Practical Ecommerce

7 easy ways to improve your paid search performance

“Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and advertise.” – Ted Turner

Over the years I’ve worked with dozens of small online retailers that manage their own Google AdWords accounts. Oftentimes these retailers rely heavily on paid advertising to attract visitors and drive sales. But they also operate with limited funds to commit to that advertising.

For retailers in this situation, even small improvements in their campaign performance can have a meaningful impact on overall sales. And because small retailers have difficulty ranking organically as high as they wish, they rely on those paid opportunities to get the clicks that sustain them from month to month.

Here are seven simple ways to get more bang for your buck when it comes to paid search advertising.

1. Don’t Rely on Unrestrained, Broad Keyword Matching

When asked to look at AdWords campaigns that merchants put together for themselves, the number one thing I see that can be improved is an over-reliance on just a few broad keywords to drive traffic.

To be clear, broad keyword matching is the least-restrictive way of pairing keywords on which you’re bidding with user’s search behavior. And it is the easiest sort of basic campaign to set up in the Google AdWords interface.

Imagine that I have a web store that sells a range of cute beach flip-flops, but in an effort to generate traffic, I bid on “shoes” and I do so on a broad match basis.

The outcome of that decision is that I’m not only bidding to display my ads when a searcher types in “shoes” but also “high-heel shoes”, “tennis shoes”, “definition of shoes”, “shoe manufacturers”, “trademarking brand names for shoes”, and so on. Broad match means that the keyword has to appear somewhere in the search string. But any search string that contains that keyword “counts” and is a candidate for showing your ad.

It’s true that a website that sells beach flip-flops is, in fact, selling shoes. But “shoes” is much broader than ” flip-flops.” Moreover, not every search that contains the word “shoes” is a search with the intent of specifically purchasing shoes — i.e. “repair shoes”, “recycle shoes”.

Two additional facts make it even worse.

First, the competitive landscape of bidding for keywords is often strongest and most expensive when the search terms are broad and generic because so many people are bidding for those terms. When you bid on “shoes”, you’re bidding against everyone else who is bidding for “shoes” and that can be a huge world of bidders, including Zappos, the huge online shoe retailer.

Second, rarely is a short generic search on something like “shoes” going to result in a sale in the very near future, at least for smaller retailers. Certainly someone who is interested in purchasing new shoes might start his search on something fairly generic — “summer shoes for sale” — but what they are really doing is browsing at that point.

As consumers refine and focus their interests and become more committed to what sorts of shoes are right for them, for example, their search behavior will often reflect this. Instead of searching on “shoes for sale” as they get closer to making a purchase, the specificity of their searches will increase. Someone who searches on “navy blue suede platform pumps size 6.5” is much more likely going to purchase that very product versus someone who searches on the broader and more generic “shoes for sale”.

If you’re able to pair a much more specific search string, essentially a product description, with an appropriate product landing page, or even category page, the clicks you get will be more relevant, the conversion more substantial, and the cost per click will be lower as it will be a much less competitive space.

2. Use Negative Keywords

To the degree that it does make sense to use broader match keywords in your ad groups, you can at least restrain unwanted and unproductive clicks using negative keywords.

Negative keywords instruct Google that you do not want your ads to appear. For example, in my hypothetical web store selling beach flip-flops, if I am determined to capture more search space by bidding on broad keywords like “shoes” at least I can discourage searches that will clearly not be very relevant to what I have to offer.

For example, by adding “pumps” to ad groups or campaign as a negative keyword, I can at least restrict my advertising in such a way that searches that contain both “pumps” and “shoes” will not trigger my advertisements. After all, my website doesn’t sell pumps.

Using a combination of exact match and phrase match, when done well, can result in better conversion and higher relevancy. Adding a few broad match terms that have been heavily filtered by relevant negative keyword matches can expand the reach of your advertising and capture more clicks. But those campaigns should be monitored closely, to see if there are other negative keywords that can be added to your list on the grounds that they do not produce converting visits over time.

