Why your Google campaign isn’t working.. and what to do about it ..!
- Mistake #1: Not Tracking Desired Action
- Mistake #2: Not Using Custom Microsites or Landing Pages
- Mistake #3: Poor Program Architecture
- Mistake #4: Over-Reliance on Google Broad Matching
- Mistake #5: Too Few Keywords
- Mistake #6: Thinking Like A Marketer & Not Like Your Audience
- Mistake #7: Selling the Product, Not the Offer
- Mistake #8: Uninformed Use of Google’s Content Network
- Mistake #9: Not Leveraging Campaign Level Settings
- Mistake #10: Ego Bidding
In order to address what it means to fail at search advertising, we first need to define success.
Many business-to-business (B2B) marketers fail at search without even knowing it. The very basic performance reports available through GoogleT and other search providers can lead an advertiser to believe that his or her campaign is generating plenty of qualified interest, when the actual truth could be precisely the opposite.
Search success is not defined by impressions, clicks or even cost per click. Certainly, you could argue that a high number of impressions means that many people are seeing your ad, but even that can be misleading. “Impressions” is simply a count of the number of times your ad is served. Whether people are actually paying attention is a different matter.
Clicks, click-through rate (CTR), and cost-per-click (CPC) are the measuring sticks of most search campaigns, primarily because they’re the statistics most easily gleaned from online reports. As this paper discusses (see page 4), judging a campaign’s performance by these standards is not only misleading, it can cause an advertiser to waste significant investment.
Why? Because a click is only one action – it doesn’t measure what that prospect did when he or she clicked on your ad (i.e. did he or she become a lead or buy your product), or even how qualified he or she is. Our experience tells us that many advertisers are content to generate thousands of clicks at considerable cost, but on further analysis, discover that the vast majority of those clicks are completely worthless.
The perfect search campaign is one that:
- generates a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) – whether your “acquisition” is a lead, download, registration or sale – competitive with other advertising vehicles generates predictable results (measured by CPA) at projected spend levels
- is sufficiently expansive to cover every keyword or phase, and every variation of those words or phrases, that a qualified prospect would conceivably search on
- is designed to deliver relevant ad copy for every keyword (to drive clicks) and mapped to relevant landing pages (to drive conversions)
- is designed in such a way that specific terms, groups of terms and campaigns are all optimized separately, with separate budgets, ad copy, geo-targeting and day-parting
- is tracked through use of a back-end database or CRM system that measures ROI on a keyword-by-keyword basis
Don’t have all these metrics in place? Don’t worry – no-one does. The scenario above is the ideal program, and a hypothetical ideal at that. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use these standards as goals to strive for, and as benchmarks for your current program.
Successful search advertising is complicated. Search programs are easy to set up, but much more difficult to manage, optimize and otherwise refine into a successful campaign. Doing so takes time, effort, resources, dedication and investment.
This paper is designed to point you in the right direction.
Mistake #1: Not Tracking Desired Actions
The lack of an appropriate and complete tracking system is one of the most common errors, or omissions, that advertisers make in setting up a paid search program.
It’s easy to see why. Google provides basic tracking services – impressions, clicks, cost per click – automatically and at no charge as part of the default set-up. Going beyond that basic set-up, a critical step in being able to gauge the true success of any search campaign, requires a modest investment in time and resources that most companies figure they can live without.
The foundation of a strong search campaign is knowing what you want to achieve. Are you trying to generate downloads, registrations, page views, sales leads, qualified leads, sales?
How are you defining that goal: Is someone filling out a registration form, hitting a particular page, meeting certain qualification criteria? Your search campaign should measure:
- how many of those desired actions are taking place
- how much each desired action is costing in the aggregate, and
- which precise keywords are generating those actions at the lowest cost.
Keep in mind that you may have separate goals for certain parts of the program. For example, you may wish to measure the performance of “branded terms” – the name of your company, product names, names of competitors – based on impressions, or even ad position, whereas more generic terms will be measured on Cost Per Lead or Cost Per Qualified Lead.
Only by tracking desired actions, in this case sales leads, can a search advertiser accurately gauge the success of their program, and optimize it accordingly. Your tracking system can never be good enough. Don’t stop tracking at clicks, because you’ll have no idea how those clicks are converting into leads. Don’t stop tracking at leads, because you’ll have no idea how many of those leads are qualified, or which are converting into sales. Don’t stop tracking at sales, because you’ll have no idea how those sales are retaining or generating additional lifetime value. And so on.
