Learnings from HeroConf 2019

Hero Conf 2019 was jam-packed with the usual brilliant content from the smartest minds in the industry, as over 600 PPC marketers gathered in Philadelphia. While each day included hours of sharing on topics across the spectrum of PPC, here are a few top themes from the conference.

Think Audiences, Not Keywords

With the evolution of new match types, PPC is increasingly moving past strictly structured keyword-focused advertising. Several sessions touched on audience-focused advertising, with strategies to reach the same audiences across multiple channels throughout the funnel.

Mary Hartman of Hanapin Marketing spoke about account-based marketing, emphasizing that ABM is not simply a product you buy from a vendor. ABM is a strategy that requires buy-in from the entire sales team to function properly. Start by defining ideal customer profiles, mine your own data for better targeting, and determine KPIs for each stage of the funnel. Expect CPLs to increase when implementing an ABM strategy, but also anticipate lead quality to increase.

Shira Abel of Hunter & Bard talked about behavioral design and applying principles of psychology to advertising. This presentation challenged marketers to reverse engineer the response you want from a user, thinking about how you want the person to feel when they see your message. You can’t force people to take an action, but you can influence them.

Automation Is Here to Stay

In line with moving beyond keywords, multiple speakers touched on uses for automation and machine learning in PPC management. Facebook’s Isadora Coelho covered the Facebook ad platform’s updated automated bidding options:

  • Lowest cost: Calculates the proper rate to spend the full budget over time with the cheapest possible outcomes
  • Target cost: Spends the budget in full while finding as many outcomes as possible at, or close to, the target cost per outcome
  • Lowest cost with bid cap: Spends as much budget as possible but only bids on an impression if the bid is under your set maximum
  • Lowest cost with cost cap: Spends as much budget as possible but only bids on outcomes at, or close to, the set average cost per outcome.

During his overview of Shopping campaigns, Kirk Williams of ZATO talked about the inevitable growth of Smart Shopping, where management primarily happens in Google’s “black box.” While PPC marketers who like maintaining control may be tempted to shy completely away from “smart” solutions, we should be (carefully) testing these new formats as Google continues to shift its focus in the direction of automation.

Our own Michelle Morgan brought up the value of lookalike audiences, not only for targeting but also for exclusions if a lookalike is based on unqualified leads. If you trust a platform to build an accurate lookalike for targeting, why not trust it for a negative audience?

Competitor Research Is More Than Keyword Research

Most PPC marketers who’ve been in the industry for a while are familiar with at least one of a few common competitor keyword research tools. However, not everyone may be making the effort to go beyond looking at what competitors are doing in search.

In Robert Brady’s competitive research presentation, he purposely strayed from talking about the typical keyword research tools, instead highlighting tools like Facebook’s Ad Library. Here, you can see ad copy, spend, and audience breakdowns for any ads related to politics or issues of national importance (an ever-broadening category by Facebook’s definition). There’s even an option to download data for easy aggregation.

Going Beyond Search

Several industry pros talked about ad formats beyond search that are driving real business results for clients. Here are three examples.

Cory Henke of Variable Media talked about video advertising with real-life case studies from his agency’s work. YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are the online channels where he’s seen the most success. A video ad should include three stages of hooking, engaging, and qualifying the viewer.

He emphasized the importance of measurement, including looking at engagement with key points of each video, dropoff points, and demographic/device data. Segment audiences based on how far they watch, determining which videos they see next based on their behavior. In addition, don’t forget to look at less measurable results, such as comments on Facebook video ads.

J. D. Prater, Quora Evangelist, presented a case for using Quora, a quickly growing ad platform that many marketers have been seeing success from. Users on Quora are actively engaged, seeking to learn and answer questions (unlike social media, which lends itself to passive browsing). If you’re having trouble convincing your boss or client to test the waters with this platform, consider adding the pixel to the site first to prove how many of your website visitors are on Quora.

Quora presents many targeting options, from topics to question targeting and remarketing lists to lookalikes, and has been quickly adding new features in recent months. When taking inventory of which targeting options to use, match the context with the audience intent for that type of targeting. Start broad with interests and topics to generate awareness, use question retargeting in the consideration stage to generate conversions, and use website retargeting to drive users back to your site for the purchase stage.

A. J. Wilcox of B2Linked presented an advanced overview of LinkedIn Ads, the best platform to start on for B2B audience-based targeting. While CPCs are high, the #1 reason you use LinkedIn is for the targeting capabilities, and the platform tends to drive larger average deal sizes than Google Ads.

Here are a few tips A. J. shared for getting the most from LinkedIn:

  • Focus on combinations of multiple targeting criteria, and don’t forget to exclude irrelevant individuals (like sales and business development job functions).
  • Don’t use automated bidding. While LinkedIn encourages you to start bids high, bid low and go up if necessary.
  • Ignore LinkedIn’s audience size recommendations. 20k-80k is a healthy range to aim for, but smaller audiences can work well.
  • Mid-funnel content such as whitepapers, ebooks, and webinars tends to be most effective.


Hero Conf 2019 concluded with an incredible amount of knowledge dropped from our constantly sharing industry. As PPC marketers, we need to be keeping up with the frequent changes to ad platforms, knowing how to balance tried-and-true practices with the updates to the landscape. Moving to an audience-based mindset, keeping up with automation, understanding broader tactics for analyzing competitors, and looking at platforms beyond traditional search are all part of an effective PPC approach in 2019.

What takeaways do you have from HeroConf 2019 (or any other digital marketing conference you went to this year)? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!