Does Your Pay-Per-Click Manager Play ‘The Settlers of Catan’?

Have you ever played ‘The Settlers of Catan’? If you haven’t, you should. Though, it’s extremely addictive … don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Anyway, my friends and I play it a lot more than I’m proud to admit; in fact, it is well known in my group of friends that I love two things in this life: my job and the game ‘The Settlers of Catan’, more affectionately referred to as simply ‘Settlers’.

***Before I go on further, I want to provide a disclaimer that reads: I’m in no way comparing spending real money on advertising to a game – nor should you treat running such a campaign as such; I simply appreciate greatly the use of strategy and logic in each.***

I love my job more than my friends can appreciate — but I had a revelation the other day as we were playing (which is not a rare occurrence). That they would love my job too. Because I get to play Settlers all day, every day (not literally – but wouldn’t that be cool?). I say this because I recognized a correlation between the game and managing a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign.

For those of you who have never played Settlers, I’ll try to make some sense of it for you. Settlers is an extremely complicated game (which is probably why I love it so much) and tends to intimidate first-timers. It requires logic and strategy, two things I love to exercise.

So this got me thinking — what else requires logic and strategy? Managing pay per click campaigns. Aha! That’s why I love Settlers so much — or perhaps why I love managing PPC campaigns so much. Either way, it’s no secret, I love both. I love to look at the resources presented and try to make the most efficient use of what is available to me – forcing me to be both tactful and shrewd.

If you’ve ever run a PPC campaign, you know at least the basics of how it works…

You bid on this keyword and that keyword … you tweak ad text according to which ads perform best and you make sure your landing page is tailored to the traffic you are sending there. But, ultimately, at the forefront of your mind, you’re asking yourself ‘how little can I pay and still maintain the #1 (or perhaps another that works better for you) position for my best-performing keywords?’

Settlers of Catan
I was brown during this game – as you can see, clearly the winner. Longest road = 2 victory points; 4 cities at 2 victory points each = 8 victory points; and a settlement at 1 victory point = 11 victory points (you only need 10 to win). I strive to always exceed what is required.

So just how does this compare to managing a pay-per-click campaign? Let’s break it down shall we…

  • It’s strategic and forces you to think logically … just like managing a PPC campaign.
  • It can be intimidating to those who have never played before, just as AdWords can be intimidating to those who have never used it.
  • It’s complex, and there are a lot of things to keep in mind and remember – AdWords anyone?
  • It’s about making informed decisions and thus making the most cost-effective use of the resources available to you … do you see a pattern?

Treading softly and thinking wisely … that’s the name of both games.

The Play

In Settlers, there are several ways to acquire the resources you need to build what it is you need to build to ultimately reach 10 victory points (the objective) before any of your opponents.

Settlers Resources Cards
Settlers Resources Cards

Resource Cards

The resources are of the utmost importance – because just as dollars buy you ad rank, resources buy you properties, and thus victory points. You do not have to (nor should you) show anyone the cards you have until you’re ready to play them so you can keep your strategy a secret – much like in AdWords where you don’t want your competitors to know which keywords work best for you. Though, all the while you want to be paying acute attention to what resources others pick up (and likewise do your research on what keywords your competitors are bidding on) so you can constantly stay ahead.

Making a Purchase

In Settlers, you can build a road (1 brick and 1 wood); you can build a settlement (1 brick, 1 wood, 1 sheep and 1 wheat); you can build a city (2 wheat and 3 ore); or you can purchase a development card (1 ore, 1 wheat and 1 sheep) while in AdWords you likewise have several options based on what you’re looking to achieve – you can bid on an exact match, a phrase match or if you’re feeling daring, a broad match keyword.

Rolling the Dice

The way this game works is the dice determine all. If your numbers are rolled, you get to pick up your resources. If they don’t get rolled, well the game can be daunting and go on what seems like forever. Kind of like if your keywords are queried in search, your ads appear and everyone is happy, and if your ads aren’t appearing at the price you’re willing to pay – you’re hoping eventually they will (of course with PPC this takes some work on your part to up that quality score, whereas with Settlers you’re forced to simply wait it out). And thus comes the AdWords auction – not so affectionately referred to as the bidding war – and, based on your bid, you’re hopeful your ad gets shown – similar to how you’re hopeful your numbers are rolled in Settlers.