Most advertisers only measure clicks and cost-per-click for reasons stated above. To the novice search marketer, seeing the number of clicks generated by your efforts can be rewarding, but they are only part of the story. In fact, simply knowing which terms are generating the most clicks or the lowest cost-per-click is generally worthless.
That’s because the keywords that generate the most clicks are very often simply more generic terms that attract a wider spectrum of prospects. Likewise, terms that generate clicks at a low cost could be converting to leads (or sales) at a low rate, while other terms that generate clicks at a slightly higher cost could actually be your best performers.
At a bare minimum, we always recommend implementing some kind of conversion tracking so you’ll know which terms are generating actual leads or registrations. By tracking conversions to the keyword, you’ll be able to optimize your bid strategy and overall media spend. You’ll understand which keywords are responsible for driving desired actions, as well as which terms only drive costs without the desired pay-off.
Google offers a free conversion tracking service through its AdWords program. (Yahoo! and MSN offer similar programs.) The Google system involves placing a cookie on a user’s computer when he or she clicks on an ad, so that if the user clicks on your ad and then reaches one of your conversion pages (for example, the “thank you” page that appears after submitting a registration form), the user’s browser sends the cookie to a Google server, and Google records a successful conversion. More sophisticated programs may benefit from third-party tracking solutions.
If branding or awareness is your primary goal, your campaign can still benefit from tracking. Simply tracking click-throughs and site visits is only a basic measurement. If your ultimate goal is to engage those visitors, page views and time spent on the site are helpful benchmarks that can help more precisely measure the value of each visit. Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, can provide you this additional insight.
Here are two important facts to understand and keep in mind when setting up and designing your search program:
- You get paid on acquiring new customers.
- Google gets paid on clicks.
Google and other search engines don’t care much if you get customers or not. They just want you to keep feeding the meter. Search engines earn revenue for each click regardless of whether the visitor was looking for “enterprise expense management services” or “Starship Enterprise.” When you have a tracking system that takes advantage of all the data available, you’ll begin to realize the value and power of search marketing.
Mistake #2: Not Using Custom Microsites or Landing Page.
Most novice search marketers direct traffic from search ads to either their corporate home page, a just-barely-relevant product page or a generic landing page (one that was originally designed to capture registrations from random visitors to the corporate site).
These and other search campaigns like them often fail not because of keyword selection or ad copy, but on where traffic is directed from those ads. It’s easy to understand the motivations behind wanting to leverage the investment already sunk into a corporate Website by using it for search purposes, but doing so is a big mistake.
Remember, conversion rate – the rate at which clicks convert to leads or registrations – is as important as click rate in driving Cost Per Lead or Cost Per Acquisition. Double your conversion rate, for example, and you’ll make an equivalent impact on the number of leads, and Cost Per Lead, as if you had doubled your click-through rate.
Corporate Websites don’t work as destination pages for search advertising largely because:
- they present too many options, and
- they’re not directly relevant to the precise term or topic being searched.
A search campaign, as already discussed, is designed to drive a specific, desired action. The typical navigation bar that appears on most Websites, however, means that a visitor arriving at any page on that site is presented with a myriad of links and other options. (Indeed, it’s the very purpose of a well-designed Website to make it easy for a visitor to jump from one section to another.) Most visitors who are dumped onto any page from a corporate site will therefore likely explore around the site and then disappear.
A well-designed microsite or custom landing page, however, is designed specifically to drive the desired action. The offer is strongly merchandised, extraneous navigation and other distractions are eliminated, and every ounce of copy is tailored to driving registration or whatever the desired action happens to be.
Microsites serve as effective destinations for search programs because they present additional selling information to those prospects who need it, without forcing other prospects to wade through that information before filling out the registration form.
For purposes of this discussion, by “microsite” we mean a two-page or three-page custom mini-site that combines a registration page with one or two peripheral pages that provide additional selling information. The concept behind this model is to present the registration form front and center for those prospects who are ready to submit their information immediately, yet provide the option for other prospects to learn a little more about the company, product or offer, before they complete the form.
