Optimizing Paid Search Advertising

Greg is CMO and a Partner at Cypress North, a digital marketing agency, where he specializes in B2B marketing. In this guide, he highlights how to optimize paid search advertising, including picking the right keywords and match types, matching up good landing pages and tracking, and configuring ads that make the most of Google’s settings.

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Questions covered in this guide

When should you use paid search advertising?

When there’s a pre-existing demand that you’re looking to harness – if people are looking for something that you offer or if there’s a high volume or frequency of searches for a certain topic, paid search is right for you.

What are the different platforms you should consider for B2B search advertising (including and beyond Google)?

Google is definitely the largest – depending on what metric you’re looking at, they make up anywhere between 70-90% of search queries.

Microsoft advertising (Bing) – is a big one and is one that people normally overlook. It’s valuable for many B2B people though, because buyers may not be able to install Chrome onto their work computer, or they might simply type into the Windows search bar on a Windows computer (when they search on that, it’s Microsoft advertising). 

Extend your reach with search partners (Google or Bing) – if it’s something that is very specific or branded, search partner ads can actually perform better.

Employ “Barnacle SEO” – attach yourself to something bigger (if your product isn’t showing up on the first page), like Quora, Capterra, or G2 Crowd. If aggregators or marketplaces are showing up in the top listings for your terms, getting listed on those is an indirect way to also get some of that search traffic, even though it’s not specifically a search engine.

What are the different configurations of search ads?

Keyword Landing page – of course, the traditional SEM path is to bid on keywords and direct searchers to corresponding landing pages. 

Lead gen forms – with a lead form, you buy terms, put together a form (you can customize everything that’s on that form) and when somebody performs that search, they can fill the form out from Google. The searcher doesn’t necessarily visit your site, but there can be a link at the bottom where they can. 

Extensions – an extension is where you have the ability to add more than just a few lines of text. You’ll normally see a couple of extensions on an ad. For example, location extensions if you’re trying to drive in-person traffic, or call extensions if you’re trying to drive more calls.  

How can you target audiences with search ads?

Targeting audiences – you can set up “in market” audiences. For example, you can target folks that are interested in industrial products. You can also remove audiences who you might otherwise waste impressions on (people who might search similar terms, but aren’t your target audience).

Use RLSA to take away restrictions – RLSAs (remarketing lists for search ads) allow you to display ads for more generic terms only for specific types of searchers. For example, if you were a B2B company that sold wholesale pizza ingredients, the only reason someone would be on your site is if they’re B2B, not because they’re looking for a pizza delivery. So you could put visitors to your site into a big group and buy a very generic term (like “pizza”), so the next time they type in “pizza”, you’d appear. 

Customize by device, or on and off hours – this is based on what your traffic looks like and what your conversions look like. You might want to bid down for a mobile or tablet device or for certain times or areas. 

How much do search ads cost (and what does that cost depend upon)?

Reverse engineer what you should pay – it varies a lot, from $0.10 to $500. The best way I think to go about looking at what you should pay for a term is almost reverse engineering it. So taking a look at your overarching sales funnel, go through and look at just how leads progress and try to find out what some of those conversion rates are. When you get leads in, what’s your average conversion rate from a lead to a marketing qualified lead? See how much value is in the lead and then work back. 

In general, clicks cost between $5-50, higher if it’s more competitive – more competitive industries tend to have a really high payoff, so if you’re selling something that has a high lifetime value you’ll see higher cost-per-click.

How much spend does it take to accurately test the effectiveness of a search advertising campaign?

Don’t start with a budget, figure out how many leads you need – and then look at your current conversion rates for similar product/feature pages and rates down the funnel, use the Google Keyword Planner tool to find out rough bid estimates, and work the math to find much budget you need to be successful. 

Drive 50-100 leads to start to assess the campaign – you may need to drive a few hundred leads to be confident that they’ll be qualified for sales, and it depends upon what lead is for (if you’re pushing a top-of-funnel offer, you’ll want more leads.) 

How can you control your spend/avoid wasting money on search ad campaigns?

Be vigilant about who you’re targeting and what people are doing – don’t blindly follow what Google recommends. Closely follow the keywords you’re spending money on.
  • Pay close attention to the terms you’re bidding on.
  • Be detail-oriented as to what people are doing once they arrive on your landing page. 
  • Track the different leads by campaign and ad group.
  • Look at which landing pages are performing better. Use a landing page creation tool (like Unbounce) where you can use Google Optimize to make sure your pages are doing well.

Never stop optimizing – have multiple sets of eyes look at your campaigns as well, but both Google and Microsoft have fantastic experiments that you can run. Just because you have something that you’re happy with doesn’t mean you should end there; that’s the way that you’ll start to see things becoming less effective down the road. The landscape is always in-flux, so you have to check on things every week.

What tools make tracking easier?

Google tag manager – a must-have. This tool allows you to put a container onto a site or a page and you can make sure that tags (which allow you to collect information about a person and their on-site behavior) are fired when a specific event happens. One of the reasons that’s really beneficial is because those tags will fire across all of your ad platforms keeping conversions consistent for measurement. 

Google analytics – another must-have. Provides you with analytics data, and it will be beneficial to have one “true” source since each ad platform is independent and each might try to take credit for the same conversion. 

Google Keyword planner (or Microsoft planner) – a simple tool to see volume for each keyword. It’ll help you determine who the ad is good for and how much traffic is out there. It’ll help you determine if search is right for you. 

Advanced keyword research tools
  • SEMRush – allows you to do keyword research and see what competitors/ like-minded sites are betting on. You can also see what they’re ranking for organically. 
  • Spyfu – you can look through historical ad data to see what your competitors have bid in the past.
Landing page tools
  • Unbounce – they have some smart traffic optimizations where they’ll actually optimize your landing page, and from what we’ve seen, there are substantial lifts for B2B clients specifically.
  • Google Optimize – this is good if you don’t have the budget for Unbounce. This allows you to quickly edit text (without your developers needing to do it), you can run A/B split tests, and you can run redirect or multivariate tests.

When doing keyword advertising, how should you research and select keywords?

Use broader terms for top-of-funnel – with wider matching, such as phrase match, so you’re getting a variety of people. Content types that do well here are:
  • Explainers that are really simple messaging that quickly hit the nail on the head for what you do. 
  • Offers, such as exchanging something of value for their information. You’ll be paying less for these types of terms.
  • Avoid demos, don’t drive your top-of-funnel customers hard at a demo request because you wouldn’t do it in real life, so why would you do it on a search engine.

Use tighter matches lower in the funnel – branded terms tend to be lower-funnel. Niche terms should be matched very tightly, e.g. with an exact match ad that leads to a detailed landing page that entices a demo. At this point, you know they’ve got a need for this very specific piece of software or product that delivers on a very specific experience. 

Look at the data that comes in to refine your terms – assign results back to the terms and look at the activity that’s coming from your traffic. Look at click-through rates and what they’re doing once they hit the page. 

Put your good ones in a “winners” campaign – if you see certain terms doing well, put them into a separate campaign and let them have their own budget. 

How should you think about keyword match types?

It sounds really straightforward, but it’s not – this is a place where people commonly make mistakes with search advertising.

Broad match is very loose, use with caution – not recommended unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re using smart automation, and you’re using really low budgets. Since it’s so loose, you could have a term like “couch” and it matches to a search for “chair.” If you’re going to use it, you have to have really tight controls on it. 

Phrase match is the go-to for prospecting – this is one step tighter than broad match. You can match to a lot more specific terms, there can be a lot more elements added in at the beginning, middle, and end, but you can still have your core terms in there. However, this match type dials in a lot. 

Exact match is the tightest, you can bid the highest – the words can be flipped around, and the intent of the words can be flipped around, but you can bid a lot higher because the searches that bring up your ad will fit much more closely to the query. 

How should you think about branded keywords (yours and your competitors’)?

Consider buying your own branded terms – especially if you have affiliates, resellers, or cutthroat competitors. By buying your branded term, you’re going to boost yourself to the top of the page and you’ll have the highest quality score for that branded keywood because you’re you. So you can make people spend a lot more to appear for your terms. You’ll also want to buy branded terms because on mobile you might have to scroll a long way to get to your organic search results and that’s not fantastic. 

You can buy your competitor’s brand keywords – but you can’t use their name in your ads. Since you can’t mention your competitor in the name, you might talk about some different benefits or why you’re the best solution to the problem. 

