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 – Justin Lindh


Justin Lindh, science teacher turned digital marketing expert, tells the story of what led him to paid search and what keeps him interested. He also shares his approach to data informed decisions and gives a few pointers on franchise level business. Tune in and get to know Justin!


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

  • Justin’s path to paid search (1:31)
  • How his career journey impacted his PPC approach (7:47)
  • What the PPC landscape looked like at the beginning of his career (10:24)
  • His opinion on the future of the paid media (14:42)
  • His personal approach to client relationship (19:36)
  • The importance of using relevant data to make informed decisions (21:12)
  • Insights on franchise level business and their unique challenges (26:52)


Announcer: 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 rants about digital media, you’ve come to the right place.

Matt: Welcome to the Getting Granular podcast. I’m your host today. My name is Matt Freter. I’m the Marketing and Operations Manager here at Granular. Today we’re going to be doing an interview with another one of our Granular team members. Today we have Justin Lind. I will let him introduce himself quickly before we jump in.

Justin: My name is Justin. I’m a senior PPC manager here in Granular. I’ve been here for a little over a year now. I’m a proud father of two little boys, three-year-old and two-months-old, reside here in Milwaukee. And yeah, I’m very happy here at Granular.

Matt: We always like to start off when we talk to our team members about, how did you get into the PPC-Paid Search realm? I get asked that a lot too and I really don’t work in PPC every day. You can’t really go to school for it. There’s not many degrees in paid search anymore. I guess they’re just starting to make them. So what did your path into the PPC world look like?

Justin: Well, you took my first joke away from me. I was going to say, I majored in digital marketing and Paid Search. The joke being, as you said, no such programs exist at schools. At least now I’ve heard of a few programs starting out maybe like certificate programs, but nothing major. No, actually I like my story. I think it’s fun. I used to be a science teacher once upon a time. Went to UW–Madison, majored in biology after college. You can’t get any good jobs with just a bachelor’s in biology. You need at least a masters. I worked retail management for a couple of years after that.

Justin: I decided to go back to school to pursue my teaching certification somewhere at UW-Whitewater for that. It’s a great school for education to become a teacher. And during that process, I started dating who my now wife. I finished up school here in Wisconsin while she started law school in Michigan. After finishing up my student teaching, I moved out to Ann Arbor to be with her, I looked around for teaching jobs. I had one legitimate interview at a school. It didn’t go well and this is to say, I didn’t get the job. I was fortunate to find a really awesome fun tutoring job at a local high school, helping kids with algebra two and then also helping in the after-school program.

Justin: It was a ton of fun, is very rewarding except in the financial sense. It was $10 an hour, I think only during the school year and no benefits at all. And as a grown man and as an adult, I needed at least health insurance and some job security. I kept the feelers out there, kept on looking, I got a job for a short period at a small charter school in Ann Arbor, and that was a terrible experience. I started in January and I was the third science teacher that year. They used the term science teacher loosely, all their classes were on computers either through Michigan’s Online Virtual Academy or another software program that they used as a glorified computer lab monitor.

Justin: To make matters worse, about three weeks into my two month tenure there, the school extended the kids school day by two hours for additional classes, one of which was going to be a new science lab class I would teach. We didn’t have a science lab, we didn’t have science lab equipment. Not only that, I taught all of high school science as a small school, and just four classes maybe a hundred students. Coming up with a curriculum that was discipline agnostic. It wasn’t a biology class and or a science class. So coming up with a curriculum that fit everyone’s needs but also taught the laboratory portion of science was difficult on me.

Justin: Expanding the school day was difficult on the kids for very obvious reasons. Plus that job was also an hourly rating job, it didn’t have a salary and going into the summer. I continued to keep the feelers out there and I was very fortunate to find a job at the Google office in Ann Arbor, doing AdWords phone support. Google at that time didn’t provide phone support for AdWords, what it was called then, for small and medium size businesses. It just didn’t make financial sense for them. So they started this pilot program that I was a part of… they paid us less to make the finances work.

