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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jul 28 , 2021

Digital marketing can get you in front of potential customers — the right strategy can get them to convert.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search results affect customer acquisition
  • Organic ways to acquire new leads
  • Effective paid marketing strategies
  • How to set your website up for optimal acquisition

Marketing pros who aren’t new to the game likely know all about the customer journey. It comprises the stages we base our content, campaigns, and plans on: awareness, consideration, and decision. (With delight as the bonus step.) And the customer journey is a crucial element when it comes to acquisition.

Customer acquisition is the process of converting a generated lead into a customer. It’s basically the whole funnel (or journey) combined. At the end of the day, marketing is about attracting new customers, and keeping customer acquisition top of mind is how marketers can make that happen.

While there’s no one way to pinpoint and acquire qualified leads that are sure to become customers, there are a handful of digital marketing strategies you can implement with customer acquisition in mind. Here, we’ve mapped out six of our favorites.

line of people outside from aerial view

Companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not only about the ad. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Paid search

Also known as pay per click (PPC), paid search is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies when it comes to customer acquisition. That’s because it allows companies to target their specific audience with the right keywords at the right time.

Paid search ads appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) on sites like Google and Bing. If someone’s searching for “women’s black cycling shoes,” for example, and you’re an e-commerce brand selling cycling products (including women’s black cycling shoes), you want your targeted ad to be the one they see. The same goes for brands selling other products and services.

The companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not only about the ad, though. Rather, it’s crucial to pair eye-catching, appealing ad copy with an optimized landing page that boasts consistent verbiage, clean design, and a clear call to action (CTA).

2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Along with a paid search strategy, having a solid SEO strategy helps search engines more easily recognize your website. This helps improve your rankings and, ideally, grow your reach for better customer acquisition.

Proper SEO on your site means having elements including:

  • Unique title tags on your pages
  • High-quality content 
  • Internal links and external links (to authoritative sites)
  • A sitemap
  • Meta descriptions
  • Images with alt tags

Ensuring your site is optimized for search engines won’t guarantee that you’ll get in the first position (or even on the first page) of the SERPs. The search algorithm that determines the best content for each search query is constantly changing, and the details about how search engines determine the best content to show searchers isn’t always clear.

However, by keeping your site up to date, easy to navigate, and educational for prospects and clients, you can position your brand as a thought leader and your site as a valuable source of information.

3. Social media

When it comes to social media, you’ve got the option to leverage both organic and paid avenues. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that each path can be leveraged in the same way or achieve the same results.

Let’s start with organic social media. The practice of regularly creating social media posts can help spread the word about new business offerings or updates, increase your exposure, and even help you go viral (in a good way, ideally).

While organic social posts likely won’t directly result in customer acquisition, they can aid in brand awareness, content sharing, and allow you to highlight the fun side of your brand.

Paid social, on the other hand, can be a powerful tool if wielded properly. When choosing which platforms to advertise on, you should first consider your target audience and the platforms they use most.

From there, you can take advantage of the audience targeting tools most of these platforms have in place to get your content delivered straight to those who need to see it most. 

group of millennials on their laptops laughing

When done right, remarketing one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get past visitors back to your site. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Remarketing

As we’ve touched on before, remarketing can benefit your business in numerous ways. Not only does it keep you top of mind when someone takes an action like visiting your site, or requesting a consultation or demo, but it allows you to hyper-focus your ads and ups your chances of turning a lead into a conversion.

Remarketing (also called retargeting) works by leveraging display ads to connect your business with people who have already visited your site or mobile app. When done right, it’s one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get past visitors back to your site. 

Of course, the most successful retargeting campaigns aren’t one size fits all. A brand-new site visitor shouldn’t be remarketed the same way as a returning visitor. 

Data transparency changes and the eventual demise of third-party cookies are going to force some changes in digital marketing, particularly for remarketing ads. But there’s no need to panic: Marketers have adapted to massive changes for decades. And while more solutions will become apparent as the process unfolds, focusing on attracting new prospects is one way to keep your lead pipeline flowing.

Looking for more ways to increase your customer acquisition? Let’s talk.

5. Content marketing

When people hear the phrase “content marketing,” they may automatically think of blogs. And while blogging is a great medium for businesses when it comes to customer acquisition, content can encompass much more.

Examples of valuable content include:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos and webinars
  • Guides and e-books
  • Infographics
  • Checklists
  • Downloadable templates
  • Product descriptions
  • Case studies

No matter the content you create, you want to make sure it’s accurate, helpful, and targeted. The more deliverables you create, the more industry topics you can cover, and the more likely you are to be found in organic search results by those seeking what you have to offer.

Pro tip: You can take things a step further by partnering with another brand (with a similar audience but not a competitor) on something like an infographic, webinar, or guest blog. This expands your reach, helps build your professional network, and boosts your brand’s credibility.

two people meeting at a coffeeshop

Include social share links as well as forwarding options in your email newsletter to make sharing a breeze. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Email newsletters

Email newsletters can be a powerful acquisition channel if you follow a few key strategies. As Campaign Monitor reports, you’re six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than from a tweet. 

The most successful newsletters:

  • Include one main CTA
  • Offer a tactical takeaway (like a pro tip, discount, or statistic)
  • Feature an attention-grabbing subject line
  • Have an easy-to-read template
  • Are optimized for mobile

When you’re looking to build your non-client subscriber list, get creative! You can add exit-intent pop-ups to your site, or include a subscription box in your site’s footer. Offline, you can give people the option to sign up if your brand is posted up in a booth at an industry conference or networking event — a particularly effective strategy if it’s part of a giveaway or contest.

Pro tip: Let your readers help you spread the word! Include social share links as well as forwarding options in your email newsletter to make sharing a breeze. Due to the psychology of social proof, peer-recommended content is more likely to be trusted.

The takeaway

Customers are the bread and butter of any business, and digital marketing is one of the most direct ways to connect with your desired prospects.

By knowing your audience, meeting them where they are, and analyzing the data behind your campaigns, you’ll have the tools you need to not only attract more customers, but keep them loyal and happy as well.

This post has been updated and was originally published in December 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on May 28 , 2021

It’s vital to spend your hard-earned digital marketing budget on channels that bring you the best ROI. That’s why knowing the latest Google Ads updates is key.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Reasons to invest in Google Ads
  • How the paid search platform works
  • The latest Google Ads updates
  • Expert tips for leveraging the platform successfully

The best place to launch your digital marketing efforts is where your campaign attracts a massive audience — no surprise there. And, according to a 2021 report, Google led the list of the most popular search engines, commanding more than 88% of the American market share. 

Paid advertisements often come hyperlinked at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs). Sure, you can work to rank organically for a given search term through SEO strategies — and you should. But not only can Google Ads help you get higher up in search results more quickly in the form of pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but it helps you stay competitive against others in your industry. 

The benefits of Google Ads

You probably know how Google Ads works: It shows your online advertisement to prospective customers who may be interested in your business. You place bids on keywords and search terms and secure the top slots of SERPs if you win.

As part of a PPC marketing strategy, you choose the maximum bid amount you wish to pay for each click on your ad. Your placement improves with your bid amount.

Since its inception in 2000 as Google Adwords, Google Ads has undergone many iterations and changes. Here are a few of the latest Google Ads updates that marketers should know about in 2021.

hawksem: google ads updates 2021

In early 2021, Google announced that it was “making it easier to reach the right customers on Search.” (Image via Unsplash)

1.  Privacy-minded updates

We’re calling it now: Privacy will be a hot topic for marketers this year. In some ways, it already is, thanks to Apple’s latest iOS update and Google’s new FLoC tracking technology. 

