Welcome to Getting Granular

The podcast where digital marketing experts from the agency Granular talk about the latest trends, tried and true best practices, and share their unfiltered thoughts about the digital marketing industry.

PPC Origins: Chris Cesar


Getting Granular turns the spotlight on Chris Cesar, one of Granular’s Paid Search Managers. Chris brings a unique perspective as he has experience working with both B2B and B2C clients. Chris is an avid sports fan, a walking sports almanac, and a proud UW-Madison alum.


What you’ll learn in this episode of Getting Granular:

  • Chris’ story of how we started his career in marketing
  • How Chris fell into PPC and paid digital media
  • What makes him love PPC and what keeps him interested in the field
  • How early failures can turn into career guiding lessons
  • How Chris sees the future of PPC and what the newest trends will be
  • Chris’ approach to reporting ROI and analytics to clients
  • Chris’ thoughts on onboarding new clients and improving established accounts
  • What makes up a good B2B strategy
  • What brought Chris to Granular and what he likes the most about Granular


Welcome to Getting Granular, the podcast where digital marketing experts from the agency Granular talk about the latest trends, tried and true best practices, and share their unfiltered thoughts about the industry. Whether you’re here to learn how to grow your business, improve your digital skills or just want to hear some Midwest PPC experts rant about digital media, you’ve come to the right place.

Matt: Welcome to the Getting Granular podcast. My name is Matt Freter. I am the Marketing Operations Manager here at Granular, and we’re going to be continuing on with our interviews of folks from the Granular team. Today, I have Chris Cesar in the booth, excited to be talking to him. Chris, how long have you been at Granular?

Chris: Hey, Matt. I started at Granular in July of 2018, so about nine, 10 months or so.

Matt: All right, so still kind of new. You’re like me, I’m working on my seventh month here, which is good. I think that’s kind of just a testament to like Granular keeps growing, where you just keep adding people, adding people, growing, which is great. You’ve kind of been here long enough to kind of really understand what’s going on, but not quite long enough to fully, fully, fully understand the Granular world. I think we both kind of get it. I don’t know, we both probably have gone through the same learning experiences here. Let’s talk a little bit about your background. What kind of industries were you working in in the past? Were you working at agencies, in house? What did that path to Granular look like?

Chris:    Going into my first senior year of college …

Matt:    I’ve been there.

Chris: … yeah, my aunt was actually the vice president of human resources at a company called Batteries Plus Bulbs. She knew I was looking for an internship, and my degree is in strategic communication, and she said, “We have this internship opening where you’re actually going to be doing things like taking apart cellphones and learning how to take them apart, put them together, fix broken screens and whatnot for our new program they launched.” I did that for a year, and she knew I was looking to get into marketing.

Chris: She basically reached back out around to me within the next year as I was working there. She said, “Hey, there’s going to be this new position opening up, this internship where it’s going to be this thing called PPC.” I had no idea. It was in the marketing department. It would be a good foot in the door, so that’s actually where I got my start was doing things with batteries and light bulb repair for Batteries Plus Bulbs at an in-house place, sort of help them launch their whole original program.

Matt: How long ago was that?

Chris: I moved to the internship in the marketing department in the summer of 2015, right before my second senior year of college, so about four years ago.

Matt: Then you’ve been doing PPC paid media, working in this space for a number of years. We always kind of talk about origin stories, and that’s kind of a good one where it’s kind of like, all right, here’s this business. I fall into it. What was it about paid search, paid media that made you want to stick into it?

Chris: Like I said, when I first fell into it, it was like sort of, “I have no idea what this is. I’ll give it a shot. If I don’t like it for a summer, I don’t have to ever do it again.” One of my teachers, the guys who originally taught me how to do this, his name’s Dan Sozanski, if he hears this, hi, Dan. One of his big stickler things was it’s all about the small details. You have to be paying attention at all times, and it’s really easy to make just a horrible mistake that spends a bunch of money if you’re not paying attention.