Justin: But I was in the Google Ann Arbor office, got a crash course in Google AdWords for the first month, training on phone skill, soft skills, investigative skills to figure out how to solve the problems that these small businesses were calling in from. And that’s how I got started in PPC. I did that for a little over a year until my wife… girlfriend at the time graduated from law school. After that, she got a job clerking for a judge down in Peoria. So we moved down there and I was very fortunate that there was a small digital advertising agency right across the street from the courthouse that she worked at.

Justin: So yeah, I applied. They were looking to expand what they’re doing digitally. Their roots were in Yellow Page advertising. But at that time, Yellow Page advertising definitely went down, digital advertising was a lot more important. So as a first true digital hire and I just took that and ran with it.

Matt: That’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard Yellow Pages on a pretty long time. When it comes to advertising, maybe dating yourself a little bit. But at one point, Yellow Pages was a pretty serious advertising medium. So you have a different approach of getting into PPC you, you focus on, “Okay, I’m going to have this career in science or in teaching.” And then you backdoored your way into working with Google, now you’re working in Google, working on the customer support team, working with small businesses. Can you dive in a little bit more about that experience at how it shaped you into being the PPC manager you are now?

Justin: Yeah. While doing phone support for Google AdWords, it was an inbound call center. Small businesses would call in because they’re having troubles with making their campaigns work for them. Sometimes it was billing related questions or policy-related questions. The experience gave me a good breadth of topics that small and businesses of all sizes have troubles with regarding digital advertising.

Justin: And it was all centered around solving problems too. So very customer centric, customer focused. And now that you ask that question, it’s probably influenced my approach to managing digital campaigns now, figuring out what exactly the businesses need, focusing on solutions that are available to us and different from working in Google phone support, I can actually implement those solutions now, which is really awesome.

Matt: You started at this digital agency, you’re one of the first digital hires. They sound like they’re on a pretty traditional track, that was their main focus. What made you want to stick with PPC even though you were in an environment that wasn’t really set up for it?

Justin: To be honest, my teaching license had an expiration date, so there was a certain point where I had to make that decision, “Do I want to continue with the teaching career or do I want to continue with working with PPC?” And at that decision point, I think it was five years after I graduated. I was enjoying what I was doing. It was rewarding. It paid more than a teaching job. I’m not going to lie. That was part of the decision as well.

Justin: I decided to stick with it. And that was my mentality going into it as well. When I was at that charter school, I didn’t know what job I wanted, but I made the decision, whatever opportunities come my way, I’m going to make the most of it. Take that opportunity and run with it, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Matt: We always like to look back at where PPC was a couple of years ago, 10 years ago, and what it turned into now. Can you talk about what the PPC landscape looked like? The kind of tools at your disposal, maybe the lack of them. What did that landscape look like when you first started?

Justin: When I first started and… my experience was very Google centric at the very beginning. Back in my day, exact match was exact match, phrase match was phrase match. Now, they pick up on different orders, misspellings, et cetera. We had mobile only campaigns, and it was actually one thing that we pushed when I was at Google and then they took that away, and then they brought that functionality back. It’s come full circle. But speaking a little bit more towards mobile, that was the very beginning of the rise in smart phones and mobile usage, especially when it comes to search.

Justin: Mobile search volume at that point had an eclipse desktop search fine. And I believe it had a few years ago and now at this point. Google was on top of it and recognized that and then had some push. Google also had TV advertising campaigns. They had some I think satellites placements on Channel 562. I maybe under speaking to what their offering was but it’s something that they don’t do anymore, but it did have a little hands on then. But even when I moved down from Google and started at the agency down in Peoria, there weren’t as many viable options, viable platforms for advertisers.

Justin: Facebook I think was there, we did a little bit there. Display, there are a few Display vendors. I think Programmatic was starting to become a buzz word around then. But now, I do a lot on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter campaigns, Instagram through Facebook. YouTube was active then and is still relevant now. I think that’s a big difference. Is that, there they’re just more viable platforms, people. Other businesses are starting to understand the profitability of selling digital ad space.