As Search Engine Land reports, Google announced privacy-focused changes for its Analytics and enhanced conversion features during a May 2021 livestream. Part of 2020’s Google Analytics 4 rollout included closing measurement gaps and enhanced customer behavioral analytics data. Now, they’re taking things even further with advanced machine learning to behavioral reports in Google Analytics.

With third-party cookies on their way out, enhanced conversion aims to use first-party and consented data to fill in users’ insight gaps, particularly across multiple devices.

2.  Changes to phrase match and broad match modifier

In early 2021, Google announced that it was “making it easier to reach the right customers on Search” through updates to its phrase match and broad match modifier keyword types. 

Now, “broad match modifier” will be phased out, and this traffic will instead fall under the “phrase match” umbrella. The rollout began in April 2021 and will be complete for all languages by July. 

The search engine notes that these changes won’t impact exact match, broad match, and negative keyword match types. They also recommend only using exact, phrase, or broad match when adding new keywords moving forward. 

3.  The smart-bidding process

Google’s smart bidding aims to make marketing more manageable. The advertiser provides Google Ads with a budget, and Google algorithms get the best conversion value out of it. The intention is to maximize the total ROI of the campaigns.

Google algorithms find the opportunities that you might never spot, even if it’s promoting a low-priced product on your list. This approach is excellent for well-funded PPC campaigns that are already converting at a high rate.

In May 2021, Google announced new Google Ads smart bidding features. These enhancements aim to help marketers better manage bid strategies and drive more performance, according to experts

The new features include top signals for Target ROAS and max conversions, new opportunities on the Recommendations page, target impression share simulators, and manager account level seasonality adjustments.

Pro tip: Automation is great, but keep in mind that a “set it and forget it” mindset can only take you so far. The most effective paid search campaigns involve consistent analyzing, testing, and optimizing that can only come from experienced digital marketing pros.

hawksem: google ads updates 2021

A look at the Google Trends results for “at home yoga” over a 90-day period. (via Google Trends)

4.  Google Trends for a dynamic environment

The digital marketing landscape changes rapidly and often, which can affect your business. Google Trends is a fascinating feature that allows you to view the topics people are searching online, as well trending topics, trends over time, and more.

Need more help with your Google Ads campaigns? That’s what we’re here for.

Google Trends can provide insights into what is popular with your audience so you can modify your marketing efforts to match their expectations. If they’re searching for a business that offers home delivery, for instance, you can consider adding this service or something similar, like a pickup option.

google ads lead form

Google now allows users to submit lead forms as soon as they click your search ad rather than having to route to a landing page. (Image via Google)

5.  Drive more leads via search ads

With the rising trend of m-commerce and more brands moving their operations online than ever before because of the pandemic, the vast majority of shopping happens online.

With that in mind, Google has made it easier for businesses to capture leads through their search ads. Now, rather than sending users to a landing page, you can serve up a lead form as soon as someone taps the headline of your ad.

To activate this feature, simply go into your campaign and select the setting option. Once the form is submitted, the person can then decide if they want to head to your site or go back to the search engine results page (SERP). 

The takeaway

Google processes about 40,000 searches per second, making it a prime marketing ground for paid ads. The beauty (and sometimes frustration) of Google Ads is that it keeps on evolving, giving you new and innovative ways to capture the attention of searchers. 

Considering the authority of the search engine, staying on top of the latest Google Ads updates can only mean good things for your PPC program.

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Apr 13 , 2021

Seasoned marketers know: not all keywords are created equal.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Differences between short-tail and long-tail keywords
  • How these two keyword types work together
  • Why using both offers the greatest chance at success
  • When to use each keyword type

The power of keywords for your SEM strategy doesn’t just depend on relevance. The type matters too.

Long-tail and short-tail keywords work toward achieving the same goal. However, they do it differently. Knowing the key differences between these two types can help you properly tweak your marketing strategy, cut costs, and get to the top of the SERPs. Let’s dive in.

long-tail vs. short-tail keywords

The competition to rank highly for short-tail keywords is often fierce. (Image via Unsplash)

Short-tail keywords

Short-tail keywords (also called “head terms” or “broad terms”) contain up to three words, such as:

  • Swimsuits
  • Red roses
  • Digital marketing services

When you think about your business, these terms are the first words that usually come to mind. They’re also the first terms to come to the consumer’s mind when they’re looking for something online.

Short-tail keywords can be the same for a variety of businesses. For “red roses,” this keyword could apply to a local flower shop, an e-commerce shop, a big-box chain store, the list goes on. That’s why the competition to rank highly for short-tail keywords is often fierce.

Short-tail keyword pros

  • Appeal to a wide target audience: excellent traffic driver for your website
  • Easy to determine: they don’t require an extensive target audience research or keyword search
  • Easy to use: can be used to create a great variety of easy-flowing content

Short-tail keyword cons

  • High competition: Everyone wants to drive significant traffic, avoid extensive keyword search, and write easy-flowing content — that’s why these keywords are costly to bid on
  • Wrong type of traffic: Short-tail keywords are more general — for example, “French tips” could apply to nail salons or those trying to learn the French language
  • Low conversion rates: Short-tail keywords can generate numerous clicks, but the number of people who convert is usually lower

Overall, short-tail keywords can generate a lot of traffic for your website, helping with brand awareness and improving rankings.

Long-tail keywords

Also called “narrow search terms,” these keywords are more specific than their short-tail partners — for example:

  • Swimsuits for toddler boys
  • Fresh red rose bouquets near me
  • Digital marketing services in Boston

By entering such a keyword, searchers are more likely to find what they’re looking for. Often, the more specific the search, the higher the likelihood of purchase intent. 

While you may not generate as much traffic with long-tail keywords as you would with short terms, more of your visitors are likely to convert.

Long-tail keyword pros

  • Low competition: Cost per click for long-tail keywords is usually much lower since you only compete against companies in a specific niche
  • Intent: People who use narrow search terms are usually closer to the bottom of the sales funnel than those who use short-tail keywords
  • Conversion rate: Searchers with high intent are more likely to convert

 Long-tail keyword cons

  • Specifics: It takes more time, research, and effort to identify long-tail keywords your target audience may be searching for — and sometimes, you could be bidding on an “empty” term
  • Content implementation: Unlike broad terms, long-tail keywords can be harder to use in your content organically

Overall, long-tail keywords are harder to identify and implement into your SEM campaign. However, they require a lower budget and provide a higher conversion rate, as Yoast explains.

Do you need short-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords are generally cheaper, more specific, and have a higher conversion rate. More than 70% of all internet searches are made up of long-tail keywords.

So, why do you need short-tail keywords anyway?

While it’s possible to design a campaign based solely on long-tail keywords, working without narrow terms can be tough since you may not generate sufficient traffic. 

Lastly, if you avoid short-tail keywords altogether, it may take a while to achieve your specific marketing goals.

short and long-tail keywords

Before using long-tail keywords in your content, consider testing them with PPC ads. (Image via Unsplash)

How short-tail and long-tail keywords work together

An efficient SEM strategy involves a balanced use of both keyword types. Here are just a few ways these keyword types complement each other:

  • Short-tail keywords create a foundation for long-tail keywords. Without brainstorming for broad terms, it’s hard to identify efficient long-tail keywords. Narrow terms grow around broad terms.
  • When creating content, you can dilute long-tail keywords with broad terms. This helps you avoid keyword stuffing, which can get you penalized by search engines.
  • Short-tail keywords target the top of the sales funnel while long-tail keywords are working closer to the bottom.

Each keyword type contributes to achieving the final goals of your marketing strategy.