If you are in need of a particular resource, you can trade for it – that is, if you have something your opponent wants and is willing to trade for. Your opponent knows the value of his or her resources; if they have a resource they know is scarce, they expect you to pay kindly for it – 2, 3, perhaps even (gasp!) 4 cards for that one card you so desperately need. Just as Google and MSN (Bing) know the value of your keywords – they expect you to pay kindly for them. While you’re thinking ‘how little can I pay for the best position?’, Google and MSN are thinking ‘how much are companies willing to pay for the #1 position?’ – and you mutually (or maybe not so mutually) agree upon that figure.

When it comes to both trading in Settlers and determining your maximum CPC (cost-per-click) in AdWords or adCenter, you have to always be considering what the most cost-effective use of your resources are.

For instance, in Settlers, say I have 5 brick, a wood and a sheep and I want to build a settlement (which, again, costs 1 brick, 1 wood, 1 sheep and 1 wheat), and still need a wheat in order to do so; and sadly, no one is willing to trade their wheat due to its scarcity. Fortunately I have 4 additional brick to the one I actually need at this moment. (The general trade-in with ‘the bank’ is 4 of any one resource for any 1 resource I want.) This is a costly endeavor. However, if I don’t do it and decide to wait it out to see if I pick up a wheat the next go-round, I risk losing cards. This is because I am leaving myself with 7 cards in my hand, and should I go over before my next turn and a 7 is rolled, I’m in trouble – if a 7 is rolled and I have more than 7 cards in my hand, I have to get rid of half of my cards (tragedy that would be!). So I have several options; I can either a) risk going over 7 cards, b) buy a road (which I don’t really need at this moment) with one brick and one wood so I have a few less cards and hope I likewise pick up another wood to use for my settlement on my next turn, or I can c) take advantage of the plethora of brick in my hand to buy a very expensive wheat so I can ultimately buy a settlement on this turn. So I know the resources and options available to me and what I can get for said resources. Now I just have to decide what the most cost-effective option is for me (as you of course would with a PPC campaign); I can hold out and risk losing cards (kind of like missing out on clicks while you hold out for a lower-cost auction) or I can buy what I want for a little bit more than I’m normally willing to pay.

The Elements

Development Cards

Settlers Development Cards
Development Cards

As aforementioned, there is an option to purchase what are referred to as “development cards” (each explained and compared below). Just as you keep your resource cards a secret, you do not want to let anyone know what development cards you have until you’re ready to play them, keeping your strategy a secret (again, ideally, your competition has no idea what is working for you).


First we have the ‘Monopoly’ card. With this card you get to monopolize one resource of your choice. In other words, take any instance of this resource that your opponents currently possess from them (fun, right?). There is one catch however, you must choose wisely – otherwise you could end up realizing that no one actually has that resource and you just wasted a perfectly good ‘Monopoly’ card. This card of course gives you a competitive edge – as does cannibalizing the results for specific search queries. Consider the following though. Perhaps you start bidding on a keyword that is relatively inexpensive because your competitors aren’t willing to pay as much as you are – you think you hit the AdWords jackpot – finally, you have the opportunity to take traffic away from your competitors because you can pay a bit more than they’re willing to! But what good would it be if the seemingly ‘competitive edge’ you were so excited about is ultimately not an edge at all because no one ever searches for that keyword?

The Knight

When you play this card, you get to move the “Robber” and place it on someone else’s (or several others’ resource, so they are not able to pick that resource up). You then get to steal a resource from someone. (This is always fun when you’re the one moving the robber, not so fun if you’re on the wrong end of it). You want to ensure you take full advantage of this opportunity and choose wisely – making sure you know what your competitors have in their hand and how useful it will be for you, and choose who to steal from accordingly. This is much like choosing the appropriate competitors to perform a competitor analysis on – it should never be in vain.

Settlers of Catan Robber
This is the Robber

Victory Points

These are my personal favorite: free victory points that no one knows you have (unless they’re paying attention really well and can speculate that perhaps you do in fact have one or two). This is all about making sure you’re on top of everything and keeping track of what your competitors are doing – as you should be doing with any PPC campaign. What areas are they winning in and why? How can you match if not beat them in this area?

