50 Shades of Pay: PPC Christian Grey vs PPC Marquis de Sade

Jen Saunders
Reading Time: 7 minutes

How delightful are the pleasures of the imagination! In those delectable moments, the whole world is ours; not a single creature resists us, we devastate the world, we repopulate it with new objects which, in turn, we immolate. The means to every crime is ours, and we employ them all, we multiply the horror a hundredfold. —Marquis de Sade, Les prospérités du vic

Never let ads write checks your website can’t cash.” – Avinash Kaushik

Paid search and sado-masochism should be cousins. Some of us who passionately manage PPC campaigns do so for “the game” and its spoils: the hunt (the bid), the capture (the clicked impression) and the dominance (the conversion and market superiority). Paid search is highly competitive. It is also complex and rife with multiple contours–50 shades of pay that often blur lines. Skilled PPC managers from search marketing agencies get a feel for a campaign by running the numbers, taking the client’s financial comfort zone into account, analyzing the other big players, and spring-boarding the endeavor hoping the landing page will “talk the talk” and turn those clicks into paid transactions. Only then, truly, will you know if you just dominated the game, or if you got spanked hard at your client’s expense, and at your own submissiveness.

There are two things about being a paid search master that releases those endorphins: pleasing your client, and beating your direct competitor into submission. It’s when “your Marquis de Sade” comes out and forces his direct competitor, “his Christian Grey”, to lick the bottom of your boot, while you toss your “riding crop of strategy” from one hand to the other, sizing him up in preparation for round two. Do you think this is a gross exaggeration; comparing the desire to beat your rival at the game of PPC dominance to the very ingredients that lead to sadism? According to a 2011 study by Stanford University on gender and competitiveness, men are significantly more driven to compete than women. Another study conducted by Gregory Gorelik on the effect of competition on men’s sexual behavior revealed that men are especially competitive against one another and that levels of testosterone increase following a win, and decrease after a loss. Gorelik’s study also says that the desire for sexual gratification (whether consciously or subconsciously) is a driving factor that feeds man with the desire to win in competition and reign supreme. Though his study doesn’t address ladies with increased testosterone– the “Jodie Fosters” of womankind–as a female who was born holding a baseball bat in one hand and keys to a Ducati Panigale in the other, I can tell you the same holds true.  

If Christian Grey and the Marquis de Sade Bid on the Same Keyword

PPC Managers use keywords

Keyword bidding for paid search will either leave you standing dominant because your ad copy and quality score were favored by Google, or you will wind up like everyone else who missed a place in the spotlight: flogged and defeated. The real challenge ensues when a primary competitor–someone equal in presence and reputation–bids for the same keywords. In case you are wondering if your rivals regularly bid on your keywords, you can download your competitors most profitable keywords and paid ads with SpyFu, and use that data to leverage your paid search strategy. When looking at your competitor’s data, you will want to note the following:     

  • Identify competitive gaps and opportunities
  • Discover missed keyword opportunities
  • Determine how much competitors are spending
  • What is their average ad position?
  • What are their average daily clicks?
  • Determine date/time trends for topical ads
  • Analyze the text on their landing page
  • Analyze their meta and meta tags
  • Find opportunities to beat them to the riding crop

If you are the Sade of paid search, there is no need to worry about “Joe’s Corn Dog Hut”; your direct competitor is the one who threatens your ability to exercise the power of digital marketplace dominance, and there may be more than one.

Size Up Christian Grey and his 50 Shades of Pay

PPC Managers

How good is your foe at running paid search campaigns? Perform a weigh-in, and determine their strengths and weaknesses. Not only can you use the information to button up your loose areas, you can exploit your competitor’s weaknesses by targeting him right where it hurts before he even has the chance to shout a “safe word”. You can start here:

  • How tech savvy are they?
  • Are they leveraging retargeting ads?
  • Are they following paid search best practices?
  • Who are they targeting? Brick and mortar, enterprise, etc?
  • What is their message and where are its holes?
  • Are they countering your branding message, or promoting their own thing? 