Pro tip: Don’t be fooled into thinking short-tail keywords always have higher search volumes. As Ahrefs points out, this isn’t always the case

How to find short-tail and long-tail keywords

Finding short-tail keywords is somewhat easier than discovering efficient narrow terms.  You can identify them by:

  • Brainstorming what terms might bring users to you
  • Analyzing your website and traffic
  • Seeing what works for the competition

Long-tail keyword research is more complicated since it’s hard to identify which phrases your target audience is likely to use. You can find long-tail keywords by:

  • Using Google suggestions and related searches
  • Wielding different keyword search tools like Moz and SEMrush
  • Analyzing which keywords work for your website
  • Browsing forums, boards, and social media groups to see what people are asking about
  • Looking at what your competition is doing

Pro tip: Before using long-tail keywords in your content, consider testing them with PPC ads.

When to use short-tail and long-tail keywords

In digital marketing, using short-tail and long-tail keywords simultaneously can help you achieve impressive results. Of course, the percentage of each keyword type in the strategy depends on factors like your goals and budget.

If your main goals are brand awareness and lead generation, you may want to add more broad terms to your tactics. If you’d like to shift the focus to higher conversions and cost efficiency, lean more toward long-tail keywords. And, as always, monitor the results so you can iterate and modify accordingly. 

The takeaway

Our experience tells us that both short-tail and long-tail keywords are important to the success of a well-rounded SEM strategy. While using them may achieve different goals and require different budgets, it’s hard to create a comprehensive marketing campaign without both.

By leveraging broad and narrow terms, you can get one step closer to improving your search engine rankings, bringing more traffic to your website, increasing brand awareness, driving sales, and boosting your bottom line.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Mar 23 , 2021

Looking to improve your ad strategy without blowing through your PPC budget in a flash? You’re in the right place.

Here, you’ll learn:

  • Why your PPC campaign is costlier than it should be
  • Ways to achieve a lower cost per click (CPC)
  • How to take full advantage of Google Ads’ dynamic cost-cutting features
  • Expert tips for keeping your budget in check

Is your PPC strategy growing costlier each time you pull a report? 

With competition constantly evolving, bidding on high-volume keywords can become more expensive — fast. As a result, while your paid search tactics may still be yielding excellent results, the ROI could be going down.

If you want to keep expenses at the same level, PPC needs regular tweaking, improving, and adjusting. These tips can help you make a more cost-effective PPC plan without having to revamp your entire strategy or lose your competitive edge.

ppc budget challenges

Analyze your existing PPC campaign to find out when the biggest number of conversions occurs. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Leave a few expensive keywords to SEO

Expensive, high-volume keywords may be inflating your PPC campaign budget. However, deleting them from the equation entirely could hurt your marketing campaign. 

If you can’t afford the CPC for several of your important keywords, consider changing your tactic by leveraging them for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.

Implementing more high-volume keywords into your website content can still get you the traffic you aim for in due time while saving precious ad dollars. Take things a step further by creating a thorough content plan that includes topic clusters with high-volume keywords to achieve even better results.

2. Focus on timing

In the race to choose the perfect PPC settings, companies often forget about the time. But if you don’t limit the time of the day your ads show up in front of the audience, you could be overpaying.

Analyze your existing PPC campaign to find out when the biggest number of conversions occurs. You can determine the times of day (and days of the week) when your PPC efforts are especially effective from there. As a result, you can stop showing your ads during low-conversion times and save money by eliminating useless clicks.

3. Choose one search network

If you’re trying to maximize your use of the Google Ads platform by leveraging all of its networks, you could be spreading yourself (and your PPC budget) thin. 

Running Search and Display network campaigns simultaneously can eat up your ad spend quickly without generating sufficient results or providing you the necessary information for further marketing efforts.

Create a more cost-effective PPC strategy by figuring out which search network can achieve the best results for your current business and marketing goals.

  • Google Search Network: best for attracting high-intent, targeted visitors
  • Google Display Network: best for brand awareness, remarketing

You can also switch between networks, just remember that each one warrants a separate campaign.

4. Explore YouTube Ads

While offering a wide variety of targeting possibilities, YouTube ads often have a much lower CPC than Google Ads (plus, Google owns YouTube). And with billions of monthly users, YouTube can turn into a powerful driving force behind your marketing efforts. 

Besides helping you target consumers by demographics and location, YouTube has highly personalized and advanced targeting capabilities. This allows you to choose the best formats to help achieve relevant marketing goals.

YouTube has a clear affordability advantage ($0.10 — $0.30 CPC) over Google Ads ($1 — $2 CPC for Search Network) while providing an impressive functionality and a wide reach.

Want to learn more about cutting PPC costs without losing value? Get in touch.

ppc budget - clean up testing

Clean up your A/B testing by stopping the process as soon as you get sufficient information. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Give more attention to negative keywords

Negative keywords are a crucial cost-effective PPC plan feature. If you aren’t using them carefully, you could be overpaying for useless clicks. 

Build your list by paying attention to the query reports that show which irrelevant searches are leading to clicks. Analyze these searches to beef up your negative keyword list.

Make sure to update negative keywords regularly. Each new PPC campaign report can give you new ideas for negative keywords. You can also do your own brainstorming to determine which terms you don’t want to rank for. 

Pro tip: Pay special attention to negative location keywords, as they tend to generate numerous erroneous clicks.

6. Clean up your A/B testing

While A/B testing is essential to a high-quality PPC campaign, overdoing it could be costly. Running several split testing campaigns for too long could be eating up your PPC budget quicker than producing results.

Clean up your A/B testing by stopping the process as soon as you get sufficient information. Failing to pause an A/B testing campaign on time simply turns it into A and B campaigns. Essentially, this means you’re paying for two similar campaigns, increasing your CPC in the process.

The length of the A/B testing process depends on a variety of factors, including budget, audience size, testing elements, and more. After a few weeks, see if you have enough info to confidently make a decision.

7. Consider Google’s dynamic keyword insertion feature

One of the advanced Google Ads features, dynamic keyword insertion (or DKI), could do wonders for making more cost-effective PPC campaigns.

DKI lets you create text ads which are automatically updated by Google to match the user’s search terms. This allows your ad to show up for variations of a particular keyword, giving it an opportunity to reach a wider audience with high conversion potential.

Essentially, DKI personalizes the ad for the searcher, making sure they get what they’re looking for. By boosting relevance, you can improve your chances of getting a valuable click-through while cutting costs on creating new ads.

Pro tip: You should avoid using DKI if you’re bidding on competitor brand terms. This is because their name will be in your ad, which could be viewed as deceptive (even if it’s unintentional). 

8. Beef up ad extensions

With traditional text ads, you don’t always get sufficient real estate to say everything you want to say. That’s where using ad extensions comes in handy.

These extensions allow you to increase the size and relevance of your paid ads by letting you include information that doesn’t fit into the ad itself, which can up your CTR.

You can also take advantage of Google’s dynamic ad extensions that pull information from your website and add it to your ad when it’s relevant to the searcher.

The takeaway

Your PPC campaign shouldn’t be static — it needs continuous updates to stay relevant and cost-effective. Luckily, there are a handful of cost-cutting options and strategic ways to keep your budget in check. 

By taking advantage of the available PPC options, features, and possibilities, you can keep your campaign (and your ad spend) in top shape.

This article has been updated and was originally published in October 2014.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Mar 10 , 2021

PPC marketing is a proven way to get fast results. But just like any other strategy, it needs regular tweaking, updating, and optimizing.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why Google Ads isn’t the only pay-per-click (PPC) player in town
  • Why manual bidding is worth your attention
  • Expert tips on PPC optimization in 2021
  • What Core Web Vitals are and why they matter

We like to say that digital marketing is part art, part science. Sure, there are guidelines, processes, and steps — but without a heavy dose of creativity, your program isn’t likely to beat out the competition. 

Well-versed paid search marketers know this. They also know that experimentation, analysis, and optimization are key components to creating a PPC strategy that isn’t just successful, but lasting too. 

