Who Won the Paid Search World Cup?

Lorna Rose Gill Posted by Lorna Rose Gill

If you were the PPC manager for William Hill who was managing their paid search campaign on the day of the 2014 World Cup final, Adthena’s competitive PPC data shows you made a very big bet on the search engines. And, according to the company, that bet paid off handsomely.

In the UK, an estimated £40 million ($68 million) was gambled on the World Cup. Bookmaker William Hill set a £200 million target for betting over the period, which it beat before the tournament had even ended.

Over 22 million bets were made through all their channels, from in-store to online and, in fact, the bookmaker said, “the 2014 World Cup was the first tournament that went Mobile mad.” On the day of the cup final the bookmakers reached a peak of 3766 bets per minute via mobile devices. The 462,139 bets made via mobile devices on the day – an astonishing total number – marked a 6,598% increase on the nearly 7,000 bets made via mobiles at the previous World Cup final of 2010.

Bidding to Win

In the graph below you can see that on the day of the final, William Hill (the green trend line), ramped up its pay per-click bid price and paid out a significantly higher cost-per-click (CPC) than competitors to claim its own World Cup glory.

Adthena Data on World Cup PPC Bidding Strategies from Major UK Bookmakers

Adthena Data on World Cup PPC Bidding Strategies from Major UK Bookmakers

William Hill’s PPC strategy during the 2014 World Cup was sure-footed to say the least and bears the hallmarks of really knowing how to play competitively in the SERPs. Here are three PPCs strategies that stand out from the Adthena data:

1. Remember, Paid Search is Zero-Sum Game

Ordering anything by a rank list means that there will always be “winners and losers,” namely there will be items at the top of the list and items at the bottom. In paid search terms, this means that there will always be competitors willing to out spend you and, similarly, there will inevitably be competitors who cannot keep pace with the pack.

The key for all participants in a PPC auction is to have the stamina to go the distance. That means PPC managers have to ensure they do not burn their budget out early and simultaneously evaluate what is their most profitable ad position. This is especially important in highly competitive, high information demand niches such as a global event like the World Cup because the sheer volume of traffic could bankrupt a campaign that bids to the highest position.

There’s some excellent general advice on competitive PPC management in this article and, as is noted there, it is often the case that the paid search “sweet spot” for generating return on investment (ROI) in high demand niches are the mid-level positions such as four to seven. These ad-positions may not put your brand name in lights but it is where wasted ad-spend on ‘click-happy’ users can be filtered out. The slightly obscured placement of these ads and will, hopefully, attract the attention of more dedicated information seekers who bear the characteristics of a qualified customer.

So, in a zero sum game like paid search where you can bid to position, the key to surviving is to not be the winner but equally, don’t be the loser either.

Don’t be the Icarus of auction, flying so close to the top of Google’s search result that you budget burns out and yet, simultaneously, don’t be bottom of the list as you will be burning through your ad budget there too!

2. Play the Highs, Don’t Play the Lows

In the Adthena CPC graph at the top of the page, you can see that the majority of the advertisers are bidding responsively, broadly within the same range of per click prices. Compare that to the ad traffic graph below and you can see that this dynamic bidding strategy brings with it a varied inbound traffic pattern.

Adthena Competitive Traffic Data on World Cup Paid Search Strategies from Major UK Bookmakers

Adthena Competitive Traffic Data on World Cup Paid Search Strategies from Major UK Bookmakers

However, deeper investigation shows that Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill all win market share at just the right time.

The highs upon which all three companies win the lion’s share of traffic from “fifa world cup” search terms correspond to the knockout stage matches on the 30th June, 1st, 4th and 5th of July and also the the final games of the group stage from the 23rd to 26th of June.

The gambling stakes per game speak for themselves – it is estimated that £5.5 million was bet on the England vs. Uruguay game alone. William Hill report that £4.5 million in wagers was staked on Brazil Vs Mexico game, with the single largest bet being made in America, with one punter gambling $350,000 that Argentina would defeat Iran.

With that in mind, you might rightly ask why the first round of knockout stage matches on the 28th and 29th of June didn’t see marked traffic spikes or CPC adjustments among competing bookmakers in the UK? The answer might be as simple as cultural affinity or, put another way, emotional investment. Latin American teams outnumbered European six to two that weekend whereas, in the following week day knockout games, the teams playing were much closer to home. Europe, the continent, was represented by four of the eight teams.

Such instinctual assessments are also part of a winning PPC strategy that has an affinity for the customer. Good PPC managers need to know what their bid ranges are but also when to hold back. Following a nice PPC campaign management analogy in this ClickZ article, some PPC campaigns need to be split into A and B teams and the best performers can do more with fewer touches of the ball! Knowing your customers will enable you to deploy your star player Google Ad Groups at exactly the right moment.

3. Sometimes, Your Best Bet Might Be to Go Big or Go Home

Smart PPC managers are not just managing campaign spending defensively against going over budget. They are betting on ROI, continuously and in real time. And the smartest PPC managers are willing to make big bets on bigger ROI.

The tactical advantages of knowing your customers and keeping apace with your competitor pack, are transformed into strategic turning points when you better understand your capacity for risk in the PPC auction. It’s not a squandered ad budget or a wasted click if they convert to ROI.

In the CPC graph from Adthena, you can see that William Hill showed a marked capacity for risk taking. You can see the trend line breaking away from the competitor pack with PPC bids ramped up significantly on three occasions. Firstly, ahead of the the 3rd and 4th days of the quarter finals and secondly ahead of the semi finals.

Adthena Data on Bookmakers PPC Strategies Shows William Hill Ramping up CPC Bids Ahead of Pivotal World Cup Matches

Adthena Data on Bookmakers PPC Strategies Shows William Hill Ramping up CPC Bids Ahead of Pivotal World Cup Matches

On the third and final occasion, the cost-per-click more than doubles on the day of the World Cup final, pushing William Hill to the top of the search engines and forcing their competitors out of the ROI opportunity. Yes, Adthena’s data shows that there were other bookmakers, like Ladbrokes and PaddyPower, generating more traffic from paid search ads, but neither accounts show as much appetite for gambling and aggressively pursuing profit as William Hill.

So, if you’ll allow me to play referee in this PPC game, my instincts tell me William Hill is the clear winner among UK bookmakers in the Paid Search World Cup.

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About the author

Lorna Rose Gill
Lorna Rose Gill
Lorna is responsible for acquisition marketing at Adthena, communicating their award-winning product and generating demand. She has developed her career in fast-paced, start-up environments, including two tech track 100 companies. She is curious and passionate and likes to find stories in data and technology.