Teaching PPC Ad Writing: The Mimic Search Engine Marketing Simulator Assignment(2 of 2)

This is post 2 in a two-part series about Stukent Mimic Intro. See Post 1 here.

In the first post in this 2-part series, I introduced why I taught PPC advertising in my Writing Across Platforms Class. I discussed the Mimic Intro PPC ad simulator by Stukent.

In this post, I’ll talk about my own results and thoughts when I went through the simulator, how the project went for my students, as well as provide a copy of my assignment. In so doing, I will explain why I chose to grade the assignment the way I did.

My Experience

As I mentioned in the last post, while I am familiar with SEO and using the Keywords Planner tool from Google, at the time that I completed the Mimic Intro simulator I had little experience in search engine marketing and creating my own search ads. My only prior experience was when I participated in the Google Adwords marketing challenge many years ago.

As a reminder, the simulator works in rounds. With Mimic Intro, students can complete up to two rounds. A round simulates data for a timed period, which if I recall was one month. At the end of the simulation – which takes maybe 30 seconds or a minute to run – the students see the results of their efforts.

To start, I gave myself about the amount of time students would have to complete a round of Mimic Intro. I told my students to watch the training video the night before (which is about 17 minutes long). So, subtracting that part of it, I gave myself 1 hour to go through the rest of the onboarding, plan my ads, and submit my ads to the simulator. My class is 1 hour and 15 minutes and I figured we’d need some buffer time at the beginning and end of class.

I watched the training video (the ~17 minutes) and started my timer. I read through the preparatory materials in Mimic Intro very carefully. First, they give you some background information about the past successes of the mock company’s sales and revenue. The mock company sells cameras. The idea is that you are now coming in and taking over advertising for the company and the goal is to do better than the old advertising efforts. So, this benchmark (it was somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 profit) allowed me to know whether or not I was successful with my simulation. In the simulator, this is supposed to be the first month that PPC will be tried and so your simulations represent the first attempts to profit off of this new approach.

You then learn about the products that are for sale, their different price points, and profit margins.

You then start your keyword research. A long list of keywords are made available, and you need to create keyword lists for different products. In the training, you are given tips for determining which keywords are actionable.

Next, you work through the additional steps. This includes determining what landing page you are going to use for each ad campaign and writing the campaign text.

Here is where I executed my strategy based on all I had learned from the training and from reading Chapter 6 of the Digital Marketing Essentials textbook. This is what makes or breaks your campaign. The goal is to determine what keywords people are searching that will drive sales of the 3 cameras you want to sell. Impressions are great, and so are clicks on your ads. But they mean nothing without sales.

Next, you work on your email campaign. I put my energy into the PPC campaign and basically skipped over this. I wasn’t planning to make it a point of emphasis in the class and so I didn’t make it an emphasis when I went through the training.

I reviewed my budget (I had $5000 to spend and spent it all), made sure I was happy with everything I did, and then I nervously submitted my ads to the simulator. It ran and cranked out my results.

Below, you can see my results for the PPC ad campaign. I have to say I was pleased because I wasn’t sure how I would fare. But when I compared the benchmark profit to my profit, I had brought in approximately $30,000 more in profit than the prior month. I’m not sure how these results would stack up to someone more experienced. But as a newbie, I was pleased with my first go round.

Upon completion, you see several stats about how your performance went for the PPC and email campaigns. Below is a screengrab GIF of my simulated results. The colors indicate how each of the 3 cameras performed during my campaign over the simulated month. One can use this information and other information provided to see how each ad campaign worked and what cameras were most profitable. This information can help you make adjustments for a second simulation. (Note: I didn’t complete a 2nd simulation but my students did).

 

Overall, I was pleased with my experience, what I learned, and how the entire simulation experience worked. I know I couldn’t have gotten this experience without having a real $5000 budget and a real client.

The Classroom Experience

In the previous post I explained how I set the assignment up in class. In short, I lectured about PPC on one day. During the next two class periods, students completed the first and second simulations.

But there was a twist. I pitted the students against each other by making high-scoring grades (As) scarce.

This approach was something I saw debated on the Mimic professor’s discussion board. Some professors liked this approach while others felt it was not the best way to give grades. Considering the pros and cons, I decided to set up my grading scheme so that a limited number of students could get an A. The rest would get a B for trying.

Some students loved the idea and others reacted at first with concern or fear. But I explained that this is a reality they would be facing in the business world. Only so many people succeed in business. In fact, most fail. So, getting a B for not selling many cameras was actually pretty generous. I also pointed out to the students that we were doing 2 rounds and that one’s highest score on each round counted as their final grade. That meant that potentially 8 out of 20 students could get a 90% or higher and thus earn an A.  To incentivize those students who did well on the first round, they could earn 5% extra on their grade if they made were one of the top scoring students on both rounds, even if their second score was below their previous score. For example, if a student earned a 95% on the first round, and a 90% on the second round, she would earn a 100% on the project because her highest grade of 95% would have a 5% bonus added to it. Note that no students complained about this grading scheme.

You can see the assignment sheet below.

Once we got going, the students’ competitive nature emerged. During the competition, they were tight-lipped on how they were approaching the task. After each round, they would ask one another how much profit the other made. I didn’t share who did well, because I would be sharing someone’s grade. So they had to rely on the willingness of others to be forthright. From my vantage, it seemed just about every student was happy to share and compare. Students rooted for those who did well, and pried for tips. Students who did well seemed to feel a sense of pride and they didn’t want to give away too much after the first round because they knew they were still in competition for the second round.

Before the second round, I shared my own performance in the simulator and showed some of the things I had done in my keyword research. I told students to focus on relevant keywords that were actionable towards buying intent. I also emphasized making sure that the proper landing page was selected, as some didn’t think much about this in round one. This helped students who were struggling take a new tact.

On the last day after we had completed both rounds, I masked the names of the students who had done well and showed their results. We dissected what worked and what didn’t.

All told, students seemed to enjoy the hands-on nature of the assignment. Their faces lit up and they were engaged, competitive, and clearly in problem-solving mode. The conversations they had were competitive but playful and friendly, and I enjoyed seeing the peer-based-learning taking place.

I like to ask my students what they think of new assignments. The feedback was positive.  Student Mia Holland, told me, “It’s not very common that students are able to participate in a hands-on project that mimics a task you would be given in the real world. I really felt like a communications professional when I was completing the assignment. It was also fun to get the results back and compare with the other students in the class. ”

In closing, this was my first time doing a simulator like this in one of my classes. It was different and I think the students appreciated that. I wanted to introduce them to what search engine marketing was and how it worked and to enhance their knowledge about using keywords in writing. I believe this assignment achieved those objectives.

-Cheers!

Matt

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