What makes a great SaaS PPC campaign – or at the very least, what will make a SaaS PPC campaign just a little bit better?
In other words, what makes a SaaS PPC campaign built to last?
As I was thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that nearly all the client PPC spend that I was fortunate enough to manage in 2022 was SaaS related, and the answers to this question were right under my nose.
After analyzing my campaigns, there were a small handful of items that really seemed to stand out.
These are the most important principles and strategies that contributed to the SaaS PPC campaigns I manage, which I believe are built to last.
I wanted to start by bringing attention to the conversion action conversion window because this can be an overlooked part of the setup for SaaS PPC accounts.
(Find the conversion window for your conversion actions by going to Tools & Settings > Measurement > Conversion. Then click on a Conversion Action > Click Edit Settings.)
Many industries can go from ad click to paying customers in a few days, hours, or even minutes – but SaaS products can easily take 30 to 90 days or longer.
If you want to make sure your campaigns are receiving credit for every conversion that they earn, you will want to tweak the conversion window to make sure it is long enough to capture all conversions that result from your search and/or display campaigns, over the entirety of the average customer sales cycle.
While the default click conversion window for all new conversion actions in Google Ads is 30 days, you can manually set the attribution window for anywhere from 1 to 90 days.
You can also set the window for Engaged-view and view-through conversions as well.
Considering the average sales cycle for SaaS companies is 84 days, it’s important that you are not missing the opportunity to register all the conversions that your campaigns deserve.
Offline Conversion Tracking Setup
When discussing what can be done to improve PPC outcomes, conversion tracking is often at the top of the list.
While this is certainly true when it comes to B2B SaaS, there is one form of conversion tracking that could be the most important of all: offline conversion tracking (OCT).
Unless your SaaS business has a short, relatively simple sales cycle that is completed online from beginning to end, it’s highly likely that you will be unable to fully track a customer journey – from the first ad click to the moment they become a paying customer – without setting up OCT in your ad account.
Uploading data about all the conversions that were achieved offline (like the signing of a contract that turned a sales lead into an actual paying customer) allows Google Ads to complete the circle of the customer journey by appending the offline conversions to all the customer data that was gathered during the online portion of the sales cycle for that specific user.
As the algorithms in your account get more information about these offline conversions, your campaigns will become increasingly optimized, bid more effectively for high-value clicks, and produce more paying customers – and do this all with a lower cost per acquisition than you could have ever achieved without OCT.
There is a lot to know about setting up OCT, but if you would like to know more you can check out How To Track Offline Conversions From Your Google Ads by Tim Jensen.
Seasonality – Not Just The Weather
As SaaS companies are, by definition, selling software products, you may not consider seasonality a big factor. And when it comes to the physical changing of the weather, that might still hold true.
However, I found that “seasonality” can be a lot more than just changing weather and holiday shopping.
If you research the industry your SaaS product serves and look at past campaign data with a macro lens, you are likely to find numerous times throughout the year that your campaign data will spike or fall on a fairly consistent basis.
Some common “seasonality” that may affect your campaigns in positive or negative ways are:
Fiscal Year Schedules
The vast majority of businesses have the first day of their fiscal year on October 1 or January 1.
Many companies will be looking for new SaaS options around this time as they develop department budgets for the upcoming year.
Not only will businesses likely have a renewed budget, but your competitors might be spending significantly more or less on their marketing efforts near the end of their own fiscal year.
This can make your marketing costs go up if your competitor is frantically trying to spend their full budget by the end of the year.
Or possibly even provide an opportunity for cheaper conversions if your biggest competitor pulls way back on marketing spend near the end of the year so they don’t overspend on their yearly marketing budget.
Industry Trade Events & Publications
Do you run the marketing for a SaaS product that is popular among a specific industry that has a big, national conference every summer?
Maybe your product is popular among teachers, so you see a spike in searches every August and September as school districts assess their needs.
What about IT products? I personally know that every year, thousands of IT professionals put their searching and planning for new software on hold for the week or two that precede the annual release of the Gartner: Magic Quadrant report, which independently tests and rates IT security SaaS products.
Two weeks a year, I am struggling just to get clicks. But then, in the span of a one-day search, volume explodes with new prospects searching for the IT products at the top of the ratings.
Annual Product Releases
It has become trendy for the biggest players in each industry to put on huge conferences or product release events that get consumers excited about the releases planned for that year.
If your SaaS product serves one of these markets, you will likely see a spike in searches and clicks around these events, because people are excited and motivated by what they are seeing.
Or, you may see search volume fall, because all your potential customers aren’t concerned with anything except for the big event.
Either way, if you are in the B2B SaaS marketing game, you will likely find similar periods, every year, that end up being so predictable, they might as well be actual, “seasonal” events.
If you plan ahead for whatever market conditions are likely during these “seasons,” you will have a much easier time hitting your client’s goals on time and on budget.
Have you ever heard of the power of positive thinking?
Well, sometimes there is serious power in going negative!
When it comes to PPC for SaaS, going negative can save you buckets of money on irrelevant clicks, poor-quality leads, and a lot of downright fraud.
Not only that, but if your account is full of bad clicks and poor-quality “conversions,” then the algorithms that rule your campaigns will be fed with bad data.
Worst of all, the algorithms will then compound the problem by going out and finding you more of those horrible clicks – so it’s important to eliminate as much bad spend as possible.
Here are some of the best ways to eliminate destructive spend in your SaaS campaigns:
Basic Search Campaign Maintenance
I know it’s boring, but you need to perform regular keyword maintenance on search campaigns and constantly add new negative keywords for terms that are not converting or are unrelated to your product.
Here’s a quick and easy process to find negative keyword candidates:
- Choose a 7- to 30-day timeframe, and click Campaign > Keywords > Search Keywords.
- Sort by Cost, highest to lowest.
- Click to select the first one to five keywords, then in the blue bar at the top of the list click “Search terms.”
- This will take you to the Search Terms section of the campaign, but it will automatically be filtered to only show the search terms that came from the search keywords you previously selected.
Display Targeting & Placements Exclusions
This is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to bad spend and algorithm corruption.
The more money you spend on Display campaigns, the more necessary it is to consistently review the Placements Report.
When you see a placement that looks like a low-quality or spam site, add it as a Placement Exclusion to your Display campaigns.
Question-Related Search Terms
Questions can be a big money drain when it comes to SaaS products.
Unless you have a robust website that is designed with plenty of great information around commonly asked questions related to your product, it will save a lot of money if you add interrogatives – or more commonly called “question words” – to your keyword negatives.
Doing this will keep you from paying expensive search campaign prices in order to answer a user’s questions.
The vast majority of the time, when a user searches with a question word, they are very high in the “funnel” and very unlikely to convert – so if your funds are limited, consider eliminating questions from the keywords that you target.
Here is my favorite list of interrogatives to add as negative keywords to campaigns:
Bidding on the product names or company names of your direct competitors is not a practice exclusive to the SaaS industry.
However, I have never seen the type of direct competitor warfare, level of spending, time allocation, and grandstanding that you get with SaaS companies and their competitors.
Maybe it’s because there are often dozens of SaaS companies doing the same thing, but there is only room for a few big players.
Maybe it’s because a lot of SaaS companies are in Silicon Valley and there are big egos, with lots of money involved.
Whatever the reason, competitor campaigns are a different beast when it comes to SaaS, and they need to be approached differently than you may approach them in any other industry.
Here are the main takeaways I have found when it comes to targeting SaaS competitors with PPC.
A mentor of mine once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” That mentor was Yoda in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” And Yoda could not be more right.
The biggest decision you have to make when it comes to competitor campaigns is whether or not you will even decide to launch one.
You certainly don’t have to, and there are some good reasons to avoid it altogether – like, among other things, putting that money towards other campaigns that will be more efficient and profitable overall.
However, if you decide to create a competitor campaign, where you directly bid on branded, competitor keywords, you need to really understand why you are doing it and what benefit it will give you, and then really commit to providing the resources necessary to achieve the goals you choose.
Break Competitors Into Tiers
In the SaaS industry, going after every competitor you have is a sure way to fail.
It’s usually best to break out one to two competitors that you consider your main competition into a Tier 1 competitor campaign.
Create another campaign for Tier 2 competitors and fill it with three to six other competitors that, while not as big a threat as Tier 1, are still formidable.
Doing this will allow you to adjust how much budget you allot between competitors, and it will allow you more control over the targeting, ad copy, bid strategy, etc., for your two distinct tiers of competitors.
If you decide to join the competitor battle, a little planning can go a long way.
Obviously, you need to first decide how much of your budget you are going to allot to this endeavor.
I generally recommend allotting enough budget to obtain 10-25% of Search Impression Share, or up to 20% of your overall PPC budget – whichever is smaller.
Doing this will give you enough funds to be seen and show your competitors that you are in the fight, but not take too much away from more profitable campaigns.
You will need to plan for a higher cost per action (CPA), lower conversion rate (CVR), and lower keyword quality scores than other campaigns, so adjust your conversion and ROI expectations accordingly.
Be Clever With Ad Copy
While you actually can use competitor names in your search campaign ad copy, those ads will likely end up not being shown as much compared with ads that do not use competitor names.
So, it’s best if you can find a way to refer to your competitor without actually using their company or product name.
Challenge yourself to find a way to allude to your competitor or use well-known competitor brand language instead of directly stating their name.
Is Microsoft one of your main competitors? You can write an ad description line that says, “There’s nothing micro or soft about our solution to cloud database management.”
Not only will this stand out to your potential customers, but it will also drive your competitors crazy!
Always Run A Brand Campaign
While it’s definitely a topic that’s up for debate, I believe you should probably have a paid campaign, of some sort, that targets your own brand terms.
However, if you are going to be targeting your competitors’ brand terms with a campaign, it’s essential that you have a robust brand campaign for your own brand terms.
There are two main reasons for this.
First, you don’t want to leave your own brand vulnerable if you are seen targeting your biggest competitors.
They can, and likely will, create a competitor campaign of their own that targets your brand terms, and you don’t want to make it easy or cheap for them to run that campaign.
Second, a brand campaign is the easiest type of campaign to earn high-quality scores and get the cheapest possible clicks.
In turn, this makes it very difficult for your competitors to get more than a three or four quality score for your brand terms, thus making the clicks they receive quite expensive.
When it comes to PPC, especially PPC for SaaS, there is likely never a perfect solution or perfect decision when you are building and optimizing campaigns.
However, I would encourage you to test at least a few of the ideas mentioned above and find out for yourself if they can help to make your PPC SaaS account built to last.
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