Have you Optimized Your Paid Search Campaign Lately?

You may have optimized your website for the search engines, but what about the ads you run on them? While many of the principles are similar, profit-producing ad optimization requires some special preparation. Keep reading to find out what you need to do to encourage your visitors, keep track of your campaign, and more.

If you’re running a paid search, e.g., pay-per-click (PPC), campaign on Google or Overture, it’s important to understand that there’s more to campaign optimization than just bid management. A PPC campaign should be associated with a marketing strategy complete with actionable tactics, just like any marketing campaign. The following steps are intended to help you get the most out of your pay per click campaign and minimize “click-waste” – a brand new buzzword I just came up with which implies you are paying for clicks that don’t turn into leads or sales.

Optimize Your Ad Copy

Advertisers are drawn to PPC advertising because it is fast and easy to launch a campaign, and it is often very affordable compared to other forms of advertising. However, it is important to resist the temptation to quickly launch a campaign using one ad for multiple keywords. Ads are much more likely to draw in relevant, conversion-minded visitors if they restate the keyword in both the title and description. This takes some creative copywriting and is often impossible with Google ads due to strict character limitations. Nevertheless, most advertisers can get their keyword in either the title or description section of a Google ad and customize the ad enough so that it is a close match to the actual search term. Here is an example of a Google ad which is customized for two different keywords that could be running in the same campaign.

Keyword: blue widgets

High Quality Blue Widgets
Huge selection of blue widgets
in stock. Low-price guarantee.

Keyword: green glass widgets

Green glass widgets
Twelve shades of green glass plus
Guaranteed low prices. Widgetmania.

Both ads restate the keyword in the title. The second ad sacrifices the word “widgets” in favor of the main selling point (twelve shades of green). Each ad is clearly relevant to the search term in question and leaves room to pull the visitor in by touting the site’s low-price guarantee. There are really two incentives in both of these ads – the huge selection and the low price guarantee.

Differentiate your ad as much as possible from other ads that show up on the same search results page as you. Chances are if there are five ads that feature some sort of low price guarantee, but you are the only one with twelve shades of green glass, you’re the one people are going to click on. Ad copy should be refreshed at least monthly unless it is getting a consistently phenomenal clickthrough  rate (CTR) – generally three percent or higher. It’s easy to experiment with Google, but Overture is a bit trickier since it can take 3-5 days for new ad copy to be approved and added to circulation.

There’s no point in optimizing ad copy with the goal of increasing CTRs only to send your visitors to a suboptimal landing page. It is not recommended to send people directly to your home page unless there is a specific reason or there is simply no other alternative (e.g., there is a registration form on the home page that people must fill out prior to obtaining information on the site). A landing page should be relevant to the keyword people searched for, have a clear purpose (e.g., a registration form for an online contest, a specific product page or product category page, etc.) and contain clear call-to-action language (e.g., “buy today, sale ends Tuesday”).

As with ad copy, it can be very enlightening to study the landing pages of competitors when trying to craft your own. Here are some questions to ask yourself when doing landing page research.

  • Does this ad link to the site’s home page or an interior page that is relevant to the keyword I searched for?
  • What incentives are present on the page that would motivate a visitor to buy something, register or click deeper into the site?
  • Does the page look professional? How does my own landing page compare?

Once you’ve spent some time reviewing competitors’ pages and comparing your findings to your own site, you should have plenty of information to create your own compelling landing pages. Keep them brief and relevant and be sure to have your end-goal in mind (e.g., generating sales, motivating people to register, etc.)

Create An Incentive

It is counterproductive to pay for traffic if your site is not ready to court the visitors you attract through your paid search ads. It is highly recommended that you evaluate your site and make the necessary changes before you launch a paid search campaign or you will be losing money with every click. If your site doesn’t naturally promote sales via lots of call-to-action (“buy now”) language and/or it is not clear what you want your visitors to do (buy something, register for something, request a sample, etc.) then you should create an incentive prior to launching your PPC ad campaign.

Your incentive is intended to get people to buy something, or submit their information on the site for the purposes of registration or to request information. Some industries naturally lend themselves to incentives better than others. For example, a retail site could employ a sale, a low price guarantee or a rewards program to attract customers.

Content-only sites that don’t directly sell anything face the challenge of what to do with visitors once they get to the site. There are several ways you can get your visitors to either subscribe or request information via your site. Incentives for sites that don’t directly sell (e.g., a corporate Web site that does not directly sell products or services via a shopping cart on the site) could provide a tidbit of information that people want to download, a free information packet or a white paper. You are the expert in your field, after all. Ask yourself what information you have that other people may want.

There are several components you’ll need to provide to support your incentive. You will need a landing page to direct your ads to, a Thank You page for people who register on the site and a Thank You email that people receive after they’ve submitted personal information. You may need to create a Web-friendly file for people to download and/or an HTML page that people can print.

Although you may have done your keyword research or been running your ads for months, you are never truly finished with your “final” keyword list. Make sure you take the time to evaluate what keywords are bringing in the most qualified visitors in terms of leads and sales, and get rid of the dead weight. Terms that drive a campaign budget through the roof, but don’t seem to increase sales, should be removed or knocked down to a lower position. Terms that bring in lots of traffic that converts to leads or visits (I call these your “money” terms) should be carefully pruned to perfection so that you’re getting the most traffic (and thus sales) for the least amount of money per click possible.