Chris: Me sort of with my OCD tendencies, it sort of just clicked for me of just like, “Oh, this is a great thing for me to be doing because I’m always a stickler just for the smallest details and just in my day-to-day life of like my bed needs to be made today. A, B, and C need to be done in this order.” It was just sort of a natural fit to where I’m doing something that has a lot of reading into numbers into it. I’ve always been sort of more of a big math guy, but then also just paying attention to just the smallest little details of just every little thing going on.

Matt: You talked about if you’re not checking all of the little details, you can end up making a mistake. Is there a big mistake that you remember you made when you were first kind of doing this?

Chris: Not a huge mistake because when you start off, you’ve always got people looking over your shoulder to make sure what you do. There have been a few times where I’ve done things like launch a campaign with all broad keywords. If you know anything about PPC, the broad keyword is sort of like a wide fishing net to where your keyword is this, but it could be pulling in A, B, and C that are closely related to it or and sometimes not closely related at all. There have been a time or two when I launched the campaign, and it was like, “Oh crap, you just spent like 50 bucks in an hour, and it’s a good thing you caught it now because if you let it go all weekend, you would have spent like three grand in like four days.” Then that’s when all hell breaks loose, and you just got to be like, “Oh, I wasn’t paying attention there.”

Matt: That little like early on kind of thing. It’s like making that one mistake that you never, never forget, and it’s like every time I’m sure you’re setting up a new account, and that’s like in the back of your head, like, “Oh man, I can’t do this again.”

Chris: Every single time.

Matt: Yeah, exactly. We all kind of have that. I always like to look back into what PPC looked like four, five, six years ago, whenever anybody started in PPC because it changes so much. That’s something that we always talk about as marketers is, “Okay, every day there’s a new update or something’s changing. New betas are coming in.” When you started, what did paid search, paid media look like?

Chris: A lot of it was similar to where the strategy behind it, still, it’s just very intuitive. This is what people are going to be searching, and this is what people are going to be looking for when they land on your page. You want your keywords and your landing pages and your keywords to all make sense and work together. A lot of the how it’s done behind the scenes sort of has changed. When I first started, the way text ads were set up, you had your one 25-character headline and then your 230-character descriptions. Now, the ad size is like three times that where they’ve made these changes now at least two different times of. We’ve given you more space now.

Chris: It’s sort of let’s go back to all of my accounts and rewrite all of my ads to take advantage of that space. At first, it is sort of an adjustment, and it’s a little bit of a struggle of I have this ad that’s doing really well, but now, Google is telling me, “Expand this ad and take advantage of the more space you have available because it’s going to help A, B, and C metrics.” The transition to there was sort of a big thing, and also the way keywords are functioning now is starting to change. The exact match is now an “exact-ish match.” They want you to stay more broad, but really, you always wanted to be targeting more exact. It’s always just sort of a fluid, ever moving sort of machine that you need to be able to stick with what works best but also be able to adjust to the new tendencies.

Matt: Sure, sure. When you look at the past where it’s come, now let’s look at the future. What do you see happening five, 10 years down the line? What are the big trend that you see come into the industry here?

Chris: I know the big thing within the past, I mean even if you watch the Super Bowl, there was all those commercials with all the different AI and machine learning and things like that. It’s no different within our industry. People are talking all the time of “This machine’s going to take over. This automation is going to be taking over your job.” That’s not really the way I like to look at it. I mean, A, because it’s my job and what I do for a living, but B, also, you see things work this way, and then you try these new automations, and they don’t always work the best.

Chris: Really what I look forward to most is being able to find a way to incorporate all that new machine learning and fancy new ways of doing things into how am I going to incorporate that into what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. Not that machines are going to take over my job, but I can use that machine learning and all of that automated intelligence to enhance the work that I’m doing.