Justin: CORE is a good example. I think a lot of their engineers came from Facebook and Google, so that position them well to get off on the right foot and they’ve been able to quickly ramp up their offerings and their ability to allow people to buy ads on their platform.

Matt: Something that I think is funny is, as all these people are getting into the industry early on, they’re trying to feel it out. Everybody’s throwing stuff against the wall, seeing what’s going to stick. They’re trying to really figure out these platforms, but then at the same time, these platforms are trying to figure out what’s going to stick too. You mentioned Google dipping into TV, and there’s been a lot of things that have come and then that has been sunset by Google and they’re man enough to admit, “That wasn’t a great idea. We’re going to close it up.” I think the perfect example of that right now is Google Plus. And it’s funny because it’s just a whole industry of people just trying to figure it out. But at the end of the day, you just want to advertise businesses or you want to help businesses get their story out there and really gain leads on a platform where people are looking for help. It’s just funny how it works.

Justin: Yeah. And it’s a copycat industry in some ways. Google Plus trying to replicate Facebook success, and all the other social media platforms are trying to replicate what Facebook has been able to do well from viewership standpoint and ad offering standpoint. So, it definitely keeps us on our toes on the agency side. Lots of new platforms to learn, lots of new offerings to learn and just that excitement of what the next cool thing is going to be.

Matt: That’s a perfect segue way into looking forward, what does the future of paid media look like? What do you see as being the biggest trend moving forward five years, 10 years from now?

Justin: I don’t know, it’s above my pay grade. Next question. No. No. For me, I embrace the unknown, it’s why I made that joke there. I just try to focus on what is available now and how we can take advantage of it. But to answer your question a little bit more directly, I think automation is going to be the big thing moving forward. Google’s already started taking steps towards that with their bid strategies, the her uploading of ad copy into your account unless you explicitly opt out of it.

Justin: And this both exciting and a little scary from the agency side. Scary in that part of our job can be automated and at least in the future we’re not quite there yet. But also fun because as a campaign manager, a big part of my job is client relationship and that will never be automated. Working with these businesses, our clients, figuring out what their needs are and how to best meet those needs through digital advertising will never be automated by Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it.

Justin: As a digital marketer, I think the automation tools, that’s all these platforms will be coming out with over the next few years will just allow us to be able to do more in a serve more people more efficiently.

Matt: A common theme around Paid Search and Paid Media is Google knows everything about me, they follow me around. I looked at this one pair of shoes and now I see them on every website that I’m on. It’s on ESPN, it’s on CNN, whatever it may be. And people get uncomfortable about it. What is your approach when you start hearing stuff that? Does that ever bother you at all?

Justin: I don’t know. Yes and no. As a shopper myself, I do find it helpful at times when there are ads reminding me that I have three things in some websites, shopping cart, just waiting for me to purchase. I forgot what it was, but I think it was floor liners for my car. I bought them earlier this week, but they sat in the checkout basket for a week and a half I think before I actually hit submit on it. In an always connected worlds, I do find it comforting that there’s that level of convenience that all of these platforms do have the technology to be able to make it easier for me to make purchase decisions.

Justin: But I think there’s a limit for everyone and how comfortable they are with that. Personally, I will never have a home assistance like a Google home in my house because I just find that prospect of a company being able to record what is being said in my house and very creepy and very intrusive despite the applications in the convenience that it can provide. I think there’s definitely a spectrum of comfort level that everyone has with it. And it just depends on where you fall on that spectrum. With a lot of these features, you can either opt in or opt out of it, which is nice.

Justin: I’m not going to buy a Google home so I’m automatically opted out until I opt in. But online especially and with your smart phones and even smart TVs, I hear that one reason why they’re cheap is because… and this is probably conspiracy level here but maybe not, I don’t know. But one reason why smart TVs are cheap is because they can listen to not end your conversations and help collect data and sell data. And I record what you’re watching and everything and sell that data. I have a smart TV though because it was cheap and it was convenient.

