Incredible numbers of businesses, many of them your competitors, continue to pour time and money into paid search. The reason? There is a lot of valuable traffic and new customers to be gained there. But it’s not an easy (or cheap) process—getting a return that justifies the expense takes careful planning and precise execution. Many business owners have a lingering feeling that they should at least be experimenting with paid search but are understandably reluctant begin.
Probably the single most compelling characteristic of paid search is the tremendous amount of data you’re able to collect in order to make decisions and improve the performance of your campaigns. But when you’re just getting started you don’t have any of that data, so starting off on the right foot is challenging. What’s more, it’s in the interest of the search engines to get you to spend as much money as possible right out of the gate so their default settings—and the advice of their representatives—are often at odds with your own goals.
We put together this list of 12 tips that will give you the best chance of starting off on the right foot before you have any data at your fingertips to make increasingly more informed decisions. This guide is intended to be closer to a FAQ than a complete list of all the considerations inherent in launching PPC. That said, we think that if you follow these tips you’ll be off to a great start.
1. Build Out Keywords In Excruciating Detail
The best advice when you are building out your keywords is to overdo it. Include as many long tail keywords as you reasonably can with as many modifiers as you can conjure. That does not mean you should be including lots of short, general keywords that are only somewhat related to your business, products and services. It means you should come up with as many keywords as possible that are extremely specific and targeted toward your business.
As an example, a job shop that specializes in screw machining may be tempted, in the interest of saving time on the front end, to launch a campaign using a handful of general keywords like ‘machining,' ‘CNC machining' and ‘screw machining’ with loose match types in order to capture any long tail traffic. However, it’s absolutely worth spending the time to systematically build out as many of the long tail searches you hope to capture as possible. This means including keywords with modifiers for materials, synonyms, processes, equipment types, capacity and more. To give just a few examples in that case, include keywords for ‘aluminum CNC machining supplier’ or ‘swiss machining shops’ or ‘live tooling screw machining.’ It’s not uncommon to launch a new PPC account, even for a client with a relatively narrow focus, with well over 1,000 keywords … often times many more. A handful of more general keywords will still drive the lion’s share of your volume, but there will still be a huge amount of value in the long tail.
This allows you to begin collecting data right from the beginning on what specific searches are truly driving your traffic, costs and conversions. There will be no mystery about what role long tail searches are playing compared to high volume general keywords. In the future, when you may decide you need to sacrifice some volume in order to reduce costs and improve ROI, you’ll have all the information and data you need to make truly informed decisions at the keyword level. There is a significant time investment on the front end, but with what you’ll spend over the life of that campaign, the ability to make better decisions and improve campaign efficiency in the future will make that time well worth it.
We recommend building out keyword lists using Excel to take advantage of functions such as Find/Replace and Concatenate to build your list efficiently. Then that list can be bulk loaded, saving a ton of time over working solely in the Adwords or Bing user interfaces.
2. Split Your Keywords Into Extremely Specific Ad Groups
Make sure you are also breaking up your keywords into very specific ad groups based on modifying elements in your keywords like material, process, equipment, capacity, etc. This will benefit you in a couple key ways in the future.
First, it will provide a lot of ease and clarity in reporting in the future. You’ll be able to easily pull ad group reports that will simply and clearly show you which types of keywords are driving search volume, clicks, cost and conversions. There won’t be any difficulty identifying whether searches that specify they are looking for a supplier that can work with aluminum are more or less valuable than searches looking for a shop that can work with bronze.
Second, ad copy is set at the ad group level. Breaking keywords out into very targeted and specific ad groups allows you to present very targeted and specific ad copy. If somebody has specified in their search that they need a supplier that is able to work on prototypes, your ad copy should be talking about working with prototypes. It will have a huge impact on your click through rate which means you won’t have to rely solely on aggressive bidding and top ad positions in order to capture the traffic you are after
3. Use Modified Broad Match For Your Long Tail Keywords
For the long tail keywords in your campaigns, we suggest using Modified Broad Match and requiring that each individual word in your keywords be included in the query (using the ‘+’ sign syntax) in order to trigger your ad. Try to avoid using plain old Broad Match because it just matches to too many unrelated searches. But by using Modified Broad Match on long tail keywords, you can be sure that any searches you are appearing for are a pretty qualified match that you wouldn’t want to miss. At the same time, Modified Broad Match is inclusive enough enough that you don’t risk missing out on traffic from searches with slight variations that may be filtered out with Phrase or Exact Match.