Matt: That makes a lot of sense. I know AI is being pushed really heavy with Google, really heavy with Bing. Pretty much all of these platforms, even the social ones, are jumping into AI. I know we’ve heard this from Jordon, the president here. He’s always talked about, “Okay, it can be totally automated, but where’s the strategy going to come from?” That’s kind of that human element there as well. What about the future of PPC makes you most excited?

Chris: I mean, I think it would just sort of be what I just sort of touched on of how am I going to be able to use this new machine learning to incorporate my sort of strategy, and how is that going to enhance the results I’m getting for my clients? Because like you mentioned, it’s not the fact that this is going to be able to just drive all the strategy. It’s I’m going to need to put the strategy behind it and then use the bits and pieces of the machine learning that’s going to work well to come together and form this overarching strategy that drives results.

Matt: Something that I always like to bring up is the kind of uncomfortableness, the squeamishness that people have around paid search and paid media and that you hear, “Google knows everything about me. I’m a little uncomfortable about that. I was just shopping for some shoes, and now these same shoes are showing up on everything that I look at. All of a sudden, I’m getting emails,” or people are like, “Oh, I was just talking about this one thing, and then it’s on my Instagram feed.” That’s kind of what we do in a way. What’s your kind of take on that?

Chris: I don’t know if I’m necessary an Instagram is listening to me truther or not, but there’s definitely some stuff behind there. If you and me are talking about this fire pit that I saw at Target and I go back to my computer, and I see a fire pit at Target, obviously I’m going to get sort of suspicious behind that. Also, you have to think about the fact of if you’re talking about a fire pit at Target, chances are you’ve done some sort of research about getting this fire pit at Target because it doesn’t just come out of the blue where this conversation starts for no reason.

Chris: I think that the whole process of I’m searching for something and I maybe not remember it because it was just like something I did on my offhand not thinking about it and then started a conversation, you’re going to remember the conversation, but you don’t remember the original search that you did or something like that. It’s going to be something where there’s been some activity prior that’s indicating why that you’re seeing this ad. Really what I hear more of when it comes to all these different privacy concerns is I tell my aunt, my grandma, anyone over the age of, I don’t want to put labels on people, but you know, the older generations, I tell them what I do.

Chris: They say, “Oh, are you the one that puts those pop-up ads on the websites?” That’s really where the issue comes in of trying to explain, “No, I don’t do that. That’s A, B, C that’s in charge of doing that. Typically, if this website is giving you spammy ads, it’s kind of a spammy website that you never should really be on in the first place.” It’s more of an educating different people that don’t understand the “internet” in general of how everything works and why something is happening that you’re seeing this ad.

Matt: I was trying to explain to one of my friends, you kind of hit on it, nail on the head there, is she said, “Oh okay, you work in this industry.” She’s like, “Can you explain that like I was talking about,” I think it was like traveling to some island place. Okay, let’s just say Punta Cana. She’s been searching for vacations, and she was like, “I’ve been thinking about searching for places to go to Punta Cana.” I was like, “Okay.” She was like, “Well, I never searched anything or I don’t remember doing anything about it, yet I’m getting all these ads, and they’re only about Punta Cana.”

Matt: I was like, “Okay, let me backtrack this a little bit because those don’t show up on their own. There’s a piece of data somewhere that like makes it fit in.” I looked at her, “You’re a female between the ages of this and this, and relative incomes are between this and this, and you’re probably looking to go on vacation, so you started searching other stuff. With those three data points, someone that’s working the Punta Cana account is going to be like, ‘Okay, we got to send her like an email,’ whatever it may be.” She’s like, “Oh, I didn’t really think of it that way.”

Matt: It’s like it’s not as exact as I searched this, and then now it’s coming up. It could be like I searched things that were adjacent to that, and now it’s coming up, which is kind of both a good thing and a bad thing, I think, for some people, but hey, it works out.

Chris: Personally, I feel like hey, if something’s going to help me find what I’m looking for, more power to whoever that advertiser is that found the way to put that ad in front of me because end of the day, if it’s something that I’m A, looking for, B, interested in, or C, need, I’m going to buy it.

