What Information Architecture Taught Me About PPC

Earlier this year, I completed my master’s degree in Information Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Since then, a lot of people have asked me what I’m going to do now that I have it. Honestly, I love what I’m doing right now and find that I use principles I learned during my education almost every day. My particular concentration was in information architecture, which is the structuring of information in databases, websites, and other digital media. I find that this discipline is very applicable in the field of pay per click advertising. Here’s why.

First off, there’s no doubt that knowing how to organize information will help you when setting up a PPC account. Questions of relevance come up a lot, and it benefits you to group keywords and ads into groups of similar meaning. This has bearing not only on your quality score, but also in how a user will react to seeing the ad you matched to a particular keyword. Lose the relevance, and you lose the customer. My information architecture background taught me that there are many ways that a particular bit of information can relate to another. Instead of thinking of classification as a tree (kind of like the Dewey decimal system), you should think of it as a faceted system where one piece of information can be reached through multiple avenues. For more information on this, read up on the colon classification system created by S.R. Ranganathan. It’s a little hard to explain briefly, but think of it this way: a keyword could be relevant to more than one campaign or ad group. Choose wisely depending on where you will get the most conversions, and use negative keywords creatively to focus different facets of relevance on identical keywords in different groups.

My other big revelation from my degree has to do with website usability. I took a lot of courses dealing with user experience on websites and in digital systems. I even designed and executed a couple of usability tests. Learning how to do a simple usability test can do wonders for your landing page optimization efforts. Tools like Google Website Optimizer can help you get the stats on a large-scale split-test. But if you take the time to gather half a dozen people in person and have them try to use your landing page to accomplish something, I can almost guarantee you that you will gain more valuable insights than looking at thousands of hits to your A/B test.

Running a usability test isn’t hard or expensive. Just get 8-10 volunteers who are in your target audience, come up with a few simple tasks that relate to what you want your users to do on the site (like complete a purchase or fill out a registration form), and watch your test subjects complete the task. Have them think aloud as they are completing the task, and you’ll find out where the difficulties lie in your website. You can even get some free screen-recording software (Camstudio is a good one) to review the test later. For a more comprehensive guide on usability testing, my alma mater has a pretty handy guide at http://www.utexas.edu/learn/usability/index.html.

Having an information studies degree has really helped me in my PPC career. I would highly encourage anyone interested in the field of online marketing to pursue that course of study. And if you’re an employer looking to hire, you’ll know you have found a good candidate if they have that degree on their resume. Especially if they went to UT.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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One Response to What Information Architecture Taught Me About PPC

  1. Antoine says:


    I had to find someone that had a master’s degree in Information Studies to be good in PPC. I’ll be glad having a chat whenever you come in Europe. Having the words “Adwords” and “colon classification system” (or PMEST) shows already that you should be much better in SEM than any other online marketing pro.

    Oh and there ‘s this article online, I’d guess it will be rather basic where you have a master in this domain; but there were some revelations for me: