Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising - or search-engine advertising - can be one of the most cost-effective ways of driving new traffic to your website.
It is suitable for any size of business and can be run on relatively tight budgets. But it is important to do some groundwork before embarking on your online advertising campaign; the easiest way to make a small fortune with Google Adwords is to start with a large one!
A number of PPC platforms exist but we're going to look at the biggest player, Google Adwords, and see how you can get the best bang for your buck and score high on Google rankings.
How does Google Adwords work?
Google Adwords is a PPC online advertising service. As the name suggests, pay per click means that you only pay when someone clicks on your advert.
You bid for keywords and control the amount you spend by setting a daily budget and the maximum cost per click (CPC) that you are willing to pay when someone clicks on your advert.
Google Adwords adverts appear on Google's website (www.google.co.uk) and some search partners who use Google and its 'content network' - a network of external websites which carry Google Adwords adverts themselves.
Exactly where and how often your advert appears will depends on a number of factors: how large your overall budget is, how much you are willing to spend in relation to your competitors and something called your 'quality score'. Details of how your quality score is calculated isn't made publically available by Google, but ensuring your keywords, advert and website are all relevant (ie, when someone types in 'tennis rackets' they see an advert about tennis rackets, and when they click on your advert it takes them to a page about tennis rackets on your website) is important.
Exactly where and how often your advert appears will depends on a number of factors: how large your overall budget is, how much you are willing to spend in relation to your competitors and something called your 'quality score'
We're using the example of a sports goods website to illustrate how to ready your website and set up a campaign.
Preparing a Google Adwords campaign
The first (and most often overlooked) thing you need to do before you use Google Adwords is to get your website ready to receive the influx of visitors; you're paying for each one so you have to make the most of them!
Is your visitor seeing content relevant to them and what they searched for to get to you?
As Google Adwords allows you to direct people to specific pages on your website, if someone types in 'tennis rackets' they should see a page with tennis rackets on. But if they type 'Dunlop Aerogel 200 tennis racket' then they should be taken to that specific product's page.
This sounds obvious but so many people don't do this. When running a PPC campaign you might use 'landing pages', pages hidden to the usual visitor but which are tailored specifically to greet people arriving from the advert they've just clicked.
Is there an obvious 'call to action' - ie, something you want them to do as a result of coming to your site: buy a product, make an enquiry, sign up to a newsletter? Do people know what they're supposed to do next?
Can you track visitors? Ensure you have website statistics software.
Google Analytics and many others are free and give you comprehensive information about your visitors, how they got to you and what they did while on your site.
Without this information it's hard to understand some of the finer details of how to improve your site over the longer term.
You can track direct 'conversions' from your adverts. Google Adwords provides a small piece of code for you to insert on a page which appears after a sale/enquiry (whatever your 'conversion' criteria is - eg, your 'thanks for signing up to my newsletter' page) and this will let give you hard data to see even which adverts are bringing you the most business.
Once you're happy that your website is ready, you can set up your Google account and run your first campaign.
Setting up your Google Adwords account
If you already use any Google service such as Analytics or Gmail then you can manage your Adwords campaign through that account. Otherwise visit www.google.co.uk/adwords and follow the instructions there to set one up from scratch.
Tip: if you are going to use Google Analytics, it is worth setting Adwords up using the same Google account as they will then integrate properly and make your stats easier to analyse.
Your first campaign
Before you can get going there is some campaign-specific advance work and research to do.
Decide on the following:
- Budget. How much are you going to allow for your campaign each day and month? This will inform other things such as the keywords you bid on. For example, if you have a monthly budget of £300, don't bid on popular (and therefore expensive) keywords such as, say, 'tennis', and quickly eat up your limited budget. Many people searching for 'tennis' won't even be looking for rackets.
- Geographic focus. Where do you offer your services and want to attract customers from? Do you have nationwide coverage? Or are you a plumber in Nottingham who only wants to cover the Nottingham area?
- Content network or search network (or both). You can elect to have your adverts display on either the search network or the content network, or both. In general, it's best to start on just the search network as it's easier to control who looks at your adverts. While the content network can add substantially to your traffic and therefore looks rather seductive on the face of it, it's more of a scattergun approach and often drains your budget quickly and results in lower conversions - not what you want on a tight budget.