Matt: Right, I totally agree. That’s kind of my stance on it is like the more info they have on you, yeah it feels a little weird, but at the same time, you’re getting the best stuff that’s catered to you. The one problem I always have is like okay, you’re searching for like a big ticket item. I’ve told this story before of okay, I was in the market to buy a new mattress. You see all those like mattress in a box companies like Nectar and Casper and all those places. I saw a deal for Nectar. I said, “Okay, this looks good. I’ll buy it, good price.” They sent it to me, love the bed, everything’s great.

Matt: Then for the next like 30 to 60 days, I kept getting ads for Nectar. They were like more aggressive with me because I was on their site a lot. I would love for them to say like, “Hey, I already bought it. Now stop sending me ads because you’re wasting money on me.” I don’t know. I just like want that to be like the next level of like, “I purchased, now move on from me,” or “Give me sheets and pillows and something like that.” That’s just my thought there.

Chris: That’s definitely something that is always a pain point, not only with consumers but also clients because you’re spending money that they don’t need to be spending. You bought that mattress. You don’t need to be buying another mattress. Honestly, that’s a big frustration point for me as a customer too of I buy something, I don’t want to see your ads for the next month. There are actually ways to go in there and say, “Okay, these people are past purchasers. It’s a big ticket item. It’s a mattress, so you’re not going to be buying it three times in the next five months.”

Chris: In cases like that, there are ways and people just need to be conscious of that and take that step to say, “Okay, if I’m selling you a mattress, I don’t need to be advertising you a mattress after you buy.” Get the tracking in place. I’d agree with you, that’s sort of a big pain point, frustration point of mine too of things that you just see all the time that you don’t need to be seeing.

Matt: That’s good I’m not alone on that one. I like feel bad. I’m like, “You guys are wasting money. Go after someone else,” because I know how it works, you know? When it comes to kind of getting a new client, you got a new one coming down the pipeline, what is your approach to kind of getting to know that client and then getting that strategy in place?

Chris: Anytime someone approaches me and say, “Hey, we have a new client coming aboard. It’s company XYZ,” first thing I’m going to do is just sort of take a look at company XZY’s website. This is what they do. This what they’re trying to sell or whatever it may be. Take anywhere between 10 minutes, 45 minutes to just browse their website, learn what you can about them, compile some questions because it makes sense to have some sort of background before you go in and meet them. Then if they have any Google ads, Bing account set up, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever, take a pop in there, take a look through that, say, “Okay, this is what their strategy is. This is what they’re targeting. This is what their goals are.”

Chris: Then if you want to take the time to understand what you’re trying to do prior to meeting with them, you have that background of this is what we want to do. It’s just going to make for a whole more cohesive original bond you make with your new client of we’re on the same page now. We have some defined next steps. It’s really just a smooth transition into launching a new account.

Matt: At Granular, of course there’s our expertise in PPC, paid media, managing accounts, and kind of being really hyper focused on that. Another thing is analytics, reporting, ROI, and at the end of the day, that’s the biggest thing for clients. That’s what matters the most to them. What’s your kind of personal approach to analytics and reporting and kind of bringing that information up to your clients?

Chris: I think the best way when you’re talking reporting and ROI, leads and whatnot like that, things like that, the best thing to do is just to be straightforward. Don’t beat around the bush. This is doing well. This is not doing well. Here are recommendations I have for improving this thing that’s not doing well. As long as you have that open dialect, they’re not going to feel like you’re trying to screw them over and you’re like, “Oh, we’re giving you all of our money, and what are you doing with it?”

Chris: Be open, be honest, just be a straight shooter, and that’s going to be the step one to having a good communication, a good working relationship. Eventually, that’s going to be the best way to improve your results of just finding things that are working, finding things that aren’t working. If you have to have that fail fast approach, you have the fail fast approach, but at least you know that you tried things, and it’s working.

