7 ways you can outperform your competitors at paid search advertising

Alex Redfern, paid search manager at digital marketing agency, Semetrical, explains to Talk Business how companies can improve their advertising on Google.

shutterstock_276509996In 2016, UK businesses will spend an estimated £2.6 billion solely on Google search ads. Indeed, the paid search channel has become more important than ever as growth in online activity has continued. For start-ups, which have new websites that do not rank highly in the search results, search ads are often essential to create demand and drive growth.

The aim of a typical paid search campaign is to maximise conversions (usually sales or leads), whilst minimising the cost per conversion so that each conversion leads to a profit. Businesses compete intensely to be shown on page one and gain clicks and conversions. Those that don’t fully understand paid search advertising end up running unprofitable campaigns and paying excessively to attract users that do not convert.

Fortunately, unlike other forms of advertising, paid search is less art than science; if your process is strong, you can attract more converting users at a lower cost than your competitors. Apply the tips below to your advertising to give your business the best possible chance of success.

Conduct in-depth keyword research

To build an effective campaign, the first thing you need to do is gain a sound understanding of how your users search for your product. To do this, put yourself in their shoes and brainstorm how they might search. Next, put the search terms, otherwise known as ‘keywords’, into Google’s Keyword Planner and it will give you related terms and tell you the volume of searches for each of them. If you’re stuck for ideas, you can start typing in Google and it will give you suggestions. Be creative – Google isn’t the only place to look – you can talk to your customers or even use Pinterest, which is more retail-orientated than other social networks. To minimise costs and maximise conversions, you need to identify keywords that are both long-tail (highly specific) and have purchasing intent. Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of developing an extensive list of negative keywords, i.e. search terms that you don’t want your ads to show for. These are essential to avoid wasted spend.

Build a manageable structure

Once you have all your keywords, you’ll need to categorise them into campaigns and ad groups. For example, a retailer might have one campaign for shoes and another for coats; a property company might have one campaign for rent and another for sale. Think carefully about your structure; having one that is well thought out will make it easier to analyse and optimise performance, as well as control budgets effectively – budgets are set at campaign level.

Use the right match types

Match types are defined in order to control which searches can trigger your ad. Google recommends using Broad Match as it maximises traffic by allowing ads to show even when users’ search terms are merely related to the keywords you have in your campaign. Of course, this helps maximise Google’s revenues. In our experience, Broad Match often leads to lots of non-converting, irrelevant traffic. Instead, use Broad Match Modifier, which will allow your ads to show for different variations of your keywords but not for synonyms or related searches.

Don’t underestimate the importance of targeting

Google allows you to define both the locations and languages you want to target. Think carefully about this. If you are a local business, you can narrow the location targeting right down to your local town. If you think your product may sell in foreign markets, you can test performance by allocating a small budget to these markets. One mistake advertisers often make with language targeting is setting it to English. This means that people who have their Google interface in a different language won’t see your ad even when their search matches your keywords. Globally, up to 1bn people speak English as a second language and may therefore search in English – if you don’t want to exclude this huge market, target ‘All Languages’.

Craft targeted ads then test, test, test!

To create the best possible ads, you need to understand your customers and why they would choose your business, then include these selling points in the ads. In addition, ensure your ads are targeted as tightly as possible to the keywords. For example, if your keywords include specific locations, mention the locations in the ads. This will increase the likelihood of users clicking on your ads. You should set up 2-3 ads for each group, then regularly test different variations. The key metric you should look at is the click-through rate. Done correctly, creative testing is a scientific process – change one variable at a time and always look for statistical significance.

Design a bidding strategy that maximises profit

Most businesses have products that vary considerably in profit per sale, yet this is frequently ignored in advertisers’ bidding strategies. Make sure that higher value products have bids that reflect their value. For simple campaigns, you can manage bids manually. This allows control but can be time-consuming. Alternatively, Google AdWords or other platforms can bid automatically based on a target cost per conversion or a target return on ad spend. This saves time and with enough data can be highly effective.

Conduct conversion rate optimisation simultaneously

Even if you follow all of the tips above, you may still find that your campaigns are too expensive and are not driving enough conversions. Spending big to drive people to your site without ever testing how they react to different page variations seems crazy, yet it happens all the time. Using a tool such as Optimizely, you can easily test variations of your pages and eventually improve the conversion rate on your campaigns. Even a small increase in the conversion rate could save you thousands.