Road Builder

In other words, traipsing in new, uncharted territory. The reason this card is beneficial is because you get to build 2 roads, of which you need in order to build a settlement – however, you have to be certain it is not only feasible to build where you are trying to go, but you should be confident that you will beat other contenders for that spot. This compares to PPC because you need to do your research and make sure you have the ability to outrank your competitors based on your ads and landing pages – otherwise you suffer a low quality score. It’s not worth going after traffic simply to “beat out the competition” if it’s not worth it to you in terms of profit.

Year of Plenty

This card allows you to take two resources of your choice from ‘the bank’ to use at any one time – perhaps resources you don’t have adequate access to on the typical dice roll. I equate this to the “See Search Terms” function in the AdWords platform – this is one of my favorite tools to use when I’m working on improving any PPC campaign. When I’m not using exact match keywords I can never be 100% certain what the actual search queries were that elicited my ads – unless I reference this invaluable tool to provide me with something I wouldn’t normally have access to. What keywords brought in traffic that I have not before considered? Was it quality traffic? Should I consider adding those keywords? Should I consider adding them as negative keywords? This tool helps me determine the best way to discover not only new traffic opportunities, but likewise the best way to make sure I’m reaching the right kind of traffic.

Your strategy of purchasing development cards can also help you acquire the ‘largest army’ (3 knights cards) which equates to two victory points. Similar to the ‘largest army’ is the ‘longest road’ (also worth two victory points) – if you have at least 5 roads consecutively built and you have, ironically, the ‘longest road’ compared to anyone else. These two opportunities for bonus points are of course accrued over time with a little effort on your part – much like a successful quality score – providing you a competitive edge.

Settlers Largest Army Longest Road Cards
Largest Army and Longest Road Cards = 2 Victory Points Each

What if I have a Significantly Lower Budget than my Competitors?

It’s sensible that the more you’re willing and have to spend (resources) the more you can expand. And of course the more you’ve expanded, the more of the game board you cover, and thus the more you saturate the game board (and the SERPs). In sum, unfortunately it seems the big guys always win; the ones who have all the right numbers (and have more marketing dollars to spend). Though, sometimes the little guys end up pulling out from behind with a sneak attack because they endured along the way … and we all love an underdog victory. This is because if you work really hard to optimize your landing pages and your ads to ultimately increase your quality score, you may just come out on top at a price you’re willing to pay and can afford. So even if you think you couldn’t possibly compete in the search engine marketing world, don’t count it out too quickly – you may end up being pleasantly surprised.

Ultimately, the reason I find Settlers to be so similar to running a pay-per-click campaign is because the entire journey is about figuring out what works and what doesn’t work and honing your strategy along the way – because what works for one company, may not work for you. If you continue to build upon what you have learned, your strategy can only improve moving forward. You would never want to take two steps back in a game, nor would you want to in online advertising.

So when you’re looking for pay-per-click managers, you may want to ask if they play this game – because I’d venture to say if they do, it means they love thinking strategically (a requirement for any PPC manager). The fact that they play Settlers on a regular basis is not a requirement however, just a bonus :).

I’ll ask one more time: does your pay-per-click manager play Settlers? Or perhaps the more important question to be asked is, are they good at it?

One of the most common questions I’ve been getting lately is “should I be on Facebook?”  Well, yes. But why stop there? You should be on Twitter too. And while you’re at it … why not have a blog too?

As an SEO, I’m a huge advocate for social for more reasons than one, but mainly because social is now being integrated into my true passion: search results. Not to mention, an integrated marketing strategy is what gets you places.

1.       Filtered results options in Google

Google Real-Time: Google real-time search elicits results based on concurrent updates. As you search, Google is returning results happening at that exact moment. We’re talking live tweets (which coincidentally is another reason to be social). Now I don’t even have to be on Twitter to see the current trending topics. Talk about up-to-date!

Blogs: Another search filter option in Google is Blogs. This allows users to search for just blogs and nothing else. So in order to ensure results in this filter, you must have a blog, and you must be updating it frequently, because Google gives precedence to those blogs that are most up-to-date, since that’s what users are typically looking for. It should also be noted that the default search of “Everything” integrates blogs into the SERPs as well.

So what benefit do you receive as a company? Presence in the search engines beyond the traditional results. It’s simply not enough to be in the traditional results anymore. Times they are-a-changing; search results are ahead of the times, and you need to be too.