There is some recourse if your competitor is violating laws or terms – you can talk to your lawyer and file a “cease and desist order” and you can file trademark infringement with Google. You’ll need to grab screenshots if you think someone is doing something illegal. 

How should you coordinate ads for different parts of your funnel, or for different products you offer?

Too often people skip the relationship-building process – don’t go from 0 to 60 where you buy a term and then say “book a demo today,” when you don’t even know who the person is. Once you have their email address or have them on your site, you can remarket and talk about the other benefits. You’re trying to bring them back and then say, “hey, we’ve got free demos.” 

Section things off based on term clusters/themes – a lot of times you can determine where they might be in the funnel based off of the keyword they’re using. Then, messaging is a great way to really speak to those different audiences. 

Different products have different demands and can eat up your budget – if you have a set budget, and you throw everything together, the product with the most demand is going to eat up all your budget. For example, even though Product A had all the demand out there, Product C might be the most profitable, and it got totally overlooked because Product A ate all the traffic from Product C. 

How do you write and test good ads?

It’s harder than it used to be – because many search engines are moving to more flexible, dynamic, and machine learning based ad types that are responsive search ads. 

Make sure that your first headline is pinned – it’s the most important and you want it to convey the most important information. 

Make sure that each one of the main titles/descriptions adds value – and talks to where folks are specifically in the sales process, so that you’re highlighting benefits (especially if it’s a really competitive field). 

Use extensions and structured snippets – such as callout extensions for offers (e.g. seven day trial). Figure out how to get anything that you think is a value proposition into the ads themselves. 

Speak to people the way that they’re searching – you want the text in your ad to match the way they searched it because it’s going to stand out and it’ll be completely bolded in the search results, so it’ll have a higher click-through rate. Then, in turn, you’ll pay less because you’re getting a better result from Google. Don’t just make one ad, make multiple ad groups that are specific to what those queries are.

How do you create and test landing pages?

Use a session tracking tool – e.g HotJar. These will allow you to see how people are interacting with your landing page. 

Have a snappy, matching title – the title should match the intent of the query. A landing page should match its ad groups; if you have a new ad group, you should have a new landing page. 

If you have a detailed product, try an explainer video it’s a simple way to almost have a real conversation with people. You can also show social proof from other clients, or showcase reviews to build trust. 

Gear landing pages to where they are in the funnel – you might have a landing page geared a little bit more towards nurturing and explaining, or, if the prospect is towards the bottom of the funnel, you might have a form big and high upfront.

How should search advertising fit into and coordinate with your broader digital marketing strategy?

Everyone should do some search, how much depends upon your product – if your product or use case is unknown, search advertising might not be a big part of your budget. For highly-searched products, paid search is a big deal and it can convert really well. 

Complement search with remarketing – search is expensive, so pull people back in with remarketing. You want everything to play together. 

How should PPC coordinate with your SEO?

Use paid search to test SEO – if you see that certain terms work well and you’re buying these terms, then you know you can show up for them. So you might be able to use that as sort of a training ground for what should we go after with SEO? Also, if you’ve got holes in your SEO, they can be filled with paid search. If you’re not showing up for something or it’s a new product, paid can be fantastic there.

#1 organic can still be #5 on the page – you may still want to buy ads so you can appear higher on the page. Ads also look more like Organic results now, so users are more likely to click on ads. 

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Search advertising is a living, breathing thing – if you don’t go into it understanding that, there’s a high probability that you’re going to fail. You have to be running experiments and constantly and consistently trying to beat whatever champion level campaigns you have. You can’t just go through and hit automated things or listen to the recommendations the search engines give you; you have to go in there and put human guidance on these things. 

Make sure your tracking is on-point – you want to make sure you’re tracking all the different conversions, not just the demo sign-ups. Track everything that could matter, such as the scroll depth on a page or the length of time someone spent watching a video. You want to make sure that you don’t have any blind spots.

What are the common pitfalls?

People fail when messaging doesn’t match the intent – people try to get to the end of the sales funnel when people are at the beginning of the funnel. That’s why you have to see how things are performing. 

Paid search is not demand generation, it’s demand harvesting – some products aren’t fantastic for search. If people aren’t looking specifically for your product, it’s going to be an uphill battle the whole way. That’s where you should go and allocate more budget towards some of those other social networks, like LinkedIn.

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