We generally prefer microsites to single landing pages because prospects responding to search advertising receive very little information on the front end (in the ad), and thus may require additional selling. This is markedly different from an e-mail campaign, for example, where the prospect may have already received a critical mass of information and be ready to register immediately. In our experience, microsites generate conversion rates up to 50 percent higher when tested against landing pages using the same offer.
Microsites and landing pages also perform better than corporate Websites because the language and content can be customized to be more directly relevant to both the search term and the ad copy. In fact, the most successful search campaigns use not just one universal microsite, but multiple versions of that microsite, with copy and offer adjusted to increase the relevancy to a particular campaign, ad group or even individual search term.
Relevancy is a key factor in search advertising success. Successful search marketers strive to maintain consistency and continuity through keywords, ad copy and the microsite. A campaign that doesn’t achieve that consistency will fail, for example when a prospect looking for “New Zealand air fare” sees an ad that says “New Zealand” and a landing page or microsite that says “New Zealand Cruises.” Close, but not close enough.
Microsites are also fertile ground for testing. It’s possible to substantially increase conversion rates over time by conducting so-called “A/B” tests of different headlines, offers, even design elements. In this manner, microsites can be optimized just like keywords and ad copy. Furthermore, testing microsites is more efficient, because once you have the person at the registration form, you can more easily control the variables in play, whereas with ad copy and keywords, you’re competing with other paid and organic listings that may change from day to day.
Mistake #3: Poor Program Architecture
A Google account is comprised of three levels: campaigns, ad groups and keywords. A standard account can have up to 25 campaigns, each of which can include 100 ad groups. Most novice search marketers, constrained by time, budget or resources, set up their Google programs in a very simple form: one monolithic campaign with a handful of ad groups.
The result is a program doomed to perform far below its potential.
Campaigns can be used in a variety of ways, but it’s critically important that the ad groups within each campaign are related in some way. Campaigns can be used to target certain markets, organize product/service lines, group like-behaving keywords or for any other purpose that simplifies program management and optimizes overall performance. The vast majority of search marketers place all their ad groups in one campaign. This is a common mistake that results in a program that will never be fully optimized because the campaign level is where you control budget, day-parting, geo-targeting, etc. A good example of this is where a daily budget is exhausted by the end of the business day, say, on the West Coast. The solution is to set up two campaigns – one for each territory – and assign a separate budget to each, each budget dedicated to ensuring ads appear throughout the business day in that particular time zone.
Ad groups contain groups of keywords. At a very basic level, keywords within each ad group should be similar in concept or topic, for example, all keywords related to “performance,” or “cost savings” or a particular product or industry. If keywords reflecting a wide range of topics are all contained within the same ad group, the ad copy will need to be generic enough to address that same range of topics; therefore, it will be largely irrelevant to some subset of those keywords. Conversely, the greater the number of ad groups, the more the ad copy can be precisely relevant to each particular topic or product or message.
The result: much higher click-through and conversion (click-to-lead) rates.
Mistake #4: Over-Reliance on Google Broad Matching
Like many of the pitfalls described in this paper, over use of the broad match type is related directly to default Google settings, and to the fact that most marketers simply don’t invest the time or resources to extend their program beyond the most basic infrastructure.
Using broad match by default across all (or even most) of the keywords in your search program is a common mistake. It directly leads to overspending, because it generates unqualified clicks – clicks derived from prospects who aren’t really searching for terms related directly to your product or service, but who saw (and clicked on) your ad anyway. With broad match, nearly any search query can trigger your ad as long as your search term is included. For instance, if the term you register is “network software,” even someone searching for “social network for software developers” would see your ad.
Conversely, the more specific your keywords, the more qualified the resulting traffic, and the less money you’ll waste on people whom you never intended to see your ad in the first place.
Let’s review your options when it comes to match types:
Broad match is Google’s default option. If you include general keyword or keyword phrases – for example: network software – in your keyword list, your ads will appear when a user’s query contains “network” and “software” in any order, and may include other terms that are completely irrelevant to your specific product or service.
Using broad match, your ads will also automatically show for expanded matches. These include plural forms and what Google determines are relevant variations that may not be as relevant for you. When using broad match, consider restricting its use to keyword phrases with at least two words. Single term broad match keywords are frequently less targeted and can drive your cost excessively with little return to show for it.