3. Connect your Ads to the Correct Landing Pages

A rookie mistake that I see all too often is constructing ad campaigns in such a way that they all point to the same landing page, usually the home page. In other words, all the ads — regardless of keyword, content, or visitor intent — take all searchers to a single page on a given website.

There certainly are times when the home page of the site is the preferred destination for a given keyword or ad copy. Generic short tail keyword searches fit that profile. For example, if you have a website that sells bath fixtures, then using the home page as the landing page for an ad that appears under a search for “bath fixtures” is probably not a bad choice. For one thing, you don’t have any idea what the customer is really after other than, well, bath fixtures.

But imagine that your website sells a category of replacement shower heads, and you want to advertise that fact. An ad that appears under a search for “shower heads for sale” ought to take the visitor to the category page for that specific sort of product, rather than a generic page that talks about all of the different content on the site.

Likewise, the more specific the keyword search that triggers the ad, the more focused the outcome should be. For example, a Google search on “chrome Moen shower heads” clearly demonstrates the searcher’s intent. Delivering a click on an ad that appears under that search is made more powerful when the results that are served up are limited to a page of products that meet all and only those criteria — i.e., items that are made by Moen, have a chrome finish, and are shower heads.

Taken to a logical conclusion, whole ad groups can be constructed around specific products on your site. In each case, a list of targeted keywords can be matched tightly to a specific product, or very narrow range of products. The ad copy will discuss that specific product, and the landing page can be the associated product page.

There is another advantage to pursuing this strategy at every level. Google has a ranking system, called “Quality Score,” for the relationship between keyword, ad copy, and landing page. The tighter the relevance of those three items, the higher the Quality Score, which, in turn, lowers the cost you pay for clicks and increases the likelihood that your ad will be seen prominently. By really thinking through the relationships between these three factors, you can get more bang for your advertising buck every time.

4. Bid on your Brand

This is a short, quick point, but an important one. In building out your AdWords account it’s easy to overlook bidding on your own branded keywords. If you own the Ajax Plumbing Fixture Company, then bid on that search term, along with related terms like “Ajax Plumbing”, “Ajax Plumbing Fixture Company Reviews”, and “Ajax Plumbing Fixture Company Coupons”.

It is likely that your website will already appear organically at the very top of the search engine results page for branded searches, or at least it should. So you might wonder if advertising on those searches makes any sense. But ads can be powerful even in that situation, and because they are highly relevant and so specific, the cost of the clicks is almost always very low.

Not only does advertising on your brand searches allow you to control more of the space on the results page, the fact that you can control the ad copy can be powerful. You can position trust-building messages, offer a coupon code, call attention to a positive review, and so on.

The fact that you’re running a paid placement above your organic search result doesn’t mean that a viewer will always click the paid ad, either. In testing I’ve found that the results are mixed. Oftentimes people will see the ad, mentally process the content, but still click the organic link, saving you money.

5. Google Product Listing Ads

This isn’t too well known, but Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs) are, for almost everyone who uses them, the highest-converting, best return-on-investment advertising opportunities in the world of Google paid placement. There are extra steps and added complexity to creating Google Product Listing Ads. But the payoff in terms of controlling your investment in advertising and really seeing a nice lift in sales makes the extra work worth it.

In my experience, if I were limited to using just two paid channels to drive all my sales, I’d select Google Product Listing Ads and Amazon Product Ads. Nothing else comes even close to the success I’ve seen in those two channels when measured in terms of pure sales performance.

This really isn’t that surprising when you think about it. Google Product Listing Ads are not only strikingly pictorial in places that are overwhelmingly textual, but the ads themselves appear on the page in some of the most valuable space — that upper right hand corner of the search results page. The ads include pricing information as well as product photography.

If you’re a Google Trusted Store, you get an added advantage to using Google Product Ads as your products are marked with a special symbol indicating that the seller is, in fact, a Google Trusted Store.

If you have yet to try Google Product Listing Ads, consider starting just a small campaign to see what impact it has on your click-through and conversion rates. You might be happily surprised by the outcome.

