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How Small Businesses Win At PPC

As a small business looking for a supplemental source of traffic to gain new customers, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising via Google Ads can be a profitable channel.

This article intends to help you get the most out of your advertising efforts. By the end, you should have a ground-level understanding of what it takes to strategize, launch, optimize, and scale campaigns to get the most for your money.

The guiding principle throughout all of this is to keep it simple and start small. Simplicity is the best way for small businesses to get started with PPC.

Getting Started: Goals, Budget, Targeting, Landing Pages & Keywords

Goals: When I speak with small businesses--or businesses of any size--a common question for those who have never advertised on Google Ads is, “Where do we start?”, and I typically answer with another question: “What are your goals?” Sure, you want to generate leads, but are contact form submissions or phone calls more important for your business? What kind of business are you trying to generate? Do you want to promote one service over another? Framing your advertising efforts in the form of goals helps you decide what type of campaigns to run and how much budget you’ll need to help you reach those goals.

Geographic Targeting & Landing Pages: “Where should we target? What keywords should we bid on? Which web page do we send traffic to?” All of these questions can be answered with a quick trip through Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

The Landing Pages report (under Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages) in Google Analytics shows you the landing pages producing your best conversion rates. This is a great starting point for deciding where to send paid traffic.

In the Location report (under Audience > Geo > Location) in Google Analytics, you’ll find a list of locations and (if you have Goals set up) conversion rates by locations. This is usually the best place to determine your intended geographical targeting. It’s always a good idea to start your paid advertising efforts by reaching deeper into geographical areas where you’re already doing well through other traffic sources. Even if you don’t have goals set up in Google Analytics, you likely know where current customers are coming from, and you should reach deeper into those territories before branching out into new ones.

Keywords: In Google Search Console (under Performance > Queries), there’s a report that shows search queries driving (and not driving) clicks to your website. These may be easily translated into keywords for you to bid on in your paid search campaigns. Download the keywords that are most relevant for your business, and incorporate these terms into your Google Ads campaigns to see which ones are driving the most conversions and having the biggest impact on your business.

Budget: Now, with your list of keywords, geographic targets, and landing pages, you should have the right inputs in order to determine a budget. Upload these inputs into the Google Keyword Planner inside Google Ads, and play with cost-per-click numbers (the tool usually returns a “suggested bid” number to help you toggle your bids) in order to see how much a month’s worth of clicks will cost you.

More On Choosing The Right Keywords

Google Search Console shows you all of the search queries driving traffic to your website, and depending on how optimized your website is, these terms are likely all over the place.

These terms may be linked to blog articles you’ve written and carry top-of-funnel, or “tire-kicker,” intent. You want to sift through all of the terms and choose only the ones that carry bottom-of-funnel, “ready-to-buy,” intent. How will you know? In some cases, the search intent will be obvious (it’s the difference between “best bookkeeping practices” and “best bookkeeping services”). In other cases, search the phrase on Google and see what the paid ads say. Conducting searches on core keywords will also help you survey the competition and pull ad copy ideas.

Organizing Keywords Into A Small Business PPC Account Structure

Once you have keywords, you need to group these keywords into campaigns. Campaigns consist of ad groups that contain keywords. In the case of a small business with a limited budget, and to limit losses at the outset, I typically organize campaigns around service areas (or product categories), and include one keyword phrase with two match types (phrase and exact match) in each ad group.

Using my business as an example, below is a look at how you might structure campaigns:

Basic Google Ads account structure for small businesses.

You might view the overall account as my main service offering. My campaigns are split by verbiage (PPC vs. Google Ads), and searches conducted by business size (all searches vs. “small business” searches). At a high level, campaigns are split by topic and budget. In my mind, PPC is a broader topic than Google Ads. I want to spend more on Google Ads keywords than PPC keywords. Similarly, I want to the option to spend more on “small business” keywords than all other keywords in the account.

You likely have a much more complex service offering, but you always want to start with a few of your most profitable services or products in order to maximize your return on budget. It’s easier to branch out after you experience some gains.

Still, regardless of your industry or offering, the goal of organizing closely linked campaigns and ad groups is the same.

Tips For Account Optimization: Managing Bids & Streamlining Search Terms

We’re going to skip the process of writing ad copy and uploading your campaign assets into Google Ads because those are two separate topics that deserve their own articles. Instead, let’s assume you’ve uploaded your campaigns and you're ready to launch. Before you do, you want to know what to watch out for and how to optimize your campaigns to peak performance levels.

I say, “Watch your Search Terms report. Keep it clean.” The search terms report shows you all of the keywords that generated clicks to your account. What I mean by keeping this report “clean” is that only relevant phrases should appear in this report. Any irrelevant variations should be added as negative keywords to block this traffic from clicking on your ads and wasting your budget.

Even before launching your initial campaigns, it’s important to search your keywords and see the related phrases that pop up. If any of these searches would be irrelevant to your business, or something you do not want to spend money on, then add those keywords as negatives to your campaign. I have a general list of negative phrases I usually apply to all campaigns before starting out. Some of these terms: “free,” “cheap,” “pdf,” “job,” “training,” “classes,” and “hire.” Here’s the larger list of potential negative keywords I choose from. Checking your search terms report and applying negative keywords on a regular basis is more than half the battle in proper account optimization.

The other half of the battle is managing your keyword bids. Most of the time, you'll want to set your bid to target an average position of 2.5-3.5. The keyword bids that come out of the budget exercise will give you a good place to start as you gain visibility and see what these positions yield in terms of conversions. I like to allow my campaigns to run for 2-3 weeks before I start toggling bids up or down. The best way to know whether a keyword’s bid should be increased or decreased is by determining the cost per conversion for that keyword. If that number is higher than what you’re willing to spend for a conversion and the keyword has a high average position, you’ll want to decrease that bid. If the cost per conversion on that keyword is lower than you’re willing to spend, increase your bid to see if you can generate more conversions at similar costs in a higher position.

How & When To Scale For Conversion Growth

Who doesn’t want overnight success? Who doesn’t want to live in an ideal world? The path to your lead goals is not a straight line.

The key for small businesses to win at PPC is to keep it simple and start small. Make tiny refinements every few days or so. Try not to make any large-scale changes for 4-6 weeks. The more data you’re comfortable with obtaining (or, the more money you're willing to spend), the more assured you can be about your decisions as you make them. These decisions range from making large bid decreases on mobile devices, eliminating a state from targeting, or pausing out keywords. What’s the most you’re willing to spend for a conversion? Now double it. That’s the amount you want to have paid before you call something “poor performing.” Having that number is the gauge you’ll use to eliminate what’s not working and amplify what is working.

If your search terms report is clean, your keyword bids are at a moderate level, and you see conversions from a cluster of keywords, the next area to focus on is conversion rates. Creating PPC-specific landing pages is the best way to see improvement in your campaigns. The dedicated landing page I’m referring to does not need to be a fancy Cadillac of a page. It can be an exact duplicate of your current landing page, but with a larger phone number or an imbedded form. Small changes with low effort can lead to big improvements.

If you see conversions from a cluster of keywords, make sure you have all variations of these keywords covered. Is there another way the same person might search for the same thing? Expand your campaigns with those types of keywords. Once those keywords are in the account and if there’s more budget for you to use on new keyword expansion opportunities, develop campaigns for the next most important areas of your business.

Whatever you do, slow it down and take your time. PPC can be nurtured into a profitable advertising channel for your business, but it’s a lot harder (and more painful) to do if you’ve blown an uncomfortable amount of money in a short time.


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