provide traffic, but at a very high cost. Others that are less popular do not generate a high number of clicks, but those relevant terms often lead to a desired action (purchase, contact form submission, etc.) at a reasonable cost. Here’s an example…

Scenario: You own a store in Kansas City that sells pool tables.

The Ditka Campaign

source: wikicommons

Pro: This campaign will most likely drive traffic
Con: This campaign will be extremely expensive and lacks geographic relevance
Likely Result: High spend, low conversions, low ROI

The Belichick Campaign
Note: Bill Belichick is the very successful (and very arrogant) coach of the New England Patriots who is notorious for “trading down” in the draft to acquire multiple, less expensive picks.

source: wikicommons

Pro: This campaign is hyper-targeted to the audience in Kansas City and will not require a big league budget.
Con: The Belichick version will not get the kind of traffic that the Ditka campaign will.
Likely Result: Relevant traffic, low cost, high ROI

Source: Chris J. Nelson
Source: Chris J. Nelson

The moral of the story is this: paid search marketing is a team sport. Each keyword phrase, no matter how popular, plays a valuable role. Winning campaigns generate great ROI by incorporating large quantities of relevant, targeted keywords. Try not to fall in love with the flashy keywords – they can’t do it alone and they often cause trouble. Diversify, appeal to multiple audiences, and always … always … play the numbers game.

4 thoughts on “Mike Ditka Can Teach You About Pay Per Click

  1. Great post Chris! It’s a perfect illustration of how critical understanding the true needs of the audience is for developing a successful PPC campaign. Relevance is what it’s all about — and it’s far better to hit 100 people and have 30% of them convert than to hit 1000 and have 3% convert because of the costs involved in hitting the 1000 with those more expensive (but less relevant) broad terms.

    Great examples, easy to understand — your hallmark. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks, Susan. I agree with your comments. Switching from sports to music analogies: The ability to hit the right notes for a small crowd is superior to making loud noises in front of an apathetic arena.

Comments are closed.