3 Ways to Save Money on Paid Search

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If yours is like most companies, your business derives a lot of prospective customers and new web visits from paid search – that is, the ads you run on Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.

In 2017, companies spent an estimated $35 billion on paid search, which represented nearly 50% of their total digital marketing budgets.

With such a high percentage of our money going to one channel, the inevitable questions surrounding its effectiveness come up. What am I getting for that money? How many new customers are attributed to paid search? What is my ROI?

No company wants to artificially limit the amount of new customers they can reach with their advertising. But the fact is that we don’t have unlimited advertising budgets to work with. And so we have to spread the money around in a way that makes the most sense.

Therefore, if there are ways to save money on paid search without impacting its effectiveness, we should figure out what those are and implement them as soon as possible.

As luck would have it, there are three simple ways to save money on paid search. They are…

1) Mind Your Exclusions

If your goal is to save money without impacting sales, then the first thing you are going to want to do is stop spending money where it isn’t working. This is very easy to do, because of all the tools you have at your disposal. Each of the major search platforms allows you to track where your clicks are coming from, how much you are spending on them, and how many conversions (or sales) they are delivering.

When you find keywords or phrases that are costing you money but not leading to any new business, it is easy to exclude them from your campaigns. And if you are spending money on content campaigns and remarketing, you can find those websites or categories of sites that your ads are showing up on but not driving conversions. And you can exclude them as well, so your ads stop showing up there and costing you money.

When you eliminate keywords and placements in your campaign that are wasting money, you have more money in your budget that you can put toward the keywords and placements that work.

2) Improve Your Conversion Rate

We may view the amount of money you’re spending on paid search and the performance of your site as two completely separate items. But that view is too narrow, ignoring the very real consequences (or should I say benefits) of conversion rate optimization.

While it may not be as simple as exclusions are, taking the steps necessary to improve on-site conversion rate will absolutely save you money on paid search. When a higher percentage of the overall traffic you are driving to the site takes the desired action, each one of those conversions costs you less, thereby driving the same number of sales at a lower total spend.

What you choose to do with the savings is up to you – either spend it on driving even more qualified traffic to this newly optimized site of yours, or pocket it as a cost reduction.

3) Own Your Brand Terms

Brand terms are an area up for some debate. Depending on what advice you listen to or whose article you read, you will hear competing directives.

Some say you should not bother bidding on your brand terms in search because that traffic is likely to find you regardless. After all, they are searching for you directly.

But others say that you should bid on your brand terms for a few reasons, chief among them the fact that your competitors can bid on your brand terms in an attempt to “steal” that traffic. By bidding on your own terms, you make that very real possibility less likely.

Regardless of whose side you take in that argument, the fact is that by eliminating the need to bid on your brand terms will save you money. So my advice to you is to monitor those terms closely, make sure the organic results on the first page of Google are what you want them to be, and keep an eye on where your competition is showing up. If you can avoid spending extra money on those terms without losing out on any of the traffic, go for it.

Who Are You Bidding Against?

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Knowing who your competitors are is a top priority for all businesses. If I were to ask most marketers and small business owners, “who are your top competitors?”, they would be able to answer off the top of their head.

Now, are those the same people you are bidding against on Google?

Not always. But it’s easy to find out.

If you use Google Ads (formerly AdWords) for SEM, you can run a simple report for each campaign that gives you very valuable competitive information. It’s called Auction Insights, and it exists in the Google Ads interface under Ad Groups.

What Does Auction Insights Tell You?

The following is a list of metrics available in Auction Insights:

  1. Display URL Domain – this is the competitor.
  2. Impression Share – the number of impressions you received divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive.
  3. Avg. Position – the average position of each advertiser’s ad on the page.
  4. Overlap Rate – how often another advertiser’s ad received an impression in the same auction that your ad also received an impression.
  5. Position Above Rate – how often another advertiser’s ad in the same auction shows in a higher position than your own, when both of your ads were shown at the same time.
  6. Top of Page Rate – how often your ad (or the ad of another advertiser, depending on which row you're viewing) was shown at the top of the page in search results.
  7. Outranking Share – how often your ad ranked higher in the auction than another advertiser’s ad, or if your ad showed when theirs did not.