Matt: I definitely like that approach. I mean, I’ve come from prior being at Granular, was in kind of a marketing manager role, managing digital from kind of an in-house side of things and relying on an agency. When I heard, “This isn’t working,” I found that more valuable than what is, like okay, you know it is. This is working. We know why, but we’re also putting money in something and that’s not working. Then if you can figure out why that’s not working, that, I think, is the most valuable part of it. I’m happy you kind of like touched on that.

Chris: Oh, for sure. Like you said, “Oh, this is working,” and you’re always going to hear, “Oh, this is working,” from whoever. Whoever you’re working with is going to be telling you, “This is doing well.” Sort of it’s good news, bad news of marketers are hard on themselves, this isn’t working. You sort of feel attacked, but you feel attacked by yourself of like, “I’m trying. This is my baby. I’ve been working so hard to get this to work, and for whatever reason, it’s not working.” You’re always going to want to be able at least just admit sometimes that whatever you’re trying is not working and just take a step back, reassess the situation, and see how you can pivot that strategy to make that work.

Matt: Before recording, we were kind of chatting about your kind of interest or any particular areas of expertise that you might have. We were talking about how you’ve done a lot of B2B, a lot of lead gen campaigns. You want to talk about kind of your experience with that?

Chris: Yeah. Originally, the agency I came to prior to being at Granular specialized in B2B and lead gen. I was working with anything from the plastic covering on your microwave for a treadmill screen to industrial oven the size of a house. There was a wide range of just things you’d A, never think of, and B, never even realized existed until you’re out there working with them. I feel like learning about all these weird different things really helped me in terms of I’m not doing something.

Chris: I’m not trying to sell you or set up an account for something that I have a huge interest in. It really helped me expand my horizons and just be able to learn how to think outside the box when it comes to marketing different products because most of those things I was working with were things that I never even heard of the month prior to working there.

Matt: What’s the biggest thing that you learned running a B2B campaign for so long? If you could kind of tell yourself before you started doing these until now, what was the number one thing that you wanted to kind of tell your past self?

Chris: Obviously, anytime you’re working in a campaign, you’re focused on ROI. 9.5 times out of 10, your client is not going to know how much a lead is worth to them. You can say, “We’re getting you leads at over $100 per lead coming in.” You want to go back to them and say, “What percent of these leads do you close? What’s the value of one of these coming in, so is this profitable?” Again, most of the time, you’re going to hear, “I really don’t know. I’ll have to look into that,” but then you never hear back from them. Really it’s just always going to be a goal of continual improvement on your own end. As long as you can show that this cost per lead is dropping and we’re getting more leads in at a more frequent pace, it’s not going to always be the easiest to prove that these are valuable.

Chris: You’re going to have to take some extra steps to go in and say, “What do these leads say? What people are filling out these forms, and what are they looking for?” Then if you have a little bit more of that background information, you can go to these clients and say, “Okay, Joe Smith requested information on this specific product or this repair for this product that he bought from you 15 years ago. Is that something that would be valuable?” Just having more information about what leads are coming in and not just having a rough number of “We had 30 leads this month,” that would really be the biggest thing that I would have taught myself if I had the chance.

Matt: It could be tough to even some companies themselves are like, “We don’t really know what a lead’s worth.” When you look at some of these big B2B, one lead could be a million dollars worth of revenue off of this one person that came through PPC, and then there would be someone else that came through that is maybe $200, $300 of revenue. What did you spend for that click? You could’ve spent more on the person that was $200 than the person that was a million. It’s definitely tough. I see where you’re coming from, and it’s funny because like companies, they don’t even know. They’re like, “God, we’re not even sure.” As long as you’re optimizing to kind of get that number down and then kind of give them the time to kind of figure it out, I guess that’s all you can do on your side, just get the numbers lower, you know?

Chris: Your numbers are improving. You’re tying a hand behind back by not knowing what I’m bringing back for you, but you just trying to fight for what you can and just show continual improvement on these accounts.

