From the “Deer in the Headlights Diaries.”
So I finally launched my very own website, after having written content for literally dozens of other websites, not to mention writing for every conceivable ad medium in a 30-year career. And suddenly, I’m faced with a new paradigm of marketing known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and I’m feeling kinda out of my depth.
I’ve got my site up. I’ve got my Google Analytics running (I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s running… to be continued). And now I’m trying to understand the concept behind Google AdWords so I can make some sort of reasonably informed decision about whether or not I need to include it in my marketing budget.
I imagine a lot of marketing communications people, other than true media wonks, are feeling the same way. Especially if marketing communications is just one of the many hats you wear in owning a small business. So here’s what I know so far.
1. AdWords is just like any other paid media.
It is an investment you make to reach a specified audience who you hope to convert into customers. It’s an advertisement. You include it in your marketing budget the same way you include local newspaper or radio or TV. Like traditional media, it delivers an audience at a cost based on reach and frequency. For traditional advertising, those costs are based on CPMs or GRPs – CPM is Cost Per Thousand, based on the number of subscribers or readers of a publication; GRPs are Gross Rating Points, based on the number of viewers watching a show.
With traditional media you pay to put your message in front of a lot of eyeballs and hope that a percentage of them are interested in what you have to sell at the same time they see your ad. One client of mine had determined that at any given time only 3% of the local population had any interest at all in the appliances he sold. That’s why it’s called mass media – you need to get to a critical mass in order to reach the number of people who might actually buy, making your investment in media profitable.
2. Google AdWords is unlike any other paid media.
Google AdWords costs are based on CPCs – Cost Per Click. (Although they do have an option for CPM campaigns too, but let’s stay with the basic for now.) That means you only pay when someone clicks on your ad and winds up on your landing page or website. It sounds like a no-brainer – Hey, I only pay for the advertising that works… what a concept! Instead of buying a TV show or a radio day-part, you’re buying a word or phrase that people would use if they are searching for your product or service online. I’m a freelance writer so “freelance copywriter” would probably be the most likely phrase I’d consider buying – note the addition of “copy” because I don’t need to attract inquiries from people who want a magazine article or a movie script (although a movie deal would be sweet!). I also have the ability to define or limit my Google AdWords geographically, either by including “Ohio” in the phrase, because that’s my primary geographic area, or by some other back-end magic that Google can use.
In traditional paid media you know exactly what you’re spending and when the advertising will appear. With SEM, you bid on your key words, which means someone else could outbid you and appear ahead of you, or bump you off the list altogether. With Google AdWords you set a daily budget, so you won’t suddenly find yourself with a bombshell of a bill as a result of some kid clicking on your ad over and over “just for fun.” On the other hand, if you blow through your budget by noon you’ll miss out on searches at the end of the work day or evening. Maybe that doesn’t matter – a hit is a hit. Or, maybe it does if your customers tend to look in the morning but buy at night. Google has helpful suggestions for improving your ad position, but most of them seem to involve increasing the “max CPC bid” you’re willing to pay for a click. Go figure. However, Google also allows you to only advertise during certain times of day as another option – it just keeps getting more intricate.
3. Kind of like EBay for Advertising. But kind of not.
When you buy an AdWord you’re really buying an ad, that will appear at the top or side of a search result (1) when someone searches for that word or phrase (2) when you’ve outbid other people and (3) when the Quality of your ad makes it more relevant than other ads in the cue.
If I want to buy “freelance copywriter” as an AdWord, I’m bidding against other freelance writers. Maybe I’ll bid $0.10 per click with a daily budget limit of $5.00, so my maximum weekly outlay is $35. When someone does a Google search on freelance copywriter, my ad will appear ahead of anyone bidding less than ten cents, but behind anyone bidding more. The competition can change with every search based on new people bidding or dropping out. Once you reach your daily limit of click-throughs, you’re out. I don’t know how many searches a day are done on “freelance copywriter,” but Google can give you historical statistics through their Keyword Planner. Note: you must have an AdWord account to use Keyword Planner. You used to be able to do a keyword search on your own for free, to help yourself figure out what keywords to put on your website for SEO, but Google decided to monetize that service. Jerks!