2.       Just last week Bing announced an innovative solution to search.

In a fairly new development, Bing is now integrating Facebook “Likes” into their search results. Bing attributes this initiative to the “Friend Effect”. What is the Friend Effect? I like to refer to it as word-of-mouth marketing; you may have heard of it. Bing’s thought process is this: when a user is at the beginning of the buying cycle, their initial action is going to be exploring user-feedback. Who uses your product? Do they like it? Does it solve their problems? Does it work the way they thought it would? Did it exceed their expectations? These are all questions we like to have answered before making a purchase, and as the product increases in price and value, the more questions we are likely to ask. So Bing thought, why not cut out a few days to several months of the buying cycle and answer these questions for the user immediately?

By seeing those results your friends “like” (and clearly trust), you can be assured knowing your friend’s stamp of approval is on this particular brand, and you can trust it too. Now you can skip filtering through an endless amount of review sites!

So how does this work? Simple: Look for the “thumbs up”. If you have lived anywhere other than under a rock, you know the symbol I’m referring to, and if you don’t, this post is for you.

If you’re searching in Bing for say “coffee shop”, you can see how many of your friends “like” Starbucks on Facebook. This way, if I’m interested in knowing whether or not those closest to me trust the brand, I have this information available right at my fingertips during initial brand comparison. Touché Bing.

Facebook Integration Into Bing

3.       Google and Social Accounts Connection

Similar to Bing, Google also gives preferential treatment to what your friends recommend.

So how does this one work?  If you are signed in to your personal Google account with the same Gmail account you registered with for sites such as Twitter and Flickr, you can see what your friends have shared, and those videos, articles, etc. your friends have shared are given preferential treatment in the results Google returns.

How can you apply this to your marketing strategy? If you have quality content users will want to share or “Retweet” for instance, Google will give your content more weight in the SERPs. See reason #4 for more information on the value of quality content.

As you can see below, when I’m signed in to my Google account, Google customizes my search results to what someone I follow on Twitter has shared. What’s cool about this is you don’t even have to be signed into Twitter, just Google.

Twitter Integration in Google

In the preceding search, I was signed into my Google account. In doing so, Google has ranked “Must Watch” much higher up than it would typically be ranking (as you can see below in the snapshot of the same search of which I am not signed into Google), simply because my friend on Twitter decided it was a link worth sharing. How cool is that?

SERP not logged into Google

4.       The Power of Twitter and The Value of a Retweet

This goes hand in hand with providing quality content that you hope will be shared and thus given preferential treatment in the search engines. The way to ensure this happens is quality content. The end goal in mind being the ‘retweet’: talk about viral. With the simple click of a ‘Retweet’ button, users who don’t even follow you are subject to your tweets by people they choose to follow, and we can safely assume, trust their opinion. Word-of-mouth marketing (yet again) anyone? I thought so.  Not to mention when you have a tweet that has been ‘retweeted’, you are more likely to appear in the Twitter search, and, if you’re lucky, perhaps even the coveted “Trending Topics”. More visibility on the Internet? I’ll take it.

So how do you get users to ‘retweet’ your tweets? By writing compelling tweets. And what’s more … the constant desire to compel users to hit the ‘retweet’ button forces you to be a better tweeter. And, speaking as an avid Tweeter, more high quality tweets make for a more high quality Twitter experience; one in which users will greatly appreciate.

5.       Meeting customers where they’re at

OK, so this one’s pretty obvious and it’s probably safe to assume you don’t need a whole lot of explanation, but whether it goes without saying or not, it’s a fact you simply can’t deny.  Facebook statistics show there are more than 500 million active users, while the average user has 130 friends and over 700 billion minutes are spent PER MONTH on this social platform. Twitter is following suit as users around the world begin to jump on the bandwagon. As if these statistics aren’t reason enough, you’re also meeting customers where they’re at in the search engines (you simply can’t deny your customers are using these) thanks to social integration; and this is accomplished simply by incorporating the social factor into your overall Internet marketing strategy. But, if you’re still not convinced from an SEO standpoint, at least recognize the value of dialoguing with your customers.

The significance of a search marketing campaign is simply undeniable in today’s market, and now social can act as a support system to your overall Internet marketing strategy. Social is here to stay; so basically I can sum this post up into one last ‘ground-breaking’ thought: if you’re not being social, you are missing out on the conversation.