We spoke to Puneet Vaghela, Head of Innovation at Adzooma, and talked about his beginnings in search marketing and what he thinks the future holds for PPC.
Puneet Vaghela’s search marketing journey has taken him from answering emails to award-winning campaigns and innovation in the space of 13 years. We spoke to him about his path towards becoming Adzooma’s Head of Innovation and his “outside the box” approaches to marketing that won him a Brand Republic Award and Festival of Media Global Marketing Award.
You can follow him on LinkedIn.
Would you describe your route into this industry as traditional?
My route into this industry was anything but traditional. To be completely honest, I was never one of those people who had a life plan or even had an inkling of what I wanted to do for a career. I loved sharks as a youngster (and still do), and so I wanted to become a marine biologist. Unfortunately, I hated biology at school, and so that dream was swiftly dashed.
After finishing uni in 2007, I was looking for any type of job just to make some money to live on. My parents lived abroad and so I was able to flutter around the house doing very little for about a month before my funds dried up and I thought to myself “I need to get a job if I want KFC for dinner this weekend”. That was how I judged how much money I required in life, by how much a KFC 3-piece meal with chicken wings, gravy and corn on the cob would cost each week.
I ended up applying for a few jobs around London, but whilst waiting for responses, I decided to walk around North London to see if there was any short-term work available. I happened to stumble upon a 2-week maternity cover role at a creative agency in Camden answering emails on the Supernanny website. Whilst there, my boss discovered my aptitude with numbers and asked me to stay on full time, not as a digital parent advisor, but to try out this new online science – SEO.
From there, I taught myself everything about SEO and search marketing, reading up on the Google Help Centre and any new articles I could find that could help me navigate the murky waters of getting your search engine rankings improved (back then, there was a lot of black hat SEO going on, and the line between what was legitimate and wasn’t was very blurred). I managed to excel at both paid and organic search marketing, helping bring in new clients and sell in search services to existing clients at the creative agency, before moving on Omnicom Media Group to gain some experience working on some of the biggest clients in the world. And as they say, the rest is history.
What’s your education background?
I was never a fan of school or any type of established learning. My favourite subjects were Geography and Physics, subjects that required a lot of practical work and made you have to think outside the box to come to a conclusion. So naturally, I ended up studying Economics and Politics at university, simply because I was good with numbers and my parents wanted me to (it’s an Asian thing).
After studying economics for 4 years at Royal Holloway, University of London, I decided I never wanted to go into any other type of education or do another exam again. Oh, what a surprise I was in for. When you’re 21, no one tells you that life is just one big educational rollercoaster and exam in one! Young Pun was not so appreciative of this, but modern-day Pun is a different person and appreciates all the lessons he’s been taught over the past 13 years.
Where have you worked before Adzooma?
My career started at a small creative agency in Camden called Halpern Cowan. For the first 18 months of my 2 years there, I was the sole digital marketing employee, running all paid search and display marketing for our clients and helping bring in new clients.
In 2009, I moved to Omnicom Media Group, specifically to Manning Gottlieb OMD, where I built my career in digital marketing, working my way up to lead the Paid Search Team whilst working on some of the biggest clients in the world.
In 2017, I moved to PHD Media UK as the Head of Search, managing a large search team across multiple big-name accounts, bringing in new business and paving a path for the use of more technology to manage and optimise the biddable accounts.
After 2 years at PHD, and almost 10 years in total at Omnicom, I decided to move on to pastures new and use my skillset and experience to help the industry in a more direct fashion. This led me to Adzooma and working with a company that is aiming to help everyone, no matter how big or small they are, to maximise their potential from their digital marketing and reduce the burden of account management.
What drew you to digital marketing?
