[last update of this post: November 15, 2019]
If there’s one thing that PPC marketers have in common is that we’re always on the lookout for a new tool, script or solution that will give us an edge over the competition.
Or that will simply save us time, especially if it helps us doing less of the repetitive and number crunching stuff, so we have more time for creative and strategic work (before that gets automated as well).
In the 13 years I’ve been doing paid search, I’ve tried many tools, but not all of them.
However, I did my research on almost all of them, which lead me to create the following multiple PPC StackScapes™:
One essential StackScape™ that applies to all SEM advertisers and agencies + three add-ons: one for display and two for the two main types of advertisers: e-commerce and lead-gen.
I believe that serious advertisers and agencies should try the free tools from each category that make sense to them and probably also pay for one tool per category to take their paid search to the next level.
Disclaimer: the price ranges used are based on the starting price only, as explained in the introduction blog post. This means a freemium or affordable tool can still have a much higher price point if you link a lot of accounts, spend or other factors that influence the price. They could even become more expensive than a mid-market tool for you, depending on your actual usage.
Nevertheless, I believe subcategorizing based on starting price is still useful, especially for advertisers or agencies with a limited budget. In that case, the enterprise (and some mid-market) solutions can quickly be taken out of your shortlist, as you simply can’t afford them, not even at their starting price.
And as there should be no PPC without improving your landing pages and conversion rate, be sure to also check out the CRO StackScape™!
- Keyword Research
- Account Management
- Auditing & Monitoring
- Ad Testing
- Competitive Intelligence: Search
- Competitive Intelligence: Traffic
- Reporting & Dashboarding
- Click Fraud Detection
- Competitive Intelligence: Display
- Display Retargeting
- Banner Design: Tools
- Banner Design: Freelancers
In total, these StackScapes contain 19 categories and 175 hand-picked solutions for you to choose from!
Let’s get started with Essential PPC Tools:
You can also download the pdf version with clickable logos.
This is where it usually starts, so I thought it would make sense to also make it the first category of this StackScape. Please note that you can also use the paid tools in the ‘Competitive Intelligence: Search’ category below for keyword research purposes.
- Google Ads Keyword Planner
- Google Ads search terms report
- Microsoft Advertising Intelligence
- Microsoft Advertising search terms report
- Google Search Console (organic queries)
- Google related searches (at the bottom of the SERP)
- Google Trends
- Google Correlate
- Generate local keywords lists (US only)
- Keyword Tool
- Moz Keyword Explorer
- WordStream Keyword Niche Finder
There are quite a few PPC tools out there that have a broad set of features to help you with multiple tasks. Essentially building a smarter version of the Google Ads / Microsoft Advertising interface to save you campaign building and optimization time.
Many (but not all) of these tools have campaign creation, ad testing, bidding, budgeting, reporting and monitoring functionalities, but as they don’t have 1 dominant feature, I decided to call them ‘Account management’ tools.
However, there are a few exceptions below: tools that do have 1 dominant feature. As there aren’t enough similar tools to justify a separate category for them, I listed them below and included their dominant feature next to them.
Auditing & Monitoring
While reporting tools will show you how your KPIs are evolving, and optimization toolkits will let you perform a set of specific tasks faster, they usually won’t tell you what you should do and which issues and opportunities have the most priority. The paid tools below can check your campaigns for best practices, alert you when needed, and help you to improve the quality and performance of your account.
A few of the free tools are closer to a smart data visualization than a recommendation-based auditing/monitoring system, if that’s the case, I’ve mentioned that below.
Full disclosure: I’m the co-founder of TrueClicks, which is obviously the tool from this list I can highly recommend (currently in private beta).
Some toolkits and auditing and monitoring tools have ad testing features that should satisfy most of your ad testing needs.
If you don’t use these tools or don’t trust Google’s optimize rotation setting, be sure to check out one or more of these:
The tools below (except the free ones) do way more than bidding, you could also call them ‘paid media campaign management platforms’. I’m sure they’d prefer it. But bid management is still their core feature, so I’ve kept the naming of this category rather simple.
And if you’re considering one of these platforms, I’d highly recommend you read Enterprise Paid Media Campaign Management Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide by Digital Marketing Depot.
Competitive Intelligence: Search
We all love to spy on our competition. Especially with search: the SERP on any given search query is a zero-sum game. You either get your piece of the search volume cake, or one of your competitors does. And it’s also a ‘winner takes all’ game, as the vast majority of the clicks go to the top positions.
These tools help you find out who these winners are and what you can learn from them.
Competitive Intelligence: Traffic
Wouldn’t it be great if you had access to the web analytics of your competitors? Well, the tools below have a way of estimating traffic data for most websites, including traffic sources, time on site, bounce rate and other metrics that make you feel like you’re the James Bond of the web.
- SimilarWeb: the paid version is actually an enterprise tool, but you can already get a ton of insights for free on their homepage.