- Account Structure. The account holds one or more campaigns, which in turn can hold different ad groups. An ad group consists of a set of keywords and one or more adverts which are displayed when someone types in the keyword.
Campaigns are where you set the budget and geographic focus. Ad groups should be set up within campaigns in a logical way.
For example, our sports shop may initially set up a campaign for tennis rackets, and within this, a number of ad groups for particular models of tennis rackets.
- Campaign - tennis rackets
- Ad group - Dunlop tennis rackets
- Keywords - Dunlop tennis racket, Dunlop Aerogel 200, Dunlop rackets, etc...
- Advert - 'Latest Dunlop rackets available to buy online now - free delivery'
Keyword research - at the heart of a PPC campaign is picking the right keywords to bid on; pick the wrong ones and you could end up spending a lot of money on getting the wrong visitors to your website. Google provides an excellent free keyword tool (do a search for 'keyword tool' on Google, it will be the first result) which will generate a list of suggestions for keywords from any 'starter' keyword you give it. It will give you indicative statistics of how many people search on those terms per month and how much you will have to bid to get your advert into the first one or two positions most of the time.
Things to bear in mind when selecting keywords:
- Learn about different 'matching types', whether 'broad' (how many searches are done monthly including these words), 'phrase' (how many monthly searches match the exact phrase) or 'exact match' (how many monthly searches match the exact phrase exclusively) is right for your selection.
- Unless you've got a huge budget, don't get sucked into bidding on terms with high search volumes. Chances are, most won't be relevant, eg, the word 'tennis' had 7.5 million searches last month, 'tennis racket' had 135,000 and 'Dunlop tennis racket' had 1,000. Which do you think might be searched on by people looking to buy a tennis racket, rather than people looking for the latest Wimbledon scores?
- Think about negative keywords. These are words which you don't want your advert to appear against. For example, you might want your advert to appear for 'tennis rackets' but not for 'cheap tennis rackets' so you'd pick 'cheap' as a negative keyword).
The final thing to consider is your advert wording. Writing adverts for Google Adwords can test anyone's powers of creative copywriting; you only have one headline of 25 characters and two lines of 35 characters to persuade the right person to click on your advert!
- Start big and cut it down. Write a long advert and then make it more concise and cut the least effective parts so it fits
- Look at what your competitors are writing. Which adverts would you click on? Why?
- Pre-qualify your leads. If your tennis racket costs £500 you don't want people who are looking for cheaper tennis rackets.
- What other benefits do you offer that will differentiate your advert from the competition? Free shipping? Next day delivery? Established 20 years?
- Investigate dynamic keyword insertion. This allows you to insert the exact phrase the visitor has searched on straightaway.
- Try and write two or three adverts for each of your ad groups so you can test different combinations of words and see which ones get the most clicks and sales.
Doing all this work before you begin your campaign speeds up the set-up process and can save you from wasting considerable time and money later.
Now log in to your Google Adwords account to set up your campaign. If this is the first time you've done this, follow the big 'Create your first campaign' link (if not, you'll know to set up from the 'Campaign summary' screen). Follow the on-screen instructions or consult Google's excellent help file online for questions that come up as you go.
Setting up your campaign is just the beginning, however. Once it's is up and running, don't be tempted to just leave it there; it's a living, dynamic thing just like the marketplace in which you operate.
You'll need to react to changes and be ready to turn on a dime. Have the confidence though not to 'tweak too much too soon or to make knee-jerk overreactions to results before you have the full picture.
Don't give in to 'it's not working' after a week or a month. Google Adwords takes time and it can take three months before you have enough useful data to see trends and patterns, and have enough information to be strategic and maximise your results.
To get the most from an ongoing Google Adwords campaign you have to think of it as a long-term project.
But be ruthless. Prune underperforming keywords, look dispassionately at which adverts are working best for you and use the reports facility and your analytics software to find extra keywords.
Several months down the line you can review your campaign and marvel at the trackable return on investment it's given you. A website's campaign success rate is also something to consider when browsing websites for sale.
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