How to Use the Auction Insights Report

Like I mentioned earlier, the companies that are bidding against you in paid search are not always the same companies that you might name as your nearest competitors. Therefore, you need a separate understanding of competition when it comes to paid search.

These are the companies that you are competing against when someone is searching for something you offer. And you want to make sure you outwork them.

So much of paid search is about finding the right position, on the right keywords, at the right times. Your competitors are doing the same thing. They have the same goals.

Use the Auction Insights provided by Google to gain a deeper understanding of their strategy, and how it overlaps with yours. You might learn something about who they’re targeting and how much they are willing to pay to show up at the top of the page.

And by looking at the Auction Insights over time, you will better see how the competitive landscape is changing month to month and year to year.

How SEO and SEM Work Together

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Search engines are a primary source of traffic for most online businesses. But there are two distinct types of search engine traffic:

  1. Organic search traffic
  2. Paid search traffic

Organic search traffic is the stuff dreams are made of. This occurs when someone searches a phrase related to your business on Google and a link to your site shows up in the natural search results and gets clicked. This costs you nothing (to say nothing of the time and energy many companies put into search engine optimization).

The more organic search traffic your website is getting, the more success you are likely having.

Paid search traffic is different, mostly because it costs you money. This is the traffic that comes from paid listings on the search results page – ads that show up at the top of the page because you are bidding on searches containing a certain keyword.

If you are like most companies, you are likely aiming for both types of traffic. You would love to get us much organic traffic as possible, but you will supplement that with paid traffic in order to hit your marketing goals. But there’s a right way to do this, and a wrong way.

Too often we put SEO and SEM into siloes, and ignore their obvious overlap.

Here are three ways to fix that:

1. Pay for the words you can’t rank for.

The value in paid search is that it gives the advertiser more control. You control everything from the search terms you show up for, the headline and ad copy that gets displayed, and the user experience after they click. But if you are already showing up near the top of page one organically, there is less incentive to pay.

So you should make sure that your paid search team and your SEO team are in constant communication about target keywords. Spend your money on the terms that you don’t rank well for organically.

2. Use paid search data to instruct your SEO targets.

Just like the recommendation that you pay for those terms that you struggle to rank for organically, your paid search performance should inform your SEO strategy. Reports that show the true outcomes of certain keywords will help you determine which words and phrases to target with SEO efforts.

Your SEO team should be getting regular updates from your paid search team on keyword performance, costs, and competitiveness. Over time, one goal should be to lessen the dependency on paid search.

3. Report on both together.

More than simply reporting on both together, companies that do this well will incentivize these two activities as one. Search should be a domain in and of itself, with two branches thereunder. Instead of reporting on, and rewarding, each separately, bringing them under one roof ensures alignment between efforts and outcomes.

Paid search is essential, but should never supersede organic. If your company can attract quality traffic without paying for it, why would you?

Day One Strategy – Part 2

Welcome to the latest installment of the Day One Strategy series. This is a weekly blog series that will address how to start from scratch. Each week we’ll discuss a new topic and offers tips for the business that is taking their very first step. Last week’s topic was Email List Building.

Today’s Topic = Search Engine Marketing

You’re read all the articles, listened to all the experts, and you know that your company could benefit from search engine marketing (SEM), or paid search. That’s fantastic, but where do you start?

Account Setup

Given that the majority of searches done occur on Google, that’s a good place to start. Google’s SEM platform is called Google Adwords. When you visit the site you have the option to get started using their online account setup tools (plus a free 800 number for direct assistance). It benefits Google to have you come on board as an advertiser so you can count on them for help getting started.

You might also want to advertising on Yahoo and Bing, where traffic is lower but competition is also less, meaning cheaper advertising for you.