Matt: Yeah. It all comes down to what’s cheap and can completely…

Justin: Yeah.

Matt: So you were talking about automation being the future of a lot of Paid Search, AI really injecting itself into what we do. But the one thing that’s never going to change is your relationship with your clients, with our partners, What is your personal approach when you are going into a relationship with a client?

Justin: I try to make them feel comfortable both me as a person and Granular as a company. And I found the best way to do that, it’s just to be human being. It’s easy to get into the trap of everything being transactional. Like I have the status call with the client and these are the topics that we’re going to talk about and just bullet point, bullet point, bullet point. And as far as getting through your day and getting your tasks done, that’s efficient. But no one really enjoys that. Both from my end. I’m sure the client doesn’t as well.

Justin: We provide a service, digital advertising, but it is a service to a customer to a client. It’s a big job, what we do is customer service, client service. It just makes the job more fun when he gets to know your clients on a personal level, it makes the calls more enjoyable. And at the end of the day… I’m a little bit of analyst, I’m not going to lie about that. As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, and you’re helping people, and you have that sense of fulfillment, to me, that’s what’s most important

Matt: At Granular. One of the big things we always talk about is, reporting ROI using data to make our decisions. One of I think our slogan is data driven, digital marketing that’s something that we really champion here. What’s your approach to using data to inform what you’re doing?

Justin: Make sure that I have enough data. It can be easy to make quick knee-jerk reactions for a lack of a better way to put it based on a small set of data. All of this campaign’s got three sales this week and $50 ad spend. That’s great. But is that really significant? Is an anomalous, was there some unknown underlying factor that led to those three sales? Maybe it was one person that made three purchases because they, “Oh, I forgot, I need this also.” So just make sure you have enough data before you make judgements on the performance of the campaigns.

Justin: And sometimes, especially with smaller clients and smaller ad budgets that can require time and patience, which is counter to the idea that everything in digital marketing for the most part can be tracked and have some data point is assigned to it. I found myself at times and I’ve experienced this on the client’s end as well where we fall into the trap of, you have certain metrics that you can look at to inform your decision making, but just because the data points aren’t there, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s helpful.

Justin: Average position and click through rates, some of the softer metrics compared to sales leads, et cetera, can be a trap in my experience when evaluating the performance of a campaign. So I just tried to keep the big picture in mind, make sure that I have enough data to inform decisions and not let all of the other glittery data points, unnecessary stuff get in the way.

Matt: Yeah. It’s real easy to have that paralysis by analysis-

Justin: That’s a good way to put it.

Matt: … and your client could be looking at four different KPIs that they think are really relevant to what they do. And then you’re looking at four different KPIs that are really relevant. And you have to be like, “Hey, listen, this is what’s actually driving and this maybe isn’t.” It’s good to know, it’s good to help, but it’s not always the case. What’s your approach to educating your clients on that? Do you take any particular steps to try to set up that reporting structure or that understanding for major KPIs?

Justin: Absolutely. And I try to keep the focus on the major KPIs and try to explain away some of the lesser important metrics to look at. But yeah, I’ll never gloss over or hide any metric or details behind why conversion rate went up or down. I do my best to discover the exact reason why and educate the client on why that is. The backtrack a little bit, I think what we’re talking about metrics and reporting and what’s important and what’s not, and the client facing side and making sure that they’re comfortable and happy with it is… presents an interesting dichotomy or spectrum in our industry.

Justin: And that, number one, we are data-driven. We do try to make sure that the campaigns are profitable for the clients, but I’m the other hand, we want to make sure the clients are happy and those two things aren’t always congruent because clients will sometimes focus on, “I have not seen my ad show up when I Google me, or my average position went down by a points last month. Why did that happen?” I was like, “Yeah, but your cost per lead went down by 50%, you’re welcomed by the way.” So sometimes the client isn’t always happy by what we understand as being important.

