PPC — it’s a staple for most small and medium-sized businesses, in one form or another. And it’s no wonder: In their latest Economic Impact report , Google reports that “businesses generally make an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 they spend on AdWords.”
The entire process is getting smarter, too. Google’s 2017 AdWords product roadmap  heavily features AI and machine learning, which they say is “critical to helping marketers analyze countless signals in real time and reach consumers with more useful ads at the right moments.”
This new technology promised to help brands track and measure the customer journey across channels, which will help ads be more relevant and yield higher returns.
At the same time, the process is becoming increasingly complex. Google is expanding their available programs, with new formats, the mobile AMP for Ads initiative , better audience targeting, the new Purchases on Google  program currently in beta, etc.
PPC Tips for Small Businesses
All of this can leave SMBs floundering, and not seeing the kind of returns they expected. But there’s hope. Let’s look at five specific areas that often turn into real pitfalls for SMBs, so you can run a strategic PPC campaign that moves the right needles.
Get Real About Ad Fraud
Ad fraud is a reality that SMBs must understand and protect themselves from. Business losses from ad bot fraud are expected to reach a staggering $16.4 billion in 2017 , and it’s only going to escalate from there. The Wall Street Journal  reported that a single Russian ad fraud operation was costing U.S. businesses upwards of $3 million a day.
“While ad fraud is a somewhat well-known issue facing the online marketing world, it’s estimated that for every dollar marketers spend on online advertising, almost half of the value is lost due to ad fraud,” writes Stephen Hoops in SEMRush . “And while ad fraud can be committed by malicious software and human actions, the majority of ad fraud is carried out by automated bots.”
Many ad campaign managers, especially in SMBs, rely on Google and other search engines to detect fraud on their behalf. I recently spoke to Clickcease  Founder Yuval Haimov about why this might not be enough to protect your budget.
“Yes, Google does detect click fraud,” Haimov explains. “Google will typically credit AdWords account hours (or more) after the fraud takes place. Meanwhile, your ad budget is quickly exhausted and your ad could be offline for hours.”
The solution is to get a good fraud protection plan in place. For example, Clickcease offers real time reporting that highlights organic traffic versus suspicious clicks (shown in orange), automatically blocks them, and also automatically claims refunds from Google for any misspent budget dollars.
Considering how much of your ad budget is likely going to waste, the investment you’ll make in a service like this will be well worth it.
Go for the Long Tail Keywords for Best Results
Much of your success in PPC campaigns will come down to choosing the right keywords. And it can be a challenge to get it right.
The first think you’ll want to do is look at some long tail keywords, instead of draining your budget in a flash with the highly competitive short tails. As search algorithms and search users get more sophisticated, long tail keywords are getting 70% of search traffic .
“For example, I would use the following long-tail keyword ‘short black cocktail dresses’ instead of ‘black dresses,’” explains Ronald Dod in this post on long tail keywords .
Take advantage of the free tools you can use to help undercover the right keywords. SEMrush  has a great one that lets you type in your main keyword, then gives you a report of related keywords and matching phrases, along with current bid rates and search volumes.
One way for really understanding the complexities of all of this is Tim Soulo’s Ahref’s  Guide to Keyword Research.
Soulo explains that your own keyword research will depend on several factors, including your website’s authority, size, your goals, budget and the competitive landscape.
It’s also important to remove underperforming keywords from your campaign as you go. You might find that only about 20% of your keywords are driving in the bulk of the revenue. Once your campaign runs for a few months, download the report and delete any that are delivering very low conversions. If you aren’t sure you want to delete them, you should at least put them on pause for a while, to avoid eating up your budget with wasted clicks.
Optimize Landing Pages
After protecting yourself against fraud, and getting the right keywords into your campaign, there’s another place to check to see if you’re wasting money.
Your campaign landing pages are often a place where the best planned campaigns can go off the rails. Several factors can come into play that will impact your bounce rate. Pop-up ads, poor page design, long load times and irrelevant content can all cause visitors to bounce. And those bounces hurt, because the cost of those clicks has already been charged to your account by the time they arrive.
Not sure what a decent bounce rate should be? Try checking your own bounce rate against your industry’s benchmark, using Google’s benchmarking tool . If you find it’s higher than it should be based on your industry or niche, the following fixes might help:
- Make sure the content is highly relevant to the keyword.
- Check your page load speed  and take the recommended steps to improve it.
- Get rid of pop-up ads; this is often a reason for fast bounces.
- Make sure any links on your page open in a new window.
- If you’re doing lead gen on your site, make sure you optimize your sign-up forms as well.
Continue to monitor your bounce rate and tweak those pages until it improves and at least meets – but ideally beats – your industry benchmark.
Get Your Budget Right
The first step in setting your PPC budget is to understand your goals. How much do you expect to earn from new leads? What is the expected lifetime value of the customers you hope to gain? Understanding the end game will help you decide how much to spend to drive those clicks.
You’ll also want to take steps to avoid blowing through your budget too fast. This usually happens when your keywords aren’t specific enough (see above choosing the right keywords). Make sure to turn off the “broad match” option in your campaign settings, to avoid getting less targeted and less relevant traffic.
Also consider setting up some negative keywords . Adding these to your campaign will prevent your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase. The classic example of this is the word “free.” If you do not give free samples, free trials, or free downloads, for instance, you might not want your ad to show when someone includes “free” in their search. You can do the same for certain industry terms that are close, but not a good match, to what you offer.
At the end of the day, you have to spend enough to make an impact. It can be hard to convince yourself to do this before having any proof that it will work, but it’s a double-edged sword: You have to put a big enough commitment into to know if you’ll be getting a reasonable return.
Monitor, Test, Tweak
Finally, as in all marketing and ad campaigns, you must be disciplined about monitoring results and tracking ROI. It’s not easy: Hubspot’s State of InBound 2017  report shows that proving the ROI of marketing activities is among the top challenges business face:
Again, it goes back to understanding your goals. Are you looking for leads? You should be measuring how well they are converting. Looking for direct sales? Check revenue from those clicks.
PPC can be tough to get right, and ROI is also not the easiest thing to get a handle on.
“In paid search there are a lot of rough Adwords accounts out there,” writes Joanna Lord in MOZ . “You’ve seen them I’m sure. I know I’ve worked on them. We get brought in to assess the situation and make some big decisions around whether an account has potential or whether it would be better just to start fresh.
“This is one of the most common questions we get asked — how am I doing?” Lord continues. Moz recommends the AdWords Performance Grader, a free, quick and insightful tool that will help make sense of it all.
In spite of the ad fraud, the challenges and the discipline required to do it right, PPC still has good potential for most SMBs. But the potential pitfalls can cost you, in a big way. With some sound strategy and the right technical support, you’ll soon be able to maximize your ROI.
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