Behaviors, competitors, and algorithms change fast. To stay on top of your game, you have to catch on before someone else does. Let these PPC optimization strategies guide your paid search efforts for the rest of 2021 and beyond.

1. Switch to manual bidding

No matter how stellar your PPC ads are, they won’t achieve proper results without the right bidding strategy. The tactic you choose for your bids depends on your campaign goals.

If you want to achieve the largest number of clicks according to the set budget, you can use the traditional automatic cost-per-click (CPC) bidding system.

However, allowing Google to do the job for you comes with a couple of downsides. One of them is lack of an easy way to adjust your campaign if it’s not performing properly. Manual bidding can fix this problem. This hands-on, more customized bidding approach:

  • Increases ad visibility
  • Lowers your cost per action (CPA)
  • Allows you to prioritize keywords that convert better

Switching from automatic to manual bidding is an advanced strategy. Often, it requires paying close attention to tactics such as:

  • Focusing on one campaign at a time, since the process can be time-consuming
  • Lowering your bids for keywords that receive solid impressions but don’t generate sales
  • Increasing bids for keywords that convert to increase the position of ads containing them and generate more conversions
  • Choosing the default bid, which is close to the average CPC in your automatic campaigns

When you leverage manual bidding, it’s a good idea to run the manual campaign for a couple of weeks to see if it achieves the goal of lowering CPC and generating sales. 

Pro tip: Manual bidding is great when you need more control over bids. But this strategy also means more time often goes into making sure you’re bidding the right amount at the right time. You can streamline this by setting up automated rules to do things like pause poor performing keywords, raise bids to top of page or first page, raise or lower bids during certain times of day, and more. 

hawksem: ppc optimization blog

Creating an ad group that consists of people who have already visited your landing pages can be the key to improving your conversion rate. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Take advantage of remarketing

Research shows that only about 2% of potential customers convert on their first visit. Does that mean you’re wasting your money on PPC ads? Of course not. You just have to boost their success by pairing them with remarketing (or retargeting) campaigns.

This process involves using ads to follow potential clients who have clicked your ads or visited your site. Placing your ad in front of them serves as a tasteful reminder of the action they may have wanted to take on your website.

Google Ads allows you to segment your remarketing lists to show ads to visitors based on their needs and the landing page the initial PPC ad brought them to. Creating an ad group that consists of people who have already visited your landing pages can be the key to improving your conversion rate.

Pro tip: The minimum audience size for remarketing is 1,000 individual users, which helps Google protect users’ privacy while still allowing you to market to them.

3. Explore Microsoft Ads

Google Ads is an unmistakable leader in the PPC marketing realm. But that doesn’t mean others in the space aren’t worth exploring. For some companies, using Microsoft Advertising can be just the solution they’ve been waiting for. 

What’s more, you could potentially see more success with Microsoft Ads. Depending on your industry, there’s often less competition on these platforms, which means lower CPCs. But simply importing a campaign over from Google Ads and forgetting about it means missing highly useful tools other ad platforms have to offer. 

For example, Microsoft advertising has:  

  • Action extensions – add call-to-action (CTA) buttons near your ad that link to the landing page of your choice
  • Review extensions – feature reviews from third-party sites below your ad
  • LinkedIn targeting – view the reactions of the LinkedIn audience to your ads for further adjustments
  • Competition insight – see how your visibility compares to your competition, which shows up for the same search queries

4. Pay attention to Amazon Ads

Amazon Advertising presents another PPC optimization opportunity. While the audience covered by the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Facebook Ads is huge, those who see your ad on those platforms aren’t necessarily in the decision stage of the buyer’s journey.

Amazon audiences, on the other hand, are generally closer to the bottom of the sales funnel. People who visit this shopping giant are likely ready to buy, which increases your chances of conversion tremendously.

These are the types of sponsored Amazon ads potentially at your disposal:

  • Products – keyword-targeted ads that allow you to promote a certain product
  • Brands – help promote your overall brand while including up to three products in the ad (users are directed to the Stores page or a custom Amazon landing page)
  • Display ads – send those who click to Amazon product detail pages, a custom landing page on Amazon, or an external website

Pro tip: You don’t need to sell your products on Amazon to take advantage of this advertising option. 

hawksem blog: ppc optimization

Core Web Vitals show how good of user experience you should aim to offer your visitors. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Take advantage of responsive search ads

After first appearing in 2019, Responsive Search Ads quickly grew in popularity. That’s partly because these ads allow you to create 15 headlines and 4 different descriptions for your ad. Google then tests various combinations of these elements and selects those that perform best depending on factors like:

  • Keywords searched for
  • Devices used
  • Browsing behavior

Responsive ads save time and money on A/B testing while allowing you to reach your target audience faster.

Need more help optimizing your PPC campaigns in 2021? Let’s talk.

6. Optimize your website

Your PPC campaign results can fall far below expectations if you don’t optimize your website to welcome your target audience once they arrive there. As of this year, Google has said they will consider Core Web Vitals when determining the ranking of your pages. These vitals include:

  • Loading performance – The page should load in under 2.5 seconds.
  • Visual stability – Page elements shouldn’t move when the user is reading the text (it usually happens when a piece of media loads), forcing the visitor to search for their lost place.
  • Interactivity – The time between the visitor taking action (like clicking a button or tab) and the website responding should be under 100 milliseconds.

Core Web Vitals show how good of user experience you should aim to offer your visitors. Improving them won’t just improve search engine optimization efforts, but it’ll also help your PPC ad clickers actually convert.

Pro tip: While you’re working on your website, make sure you’re prioritizing landing page optimization, too. When your landing page has content similar to keywords you’re using, it strengthens the relevancy, which Google may reward with a higher Quality Score.

7. Revisit your keywords

When’s the last time you took a long, hard look at your keywords? Now is a great time to consider things like expanding your current keyword lists, updating your negative keywords, and getting rid of those that are underperforming.

A few keyword tweaks could bring big benefits. Even actions as minor as adding an adverb, removing a term with low search volume, or seeing which terms your competition is ranking for could bring you that much closer to more clicks and higher ROI.

Pro tip: Consult your user search term reports to find new keywords to add that aren’t already in your account, then use Google Keyword Planner for additional research and new campaigns.

8. Check in on your conversion tracking

We highly recommend using Google Tag Manager (GTM) and Google Analytics (GA) for conversion tracking. Why? Let’s say you want to drive form fills. You can configure your tags in GTM, build those goals in GA, and import your GA goals to Google Ads. 

If you have the same goal for multiple channels (e.g. paid social and paid search, or SEO and paid search), it streamlines the conversion setup. You can also configure Google Ads conversion tags in GTM (bypassing GA, but it means that you’re only recording Google Ads conversions). 

As a bonus, once you link your GA and Google Ads accounts — which you need to do before importing goals — you can also create remarketing audiences in GA and import those into your Google Ads.

The takeaway

PPC optimization is an ongoing process. And with multiple new options and updates happening every year, it’s nearly impossible to thrive without analyzing regularly so you can keep enhancing your strategies.

At the end of the day, the best PPC ads are clear, consistent, targeted to the right audience, and follow through on what they offer.

This article has been updated and was originally published in July 2020.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Steve Dang on Mar 2 , 2021

Check off these boxes to ensure your PPC marketing strategies are on the right track for your SaaS brand.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Dos and don’ts when it comes to PPC for SaaS brands
  • How to make your assets work for you
  • Why retargeting (the right way) is key
  • Tips for optimizing your SaaS landing pages

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies have always faced a unique set of marketing obstacles, with long sales cycles and an emphasis on demos. Then 2020 happened, and things got even more difficult.

Many businesses had to make major shifts in their strategies and operations. The sudden changes in routines affected everything, including digital marketing. 

While website traffic and searches experienced a surge, the competition and cost of paid ads took a downward trend, according to Search Engine Watch. In 2021, customer wants and needs are still changing. Luckily, most SaaS teams are more than familiar with ever-changing goal posts.