Justin: So it’s top line important KPIs, profitability. We just have to take that into consideration when we present the data. But that also emphasizes the importance of educating them to let them understand why we make the decisions that we do and why we feel it’s important.

Matt: At Granular, a lot of our team members have a very diverse background. As you’re adhered, here we have a biology teacher for some point in his life and then everybody around Granular has their own specializations. Some people really, really focus in on social, e-commerce, legal. There’s a lot of different ways that people can really specialize. What are some of your specializations?

Justin: E-commerce is one of them. Worked with a couple of really fun clients, a couple different eCommerce platforms. I’ve gotten to know quite a bit. Shopify and BigCommerce, most notably. And it’s a lot of fun because it’s easy to understand if it’s working or not because you have the revenue, you understand the margins on each products or a group of products, and we the ad spends. So it’s really easy to go back to the client and say, “Yes, we were successful or these are the changes we need to make and this is why.”

Justin: I also have a fair amount of experience with working with a franchise level businesses or multi location businesses and they present their own unique challenges and have their own needs, a smaller scale than some campaigns. I say, “You have smaller budgets, but then you have to learn the nuances and intricacies of say, the Denver market versus Dallas versus Des Moines, Iowa.” And you’re working with small businesses, so a lot of times we do work with bigger nationally recognized companies, and with the franchise is sometimes that’s the case, but at the end of the day are small businesses that have an office staff of five and they’re on top of every level of detail of their business.

Justin: So sometimes it can be challenging, but they also have a ton of value to provide on what is important, what works for them and why, and especially at the market level. They know their market better than a National Marketing Director would know the entire United States, for example.

Matt: Franchise marketing always seems really interesting to me because, there’s an overarching brand and the corporate office does all of this branding for them, and they should all in theory act the same way, but they don’t. There’s a lot of different things that happen. And you said between Dallas and Des Moines, what’s your personal approach to understanding that market?

Justin: No, a lot of it is just learning as you go. I always do the best to make sure that we set up campaigns to be successful, as successful as they can be right from the start. But there’s always going to be unknowns that you have to learn as you’re a month, two months, three months into the program. Constant communication with those on the ground in Des Moines and Dallas is immensely helpful because they’re going to know their markets better than you. They’re going to be able to provide you layers of detail and feedback that you can’t get by looking at the Google Ads UI or LinkedIn UI, for example.

Matt: Yeah. It’s not just like a cookie cutter approach?

Justin: Yeah. And that can be challenging with franchises when you’re working with many of them because to be efficient in sending up the campaigns, you have to start with a good cookie cutter approach, but be able to be flexible as you’re setting it up and after you set it up with understanding what’s working, what’s not and why.

Matt: Yeah. You start with, “Okay, I know this works, it works for other ones.” Now what’s going to work you?

Justin: Yeah. And after enough time or if you have the benefit of historical data when you first take on the campaign, you can use the collective data of multiple franchises to help inform your decision making. And with the most recent franchise company that I’ve worked with, that’s what we did and were able to… I hit home runs right out of the gates because we had the benefit of not just how Des Moines was working or how Dallas is working, but how the entire country was working, how their keywords performed, and were able to use the large data sets to inform what keywords to use, what ad copy to use, and had the historical data to back up our decisions.

Matt: So we are recording the Getting Granular podcast here inside our little recording studio at our offices, and we are located in the third ward of Milwaukee. And one of the beautiful things of being in this awesome neighborhood is that, it’s growing, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds. Right behind our building, they’re also building a skyscraper. If you hear any noises or drilling or anything like that, that’s what that is. We definitely apologize, we’ll try and edit it out as much as we can, but we love Milwaukee.

Matt: It’s growing, but sometimes it just gets a little loud. So, thanks for bearing with us. Thanks for listening to the Getting Granular podcast. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any of the PPC tips, tricks, and news from the Digital Marketing World. This is your host, Matt Freter, and thanks for Getting Granular with us today.