Using the phrase match option, if you enter your keyword surrounded by quotation marks, such as “network software,” your ad will appear when a user searches only on the phrase “network software,” with the words in that order. Other terms can be included in the search but they must fall before or after your root keyword. For example, your ad would be triggered for the query “open source network software” but not for “network monitoring Software.” Targeting with phrase matching is more precise than broad matching and more flexible than the exact match option.
By surrounding your keywords with brackets (for example: [network software])your ads will appear only when users search for the specific phrase: “network software.” This option is called exact match. The query must be in this order and not contain any other terms. For instance, your ad will not display for a query on “networking software” or “enterprise network software.” Exact matching is the most precise option and typically generates the least amount of traffic. Although your ads won’t receive as many impressions, the benefit is that the clicks you do receive should convert to leads at a much higher rate.
Using multiple match types – broad, phrase, and exact – enables an advertiser to avoid unqualified clicks and determine precisely which terms and phrases are performing most efficiently.
Mistake #5: Too Few Keywords
Most search marketers set up their Google program with only a very basic, relatively short list of keywords. To do more, here again, is an investment of time and resources that most companies figures they can do without. Plus, most advertisers mistakenly equate a longer list of keywords with higher expense when in fact too few keywords can have a very detrimental effect on program efficiency.
When we inherit search programs from clients, we typically increase the number of keywords by anywhere from five to ten times or more. A small segment of that increase will be additional, unique terms that the client neglected to include (see: Mistake#6,), but the vast majority will be variations on existing terms: plurals, misspellings, phrases, etc.
For example, a company marketing “anti-virus software” should also include “anti virus software” (without the hyphen), “enterprise anti-virus software,” “antivirus software free trial” and so on – basically, every relevant variation possible that includes the key root words.
It’s not difficult to see why most clients don’t bother with the time and effort required to expand their keyword list. After all, in the example above, a broad match on “anti virus software” would capture many of the same searches. The reason to expand the list nonetheless is two-fold: First, there will always be some subset of prospects that use a minor variation of your existing keywords (a plural term, perhaps, or a common misspelling), that you otherwise wouldn’t reach. Second, selecting keywords intelligently is not a matter of capturing all possible searches with the shortest list of terms (translation: the minimum amount of effort and complexity).
Contrary to intuition, a shorter list of keywords (probably employing broad match types) is more expensive, because it’s likely to generate a high percentage of unqualified clicks.
Conversely, a more expansive list of terms will be more efficient because it enables you to zero in on those precise terms and phrases that generate the lowest CPA. One of the easiest and most effective ways to expand your keyword list is through the use of negative keywords. Negative keywords are one of the most overlooked and under utilized tools for significantly reducing wasteful spending on irrelevant and unqualified clicks.
Negative keywords work like filters which prevent ads from showing when queries include keywords that you deem to be irrelevant. Negative keywords can be applied at both the campaign and ad group level. At the campaign level, an advertiser can apply the most obvious negative terms, those terms that are irrelevant in any situation in which your ads could possibly be triggered. For example, a company marketing high-priced, enterprise software would be wise to include “free” as a campaign negative. Doing so will prevent ads displaying on searches by individuals looking for freeware.
At the ad group level, negative keywords can be used to ensure visitors are guided to the preferred landing page or microsite. For example, a seller of new and used office equipment might use “new” as a negative in the used furniture ad group, and “used” in the new furniture ad group.
There are always keywords that can be added to your program. Furthermore, there is no penalty for doing so. A well-managed Google program evolves and attains ever greater levels of performance as new keywords are constantly tested and introducedto the program.
Think Like A Fish !!
Mistake #6: Thinking Like A Marketer & Not Like Your Audience
Many advertisers make the mistake of regarding their search program as a means to find only that exclusive group of highly qualified prospects who are actively searching for their type of product. This results in a program with a relatively short of keywords, all of which are highly product-related.
Google and other search programs can be an effective way to engage with prospects actively researching a specific type of product. However, the vast majority of prospects, particularly if your company isn’t well known or if you compete in a nascent product category, will not be searching for your product or service. They’re looking for a solution to their problem.