As one of the most effective digital marketing tactics in terms of ROI, pay-per-click (also known as PPC or paid search) ads can help ensure your SaaS company is set up to weather the next unexpected storm. 

Here are 12 ways you can make PPC work for your SaaS brand.

1. Focus on credibility to convert visitors to leads

It’s especially key for SaaS brands to establish credibility from the beginning. If people are finding you through a search engine, they may not be acquainted with your company. (Unless they’re searching through a brand term, of course).

You want to make it clear that your company is legit right off the bat. One effective way of doing this is by aligning your brand with well-known clients.

If you have Fortune 500 clients in your roster, explore how you could leverage that through marketing, such as including their logos on your landing page (with permission). 

Even better: Create a case study that highlights your partnership with that brand and how they found success through working with you. This establishes credibility and helps people understand your offering on a deeper level.

HawkSEM: PPC Tips for SaaS Brands

OverOps uses brand logos and testimonials to illustrate their credibility.

You can also establish credibility through showcasing:

  • Awards
  • Press mentions
  • Client testimonials
  • Seller ratings

2. Always qualify your leads

Plenty of SaaS brands think they’re covering all the bases. They’ve got a customer relationship management (CRM) tool in place, and they properly store and track their leads. But if you’re not following up on those leads and taking advantage of lead scoring, you could miss out on helpful insights. 

There are two ways to score leads. The first is quantitative, which scores leads from 1 to 10, zero to 100, or something in between, depending on how granular you want to get. The other way is qualitative. For this, you can score with metrics like low, medium, or high probability. (Here’s how to use lead scoring in Salesforce.)

Once you decide how to score your leads, the next step is to optimize your campaigns for qualified leads. You don’t want to fall into the trap of seeing the conversion data inside of Google Analytics and simply optimizing for those conversions. 

Once you score your leads, it’s wise to connect them back to the originating campaigns, ad groups, keywords, segments, and devices. It’s tempting to rely on intuition when you’re optimizing campaigns, but the data won’t steer you wrong.

3. Know how to properly use CLV

Many SaaS marketing agencies focus a ton on lead volume. But, especially with the longer sales cycles that tend to come with SaaS, it’s also crucial to calculate customer lifetime value (CLV or LTV). This figure can be used to make critical decisions, such as how much you pay for user acquisition and how your target through paid search ads. 

HubSpot explains you can determine lifetime value by calculating the average purchase value, average purchase frequency rate, customer value, and average customer lifespan. Ultimately, multiplying customer value by the average customer lifespan should give you your CLV.

Once you have an accurate number, compare that with your customer acquisition cost (CAC) to make sure you’re getting the ROI you want. 

4. Understand what constitutes quality conversions

Speaking of CLV, your goal should always be to create clients for life. The more clients you keep, the less it’ll cost you (no surprise there). Plus, an increase in client volume coupled with a decrease in cost per acquisition (CPA) can save you serious money.

This mindset can help you market with the long game in mind. Big players and key clients will sometimes visit your website or contact you with questions multiple times before making a purchase, but that type of client can be more lucrative in the long run. 

SaaS PPC

Sometimes all you need is a display campaign targeted to a very narrow audience to start attracting the right kind of clients. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Put your best foot forward with landing pages

For SaaS companies in particular, your landing page is often the first step of the buyer’s journey for potential customers. So, it’s wise to prioritize ensuring your landing pages are as compelling and effective as possible.

As a guiding principle, make sure your landing page has a clear purpose. Each page element should work together to get the user to convert by filling out a form or performing some other desired call to action (CTA). You also want to entice visitors to scroll down through the entire page, if applicable, so the page shouldn’t be too long.

Extra features, like a chatbot, can also be quite useful in a landing page. They allow you to engage with your audience, reduce your bounce rate, and get a conversation started right then and there. You can also address any particular pain points they might have while the lead is warm.

Pro tip: Don’t let your landing pages go stale. You should consistently be testing them and optimizing accordingly.

6. Study your ideal client and current clients

If your search engine marketing (SEM) strategy is underperforming, you may have misread what matters to your target audience. Especially for technical and niche businesses, keyword targeting is crucial.

Due to the hyper-focused nature of the lingo in some of these industries, one keyword may have multiple meanings, some of which may not apply to your business. (For example, event planning software for businesses offers something different than a ticketed event platform). It can be helpful to go back through and make some of the following changes:

  • Adjust display times
  • Switch up keywords
  • Refresh your ad copy
  • Tailor by language and location
  • Add negative keywords to your campaigns

Sometimes all you need is a display campaign targeted to a very narrow audience to start attracting the right kind of clients. When you choose to go this route, however, pick your placements carefully and make sure they’re on relevant sites.

7. Nurture cross-channel alignment

Another common issue we see when it comes to PPC for SaaS is that various channels are too siloed and separate. This can result in miscommunication, unnecessary or repetitive efforts, and missed opportunities.

Synchronizing your channels can keep everyone working towards the same goal with a cohesive vision. When aligning on an element like your copy, you’ll know that you’re speaking to your target audience with a consistent voice and tone, whether it’s a followup email or a landing page.

Remedying this issue can be as simple as a weekly video sync or phone call with all the necessary team members to review and discuss current projects.

8. Take advantage of long-tail keywords

When it comes to paid search marketing, longer search terms often mean higher intent. Think of it this way: someone searches “blender,” and someone else searches “Vitamix black 5200 standard high performance blender.” Who do you think is more inclined to make a purchase?

The same concept can be applied to PPC for SaaS. Going after more relevant long-tail keywords targets those with higher intent and snags those potentially in the “research” stage of the funnel, which can be just as valuable.

Long-tail keywords are effective for SaaS brands because they help bring in better leads with PPC campaigns. This often results in more affordable leads that are highly qualified.

In the SaaS space, keeping low acquisition costs and sticking to budget are often major concerns. Focusing on long-tail keywords is a way to achieve desired results with these concerns in mind. To find the right long-tail keywords for your company:

  • Know your unique selling proposition and use that information in your keywords to highlight what makes you stand out 
  • Conduct keyword research to ensure your long-tail keywords are the same words customer would use in a query
  • Use keyword research tools to find ideal long-tail keywords for your market
  • Never use long-tail keywords that aren’t a good fit for your software or product, regardless of how easy they may be to rank for
  • Include questions in your long-tail keywords

9. Leverage all of your assets

It’s common for companies to generate a hefty amount of assets in their lifetime. But what good are assets that get lost in the shuffle or can’t easily be found?

SaaS marketing relies heavily on audience education — assets play a key part in that. In the past, keeping premium content gated was the best practice. Nowadays, it’s better to keep this content ungated to improve the chances of converting the lead instead of, as Search Engine Stream explains, possibly increasing your website’s bounce rates.

Whitepapers, insightful research, templates, and other similar content are excellent assets to educate and nurture your audience. Plus, having assets covering each buyer’s journey stage is an easy way to target the right person with the right content at the right time.

Pro tip: Keep your assets organized in a spreadsheet — preferably a cloud-based doc that your team can access, such as Google Sheets. It can include things like links to each piece, what stage of the buyer’s journey it addresses, and the type of content it is.

10. Avoid ad fatigue

With the lengthy sales cycle for SaaS brands, you can almost bet that leads will see the same ads over and over as they perform similar searches during their “research” phase. Eventually, this can cause ad fatigue with your target audience, and they may begin to ignore the ads.

This not only hurts your click-through rates and results in higher PPC costs, but it can also reduce the chances of a lead coming back to you when they’re ready to purchase. 

The best way to avoid ad fatigue is to cycle out ads regularly. Changing out your ads every month or so will likely result in better campaign and conversion results. 

