By Cara Whitehouse, Head of UK and Europe at Reload Digital

Pay-per-click - [PPC] platforms such as Google AdWords offer businesses fantastic opportunities to effectively target online customers searching for their services. The returns on offer can be huge — but with that potential for reward also comes risk.

So before you dive in, here’s some things to consider:

1. Keep it tight

Before you even think about writing an ad, it’s critical you establish a structure for your campaign. Alas, successful PPC is not as simple as making a list of all your critical keywords, writing a few ad variations and then setting a campaign live. If you want to make money, rather than fritter it away on poorly targeted clicks that don’t convert, make sure you break things down in a logical manner, so each separate element of your campaign is effectively targeted and more likely to convert.

For example, let’s say you ran three Italian restaurants — one in Wimbledon and two in Oxford — that you wanted to promote through Google AdWords. It would be wise to split these into two separate ‘sub-campaign’ groups — for two reasons. Firstly, you might want to allocate more budget to the two Oxford restaurants than the one in Wimbledon — which can only be done at the campaign setting level. And secondly, you should be using Google’s location targeting tool, which allows you to show your ads only in the areas local to those restaurants — because realistically, there’s no point in you advertising a restaurant in Wimbledon to someone in Newcastle.

Within your sub-campaigns, it’s also critical that you further split the keywords into separate ‘Ad Groups’, allocating relevant ads to relevant keywords within those separate groups. For example, you might have a series of keywords around the term ‘Italian restaurant’, which should trigger a specific and relevant ad, while a group of keywords around ‘restaurants in Wimbledon’ should trigger a different ad, more specific to that query.

By breaking the campaign into tightly focused ad groups, not only should you have the most relevant ad showing for a searcher’s query, but you should also be able to improve click-through rates and quality scores within your campaign as a whole. Which will consequently help you to drive down the amount you pay each time someone clicks on your ads.

2. Location, location, location

As briefly touched on above, PPC platforms gives you an amazing ability to deliver your ads in a very targeted way when it comes to locations. Local businesses can set their ads to only show within a specific radius of their store — so they don’t waste clicks or even impressions showing to people who aren’t realistically within travelling distance.

Using the restaurant example above, this business might want to target a 20 mile radius around the Oxford area (to cover both restaurants) and a 10 mile radius around Wimbledon. By focussing the campaign in this way, conversion rates should be higher and wasted spend should be minimised.

3. More than words

Don’t forget to think about your keyword matching options. By default, they will be set to ‘broad’ — which gives you the most exposure, but can be dangerous. Taking the ‘Italian restaurant’ example:

• On broad match, your ads would show for either or both words in any order, along with other words. So ads could show for ‘Indian restaurant’ or ‘Italian deli’.

• On phrase match, ads would only show when your keywords appear in the correct order, although other terms can also be present. So ads could show for ‘cheap Italian restaurant’ or ‘Italian restaurant in London’.

• On exact match you ads will only show for the exact phrase ‘Italian restaurant’. Nothing else.

Each match option has its pros and cons. If your keywords are on broad match, your ads will be shown to more people. But are all these people really likely to purchase your services? At the other end of the scale, exact match minimises wastage — but rules out lots of searchers who may be looking for you using broader terms.

Deciding the best match option for the keywords you want your ads to show for isn’t the end of the story, though. Don’t forget about the often ignored negative match. Any word you add as a ‘negative keyword’ will ensure your ads don’t show for any phrase using that word. So, coming back to our ‘Italian restaurant’ example, if it’s got three Michelin stars and costs £100 a head, you might want to use ‘cheap’ as a negative keyword, to ensure anyone looking for a bargain doesn’t waste your click spend.

4. Landing pages

Targeting keywords effectively and writing compelling ads are two obvious ways to put an AdWords campaign in the best position to succeed. But don’t forget to consider the ‘landing page’ you point your ads to as well.

Just as it sounds, the landing page is the page on which someone who clicks on your ad ‘lands’. And one of the big mistakes people make is to use their home page as their landing page.

Consider this: if you were in a supermarket and told someone you wanted to buy some milk, you’d be pretty hacked off if they took you all the way back to the store entrance, and told you that as well as milk, they also stock fruit, veg, meat, pasta, etc. Or if they pointed you off in the direction of cheese — which might be in the same ‘Dairy’ category as milk — but is still not what you actually asked for.

The same is true in AdWords. If someone has typed in a specific keyword, then clicked on your ad, they will expect you to take them to a page which answers the question they have asked you. They don’t want to be taken to an irrelevant page, or to your home page. And by sending them there, you run the massive risk that they won’t bother to navigate their own way to what they’re after; they’ll simply hit the back button and click on another ad, which actually does give them what they’re looking for.

5. Analyse This

Knowledge is power, so make sure you install an analytics package on your web pages. Google Analytics is a free piece of code — and once it’s on your pages, it lets you see exactly how people are getting to your site, how they’re interacting with it and whether they’re ‘converting’ once they’re there. Whether you want people to buy, enquire, sign up or download, make sure you also have analytics on a ‘Thank you’ page, so you can see how many of the PPC visitors are actually completing the action you want them to.

Analytics packages will also give you information you can feed back into your campaign to make it more effective. For example it will show you what times of the day or week most people are coming to your site — and, more importantly, when they are converting (ie buying, signing up, etc). So you may see that people arrive at your site throughout the week, but the vast majority of them actually convert at the weekend. Which would suggest you should allocate more of your budget to Saturday and Sunday in order to maximise the return you get on your spend.

6. Final Word

If in doubt — get an agency like Reload Digital on board to help you. Yes, it’ll cost you a bit in management fees. But this outlay could be far less than the money you might waste running an ineffective campaign on your own.

Cara Whitehouse is Head of UK & Europe at Reload Digital, a leading UK Search Engine Optimisation, Search Engine Marketing and Online Strategy company. Visit: www.reloaddigital.co.uk

Join us on