In all honesty, it was pure luck that I ended up working in the digital marketing industry. However, after falling into it and understanding how it worked, I was awestruck at the level of detail available to marketers and the real-time ability to optimise performance in an account. It was more like a science than traditional marketing, which was right up my street. The fact that I could set up a campaign, watch the data build in real-time, analyse the data and make changes to test and improve performance in a clear, tangible way drew me in immediately. From there, it was just a case of evolving with the accelerating nature of the internet and the ability of human beings to drive efficiency.
Why did you choose to work for Adzooma?
Whilst working at Omnicom, I learned a lot about how to run successful digital marketing campaigns, and how to manage them efficiently. But the time came where my experience as a digital marketer needed to be utilised in a new way – to help drive more efficiency in the market at greater scale. This is when a friend of mine introduced me to Adzooma.
Immediately, I understood their ethos and admired the way that they had taken a piece of technology and had built a business focused on helping people become more efficient with their digital marketing needs. It sounded too good to be true, but as I spoke to them more and understood the workings of the business, I realised that this was a company I could see myself at and somewhere I could make a difference.
The owners, Rob and Dave, understand the digital marketing landscape and what’s required to make it a more accessible place for everyone, the development team are always looking for new ways to innovate the platform, the sales team are more keen and eager to learn about the details of digital marketing than any sales team I’ve encountered in the past, and the marketing team are full of experienced specialists who provide the business with invaluable knowledge and expertise to help our clients.
And importantly, the team are absolute champions and great fun, which is very important to drive productivity and innovation in this industry. There was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity to work with them.
Can you tell us more about your ‘out of the box’ approach to SEM?
It’s important to note that before any ‘out of the box’ thinking can be devised, you must have a solid foundation to your PPC accounts. This was what I always concentrated on primarily, and what always gave me the security when embarking on a non-conventional PPC strategy. As anyone who runs PPC accounts knows, it can be difficult to think outside the box, but if you forget about the KPIs for a second and start to think about the product you are selling, you can begin to open up a world of opportunities which are not hidden behind data. And these are the strategies that separate you from the rest (and help you win awards).
One of my favourite strategies involved finding a way to advertise on a certain games’ hardware manufacturer (they were a competitor of my client). They would not allow direct advertising, and so, knowing that this certain games’ console had a default web browser setting, I decided to target the web browser rather than the console. This won me a Brand Republic Award.
My proudest strategy was some pro-bono work I did on a charity client with a very small budget. They needed to get reach for a new campaign to lobby the government, so we targeted government official and journalist names on Google, known as vanity searches, to highlight the charities concerns whenever they searched for themselves. The campaign was a huge success and won me a Festival of Media Global Marketing Award.
What’s the best starting point for businesses who want to utilise digital marketing?
There are so many aspects involved with digital marketing that it can be confusing to know where to start. The main reason for this is because most people think about how they will navigate everything, rather than taking it one step at a time.
The first thing you should always do is work out, from your business plan, what your targets are, either from a revenue, sales or lead perspective. This will form the basis of any strategy you create and determine which channels will work best for your business needs.
Just like a business in the analogue world, a digital business requires a forum for people to purchase your goods and services. Start with a website, a social media page, or a retail marketplace page where you can send people to. This will depend on your KPIs and what you want your potential customers to do.
From there, it is a case of understanding the role of each digital media channel (search, social, display, video, affiliates, e-commerce) and then determining which one will have the biggest impact on your goals. For example, if you have a relatively small marketing budget and need to get customers on to your site to purchase goods, then search will be the optimal channel. However, if you are offering a service that requires more explanation and sales for people to become interested in it, you would want to run a video campaign to peak peoples’ interest. Or it may be a mixture of several channels.
What avenues should businesses focus on during COVID-19?
During the global pandemic, we are finding more and more people spending time online, on social media and across e-commerce sites. This means that if you have an e-commerce business, there are people out there who are interested in, and looking for, your products. The key is knowing where to find them.
Paid search across Google and Bing is the natural starting point. It is the beginning of most research journeys, and so is the prime arena to be advertising in, to target people actively looking for anything online.