4. Use Multiple Match Types For Your Most General Keywords
For your shorter, more general keywords, we recommend including variations of those words in [Exact], “Phrase” and +Modified +Broad +Match. Often times, particularly with more general keywords that will be high volume, there will be substantial differences in traffic quality and performance based on match type. By including them all from the start you’ll be segmenting that traffic and can increase bids, decrease bids or pause poor performing variations in the future based on the data you collect.
5. Include Branded Keywords
There is an ongoing debate on whether to include branded keywords like your own company name or URL. The argument against is basically: “Why would I serve ads for these keywords and pay for those clicks if I am already in the first organic position?” Well, it generally does make sense to advertise on branded terms for a number of reasons. The traffic tends to be cheap and the conversion rates astronomical, so why not capture as much real estate as possible on results pages for your branded terms? In many cases you’ll find that competitors are also bidding on your branded terms, which means you can’t risk ceding those most valuable of visitors to competitors. Plus, your quality scores on those keywords is going to be great which will likely pull up your account’s quality score and strengthen non-branded keyword performance.
The debate will undoubtedly go on, but you’re in no position to make a personalized decision for your own company if you don’t have any data about the search volumes, traffic, CPC and conversions rate of branded terms. Include those keywords from the start and make decisions about them later when you have some real data. We suspect you’ll find they perform so well that the savings associated with eliminating them is nothing when compared to the risk of losing any of that extremely valuable traffic.
6. Don’t Forget The Most Obvious Negative Keywords
Over time you’ll have the opportunity to pour through search term data and cultivate a long list of negative keywords to help you weed out irrelevant and low quality impressions. It will take a long time to build that list, and you should devote time to it. But as you’re just getting started, be sure to spend some time thinking about the big, obvious ones that can give you a big CTR advantage right off the bat. For example, if you are selling electrical transformers, you should realize that there is going to be a lot of traffic out there searching for things related to the Transformers action figures and movies. You’ll get off to a much better start if you take a few minutes to include negatives for ‘movie,’ ‘action figure,’ ‘cartoon,’ ‘toys,’ ‘actors,’ ‘Shia LaBeouf,’ ‘Megan Fox,’ ‘IMDB,’ etc. Take at least a few minutes thinking about what overlap your keywords may have with other nonrelated topics with a lot of search volume. It’s an easy and painless step with a lot of benefit, but it’s also easy to overlook.
7. Opt Out Of The Display Network
As a default, Google and Bing will opt you into the Display Network as well as the Search Network. It’s a deplorable practice designed to get you to spend (or waste) your money. You should NEVER be opted into both the Search and Display Networks with the same campaigns. They are different beasts that should be ALWAYS be managed and reported separately. The vast majority of my clients find far more value and better returns in the Search Network. You may want to experiment with the Display Network later, but if you are just getting started, put your focus on Search and always keep Display campaigns separate.
8. Delivery Method: Set Your Budget Delivery Method To Accelerated
We recommend at least starting your campaigns with the Delivery Method set to ‘Accelerated: Show ads more quickly until budget is reached’ rather than the default setting of ‘Standard: Show ads evenly over time.’ The likelihood is that you want to start PPC cautiously and with a relatively low budget. That means you are likely to hit your budget limits and the search engines will limit your number of ad impressions. When that happens, it can be difficult to know just how much your budget is limiting your ad impressions.
Budget limits are an inefficient way of restraining your costs. You are far better off controlling your spend by reducing bids and pausing poorly performing keywords. That way you can reduce CPC or eliminate low quality traffic, thereby improving your ROI. Simply using the budget cap to artificially and inefficiently limit your spend means you miss the opportunity to reduce cost per conversion at the same time.