You should continually ad new terms to your campaign and remove “dead weight” terms while monitoring and realigning campaign variables as necessary. Campaign variables include setting appropriate “match types” on both Google and Overture and making sure negative terms are added to prevent your ad from coming up for inappropriate searches and the introduction of new terms in the list.

Match types regulate when your ad shows up for a particular search. Google Match types are defined by Google as follows:

Broad match. This is the default option. When you include keyword phrases – such as tennis shoes – in your keyword list, your ads will appear when users search for tennis and shoes, in any order – and possibly along with other terms.

“Your ads may also automatically show for expanded matches, including synonyms and plurals. This means that Google will analyze your keyword list, ad text, and millions of daily Google search queries, and show your ads for relevant terms and variations (such as tennis sneakers), even if you didn’t include these terms in your keyword list.”

You might find that broad matches are too general for your purposes; they are certainly less targeted than Google’s other options. If you still want to run an ad featuring broad-matched keywords, you should plan to create keyword phrases containing at least two descriptive words.

The next narrower option is “phrase match,” which Google explains as follows:

Phrase Match – If you enter your keyword in quotation marks, as in “tennis shoes“, your ad will appear when a user searches on the phrase tennis shoes, in this order, and possibly with other terms in the query.”

Phrase match is strongly influenced by the order of the words, because it is the exact phrase that brings up the ad. So any search that contains your exact phrase — such as “red tennis shoes,” in this particular example — will bring up your ad. But it won’t come up for someone searching on the phrase “shoes for tennis.”

More specific still is the “exact match.” Google differentiates it from a phrase match in this way: 
 
Exact match. The search query must exactly match your keyword. This means “tennis shoes” will only match a user request for “tennis shoes” and not for “red tennis shoes,” even though the second query contains your keyword.”

Finally, there is the negative keyword, which can help you target your audience more exactly and not bring up your ad for visitors who are looking for something completely different. Google defines negative keywords in this way:
 
Negative keyword. Negative keywords allow you to eliminate searches that you know are not related to your message. If you add the negative keyword “–table” to your keyword “tennis shoes,” your ad will not appear when a user searches on “table tennis shoes.” Negative keywords should be used with caution, as they can eliminate a large portion of a desired audience if applied incorrectly.”

Overture offers standard and advanced match types which are defined by Overture as follows.

“The Standard match type displays your listings for exact matches to your keywords, as well as for:

  • singular/plural variations of your keywords
  • common misspellings of your keywords
  • topics that are highly relevant to your keywords
  • topics that are highly relevant to your titles and descriptions

The Advanced match type drives additional targeted leads to your business from Overture’s high-quality partner network of sites. It helps you grow your business while saving you time and effort by displaying your listings for a broader range of searches relevant to your keywords, titles and descriptions and/or web content.”

Applying the appropriate match types on Google and Overture will filter out the “tire kickers,” and keep your CTR high. It will also increase sales because your traffic will be more qualified.

Bid management is the act of monitoring your keyword bids and adjusting maximum bid amounts for the purpose of maintaining your ads’ position in the search results and/or lowering the cost of your campaign. It’s easy to become obsessed with managing your bids to the point of forgetting all the other components of your campaign. It’s also easy to completely neglect the bid management portion of your campaign only to discover you’ve spent $2,000 more than you intended to over the last month.

There are numerous articles about bid management available, so rather than restate in myopic detail exactly how to manage your bids on Google and Overture, I’ll leave you with some high-level suggestions.

You don’t need to be in the number one or two position to get great results from your PPC ads. These coveted spots are often much more expensive than positions further down the page. Although it is true that the top three positions will be distributed throughout Google and Overture’s partner sites, so what? If your ad is getting clicked on in the number six or seven spot and those people are converting, then you’re in business.

I’ve also seen many of Google and Overture’s partner sites displaying ads in the fourth or fifth position or even further down. Yahoo!, for example, will display Overture results on the second and third search results pages (Yahoo! owns Overture, so it has a stake in showing as many Overture ads as possible in its search results). Move your ads down and see what happens. If sales flat line for a week, then you can move those ads right back up, but you’ll never know unless you try and you just might be pleasantly surprised.

You should start low when it comes to bidding and move up as necessary. While it’s true that Google won’t show your ad as often if you bid lower than other advertisers, you may also be surprised at how much traffic you get for just $0.30/click compared with $1.27 for the same term. Also, ads that show up lower in the search results can provide a higher return in terms of sales than the number one or number two ads. People just aren’t ready to buy from the first store they see, particularly when there are ten stores to check out. Move your ad around to see what gets you the best response in terms of clicks and sales. To track sales, you’ll need to put some conversion tracking in place.

Tracking conversions

The final piece of the puzzle is conversion tracking. Anyone can look at impressions to clicks, but the true measure of a successful campaign is clicks to sales. Both Google and Overture offer free conversion tracking tools which are highly effective at determining what keywords are driving actual business to your site.

These tools involve pasting a bit of code onto the appropriate landing and/or shopping cart pages of your site. They allow you to see both the conversion rate and the cost per conversion per term. This is obviously very powerful information to have when you are trying to get the most for your ad budget. Google and Overture both allow you to see the amount of money that each term earns. Obviously this information is very persuasive when explaining to your senior manager or your client why they should carve out money in next year’s budget for PPC advertising.

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