11. Look beyond Google Ads

While Google is a major player in the search engine game, others, like Microsoft’s Bing, shouldn’t be ignored. 

Microsoft Advertising makes it easy to export your Google Ads campaigns to their platform. Plus, you could see even better results with a lower average cost per click (CPC) and have your ad spend budget go further. Depending on your target audience, you may find less competition on the Microsoft Ad platform, which includes those searching on the Bing, Yahoo, and AOL platforms. 

12. Consider retargeting

When it comes to PPC for Saas, retargeting can be a game-changer. This type of ad connects your SaaS offering with people who have already visited your site or mobile app. 

Google Ads is set up so that the default audience is generally set at 30 days. But this is often not enough time for the SaaS sales cycle, which can end up being three or six months out.

Once you determine a rough estimate for how many days it takes your leads to convert, you can tailor your campaigns accordingly, as long as it follows the platforms’ rules and is within the maximum membership duration. 

A lot of educating can take place during the buyer’s journey. If you’re serving white papers or other content campaigns that last longer than 30 days, your retargeting should do the same.

Lastly, don’t just retarget your entire audience. Make sure different audiences are getting different tailored messages when possible.

Pro tip: Platforms like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have their own retargeting tags, so make sure you’re placing each retargeting tag properly.

Speaking of LinkedIn, here’s a bonus video tip taken from our webinar all about PPC for SaaS:

 

 

 

The takeaway

PPC for SaaS brands often isn’t a straight-line path from A to B. Rather, it’s about different campaign types working together, nurturing your audience with education, and serving up various resources that ultimately get them to convert. 

As you talk through your digital marketing goals and strategies, you may find that a SaaS marketing agency is what you need to take your program to the next level and leverage ideas you might not have thought of before. 

Whether you partner with pros or keep things in-house, the above best practices will set you up to craft winning paid search campaigns for your SaaS company. Want even more PPC for SaaS tips? Check out this webinar recording.

This post has been updated and was originally published in August 2019.

Steve Dang

Steve Dang

    Steve Dang is Director of Digital Marketing & Strategy at HawkSEM. He's got more than 10 years of experience leading digital teams and revenue growth, working with clients in SaaS, FinTech, E-commerce, higher education, financial services, and more. In his spare time, Steve enjoys long runs, long swims, and long books.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 19 , 2021

    Yes, your PPC campaign should have negative keywords here’s why.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • What defines a negative keyword
    • How negative keywords differ from standard keywords
    • Tips for building a negative keyword list
    • Best practices for these keyword types

    Like noodles for spaghetti, sunshine for plants, and gin for martinis, keywords are an essential part of pay-per-click (PPC) campaign success. The trick lies in understanding how best to deal with them so that everything runs smoothly.

    Maybe your paid search campaign brings in a ton of leads, but the conversion rate is low, meaning you’re spending precious ad dollars on unqualified clicks. Even with an otherwise stellar PPC strategy, ignoring negative keywords could waste a huge chunk of your budget. 

    That’s because you could be getting clicks meant for similar-sounding, but ultimately unrelated keywords. We’ve seen upwards of 90% in wasted ad spend when clients don’t include any negative keywords in their account.

    If you feel confident that you’ve selected the right keywords that are hyper-focused on your audience, that’s great! But if you’re not also leveraging negative keywords, you may be missing out on making your PPC campaigns as targeted as they can be.

    Want to make sure you know all the benefits of negative keywords for PPC? Then let’s dive in.

    What are negative keywords?

    Taking advantage of negative keywords can do wonders for eliminating window shoppers and bad leads. According to Google, a negative keyword (also known as a negative match) is a keyword type “that prevents your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase.”

    Meaning: if someone searches for a phrase including a term you’ve deemed a negative keyword, your ads won’t show up. 

    HawkSEM: How Negative Keywords Benefit Your PPC Campaigns

    When you’re mining your reports for keywords to exclude, you want to include their variations as well. (Image via Unsplash)

    Negative keywords vs. standard keywords

    Keyword targeting helps ensure your paid search ad is tailored to your audience. When you pay for each individual click, you want as many clicks as possible to be from qualified leads. Negative keywords work the same way, just in the opposite direction.

    When you add negative keywords, ad platforms (such as Google or Microsoft Advertising) know that you don’t want your ad to appear for searches containing those words.

    If your company makes salsa, for instance, then you may want “salsa” to be one of your keywords. But if someone searches online for “salsa dancing” or “salsa lessons,” they’re probably not looking for your product. By adding these as negative keywords, you can filter out people searching with these terms and save money on bad leads.

    Pro tip: Negative keywords only apply to the first 16 words in a search query. So, when it comes to especially long queries, negative keywords after the 16th word won’t trigger the filter and your ad may still appear.

    How to build your negative keyword list

    It’s a good idea to conduct your negative keyword research the same way you conduct your standard keyword research, specifically before and during a campaign launch.

    There are some terms — like “address,” “free,” and “login” — that you’ll probably want to select right off the bat. Google suggests using your search term reports to look for terms that only seem relevant. Are there any that clearly stand out as negative keywords? Add those to your list.

    However, before using search term reports, start by thinking about the types of businesses, products, or services that your brand could be mistaken for (like the salsa example above). Then, brainstorm the search terms that might be used to describe them.

    Want to take your PPC to the next level this year? We can help.

    The different types of negative keywords

    As with standard keywords, there are various types of negative keywords. For PPC campaigns, negative keywords can be:

    • Broad match – Keywords that don’t have surrounding punctuation (there’s no negative broad match modifier match type)
    • Exact match – If the search contains the exact negative keyword you’ve specified, the ad won’t appear
    • Phrase match – Your ad won’t come up if the exact keyword terms, in that order, are searched

    But that doesn’t mean they function in all the same ways. As of the past few years, we’ve seen that “exact match” doesn’t always mean exact for standard keywords. It does, however, when it comes to negative ones. 

    Google explains that the main difference between these two types is that you need to include variations of these keywords if you want to exclude them. These variations can include:

    • Synonyms
    • Singular or plural versions
    • Misspellings
    • Any other close variations

    When you mine reports for keywords to exclude, it’s wise to exclude their variations as well.

    Pro tip: When you enter your keywords into Google Ads, you can add them at both the ad group and campaign level. For negative keywords, you generally want to apply them to the campaign level, not just the ad group level, so other keywords can exclude that term.

    HawkSEM: How Negative Keywords Benefit Your PPC Campaigns

    Regularly go into your ads account, head to “search terms” in your Keywords tab, and mark any keywords you see that stand out as being irrelevant. (Image via Unsplash)

    Adjust your negative keyword list as needed

    Just like your standard keyword list, your negative list shouldn’t remain stagnant. You should consistently recheck and optimize it to make sure your PPC ads are as targeted as possible.

    How often you go over your list will depend on various factors, including your campaigns and bandwidth. No matter what “consistent” means for you and your team, make a recurring reminder to go into your ads account and head to “search terms” in your Keywords tab to mark any keywords you see that stand out as irrelevant.

    In January 2021, Google made it easier to manage negative keyword lists. Google Ads users can now add a new column to view, filter, and edit negative keyword lists applied to campaigns.

    Pro tip: When it comes to symbols, Google allows for ampersands (&), accent marks (á), and asterisks (*) in your negative keywords. As such, keywords with and without these symbols will be considered two different negative keywords — think Beyonce as a different keyword than Beyoncé or “black & white” vs. “black and white.”

    The takeaway

    As you can see, there are many potential benefits to adding negative keywords to your PPC campaigns. Not only does this help weed out those who aren’t in the market for your product or service, but it saves you money because you only pay for clicks that will (hopefully) become customers.

    While you don’t want to overdo it on the keyword exclusions, with a bit of brainstorming and some campaign tweaks, you can be sure that your PPC campaign won’t attract the wrong crowd.

