This is the 1st in a series of posts focused on SMB marketing. I will touch on SEO, Marketplaces and e-mail in the coming weeks, but today, I wanted to focus on what is typically the largest line item in any digital marketing budget – Paid Search.

Paid Search is pretty close to magic. Find some keywords, type a few characters, and bingo, instant success, right? Well, not quite. This is a very short primer for the small businesses out there who are running their own campaigns.

7 Things to Know About Paid Search

  1. Pick Your Keywords Carefully (Marketer Know Thyself): Let’s imagine that you sell antique pet items. Before you write one single ad, you need to work backwards.Who is your customer? What will they be searching for? In our case, the antique pet item enthusiast isn’t likely to search broadly for the word “antiques” (BTW, Google gets about 5,000,000 searches a month for that word). Don’t be seduced by volume. Target the terms that are the most relevant to you. Your target customer has a unique language. Learn it! “Antique pet items” gets almost no volume, but when your ad show to that searcher…it will be a mutual win!
  2. Broad Match Is Not Your Friend: Google has two top-level options for keyword targeting – Broad Match and Exact Match. Broad match is allowing Google to match your query to things that are similar to your keyword. So, if you are selling “antique yarn toys for cats”, your ads may show up for queries like “cat toys” or “pet toys”. While they are very similar, it is unlikely that your ad for a specific antique cat toy will have broad appeal to the general audience. But you will be getting a LOT more exposure. So, part of you thinks, “Great!”…but if you follow it through, lots of exposure could mean a lot of clicks…to an audience that is very broad. That means lots of CPC cost…at little return. The promise and premise of Adwords advertising is efficiency. A targeted ad to an interested party. Broad match defeats that and drives your efficiency down.
  3. Don’t Let Google Set Your Bids: Despite the fox watching the hen house theories, I believe that Google tries to do the right thing in paid search. They are in this for the long run, so they aren’t out trying to steal your money through inefficient bidding. But, bidding according to algorithms is hard, especially on the fringes of volume. If you are bidding on lower volume keywords where the data isn’t all that great, Google is going to guess…and they can guess badly. I did a test with Kilroy Critter Care – I let Google set the bids on small volume keywords in a really narrow set of zip codes…so the data set was tiny. I was paying an average of $7 a click using Google. When I set the bidding per keyword, my average click now costs about $0.53. Google wasn’t trying to scam me…it is just that the data set that I asked it to model wasn’t sufficient, so it failed. Handle this yourself…or hire someone to think about it for you.
  4. This Is Advertising – So Advertise: Google doesn’t give you a lot of real estate to work with, so you will have to be creative. If you don’t have a strong brand, you have to give potential visitors some reason to click on your ad. Creative matters. It could be free shipping, or gift with purchase, or that you are a family-run business…but try to cram a little of yourself into the handful of characters that Google allows. It will result in higher click through rates. Our tagline of “Kid Run Pet Care” pulls twice as many clicks as “We Care For Your Pets Like Our Own”. Marketing matters, even in the math-focused world of paid search.
  5. Track Your Conversions: You aren’t buying a billboard. You aren’t buying a TV ad. You are buying a click. And you can track that click. You can find out what word attracted the visitor and what they bought. Install the conversion tracking pixel…so that you can calculate your return on spend. It matters. Traffic isn’t worth paying for…sales are. If you aren’t in e-commerce and want to track calls, or newsletter signups, or contact forms, you can do all of that too. It can get a little complicated, but I know that you can figure it out. Data helps you make decisions. So capture it. If you can’t or won’t install the conversion pixel (or a similar tracking protocol) I would suggest NOT using paid search…it just defeats the real benefit of targeted keyword-based advertising.
  6. Watch Your Margins: Lots of business only focus on retail price vs. item cost (or service cost). You need to think about your marketing costs (on a transactional and lifetime basis) vs your margin (on a transactional basis and lifetime basis). PPC gives you the opportunity to drive traffic efficiently, but it has incremental cost. PPC, used inefficiently, tugs at your margins. (And for a quick look at at the economics of paid search and discounting, read George Michie’s blog post at the RKG Blog). So target carefully (tip 1&2), gather data (tip 5) so that you are driving a campaign that is making you money.
  7. Test: Paid Search is NOT a set and forget it marketing activity. It requires active management and testing. From testing keywords to bidding to creative to geo-location targeting, gathering data and testing is what makes you successful. Test as many times as you can, test as many options as you can, and let the data tell you what to do.

Watch for the rest of the SMB series coming soon!