I sat through a video by a Google Economist explaining the strategy for bidding on and buying Google AdWords. Really interesting stuff if you’re into economics. I’m not. But it did drive home the notion that in order to make a good, effective, profitable investment in Google AdWords, you or your marketing consultant or your agency’s digital media buyer has to do a fair amount of number crunching and “what-if” scenarios. If it’s just you, then you need to set aside some time, possibly take a course, and get up to speed on this. It’s not as easy as saying, “Hey, I like Mike Trivisanno’s show on the radio. I think I’ll run some spots on it.” You’re paying money to get potential customers to come to your website (or call your store). You will need to do the grunt work to determine if the value is worth more than the cost.
4. Quality over quantity.
You buy an AdWord but you run an ad. It’s a really small ad, especially if you’re used to buying two-page spreads or page-dominant ads. Every word is critical. Here’s why: Google looks at your ad and determines how relevant it is to the keywords that someone is searching. That, after all, is Google’s DNA – delivering search results that are relevant based on an algorithm of how often people with similar searches clicked on the same link.
What that means to you is that if your ad receives a higher Quality Score based on relevancy, Google will move it ahead of other ads, even ads that had a higher keyword bid.
Google AdWords also allows (encourages, actually) you to develop multiple “campaigns” of ads so that you can have a better chance of having a high Quality Score ad that is relevant to a search. In my case that might mean having an ad that says “award-winning radio copywriter” in my campaign to be a better match for someone searching for “freelance copywriter radio.” As I understand it, I’m in the cue with my bid for “freelance copywriter,” and having the radio variation in my campaign moves me to the front, or closer to it.
Google AdWords also recommends developing Groups of words, each with a campaign of ads. You can place different bids on the Groups to focus on keywords with a higher likelihood of a sale, while still having your ad included in a more generic search, because sometimes those pay off, too. Of course, whenever you win Google wins.
5. See yourself through your customers’ eyes.
It’s not about you. It’s about what your customer is looking for. You need to get outside of yourself and ask what words would a potential customer use to search for what I have to sell. Then, determine your ad copy that specifically addresses the need identified by the search. There are a number of courses and videos and blogs about how to write effective SEM ads. Offering extra value like free shipping or a discount and including a call to action are two of the more obvious recommendations. What’s even more important, though, is taking it to the next level.
So your prospective customer clicks on your ad. What happens then? Well, for one you’re out the ten cents or whatever you bid. But now those eyes are focused just on you. Make sure that what they see is what they’re expecting. Creating an effective landing page is not necessarily part of Google AdWords, but it’s the logical end to the process you’ve put into play. Someone does a search, they see your ad, click on your link… they should arrive at a place in your website that fulfills s the promise of your ad. That’s probably not your home page. Don’t make your customer have to hunt through multiple clicks to find the offer that interested them in the first place. Make it easy for them to say yes.
Am I using Google AdWords? Should you?
I am not at this time. I don’t do retail commerce from my website. And I’m still not convinced that Google AdWords can generate higher quality leads than I currently get through networking and referrals. On the other hand, I am often asked to advise my clients on their media strategies. And I’m probably going to get tasked with writing Google AdWords ads, at some point, as part of a larger marketing communications campaign. So learning more about something is always time well spent.
The Google AdWords website has good overview information, although some of the most helpful stuff takes a few clicks to find. There are a number of YouTube videos that give good information and tips, although the quality can tend to be erratic – it’s YouTube, after all, owned by Google. And, of course, there are resources like the Mastering Google AdWords course from ASPE-ROI if you really want to do a deep dive.
At the very least, Google AdWords should be one of the media tactics any business should consider when developing their annual budget for marketing communications.