A successful internet marketing campaign has a lot of pieces – almost too many to easily convey to stakeholders what’s being done. In my previous job, we created a long and detailed monthly report that would break down most of what we did, but generally from the perspective of the results we were trying to generate.
There were plenty of bits and pieces that would get buried in the data and while I strongly encouraged team members to elaborate, there was no way to consistently report on all of it every single month.
To me this didn’t matter. The clients wanted to know what they were paying for, but more importantly, they wanted to know that what they were paying for was working. That they were investing in a sound product and getting a good return on that investment. The reporting showed what they were getting back from their investment (or not getting back in a handful of rare cases), and it succeeded for that reason.
So it’s not surprising to me that I get certain questions more than others – people wondering why their current investments aren’t working the way they expect them to. My new clients come to me with any number of concerns – the lack of results from a previous SEO engagement, the cost of content, the potential (or lack thereof) of a social media marketing campaign, and biggest of all, the massive cost and often small return of an advertising campaign.
The Growing Cost of Paid Search and Social Ads
As the digital business landscape has evolved, so too has the cost of advertising in it. Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and even smaller platforms like Twitter or Bing have increased in cost rapidly because the audience is so much more robust, active, and ubiquitous in 2016 than it was in 2006.
It’s hard to imagine a time before PPC advertising as a vital component of a digital marketing campaign (or a time before digital marketing campaigns), but it was only a decade ago that advertising online was a scattershot enterprise, done with banners and animated gifs.
Today, savvy advertisers target thousands of very specific keywords in tightly defined markets with weekly or even daily review and turnaround on bids, placement and ad copy. It’s the single fastest moving and most revised component of a digital marketing campaign. Google PPC is such a big beast and so deeply entwined with the vagaries and technicalities of Google’s search engine, that it requires an expert – a single person whose sole job is to do amazing things behind the scenes. And it can be very costly if you don’t have that person.
The Lead Question
Which brings me back to the big question I get from new clients and business owners I meet and discuss marketing strategy with. The number of leads they are currently getting with an advertising campaign, and it all comes back to the holistic nature of digital marketing.
The problem with a lot of PPC advertising campaigns and SEM agencies that focus on them is that they approach paid search in a vacuum. They create landing pages, update site copy, and run ads without considering the impact of outside factors or the way in which these campaigns can benefit from other non-paid tactics.
Here’s a prime example:
Several years ago I worked with a locksmith in Wisconsin who was running paid ads in Google for about $1,000 a month. He was targeting a number of local keywords and driving that traffic back to one of three landing pages – a general one, a local targeted one for his biggest market, and a consultation form.
The conversion rate was not good. He was spending close to $300 per lead, getting only 3-4 new leads per month with his $1,000 spend. For a locksmith whose average order size was between $200 and $500, he was barely coming out ahead. Not losing money, but not growing his business either, and the cost of having someone manage that campaign was bringing him very close to a break even.
His first question to me was “how can I get more leads from my ad budget?”. I looked at the following five things:
- The keywords being targeted – The keyword groups weren’t bad. They were related to specific problems and pain points his customers might have, and they were effectively geotargeted to people in his immediate area. The real issue here was that his website didn’t reflect these keywords. Quality scores were middling and he was paying too much for his ads because the website had no local content, nor did it cover those specific problems.
- Landing page design – He wasn’t using specific landing pages that related to his keyword groups. Someone would click on a very targeted ad for “24 hour locksmith, kenosha, Wisconsin” and end up on the homepage for a generic looking locksmith that didn’t mention Kenosha or Wisconsin. I recommended creating a new landing page for each of the ad groups that were running (about a dozen).
- Clear conversion points – The ads were targeting problems, but his website did not. Because of this the above two points became issues. We created new content on the site targeting specific problems people might have that would lead them to call a locksmith. These were split between an FAQ and a blog that we started scheduling weekly posts on. The content would eventually help drive traffic organically, but also offered support for the claims made by his ads.
- Ad timing and placement – The ads were being run 24 hours a day, because he was a 24-hour locksmith. The problem, however, was that it was being shown evenly throughout the day. After speaking to his sales and support team, we determined that the best hours for a locksmith are actually between 10am and 5pm – the majority of his work was contractor or home owner related, not emergency lockouts. So we adjusted the spend. Second, for those ads that do run late at night, we shifted the spend to mobile devices where people are most likely to be looking for a locksmith at 1am.
- Created educational content – The assumption was that all of his customers were locked out and needed an emergency service right away. But these lockouts only made up about 25% of his business and he didn’t want it to grow – getting pulled out of bed at 1:30 am by someone locked out of their apartment after a long night drinking is not a fun way to build a business. So we shifted strategy, creating content about the types of locks one might consider for a new house, how to ensure keys are not duplicated, and other tips that were useful to homeowners and contractors who might consider a locksmith. We gated this content on landing pages and ran ads pointing to it.
The end result of all these changes was an increase in lead generation of 175% in the first month. Granted that was only an additional 5 leads, but it meant a cost per lead drop of nearly $200 from $300 to $117 and an increase in business. That number continued to improve over the next three months, but more importantly, all that new content on the website started to generate organic leads through Google search.
People found him for keywords like “Kenosha Wisconsin locksmith” organically. The total ROI on these efforts grew over time instead of dropping off, and eventually he was able to cut his ad budget.
The Next Step with Ad Spend
This is a question I get a lot, and unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to it. Some inbound agencies will tell clients that paid search has no value. I disagree. Content marketing and inbound techniques are important, but if you can’t drive traffic to all of the new content you created, it won’t do anything.
Paid search allows you to drive immediate traffic to high quality content and recoup your investment much faster than if you waited the 6-9 months it now takes for a dedicated SEO campaign to really kick in. But the way straight SEM tactics approach paid search isn’t effective anymore either.
Paid search can’t work in a vacuum, nor will those ads convert effectively if there isn’t a smarter approach to creating content that delivers on the promises of the ads being run. So the next time you are doing a review of your ad spend and wondering just how many leads you should or could be getting out of that budget, stop looking at the ads themselves and look closer at the content you are sending people to with those ads.
I guarantee you’ll find more than a small share of things that can be changed for the better.
Learn how to get more from your landing pages and boost your conversion rates for ongoing campaigns with our new optimization checklist: