Bidding & Optimization Strategies for the Modern Search Marketer
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When it comes to PPC and AdWords, marketers view it a lot like exercise – we love to see the results, but we hate all the work it requires.
The challenge with AdWords is that the most subtle changes in CPCs, quality scores, and click-through rates can have a big impact. It requires a lot of trial and error to get it right.
Let’s say that you’re spending $0.35 a click and losing $0.10 per website visitor.
With a $100 budget, you only lose $1. If you scale this budget to $1M, you’ll end up losing $100,000. When it comes to AdWords, even a penny can make a world of difference.
And if you’re busy chasing every last dime, you risk losing sight of the bigger picture – the profits that you’re driving from your marketing campaigns.
The key to succeeding on AdWords is this:
Stop sweating the small stuff.
Position the pesky details to your advantage with these 6 quick-to-implement tactics:
1. Stop Dwelling on Your Marketing Budget
Everything with PPC is measurable. You can clearly see how much money you’re making and how much your spending. This difference is your margin, and this is the number you should be looking to maximize.
Often digital marketing budgets are set too low. Today’s digital marketers (rightfully) assert that PPC advertising is a revenue-generating operation. If you’re generating a positive ROI on your investment, then it doesn’t make sense to restrict your spending.
If your PPC campaigns are generating an ROI, amplify your budget. Do it slowly and steadily before letting the firehose run.
Scott Walker, CEO at Underwater Audio — a company that sells waterproof iPods — describes this type of advertising opportunity
But keep in mind, your metrics need to be spot-on. As Walker points out:
“You need to be confident in how you’re tracking things and how much your costs are. Otherwise you could be spending a dollar and only getting $0.50.”
Focus on maximizing your margins by driving the highest possible margins at the lowest possible CPCs. Create compelling ads so that your click-through rates are as high as possible – remember that click-through rates from compelling ads will also help drive down your costs.
When your campaigns are fully optimized in terms of CPC, CTR, and margin at the micro-level, you’ll be in a strong position to lift your budget and scale up the spending on your campaigns.
2. Improve Your Landing Page Quality
Worried that you’re spending too much on your CPCs? That’s because you probably are. If you’ve poked around in AdWords, you’ve probably seen quality scores rated on a scale of 1-10 for each keyword that you’re bidding on.
Google designed this scoring process to encourage advertisers to run high-quality creatives. This scoring process also keeps the AdWords marketplace competitive.
So what exactly is a quality score, and can you influence it?
- A quality score is an estimate of how relevant your ads, keywords, and landing page are to a person seeing your ad. Having a high quality score means that your ad is relevant to your audience.
- Marketers can influence quality scores by ensuring that their marketing messaging is accurate and to the point. High-quality, relevant landing pages (with quantifiably strong user experiences) can also keep your quality scores high.
High quality scores are important because they can reduce your CPCs and ensure that your ads are highly competitive in the AdWords marketplace.
This strategy is a valuable investment of your time – not because you’ll save a few bucks on Google, but because you’ll legitimately improve conversion rates and user engagement for your business.
Get started with the following steps:
Step 1: Make sure that your ad copy aligns with what you’re actually advertising. Deliver a cohesive and succinct marketing message.
Step 2: Customize your landing pages to your audience and ad copy. This alignment will ensure that your marketing messaging is relevant and focused.
Step 3: Implement Google Analytics to study user engagement metrics on your site, paying particular attention to bounce rates and time on page. These metrics provide cues to Google that website visitors are actually interested in the offer that you’re advertising on AdWords.
Step 4: Ensure that your landing pages are social media friendly. Social sharing activity provides an indication that people actually like your product. It’s a validation of your brand to other customers (which will affect user engagement metrics and sales, while showing Google the value of your ads).
3. Prepare for Cross-Platform Experiences
According to a recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 57% of adults use their cell phones to browse the Internet. If you’re not sure how this trend relates to your business, take a quick look at your website analytics and traffic sources.
What proportion of your users are visiting your website from a mobile device? How many of them are entering your website through an AdWords campaign?
The answer to that question is easy. Now, you need to take a good, critical look in the mirror and ask yourself something.
How many of these mobile visitors aren’t converting? Probably quite a few.
The reality is that most business websites aren’t optimized for a mobile experiences. As of January 2013, the Interactive Advertising Bureau reported that only 57% of the top 100 brands are well-prepared with a mobile-friendly site.
The truth is that you should be optimizing your AdWords campaigns for mobile website visitors – before they even visit your website.