    This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2020.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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    Written by Sam Yadegar on Jan 4 , 2021

    Companies all over the world have to adjust to the new reality — which could mean rethinking current search engine marketing (SEM) strategies.

    Here you’ll learn:

    • What Google has in store for search in 2021
    • Which new tools could enhance your SEM
    • The latest standout SEM trends
    • Tips for adjusting your campaigns in the new year

    For most businesses, 2020 was a doozy. Between unpredictable sales and changes in customer behavior, many are still working on getting back to normal — the “new normal,” that is.

    Meanwhile, the SEM landscape continues changing faster than you can flip calendar pages. Whether you’ve already finalized your marketing plans for 2021 or are scrambling to make it happen now, this is a great time to make sure your paid search plans are set up for success in the new year.

    Below, we offer some ways to do just that.

    1. Keep Google’s novelties in mind

    Despite pandemic news and a holiday season unlike any other, Google continued updating its algorithms and policies. (Case in point: Their December 2020 core update.) 

    Here are three planned Google updates that could have a significant impact on your marketing tactics and budget in 2021:

    Mobile-first indexing

    In March 2021, Google will fully switch to mobile-first indexing. This means that the search engine will look primarily at the information from the mobile version of your website when determining ranking. If you haven’t taken the steps to ensure your site is as mobile-friendly as possible, let this be the push you need to do so.

    Core Web Vitals

    In May 2021, Google will put new emphasis on page experience through the implementation of Core Web Vitals. With this rollout, some parameters will become significant ranking signals, such as:

    • Page loading time – loading time must be under 2.5 seconds.
    • Interactivity – the website should respond to the user’s actions in under 100 milliseconds.
    • Visual stability – the website should maintain a cumulative layout shift of less than 0.1.

    Core Web Vitals means marketers will need to pay special attention to improving user experience (UX) on websites to match Google’s requirements. (However, because UX is already a priority for most brands, this shouldn’t be too big of a change-up.)

    Third-party cookie phase-out

    In January 2020, Google announced its plans to phase out third-party cookies (which have been used in marketing to track, monitor and analyze a site visitor’s behavior) on Chrome by 2022. It’s a move to quell growing online privacy concerns, with cookies slated to be replaced by “browser-based tools and techniques aimed at balancing personalization and privacy,” according to Marketing Land. 

    This could affect your marketing strategies if you leverage advanced retargeting or remarketing tactics. The good news is that you have an entire year to learn how to pivot from relying on third-party cookies.

    hawksem: sem campaigns 2020 article

    As far as content types go, you can’t get much better than articles and other materials that aim to educate your audience. (Image via Unsplash)

    2. Get familiar with Google Analytics 4

    Google is constantly perfecting its tools. One prime example of this is its new and improved analysis platform, Google Analytics 4. Launched in October 2020, this machine learning-driven program can help you get more nuanced insights into customers’ behavior.

    New features also include the ability to track users across different platforms, improve audience segmentation in Google Ads, and much more. Exploring this new opportunity as soon as possible can help you gain a competitive edge and streamline your 2021 SEM campaign.

    3. Beef up your educational content

    As far as content types go, you can’t get much better than articles and other materials that aim to educate your audience. People love this kind of content because it provides a service and (ideally) helps them solve a problem or glean new information without having to make a purchase. 

    With millions of people changing up their employment status in 2020, the need for educational content is on the rise. In fact, consumers are 131% more likely to buy a product after reading educational content, according to a recent study.

    This content is a great incentive to include on a landing page in exchange for a user’s contact info. The time and money you invest in the educational content right now can bring impressive results in the future.

    4. Explore paid social advertising

    When the pandemic moved millions of people to fully working, shopping, and seeking entertainment online in 2020, the number of active users across social media platforms increased dramatically.

    The proof is in the data. Instagram now has over 1 billion monthly active users (that’s up from 500 million in 2019). Meanwhile, TikTok has more than 650 million monthly active users (up from 500 million in 2019).

    Because of this, 2021 could be a great time to invest in paid social strategies. Social media ads are generally more affordable than other digital ad types, making them a smart diversification tactic. Depending on where your target audience is most active, you could explore ads on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest

    hawksem: sem campaign article 2021

    Right now, many people are rethinking their values, habits, and where they invest their time. (Image via Rawpixel)

    5. Reevaluate your SEM campaign budget

    Since the demand for products shifted more towards essential goods in 2020, it may be a good idea to reevaluate your PPC campaign budget as things go on the upswing. 

    A good plan of action: Single out the highest performing ads and keywords, then channel more of your PPC budget to support them. To pace your campaign spend better, you may consider such settings as lifetime spend or monthly spend limits instead of daily budgets.

    6. Keep a handle on security

    A crisis can create fertile ground for all kinds of fraudulent activity. Criminals across the globe create malware and use names of famous brands to offer fake discounts while phishing for sensitive information. 

    Almost 200,000 coronavirus-related cyber-attacks occurred every week in 2020. Protect your information (and that of your customer’s) with tactics like:

    • Monitoring your log files for crawl errors to reveal if spambots are trying to access your website
    • Implementing Single Sign-On (SSO) technology for user authentication
    • Checking to see if the website is secured with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate
    • Reviewing all your SEO add-ons and plugins for security, stability, and updates

    The takeaway

    There’s no arguing that 2020 was a chaotic year across the globe. But amid a crisis, there are almost always lessons to be learned. 

    The last year taught many of us new aspects of flexibility, adaptability, and survival. In 2021, the pandemic is still likely to affect some of your marketing efforts. Thankfully, this time, you can be much more prepared. By thoughtfully preparing now, you can streamline your 2021 SEM campaigns for whatever comes next. 

    This article has been updated and was originally published in June 2020.

    Sam Yadegar

    Sam Yadegar

    Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 18 , 2020

    Let’s dive into what lead scoring is, how it works, and the ways it benefits your digital marketing program. 

    Here, you’ll find:

    • What lead scoring is
    • Ways it benefits your PPC
    • Tips to set up lead scoring
    • How it can improve paid search ROI

    For most marketing initiatives, it takes a mix of time and multiple steps to achieve real results. But it’s also true that the less time it takes to start seeing success, the better and more quickly you can optimize and improve. 

    That’s where lead scoring comes in. Essentially, lead scoring is the process of grading leads to gauge their potential value for your business by assigning them scores based on a variety of factors.

    For B2B and lead generation search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns in particular, experienced industry pros will tell you it’s crucial to know the value of the leads being generated. Plus, when you’re dealing with a high volume of leads, manually sorting through them can be time-consuming.

    HawkSEM blog: PPC lead scoring

    it’s key to be thoughtful about your sales funnel and the actions leads take that qualify them as interested vs. intent to buy. (Image via Unsplash)

    How does lead scoring work?

    A lead scoring system assigns values to leads and then ranks them against one another. For this process, you can give scores based on various attributes and actions. This allows you to focus on leads that will generate the maximum revenue for your business with the least amount of effort — and in less time.

    Scoring leads helps you better understand how certain keywords impact your conversions and, ultimately, the success of your pay-per-click (PPC) campaign overall.

    It works by assigning points based on actions a prospect takes, such as requesting a consultation or downloading a piece of content. Once a lead achieves a certain score, they can be considered a “hot lead.” From there, they can be potentially routed to sales to nurture them down the sales funnel.

    Simply put by BigCommerce, “the top benefits of companies that use lead scoring are a more measurable return on investment (ROI), an increased conversion rate, and higher sales productivity and effectiveness.”

    How do I set up lead scoring?

    Getting more than a couple of leads per week? Then it’s probably best to leverage a tool like Google Analytics to help you track keyword conversions. You or your marketing agency can connect this application to your customer relationship management (CRM) tool or Marketing Automation Platform (MAP). This will allow you to begin scoring leads based on behaviors and actions the new contact or prospect has taken.