One of the most important retail marketplaces is Amazon. Over 60% of online retail searches begin on Amazon, and so ensure you have an Amazon page set up to sell through their marketplace. Using Amazon Marketing Services ads helps promote your products on Amazon and drive e-comm sales.
And as I mentioned before, more and more people are active on social media, so take advantage of this increased ‘footfall’ and utilise video ads across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and spend some time optimising catalogue ads on Facebook to gain more direct e-comm customers.
Where do you see PPC going next?
This is a question I hear a lot, and every time, the answer seems to change because of how quickly the industry is moving. But one thing is a constant; paid search is the most intent-based channel marketers have at their disposal, and so finding customers showing interest in what you have to offer won’t change. What will change is how they use search, and how marketers adopt technology to make both targeting and management more efficient.
With the rise in voice-activated devices and smart home devices, there are more ways than ever for people to find what they are looking for. It is important for marketers to follow this trend and make their offerings as available as the devices they can be found on. Regular keyword analysis is important to identify what types of searches people are carrying out. They are likely to be more conversational as they use voice search more, which means marketers will have to grow their keyword lists to cater for this trend.
Technology has already played a huge role in PPC, with bid management platforms allowing marketers to target people and analyse data like never before. However, other MarTech will be key in evolving as a PPC specialist or to manage PPC campaigns. As the likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon introduce more and more targeting methods and data points into their portfolios, marketers will need to adopt automation tools to help manage their activity, from account management platforms, to optimisation tools. This will be the key to running a successful PPC account because finding time to create new strategies will be the difference between good and great marketing.
What potential does AI give to Digital Marketers?
Digital marketing is all about data. As human beings, being able to digest, analyse and action this data can be arduous. This is the real impact of artificial intelligence; being able to learn in real-time the impact of your actions and make changes accordingly. Where an optimisation could take a few days to implement, test and learn from, AI allows marketers to do this instantly and continually learn and make changes to improve performance. Having this burden lifted from a marketers’ mind allows us to spend more time on strategy, planning and other aspects of our marketing.
Potentially, AI could remove the need for people to manage their digital marketing accounts. However, the human influence will always be required to read the situation and act accordingly. Where a computer can quickly analyse the data and make changes to your account, it cannot account for any sudden changes in your business, such as news stories, real-time seasonality or specific messaging you should use. A human will always be needed to make these changes.
AI is the future of our industry, and we as marketers must embrace it and use it properly. It is not here to do our jobs for us, it is here to help us become more productive and effective with the limited time we have.
What resources do you use to stay up to date with the industry?
There is so much news available to us now that it’s difficult to know what to listen to or read. Personally, my greatest source of knowledge is my peers and my regular discussions with them about the current state of the industry and the future. I find there is more value in being able to debate than just read and follow if you really want to make a difference.
However, to stay up-to-date, I enjoy following digital marketing professionals on Twitter, I have RSS feeds set up from a number of digital marketing sites, including Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land, and I watch a lot of digital marketing videos on YouTube. All of this information is great at letting me know other people’s opinion about the industry and what’s happening, but it’s important to form your own point of view as every business will be affected differently by any changes in the market.
What are your aims for the future?
The reason I love digital marketing so much is its ability to drive performance for businesses at any scale, and the real-time data analysis that can be done to make a real impact on performance. It’s like trading but in the digital advertising market, finding the best prices for ads and finding the best returns from customer audiences. Making it more efficient has been a long-term goal of mine, and I will continue to drive this message forward.
Away from marketing, I have a real passion for marine biology, so one big aim of mine is to do a course in marine biology, specifically around the behaviour of sharks, and then spend some time on a research boat studying these creatures; And hopefully help out marine conservation charities with my experience in digital marketing.
And after all this, I will be opening up a rum bar in the Caribbean and retiring a happy man, with the sand beneath my feet, the sunset on the horizon, and a spiced rum old fashioned in my hand every day.
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