Matt: Another thing that you talked about being a special skill set of yours is call tracking, setting up call tracking, kind of the nuts and bolts behind that and what the success with that looks like. What is kind of the nuts and bolts of getting started with like a call tracking system?

Chris: Like I mentioned a lot of times, these clients aren’t going to know what the value of a lead is, but also, they’re not going to know how people are contacting them. I’ve had clients tell me, “Yeah, we’re not really getting a whole lot of form fills from this campaign.” My client comes back to me and says, “Yeah, well, the way that this particular line of business works is it’s very custom, very complex, so no one’s going to fill out a form. A lot of times, people are going to pick up the phone and call and just talk through it.” I sort of roll my eyes of like, “Well, that would have been good to know prior.”

Chris: Other times, I’ve worked with a pest control company where we’ve had this phone number on their website looking for immediate assistance. It was a matter of we have it set up as an 800-number, but there are other people out there that say, “Local numbers are going to always work best.” We’ve done tests of let’s show a local number based on someone’s location. If they’re in the Milwaukee area, show them a 414. If they’re in the Madison area, show them 608, Green Bay 902, et cetera. I’ve had a lot of experience doing that of it’s always a rotational test of how can we get in situations where phone calls are going to be valuable, how are we going to be able to track those?

Chris: If someone might not necessarily care about “quality,” I don’t want to say quality because quality is always going to be important, it’s going to be, “I care more about getting a large number of phone calls,” as opposed to “I’d rather have 10 really good phone calls.” That’s how you have to look at how are you going to be tracking these things. If I could just say, “I can install a clickable number on your website,” and just say, “Okay, this is how many people clicked your number to call it.”

Chris: If it’s that someone looking for the 10 calls of really high quality, maybe it makes more sense to invest in a call tracking software where we can show these dynamic numbers, track it down to what keywords people are searching and actually be able to go in and listen to those phone calls and say, “Okay, this person mentioned X service in your business.” We can say, “Okay, that’s what we’re trying to get. That was good.”

Chris: They ask for something completely irrelevant, and all of these calls that are asking for something irrelevant are coming in through this keyword or this campaign, so maybe we should look at either tweaking that part of the campaign or just shutting that down and focusing on the other parts that are working really well. Really, that’s really something you could talk about for an hour straight of just various ways that you can track phone calls and say whether or not the various ways are going to work for you based on what your goals are.

Matt:    What brought you to Granular?

Chris: At the place I was working at previously, I had probably been talking to Jordon and Steve about coming on board for probably at least six months of where I had an intro meeting. At the time, it just didn’t work out. I wasn’t terribly interested in leaving where I was, and they, for whatever reason, either went in a different direction or weren’t looking to hire immediately. Then the time went on, a couple more months. Like I said, there was like a six-month process of I just found myself less and less happy on a daily basis going into work at my old place.

Chris: I guess like you said, Granular continues to grow, so the demand for new employees continued to be there. Eventually, we came to a point where I felt that it was time to move on, and they were ready to bring me on board. It was like I said, it’s sort of a longer process to come in, but it all worked out for the best.

Matt: Culture’s a big deal here at Granular. That kind of gets set from the top down from Jordon, Steve, everybody down, the partners. What is it about the Granular culture that you really like?

Chris: Probably the biggest thing to say is the freedom and open responsibility of here are your clients. Just do your work, make sure they’re happy. Other than that, you just do whatever you need, do whatever you want. Honestly, that freedom just is empowering. I’m not feeling like I’m at kindergarten where someone’s holding my hand every day of, “Okay, here are your tasks. I need you to finish these. If you have to stay here till 8:00 pm to get them done, that’s what you’re going to do.” Again, it’s the freedom of managing myself is really what I would probably say is the most appealing part of working here.

Matt: Thanks for listening to the Getting Granular podcast and today’s interview with Chris. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any of the PPC tips, tricks, and other news from the digital marketing world. This is your host, Matt Freter, and thanks for getting Granular with us today.