Reporting & Dashboarding
Please don’t tell me you’re still creating weekly or monthly reports fully in Excel? I like Pivot Tables too, but there’s probably a better way to spend your time than creating charts and tables. The tools below can do that for you.
Click Fraud Detection
Click fraud may not be Google’s favorite topic, but if you’re advertising in a high CPC environment, it’s really not that hard (though unethical) for your competitors to set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars of advertising budget a month.
If you can find out their IP addresses by yourself, be sure to exclude those from your campaigns. And if you don’t, trying one of the tools below might be one of the best investments you can make.
Now we’ve covered the Essential PPC categories, it’s time to move to the add-ons: Display, E-commerce and Lead-Gen.
You can also download the pdf version with clickable logos. This a modest StackScape if you would compare it to the Display LUMAscape and that’s because it’s targeted to paid search marketers that use (Google) Display as an additional performance channel.
So it’s definitely not covering all the categories out there related to programmatic display. Who knows I’ll create that later on, for fans of DSPs, SSPs and DMPs.
Competitive Intelligence: Display
While you could monitor your competition on search manually by frantically googling your important keywords (better to use the Ad Preview Tool instead) or by analyzing auction insights, this gets a lot harder for display ads.
So to find out what kind of banners your competition is running and where, you can use the tools below.
Or ‘remarketing’ as Google likes to call it. For most advertisers using Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter directly should fulfill most of their retargeting needs and reach 90% of their target audience.
However, if you want more options or to consolidate your display retargeting in one platform, you should check out one of the third-party vendors below.
Retargeting within the platforms:
- Google Ads Remarketing
- Facebook Custom Audiences
- Website Retargeting for LinkedIn Ads
- Twitter Tailored audiences from Web
Banner Design: Tools
You don’t need to be a Photoshop or Illustrator wizard to create your own banners. Just try out one or more of the tools below and you’ll create good looking banners in minutes. Just make sure they meet Google’s specifications listed over here. The most popular sizes are 300×250, 728×90, 160×600 and 336×280. For mobile, add 320×50 and 320×100 in the mix.
And if you create HTML5 ads (or hire someone to do this for you), make sure they meet all the requirements by checking them with this HTML5 validator.
Banner Design: Freelancers
If you want to hire a professional to create your banners instead of figuring out how to use the tools above, you can surely find them at one of these sites:
And with that, it’s time to move on to the next add-on StackScape: E-commerce.
And of course, you can download the pdf version with clickable logos.
Whether you’re a retailer with a lot of products or a travel advertiser with a lot of destinations, the quality of your product data feed largely determines your PPC results. As it’s the source for Shopping and other feed-based campaigns, you’ll want to prevent the GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) situation.
And that’s why you should absolutely optimize your feed by using one of the tools below:
- Merchant Center Feed Rules (for Google Shopping purposes only)
Dynamic Ad / Campaign Creation
Creating campaigns, ad groups, ads and keywords manually for hundreds or thousands of products isn’t something you should do manually. And never mind the impossible task of manually updating prices in ads and pausing out of stock items for a large inventory.
That’s where the tools below come in: based on a spreadsheet or a product feed, they can dynamically create ads and campaigns.
If you need your ads to be automatically updated based on your feed, make sure your tool of choice supports this (most tools below do, but not all).
- Enterprise (and feed-based):
Google Shopping Tools
For most retailers, Google Shopping has become their most important channel within Google Ads. Next to having a great feed, you also may get more out of your shopping campaigns by using one of the various Google Shopping tools below.
Let your customers review the products on your website by implementing one of the solutions below. Note: these aren’t the general reviews that power seller ratings, any of the independent review websites mentioned here can help you with that (if you haven’t already, pick one, it’s a no-brainer to gather customer reviews).
The tools below have functionalities aimed at product-level reviews specifically.
Still reading? Great! Let’s round this humongous list up with the final PPC StackScape™: lead-gen.
And again, you can download the pdf version with clickable logos. This StackScape also applies to most B2B and SaaS advertisers, as it’s all about capturing a lead first (email address, phone call, free trial) and getting the sale later.
If phone calls are important to your business, you definitely want to track the calls that your campaigns generate. Because if you don’t, you may be massively undervaluing them.
If you’re an agency and wonder whether your client should track phone calls: if they show their phone number on the homepage or landing page, that’s your cue to push for call tracking.
- Recommended Resources:
Once the amount of leads (including newsletter subscribers) you consistently have in your pipeline is worth it (let’s say at least 500 – 1,000 contacts), you should consider to nurture them in an automated way with one of the solutions below.
- Recommended Resources:
And that’s all folks! Almost 200 links (tools + resource materials) for you to explore, so I hope you’ve found some interesting new tools to try out.
And let me know if you think a great tool (or category) is missing in the comments below!