Keywords

After you create your account, the next thing you’ll need are the keywords that you want to target. When choosing keywords, you want to start very specific. What will your potential customers be typing into the search bar when looking for your products? Make a list and load it into Google’s keyword tool, which will give you additional suggestions based on similar terms that they know get a lot of traffic. They will even show you how much traffic to expect for each keyword phrase, along with some idea of the competitiveness and cost.

Accounts have anywhere from a few keywords to tens of thousands. But to start you’ll want to limit it to those keywords you expect to have the greatest value. You’ll be able to analyze the relative success of each keyword and add more as you go.

Ads

Next, you need to create the ads that will show when someone searches those keywords. Again, Google has a simple tool that allows you to generate ads to fit their platform. You should use a combination of different headlines and sub-headings to create a number of ads, at least 3-4 for each product or product category you’ll be advertising. This allows you to run ad copy tests to find out which ads have the most impact.

Landing Pages

Where are people going to land after they click on your ads? Those are your landing pages. Landing pages are pages on your website that clearly state the offer you are making. It might be a product page, or a sales page, or a lead generation form. Good landing pages restate the information in the ad and direct the user experience in order to eliminate confusion and the number of steps necessary to complete a desired outcome, like purchasing the product from your site.

Getting Started

Once you have all the assets created, it’s time to get started. In order to do that, you need to set your bids (the amount you’re willing to pay for each click) and your budget caps (the amount you want to spend in a given time period). With both of these the general recommendation is to start small, so you can measure performance before spending more.

The key is to continue to test new things – landing pages, ad copy, and keywords – to find the right combination that produces the more sales, leads, etc. at a lower cost. Always be measuring performance.

Stay tuned next week for another installment. If you have a topic you would like to see covered in the Day One Strategy blog series, use the comments below or contact us today.

How to Grow Your Business with Search Marketing

You may be familiar with the terms paid search, or search engine marketing (SEM). Search marketing is the art of serving ads to people using search engines to find what they’re looking for online.

Google, Yahoo, and Bing, the big 3 search engines in the US, all allow advertisers to show ads on their search results pages based on the keywords a person types into the search box. Paid search spending has represented the largest share of online advertising for a number of years, though display advertising is closing that gap in part due to the rise of Facebook.

Paid search spending in the US has risen by 15-25% per year for the last five years.

There’s one reason, it works. Companies consistently strong results with the paid search campaigns, bringing in new business for a fraction of the cost of other advertising channels.

If you’re not already doing it, check out this post on Getting Started with Google Adwords.

Here’s what you can do to grow your business using search engine marketing:

  • Bid on keywords your customers may be searching. Think about what someone would search to find you. If you knew someone was searching “X”, would you want to advertise to them? That’s your base list of keywords to advertise on.
     
  • Bid on variations of these keywords. Google has an easy to use keyword research tool that allows you to upload a list of keywords and generate a larger list of related keywords. They even tell you the average cost and search volume for each word so you can add them to your account.
     
  • Bid on your brand name. This ensures you show up at the top of the results and keeps the competition from stealing searches from you.
     
  • Bid on your competitors’ brand name. This is a risky move because the costs involved might be higher, but it is a good strategy if your goal is to steal market share from a more established competitor.
     
  • Don’t forget Bing and Yahoo. Many people just advertise on Google, and ignore the other 30% of searches in the US that take place on the number 2 and 3 search engines.
     
  • Double bid. Many companies establish secondary websites so that they can bid on the same keywords and show up twice on the first page, increasing the chances of getting clicked on.
     
  • Optimize landing pages for action. No matter what your goal is, make sure you are measuring post-click performance. The page someone lands on after they click on an ad should be built to do one thing, get that user to complete one action – whether that is a sale, a completed form, a phone call, etc.

Once you are up and running, use all the tools available to you to measure the performance of your campaigns. All the way down to each individual keyword, you’ll be able to track cost, clicks, and conversions, allowing you to optimize the way you spend your money over time.

When used the right way, search engine marketing can help you grow your business by sending qualified prospects your way at a low cost.