By setting to ‘Accelerated,’ if your campaigns are being ‘Limited by Budget’ you can view your impressions by hour of the day in the Dimensions tab and see at what point in the day your impression become restricted. If your ads are shutting off very early in the day, you’ll know you can reduce your bids substantially. If that happens very close to the end of the day, you’ll want to make less aggressive bid reductions so that spend doesn’t drop significantly below your intended amount.
9. Start A Small Ad Copy Test On Your Most General And High Volume Ad Groups
You have very few characters to work with in the body text of your ad copy (70 characters), which means you have to choose your words very wisely. The best way to do that is to test different variations; however, when you are getting started it probably isn’t worth the time to do a very large test with multiple ad variations in each and every ad group. We recommend starting off with a small test just in a few of your most general ad groups which are likely to be the highest volume. You might include several variations that each emphasize something different like ‘Free Shipping,’ ‘Fast Turnaround,’ ’30+ Years Experience,’ or ‘Fast Quotes.’ You can then see which ads are performing better in your test and implement the best phrases more broadly across the entire account. In the future, it will likely be a good idea to conduct more comprehensive and thorough ad copy testing, but we recommend starting with a small scale test like this right off the bat. It can point you in the right direction quickly with a minimal amount of time and effort.
10. Show Ads Evenly For 90 Days
When you use the default setting to ‘Optimize for Clicks’, Google seems to start favoring one ad variation over others a bit more quickly than we're comfortable with. Since you’ve taken the time to create multiple ad variations to test ad copy, it’s worth giving them time to collect statistically significant data before settling on one. By changing the default setting to ‘Show ads more evenly for at least 90 days, then optimize,’ you are sure to collect enough data for any conclusions to be justified. Plus, if you don’t get around to analyzing your results and choosing an ad variation yourself in a timely manner, you can sleep soundly knowing that after 90 days Google will jump in and make the decision for you based on the data you’ve collected over that time.
11. Device Setting And Bid Modifiers
Setting bid modifiers to increase or decrease bids based on whether the user is on a desktop or mobile device should be a very data driven process. But when you are first launching you won’t have any data on which to rely. That doesn’t mean you can’t make some informed guesses and try to get started in the right direction. Just think about your site and what you are hoping your customers will do on it. If you don’t currently have a mobile optimized site (which you should) or your conversion process involves filling out a lengthy and detailed RFQ , you can probably guess that traffic from mobile is less likely to convert. Take a guess at how much less likely you think they will be to convert on a phone. If your gut says they’ll be 30% less likely to convert, set a modifier to reduce bids by 30% for mobile visitors.
Though the difference is shrinking all the time, most businesses still find that conversion rates are lower for mobile traffic. It stands to reason that you would therefore want to pay less for that traffic. However, if your most valuable conversion activity is a download of your fancy new mobile app, you may be willing to pay a premium for mobile traffic. Think about your business, your site and the nature of your conversions and take a guess at how the value of each type of traffic differs. Then implement bid modifiers accordingly. Just be sure not to let those assumptions control your bid strategy once you do have data that can inform the decision much more accurately.
12. Ad Scheduling For Business Days And Hours
Take the same approach to ad scheduling and day-of-the week modifiers as you do with device modifiers. If you are a B2B company that offers little to people in their leisure time, it’s likely you’ll see better conversion rates during business hours than at night or on weekends. Consequently you’d likely be willing to pay more to acquire traffic during business hours. But that doesn’t mean there is no value to traffic that comes through on nights and weekends. People are electing to search for your keywords during those times after all. So use your gut to set bid modifiers so that you still attract that off-hours traffic but are paying less for it. Conversely, if you’re business is attractive to hobbyists (I’m thinking custom auto parts) and those are good customers for you, consider paying more for traffic on nights and weekends. You intuitively know your customers so make some guesses about how much traffic value differs based on timing and set bid modifiers accordingly. Just don’t forget to go back and make more precise judgments once you’ve collected the data to do so.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the uncertainties you’ll face when launching a new paid search account. Your performance will always improve over time once you are able to make more informed, datadriven decision. But you ultimately have to bite the bullet and get started anyway if you ever hope to harness the tremendous value in PPC. Following these tips will get you started on the right track and allow you to begin collecting the data you’ll need to make increasingly wise decisions down the road.
If you need some help getting started, contact Team Thomas.
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