6. Track Conversion Rate by Device

Google AdWords gives the advertiser control over the sorts of devices on which ads appear. It also allows advertisers to change bid strategies by device, so that ad spend can be throttled-back or throttled-up depending on the tool the consumer is using.

This is a feature that advertisers often overlook, and it is an issue that will reward a bit of study, as in all likelihood you will find that your conversion rate will be different between visitors who are using a mobile device like an iPhone versus a tablet versus a desktop computer.

In an extreme case where a particular website does not render well on a mobile device like an iPhone, you might find that your conversion rate on that channel is near zero. So advertising dollars spent in that arena are wasted.

Look at basic visitor engagement metrics and conversion data for your website at the device level. Do you see trends or factors that would lead you to want to modify your bidding strategy by device?

Reallocating spending away from low-converting channels to higher-converting ones could result in additional sales and revenue at the same basic level of overall spending. And you can do this quickly, without modifying any other part of your overall campaign strategy. That simple little fix in some cases can save thousands of dollars per year.

7. Consider ‘Day Parting’

Not all clicks are created equal. A study of your conversion rate analytics may reveal that there are certain times of the day or week where your shoppers are more likely to buy. During those times, an aggressive spending strategy to capture more clicks might make sense.

The counterpoint is true, also. During times of the day or week where conversion rates are lower, bidding high to gain lots of visits will drive up your conversion cost, resulting in less profit on each sale.

Not only does AdWords allow you to control your bidding limits by day and hour, it also allows you to control it based on location. You might find, for example, that your conversion rate in California (or, to be more specific, San Francisco) is much higher than in, say, Missouri.

Proportion your ad spending limits to those differences in conversion rates and returns on investment. That’s really the theme through most of the suggestions that I’m sharing here, in fact: To make gains in the performance of your pay-per-click advertising, it is often more a matter of making a little progress on a thousand fronts rather than fixing the One Big Thing. Little incremental improvements can make even a small budget go much further.

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Comments ( 4 )

  1. Bharath March 6, 2014 Reply

    Good insights for a rookie like me. On the topic of “day parting” – we sell womens plus size clothing amongst others including handbags online through our store http://www.kukucloset.com

    I was surprised that I recently out of nowhere received a google charge of $250 for 1 single ad I had created and that was on a product that was already sold out :(

    When I dug back into facts I found that I had not deleted or paused the ad in google adwords (coz I run it myself as opposed to having a dedicated team or resource). More than often small online retailers like me might fall into this trap of not keeping track of ads we are running and sink up costs that have zero ROI (I told ya I was a rookie)

    Probably something to add to in your next post as a reminder to subscribers. Thank you again. I always enjoy your content and Neil’s quicksprout blog content. Both seem extremely insightful and actionable.

  2. Jordan Lindberg March 6, 2014 Reply

    First of all, I’m terribly sorry to hear about the $250 charge! That can be a horrible surprise and very upsetting.

    Your comments are very much appreciated! There is a good warning in your story to everyone that Google Adwords accounts can be dangerous as much as they can be helpful … even a small mistake can be an expensive mistake … and although there are some controls in Google Adwords to “protect” the retailer (like budget limits, etc.), those only go so far.

    One moral of your story that others can take away, too, is to regularly take time to audit your account and your bill to insure that you’re only paying for advertising that you can see is effective.

    Again, so sorry to hear about the $250. For what it is worth, I’ve done stuff like that, too. It can be so easy to do.

  3. Doug Edwards March 16, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the great overview. We sell healthcare products, mostly for non-medicated pain relief at http://mymedsupply.com

    We’re just learning adwords and have already seen a major improvement by incorporating negative keywords and much more specific long-tail keywords. You’ve given us more to look into!

  4. Jordan Lindberg March 17, 2014 Reply

    Thanks, Doug! Very kind! Yes, I think you’ll find that the more you rely on using a core of unrestrained, broad match keywords, the more you will benefit from using a list of negative keywords along side it to eliminate the cost of clicks that you know are just not going to go anywhere!

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