Run Your Paid Search Like a Pro: Beginners Guide

Some tips to follow when getting started with your paid search marketing activity.

paid search pros

We hear from a lot of people who’ve run paid search campaigns in the past and haven’t been satisfied with the results, a lot of the time proper tracking isn’t in place to measure results in the first place or the campaigns were run badly.  If you’re planning on managing your own AdWords or Bing advertising then this guide is for you.  It’s true that paid search campaigns can become very expensive if they run incorrectly, so investing time up front to learn how the platforms work is well worth the effort.  Here goes:

Learning the Basics

Before you spend a single cent on PPC (pay per click), you need to understand exactly how it works.  For a start it’s the advertising model that has allowed Google, Facebook, and other PPC companies to amass so much money through advertising. And if you’re going to spend money on these services, you should know a bit about how it all works.

PPC ads on Google are those little text ads that appear next to your search when you make a query.  Companies pay Google when someone clicks on the ad.  Imagine a world where Google lets anybody place any ad next to any search term, things would get messy very quickly and people would STOP paying attention to the ads.  Therefore, Google wants to correctly link ads to relevant searches, and they want those ads to be of top-notch quality.  That way, searchers aren’t turned off by the ads and companies can get a great conversion rate from the targeted traffic they attract.

This is done through a combination of a bidding process and a set of quality scores that Google uses behind the scenes to choose which ads actually appear and how much you pay per click.  This video has an excellent rundown showing how the process works:

So by focusing on your ad relevance you can actually pay LESS per click than your next closest competitor, thanks to the “quality” component of Ad Rank (make your ads and landing pages as relevant as you possibly can).

Analytics is Queen

There is a saying in internet marketing that content is king, but actually it is analytics that really rules the roost.  Analytics is the key to understanding what works and what doesn’t in digital marketing.  An analytics software package like Google Analytics (free!) is crucial, and we use it every day at Digital Ninjas.  We are massive data boffins.  When we take on a new client, our first priority is to set clear objectives for the campaign and how we plan to measure progress using analytics software before we begin.  That way we can prove ROI to the customer.

However, understanding analytics software isn’t easy (although it’s definitely getting easier).  There are a lot of acronyms and concepts to grasp.  A wrongly-interpreted report can send you down the wrong path. Moz.com, one of the best SEO sites on the web, has a beginner’s guide to Google Analytics that will help you take your first steps with this powerful tool.

Google Analytics and Google Adwords have integrated tools that help you leverage the power of both.  Google released a best practices guide for linking together Google Analytics and Google Adwords.  It may be long, but we highly recommend this!

Here are some of the most basic analytics data points that you need to be aware of to run a successful PPC campaign:

  • Conversions: This is what you’re doing it for. What’s your business objective? Whether it’s lead generation, online sales or to generate phone calls – you can measure all of these “conversions” and more using Google Analytics.
  • Clicks: How many times your ad was clicked.
  • Clickthrough rate (CTR): A percentage of the number of times people saw your ad compared to clicking it.
  • Daily and monthly spend: How much you’re spending each day and month and how it fluctuates over time.
  • Impression share: If this is below 70%, your ads aren’t getting viewed as much as they could!
  • Conversion rate: The number of actions taken (conversions) divided by the total number of users.  The higher the percentage then the more likely an ad is to convert to customers/leads!

Keyword selection

The single biggest mistake you can make with your PPC campaign is to pick the wrong keywords.  Google doesn’t know what your business does, so it relies on you to provide the right keywords you think will work best with your ads.  If those keywords don’t align with a users search intent, then you’ll send ads to the wrong queries, your Ad Rank will drop, and you’re going to have a bad time.

Keyword research is crucial to maximize your ROI, and there is a tool in Adwords called Keyword Planner that is the bread-and-butter tool for keyword research.  Way too many people use this tool improperly.  They start with a generic keyword and immediately look at the Average Cost per Click column and use that as their guide for which keywords to select.

Unless your company is that hard up for cash, that’s not the column you should be looking at. Take a look at Google’s guide to basic keyword selection.  CPC isn’t mentioned anywhere, and that’s not because Google wants you to spend more money.  Remember, the price for an ad is primarily determined by how much your competition is willing to spend.  This quite often means that the keywords that convert at the highest rate are likely to be the most expensive – what matters here is that you look at what your business can afford to pay in order to generate sufficient return on the investment you make in AdWords.

Over time, and with data, keyword selection can become a refined art, but in the beginning you need keywords that relate to your business niches.  PPC ads are usually linked to groups of 5-20 related keywords.  If you’re a dentist, for instance, you could have one ad promoting cosmetic dentistry, one promoting children’s dentistry, and another promoting emergency dentistry.  Your keywords should match the intent of the ad.  You wouldn’t put adcopy that relates to dentures under children’s dentistry, and toothache might be best for emergency dentistry.

Later, when you have some data on your campaign, learn about negative keywords (keywords to exclude) and match types to further enhance your keyword selections.

Use all the tools you can

Google wants companies to use their PPC tools. It’s their way to make money, so they go out of their way to provide you with a lot of tools.  Almost overwhelmingly so.  But there are a few tools that every PPC ad campaign should use to get the best ROI.

One of the most important is limiting the geographic range where your ad is displayed.  Most businesses are not national, but we have seen a lot of companies come in with a campaign and see that they’re advertising to the entire country.  Google lets you select specific post codes or distances from a city as the range your ad will display in.  Always use this.  Not only will it make your ads a bit cheaper, it will bring in more targeted customers.

If you watched the video on the ad auction process, you will have seen a brief intro to ad formats.  Those super-fancy ads you see lately with phone numbers, full URLs, addresses, and other information beyond the bare text ad are helpful in giving people more information.  Use them as much as you can.  Check out the “ad extensions” settings in AdWords to get started.

Google wants to help your business succeed.  The better you make your ads, the more they’ll want them displayed and the cheaper your ad rate will be.  Use all the tools they have to assist you, and that includes their useful help pages!

Test and test again, smartly

All PPC campaigns must evolve over time, and that means you need to learn how to test your ads for constant improvement.  Split testing and other testing methods are crucial.  Without testing, and accurate analytics on your testing, every tweak you make will be a shot in the dark.

However, don’t go the other extreme and test excessively.  Testing must be done like a scientist.  You need a methodical plan of what you are testing, why you’re testing it, and what results you expect to receive.  In practice, most test tweaks don’t move the needle significantly.  Of those that do, about half will work well and half will not.  It’s much like a bell curve.  You have to hit the tails to really see significant improvement.

An article on Search Engine Land talks about some other testing myths and how you can test smartly for your pages.  It’s a good place to start. To learn how to actually test, again, Google’s help pages are indispensable.  Also, always remember that testing means testing both your PPC ad and your landing page.  Google calculates the quality score component of Ad Rank based on both!

PPC is trickier than it first appears, but it can be learned and used to full advantage for your business.  Sticking to best practices like the ones you’ve just learned will keep you from making major mistakes while you surmount the learning curve.  Once you get a grip on it, and you start seeing results, we think you’ll be quite pleased at the increased business you get.  Make a commitment in 2016 to learn PPC or get a Ninja to do it for you.