For example, a prospect in need of a CRM solution may not be searching on “CRM software.” He or she may be searching on “improve customer service.” Smart search marketers put themselves in the position of their potential customer. Are there other terms related to the symptoms of the problem that differ from terms specific to the solution? Are users, influencers and evangelists likely to be searching on different terms compared to decision-makers? Are there differences between geographical regions or target markets?
Test any and all keywords that might be applicable to your product or the problem that your product solves. Include branded terms and industry jargon. Scan industry Websites to pick up phrases and words you might not have considered otherwise. Most prospects will use terms that make complete sense to them, but are not used by your firm in a marketing context. Test as many keywords as possible, and then let the market – your potential customers — decide how they want to describe the solution they’re looking for.
Mistake #7: Selling the Product, Not the Offer
Google allows a total of 105 characters in their text ads, including spaces. It’s therefore pointless to waste this precious space on fluff. Here again, many search marketers make the mistake of describing their company or product in their ad, on the erroneous assumption that keyword advertising is fundamentally about promoting a product. The only instance where brand messaging – promoting your company or product explicitly – generally works is with branded terms (for instance, the name of your company or product), and even then, most companies don’t have a strong enough brand to pull it off. Using the ad copy to sing the praises of your company is usually a recipe for disastrous results, particularly in combination in search terms more related to the relevant problem (see previous page) than your product.
Brand-oriented copy in search ads is rarely effective except on branded terms. More direct, response-oriented copy that includes a clear offer and compelling benefits is typically more successful.
Think of your ad not as a billboard for your product, but rather as a tool to capture and engage with prospects suffering from the issue, problem or challenge that your product or service can solve. Try to sell your company too soon, and you’ll turn people off. Conversely, more informational, offer-oriented ads will engage prospects more readily.
In general, effective ad copy should:
- contain a specific and tangible offer (a free trial, an information kit)
- state clearly why the searcher needs to take action (“find out how .”, “learn 10 secrets .”)
- qualify the visitor by extolling benefits that will interest the right type of prospect
Effective, response-oriented ad copy is direct and to the point, and above all: relevant to the search term. Some of the most successful search ads don’t mention the advertiser’s name at all, except in the display URL. Instead, they include the precise search term or phrase (see the discussion of campaign infrastructure and multiple ad groups), present a compelling offer and state a clear benefit as to why the prospect needs to act.
Remember: Google allows search marketers to run multiple ads against batches of keywords or even single keywords. Your search program is a highly efficient platform for testing offers, calls to action, landing pages, etc., all of which can leads to higher efficiency and better results.
Mistake #8: Uninformed Use of Google’s Content Network
Google allows for three ways to have your search ads distributed:
- Google roper i.e., the site itself;
- Google’s search network; and
- Google’s content network.
The key distinction between Google’s search network and the content network is that in the latter, the impressions are not search-based. When you advertise on the content network, your ad is served when an individual views content that Google deems to be relevant to your selected keywords. This is very different user behavior compared to someone searching on a term, either on Google itself or one of their partner search sites.
Including the content network as part of your Google search program is a default setting when you set up your account. Continued use of the content network without analyzing the results separate from the rest of the program is one of the most common – and most expensive – mistakes that search marketers make.
Because of the scope of the content network and the nature of how impressions are served, it’s highly likely that, left to run unchecked, the content network will:
- generate far more impressions than the search network;
- generate a much lower click-through rate (CTR);
- burn through a large proportion of your overall spend; and
- decrease overall program efficiency.
Unfettered use of Google’s content network can often result in a large proportion of monthly spend dedicated to clicks that convert to leads at a much lower rate.
Like the search network, the content network is performance-based; you will only incur cost when clicks occur. However, our experience is that these clicks tend to be far less targeted than search-based clicks. While Google does offer the ability to set bid rates lower for content clicks, and also exclude specific sites from the content network, inexperienced search marketers tend to not use either option. As a result, without sufficient time and resources expended on monitoring the value of traffic from the content network, the result is usually a much higher Cost Per Acquisition (CPA).
We’re not contending that the content network has no merit. However, if you’re not tracking and analyzing results from the content network separately, you won’t know if it has merit or not. In the majority of cases, if left to run unmanaged, it hurts more than it helps.
When starting a search program on Google, we typically recommend selecting “Google search” only in the “Networks” option under Campaign Settings (see: Mistake #9, below). As the program stabilizes and more exposure is warranted, and once you have a better idea which terms and phrases are generating the lowest CPA, consider adding the search and content networks – in that order.