By monitoring their Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook you can determine what advancements and changes they have made to their paid search endeavors. Use Google Alerts to notify when any changes occur, and you can even use a tool like WayBack Machine to view their posted accomplishments on their LinkedIn profile and other sources that may show signs of advancements in their paid search strategies.

Do you see retargeting ads? Are they pixel-based? What is the message, CTA, or dangling carrot? Retargeting is a shade of pay that moves quickly without delay, or tease. Pixel-based is the most common type in which a slab of JavaScript is placed on the searcher’s browser thus leaving it “cookied”. When the person leaves the site a retargeting platform is notified to launch specific adverts based on the pages the person went to on the website. So in short, Pixel-based retargeting ads pinpoint your erogenous regions, and dive right in with an “in your face” approach. On one hand they are good because they spring to life right when it matters, but there is no foreplay…no teaser…and the downside is low traffic.

Where are targeting efforts pointed? Is this competitor really a “Christian Grey player” in the no-pain-no-game that is paid search, or is he just a guy praying at the foot of a cross for a little luck in the digital space? If they are the suave, debonair and lash-masters of their industry’s competitive paid search landscape, then where do you fit into the dominant role? Is your Sade bigger than his Grey? Can you pull out a better campaign to overpower him, or use the same one, but initiate it with more velocity (it’s all in the wrist)?

Use a Safety Word when the AdWords Pain is too Great

PPC Managers use AdWords

Imagine that Christian Grey has decided to sell off his silk necktie collection because he watched ‘Basic Instinct’ and was suddenly moved to replace them with silk scarves. Although he sees paid ads that populate advertising just the right scarves he seeks, the bounce rate off his landing page for his ties is massive, despite the high CTR. Now he is taking on another shade of paid search, and has become the semblance of the masochist and sufferer who won the bid, but forgot to use his safety words (negative keywords) to only deliver desired traffic.

A negative keyword is used to tell AdWords not to show your campaign to people looking for a product that is similar to yours, but is entirely different and therefore not a good fit. If you don’t know how to create a stellar bank of negative keywords for your campaign, you will be whipped from one side of the room to the other. Use negative keywords as your sado-masochistic keywords–paid search can hurt, but these words will at least make it tolerable, or even leave you victorious in dominating the paid search sphere for silk neckties.

Let’s start with the basics: What is your product? Who is it for? What is it not? A silk necktie is for men, it is expensive, it is formal attire, it is decadent, it is not sold at Walmart. There are various keyword planner tools out there that can help you find great keywords, as well as negative keywords to use in your campaign. The start to your negative keywords list for “silk neckties” might include:


  • Cheap ties
  • Bow ties
  • Twisty ties
  • Family ties
  • Bolo ties
  • Skinny ties
  • Casual ties
  • BOGO ties
  • Ties for kids

Your meta, CTA, bid limit, and landing page might be perfect. However, if your negative keyword list is not buttoned up tightly, you may find yourself prostrated while your rival rakes in the traffic and leaves you panting in humiliation because you forgot to add the common “four in fold necktie” to eliminate those not searching for men’s finery at its best.

Why the Marquis de Sade was Right


PPC Managers grow business

il est toujours au moyen de la douleur, on arrive à plaisir. This is arguably the most famous sentence Sade wrote. “It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure”. When Sade wrote this passage in ‘Justine’ he probably never thought a 21st century search marketer who read his complete works at university would view his writing humorous satire before taking his most famous passage to use as a metaphor for PPC managers and their craft at hand. And here it is: paid search hurts. It can spank you hard, and you might love it, but if your goal is to be dominant among your competition, your best bet is to work with a PPC manager who knows how to crack the whip. And though the Marquis de Sade may not be amused at the comparison, Christian Grey very well might enjoy it’s parallelism. After all, he bought his young woman a MacBook Pro, and instructed her to Google “submissive”.


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