    As Salesforce explains, setting up lead scoring improperly can result in “poor conversion rates and sales funnel dropouts, or customers who stop considering your company for the product or service they want to buy.” That’s why it’s key to be thoughtful about your sales funnel and the actions leads take that qualify them as interested vs. intent to buy.

    What factors should be taken into account with lead scoring?

    It may be a process of trial and error to figure out the best lead scoring metrics for your business. One best practice many businesses suggest is considering different score thresholds for different products or services, if you offer a variety.

    You also may want to add negative score options to easily disqualify people like existing customers or job seekers.

    You can also get more granular by weighing different pages and pieces of content differently. For example, a case study, white paper, or service page may be worth more points than a more evergreen guide or your homepage. 

    How does lead scoring create a more ROI-driven PPC strategy?

    An ROI-driven PPC strategy is one that has been developed to produce revenue. By being strategic and iterating based on what’s working and what’s not, you can be poised for seeing serious results.

    Along with scoring leads, other important elements of launching an ROI-driven PPC strategy include:

    • doing customer research
    • writing strong ads
    • creating optimized landing pages
    • having eye-catching CTAs
    • leveraging ad extensions
    • targeting revenue-producing keywords
    • having consistent messaging from ad copy to landing page
    • tracking metrics

    Implementing lead scoring can be an effective way to have your sales and marketing teams working together better and more efficiently. (Image via Unsplash)

    Does lead scoring make sense for longer sales cycles?

    We know that a longer sales cycle means it can take a longer time to see results. Lead scoring is still important for these campaign types. That’s because you need to understand the value of each lead along the sales cycle.

    This falls under the low-hanging fruit theory of easy wins. By scoring leads, you’ll know which prospects are closer to a sale and which are further away. This info will help you better prioritize where to put your efforts as the cycle moves along.

    How often should I revisit my lead scoring metrics?

    Scoring leads is a great way to ensure your sales and marketing teams are aligned. With that in mind, it’s a good idea for marketing team members to periodically check in with the sales department to see which types of leads are closing most often. 

    This will ensure that the lead scoring parameters you have in place are as accurate as possible. You want to have enough time to accrue significant data that you can analyze properly, so aiming to do one of these check-ins a few times a year is usually sufficient. 

    The takeaway

    Forget hot leads falling through the cracks or wasting time following up on unqualified or uninterested prospects. Implementing lead scoring can be an effective way to have your sales and marketing teams working together better and more efficiently. 

    While it may take some tweaking to find the exact right method of lead scoring for your business, the time and investment are sure to be worth it once you see more leads becoming closed deals.  

    This post has been updated and was originally published in August 2014.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 6 , 2020

    If you’re not currently using call tracking, here’s a guide to filling in this attribution gap.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • An explanation of call tracking
    • A breakdown of various tracking tiers
    • How tracking can help optimize campaigns
    • The latest call-tracking updates

    People want multiple options for connecting with companies. That’s why most businesses have a phone number, even if most marketing, communications, and customer service happens online. And it’s a wise choice, since phone calls convert at 10 to 15 times the rate of clicks, according to CallRail. 

    The question is, are you taking full advantage of all that phone calls have to offer your business? As Marketing Land explains, “If your marketing strategy involves driving potential customers to the phone, you could be missing out on important attribution data as well as the best source of first-party customer data.” 

    Basically, if you’re not tracking calls, you could be missing a key element in your conversion tracking. Here’s how to set up call tracking for your ads, and why you should.

    call tracking for digital marketing

    There are various solutions available when it comes to call-tracking options for your business. (Image via Unsplash)

    What is call tracking?

    Call tracking is the process of gathering information about the phone calls people make to your company. Basic tracking helps you make sure you’re attributing calls to your ads to help optimize campaigns. More advanced tracking allows you to accrue data that will tell you more about your prospects and customers. This includes their wants, pain points, frequently asked questions, and more. 

    Phone calls can be a key part of your buyer’s journey. Call tracking serves to help bridge the gap between online and offline touchpoints, giving you a clearer picture of your prospects and customers.

    Know your call-tracking options

    There are various solutions available when it comes to call-tracking options for your business. You can choose from a variety of softwares and tiers depending on your budget and needs. 

    Tier 1 tracking

    The basic, standard level of call tracking is simply to track phone number clicks on your website. This allows you to properly attribute the click to your campaigns. You can set up this level of call tracking through Google Tag Manager. 

    It will give you some basic data about calls to your existing phone number, such as when someone clicks the phone number on your website via their smartphone to call you. 

    Tier 2 tracking

    The next level involves implementing call tracking into your Google Ads campaigns. At this level, Google will assign you a forwarding phone number. If someone clicks on your ads, the number on your website will route to your Google forwarding number.

    This level also offers more sophisticated call data. When you implement Google call tracking through Tag Manager, you can set parameters for what counts as a conversion, such as calls only over a certain amount of seconds. This way, you’re not counting irrelevant phone calls (like accidental clicks, spam clickers, and quickly unqualified leads) as conversions. 

    Pro tip: While Google call tracking is free, the number you’re assigned won’t necessarily be permanently assigned to you. Further down the line, someone could call that number in search of your business and not be able to reach you. 

    Tier 3 tracking

    If your company has the means to invest in paid call-tracking services, there are a ton of benefits to be found. For one, you’ll be able to purchase a dedicated phone number that won’t be in danger of being changed. 

    With call-tracking services, you pay for dedicated tracking phone numbers, including a ZIP code that matches your area. In terms of data, you’re able to record phone calls (the caller is given a heads up, of course). You can go back and listen to how customer service was handled and get more information about the callers. These services also allow you to capture customer contact information in the platforms

    Top-tier call tracking can often tell you what caused the person to call, what stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in, and it can even sync with other programs like Google Analytics, Salesforce, or your preferred customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

    Pro tip: Think you’ve got tracking covered with your call center? While these centers track things like hold time and client satisfaction, proper call tracking can provide valuable data for marketers that can help optimize and improve campaigns. 

    call tracking to enhance paid ads

    With the rise of mobile search, it makes sense that a rise of Google call-only campaigns would follow suit. (Image via Unsplash)

    How call tracking can improve your marketing

    Gathering data is only half the battle. After all, what good is all that data if you don’t take the time to analyze and leverage it? Call tracking allows you to review calls and pinpoint patterns. What are some common issues customers seem to have? What products or services are they asking about most? It can also help you make these calls more efficient by allowing you to personalize and tailor the call experience.

    This type of tracking can help maximize ROI by painting a more complete picture of what’s driving people to your business. According to Business2Community, “most marketers find immediate bang-for-the-buck by applying newly discovered call insights to optimize their marketing programs and media spend.”

    The future of call tracking

    In October 2020, Google began testing a new Google My Business featured dubbed “call history.” According to Search Engine Land, the feature was “designed to help businesses see and respond to missed calls coming from Google Search and Maps.” At the time, the option was voluntary and only available to a select group of U.S. businesses. 

    And with the rise of mobile search, it makes sense that a rise of Google call-only campaigns would follow suit. If you’re a business like a doctor’s office (or if you have a stellar customer service team trained to quickly solve problems), this ad type is worth exploring.

    This way, you have the chance to catch someone’s attention and allow them to immediately connect with you, rather than risking them not finding what they’re looking for on your website.

    The takeaway

    In marketing, the more data you have, the better. If you’re not tracking phone calls on some level, you’re missing out on a key component of your conversion tracking. It’s the same idea behind tracking forms on your website. You want to track all ways people can contact you. 

    The result: Improved customer service, better insights into why people aren’t converting via phone, help training employees, and a fuller picture of your buyer persona.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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