Note: There is much industry discussion of late on the topic of click fraud. Our experience has been that fraud is much more prevalent when the content network is used. To Google’s credit, they have rolled out features to better enable improvement in the quality of the content-based impressions, but using these features requires time and knowledge.
Mistake #9: Not Leveraging Campaign Level Settings
At the campaign level, search marketers have a number of useful features available to them in Google, all of which can improve the efficiency of a search program. However, most search marketers fail to take advantage of these features, and, in addition, make the mistake of consolidating their entire program into one campaign.
Note: These features are exponentially more valuable when they’re used to calibrate multiple campaigns within one program, rather than as global settings for one master campaign. We always set up multiple campaigns for each client, each campaign tailored to a specific objective. (Tip: When you set up multiple campaigns, don’t use “Campaign 1,” “Campaign 2,” etc. More descriptive names will facilitate management.)
Here’s a review of some of the most useful features available at the campaign level:
- Run Date: If there are time-sensitive elements to campaigns (for example: a trade show, price promotion or product launch), use the run date settings to automatically end the campaign at a certain date. This helps avoid disgruntled searchers who might click on an ad looking for a specific offer only to find it no longer valid on the site.
- Keyword Bidding: We recommend not using the Google Budget Optimizer and to stick with manual bidding. The intent of the Budget Optimizer is to maximize clicks within a given budget; however, our point of view is that clicks only represent a cost to the advertiser (or put another way, revenue to Google). If your goal is to turn as many clicks as possible into leads or customers and do so at the lowest possible CPA, keyword bidding will give you greater precision.
- Ad Scheduling: This is an over-looked feature that can be particularly effective for B2B advertisers. Because most prospects for business solutions will conduct searches while at work, an advertiser can concentrate his or her media spend over the hours when the target audience is most likely to be at work. This can be an effective way to “stretch” a media budget by eliminating impressions – and unqualified clicks – during the time of when qualified prospects are much less likely to be conducting searches.
- Keep in mind that the ad scheduling timetable in Google is based on the time zone you specified when you set up your account. So, if you’re in Los Angeles, you’ll want to insure that you have your ads active at the appropriate time on the East Coast. Google also offers an Advanced Ad Scheduling feature so you can raise or lower your bids at specific times of the day if you’ve identified those times as more critical.
- Countries & Territories: If your target can be segmented geographically, consider doing so. For example, if your company can realistically only support (or effectively sell to) US or North American customers, select only the appropriate geography. Or if Europe is also a key marketplace, establish separate European-focused campaigns using your North American campaigns as a template. Then leverage settings for the non-North American campaign and optimize accordingly. Don’t, under any circumstances, mix campaigns across continents.
Using campaign settings like those described here will result in higher-quality traffic but can also result in fewer impressions and even fewer clicks overall. Remember, an effective search program is not just about volume; it’s about efficiency. Campaign settings are a useful way to zero in on the good, and concentrate your spend where it’s most likely to generate qualified prospects. Keep in mind, however, that efficiency is only really measured through some kind of conversion tracking (see Mistake #1: “Not Tracking Desired Actions,” ). Otherwise, you’ll have a much tougher time explaining to your boss why lowering click volume is a good thing.
Mistake #10: Ego Bidding
By “ego bidding” we mean the strategy of securing the top position (or one of the top positions) for a particular search term, regardless of cost or efficiency. Ego bidding is frequently a strategy dictated by vice presidents or other top executives. They want to see the company’s name in lights, or at the very least above their closest competitor.
The only guarantee that comes with targeting the number one position is a big bill from Google at the end of the month. At the number one position, conversions (the ratio of clicks to leads) are generally lower and acquisition cost more expensive. Why? First, because you’ll need to outbid your competitors to achieve that top position, and second, because many search users click on the top ad instinctually, without regard to relevance. The result is a large number of expensive, unqualified clicks that don’t turn into real prospects.
It’s rarely advisable to have a strategy of securing the top position for a particular term unless:
- it’s part of a short-term strategy to maximize visibility (for example, as part of a product launch), or
- if past data indicates it’s a profitable position – that is, where the higher bid cost has been offset by a higher conversion rate and thus a lower CPA.