September 7, 2016
PPC Optimization Strategies
Campaign settings are on point? Check. You’ve figured out whether desktop or mobile converts better? Uh huh. Location and language are accounted for? Yep. In other words, you’ve got the pay-per-click basics covered. But when all of that is taken care of and your results are still lackluster…what do you do next? Here’s the roadmap for optimizing your PPC ads.
1. Fix conversion tracking
Two in-depth articles from WordStream and Disruptive Advertising dove through thousands of accounts worth hundreds of millions in ad spend and came up with similar results. Both found that average AdWords conversion rates tend to be around 2.5%, while some unicorns generate better than 5.5% conversion rates. With that in mind, what’s (literally) wrong with this picture? The conversion rates are above 100%. While this would be awesome, it’s also impossible. Something fishy is going on here. Maybe all site clicks are being picked up as conversions? Anyway, before making any campaign adjustments, make sure your conversion tracking is 100% accurate. Since AdWords is a direct-response medium, you make changes, analyze the impact of those changes, and make any adjustments based on the results. Conversion tracking is the feedback that lets you know if you’re on the right path or going astray. The most common conversions to track are:
- Contact form submissions
- Free trial signups
- Telephone calls
- App downloads
- Newsletter opt-ins
- Content downloads
In a perfect world, people would become a paying customer immediately after clicking an ad. This can happen for cheaper purchases (like socks) but doesn’t really happen for bigger purchases (like enterprise software). So for longer buying cycles, track conversions for every stage of the marketing funnel. A simple SaaS example would be something like…content download → free trial signup → purchase. Or for an agency, whitepaper download → quote requested → signed contract, does the trick.
2. Reorganize ad groups
Cost-per-conversion is the go-to metric to diagnose your ad campaign results. If you’re CPC is lower than your cost-per-lead and your customer lifetime value, then you’re golden. When it’s not, you’re in trouble. In AdWords, your cost-per-conversion is largely driven by your Quality Score (which is like this amalgamation of other metrics including everything from ad relevancy to landing page optimization). Both studies cited earlier (WordStream and Disruptive Advertising – let’s give them credit again because they deserve it) showed strong correlations that tiny Quality Score increases were one of the best ways to decrease your cost-per-conversions.
Straight from Jacob:_ “In fact, our results are strikingly similar to those reported by Larry Kim. If your quality score increases by 1 point, your cost-per-conversion decreases by 13% (Larry puts it at 16%). If your quality score decreases by 1 point, your cost-per-conversion increases by 13%.”_ Ok, awesome. Now what? Add Quality Score as a new column next to your keywords. This way, you’ll be able to quickly spot issues. Low scores prevent your ads being shown at all. Low-ish scores can make your cost-per-click more expensive (in addition to giving you worse placements because of poor relevancy). Neither case is good. The best systematic solution I’ve seen to fix these issues is Single Keyword Ad Groups (brought to us courtesy of Johnathan Dane at KlientBoost). It works because it helps you better align a single ad group (made up of keyword + ad + landing page), resulting in better relevancy and higher Quality Scores. The first place to start is your most popular keyword phrases that are underperforming (in terms of Quality Score and clicks). Pause them, create a new ad group for each, and use each match type like so:
If done right, your ad group and keywords should now look something like: Now that your ad groups are streamlined, creating multiple ad variations is easier because you’re only targeting one keyword phrase, instead of 5-20. Landing pages get easier too. Here’s why that’s important.
3. Align search queries with dedicated landing pages
In AdWords, you bid on keywords. But you pay for search queries. The Search Terms Report in AdWords will show you a list of all the queries people are actually using to find and click on your ads. Sometimes they look great. Exactly what you were shooting for. Sometimes they look awful, and you can quickly add them to your list of negative keyword phrases to avoid. A lot of times they’re somewhere in the middle. When you use a mix of match types (Broad, Phrase and Exact), you’re going to get a mixed bag of results with vastly different searcher intent. You’ll get some classic bottom of the funnel keyword phrases where people are ready to buy, along with more top of the funnel ones where peeps are just browsing.
This nuance is critical to pick up on because it should not only guide the (a) ad copy you’re writing, but also (b) the offer you’re using and © the landing page it appears on. I’ve seen companies make the mistake of sending all their AdWords traffic to one landing page that features the _same _offer. Based on what we learned in the last section, you should (ideally) create unique landing pages for each Single Keyword Ad Group you created to increase relevancy between keywords + ads + landing pages. Yes, this is a lot of work. But a “massively, differentiated offer” is why smart companies generate 2x the results. Thankfully, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. The same basic structure and design should work, with copy and/or image updates throughout. Many times you also discover other problems with your approach during this process, things like…
- “Oh…my conversion tracking is off because I’m not using a definitive CTA.”
- “I’m using too many CTAs and it’s confusing visitors and skewing my results.”
- “I’m advertising a large, complex purchase and I’m sending them to a squeeze page asking for their credit card details…maybe I actually do want them to browse around a bit and become familiar with my company first.”
- “I need create a few different offers for people who are higher up in the funnel so we can nurture them over time.”
Reason being, you were previously working under different assumptions that are now about to get blown up. And those legacy pages probably weren’t built with scale in mind. Think of your new structure and design with a plug-and-play mentality. Based on the product, service, or audience, you can take a basic concept like this: And quickly switch it out for another design that better matches the keyword phrases and audience you’re targeting with your different ad groups: The goal of this step (and those before it) isn’t to see which ‘tricks’ you can exploit. Rather, it’s to make holistic and comprehensive improvements to the way you’re reaching and converting specific groups of people. After making these changes, you’ll know things are working when results begin to increase dramatically. For example, we went through these steps with one client, identifying a few different conversion tracking issues along with the common scenario of low Quality Scores and high cost per conversions. We fixed tracking, reorganized their ad groups, combed through search terms and redesigned new landing pages. These are relatively basic, ‘blocking-and-tackling’ type AdWords updates (compared to some of the uber-nerdy stuff you can find online and at advanced levels). But there’s a reason that classic principles work. Here it is: Total lead conversions for just one ad group shot up by 900%. Cost-per-conversions in another campaign fell 99% (from $758 a lead to $7.61). And their ad budget was cut in half. Not bad. With another client, their daily converted clicks literally increased ten-fold (when compared with the same period during the prior year). All without any flashy, sophisticated ad campaign setups or opening a single Excel file (yay!).
AdWords can get insanely complicated and tricky. If you let it. But if you stay focused on the fundamentals you should be able to make significant improvements in a short amount of time. Many small or inexperienced organizations incorrectly view advertising as a “waste of money”. The danger is getting spooked too early and pulling the plug without giving your campaigns a fighting chance. Instead, try doubling down on the tiny incremental successes you are seeing by ensuring your conversion feedback is relevant, then reorganizing your ad campaigns to make it easier for people to land on a page that answers exactly what they’re looking for. What’s your process for optimizing your pay-per-click ads? Anything you’d add to this list? Let us know in the comments.