Just think about a typical mobile user experience. When you’re on a phone, you want information quickly. You don’t want to type or text excessively. Sometimes, you just want to get a customer service rep on the line.
If you’re running PPC campaigns, make it easy to convert right then and there using Google’s Click-to-Call feature. As Greg Sterling points out in an article for MarketingLand, you can include your phone number in a Google SEM ad.
Time Warner Cable launched mobile ad campaigns to reach users who needed information immediately. According to data from Google, mobile conversions grew to generate 10% of all digital sales in just three months. Time Warner also reported a 30% reduction in per-customer acquisition costs and saw a conversion rate three times that of PC search results.
Still not convinced? Try this: Starwood Hotels implemented Google’s Click-to-Call feature. Since then, Starwood has seen a 20x increase in mobile paid search ROI and mobile booking growth of 20%, month over month. That’s because they’re using their Google ads as a direct response tool to reach prospects who are looking to book a hotel immediately.
The not-so-secret ingredient for success on mobile? Common sense. Make it as easy as possible for prospects to get in touch with your company, directly from your PPC campaigns.
4. Pair Social and Search Advertising
According to a recent study from digital marketing tech company Kenshoo, paid search ads are more effective when coupled with other advertising channels.
The study analyzed data from a reputable retailer and found that when a person is exposed to a brand’s Facebook ads and paid search ads together, there was a 30% higher return on ad spending than when a person was exposed to paid search ads alone. Moreover, average order values increased by 24%, and customer acquisition costs decreased by 4.5%.
Consumer psychology is likely to be influencing this trend. People are repeatedly seeing products and companies that they’ve potentially shown interest in. As Kenshoo puts it, “social advertising was able to positively impact consumer awareness and perception of the brand.”
5. Optimize Your Enhanced Sitelinks
Google Enhanced Sitelinks will essentially allow you to roll 5 ads into one. This advertising feature will allow you to expand your marketing message and simultaneously reach more than one audience. For instance, you can test out different language and calls to action in your ad copy.
Notice, for instance, how CrazyEgg uses this feature to connect with potential free trial subscribers and paying customers:
According to Google, ads with sitelinks will generate, on average, a 30% higher click-through rate than standalone ads. That’s because marketers can experiment with different advertising messages and value propositions to reach audiences with diverse interests.
Take a look at the following case study from WordStream to understand how Google Enhanced Sitelinks can potentially boost conversion rates. The author, Jason Gannon, analyzed how Enhanced Sitelinks would affect performance for an online shoe retailer in Canada.
In addition to measuring overall CTR, Gannon monitored each individual sitelinks’ contribution to performance. The case study found that each individual upgraded sitelink made a significant impact to clicks and conversions. And as you know, even the slightest bump in conversion rate can generate significant incremental business for your company.
6. Increase Your Affordability
Imagine what you could achieve with your PPC ad strategy if you could afford just a little bit more. With higher CPCs, you may be able to raise bids enough to afford a firehose of high converting traffic.
The good news is that you can probably afford more. The bad news is that it’s going to take a little bit of math (and teeth pulling) to figure out the right number.
Let’s use some hypothetical data:
- After running PPC campaigns, you generate $500 in direct response conversions.
- After monitoring these users, you find that all become repeat buyers and generate $1,000 (combined) over the next year.
- You find this pattern to be relatively consistent.
- You find that Google AdWords has become extremely competitive – a $300 ad spend will barely generate any traffic with the CPCs you’re facing.
In this case, you can raise your marketing spend to CPCs that will take you in between a $500 and $1,000 range. You will be margin-negative based on short-term performance data. When you look at performance data over the course of the year, your campaigns will look much healthier.
You’ll actually be making money – and because of the added flexibility in your budget, you will be boosting your web traffic and conversion numbers too.
Final Thoughts: Rely on Metrics to Experiment
Don’t be afraid to test the waters as you learn more about what works (and what doesn’t) for your business. But make sure that your metrics are iron-clad. If you’re not capturing all of your ROI data, you could be losing money or missing out on key opportunities to bid higher for traffic.
Whatever your strategy, be sure to conduct regular testing to make sure you’re keeping up with the most effective strategies. PPC is constantly changing, and it takes work to remain ahead of the curve. But a little investment up front can have big payoffs when it comes to running an effective AdWords campaign.
Image credits: Hankinsphoto.com via Flickr Creative Commons, screenshot of Google.com, screenshot of www.underwateraudio.com, screenshot of www.google.com/adwords, screenshot of Google.com, all taken 12/9/2013