How to get qualified PPC traffic with any budget

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Search engines can be a fire hose of traffic. The traditional goals of SEO efforts are to find large opportunities of search volume and get the best position on those SERPs. While there have been shifts to better quality traffic, refining targets and measuring deeper results, it is usually the fire hose in the back of their mind when traditional SEOs look to PPC.

If you think buying traffic is for suckers…

I get it, experienced SEO marketers are used to paying with their sweat and brains, finding angles and openings that everyone else overlooked. Opening up the wallet seems to be a sucker’s bet, especially if things go wrong and the account spends $10K overnight.

PPC takes work; it takes strategy, analysis and most of all, patience. PPC advertisers have to be organized and able to trust their gut, even when it’s not 100%…sound familiar? Many SEO skills can be transferred to PPC.

With a number of safeguards in place to control what is spent, SEOs can start in PPC with a very small investment. For as little as $10 a day (and even less if really desperate), you can leverage PPC to seek out traffic and generate leads and/or sales.

At this point, I have to add a caveat: if the target is a shady or poorly designed site, has a very tight margin or is in certain competitive industries, PPC won’t work. It can feed sound businesses but exasperate poorly designed models.

Strategy: Go deep, not wide

Google AdWords PPC cost boils down to two metrics, Bids and Budgets. Bids are set at the Ad Group or individual keyword level and dictate positioning based upon Quality Score and the level of competition. Quality Score is a grade assigned to the relevance of the particular query, based upon past performance of the keyword along with the quality and speed of the landing page.

While Bids are a goal to optimize for, it can be hard to manipulate and maintain position; I like to use them to measure the depth of the market.

ppc-any-budget Budgets are set at the campaign level and usually based upon daily totals, which we have complete control over. (Note: setting budgets too low will affect impressions: for example, if the budget is set for two-three clicks a day, it may not allow the ad to be shown enough to get them). Based upon the depth of the bids, it can measure how wide of a net to cast, which is set by the budget.

To do this, forget the fire-hose. Stay away from the head terms and focus on qualified searches. Also, don’t blindly pursue the top spot. The top of the page is better than the right rail (and Google’s recent release of Top vs. Side Report Segments makes this clear), but the very top spot may attract too much traffic to convert efficiently (a.k.a. window shoppers). Volume isn’t always a concern for SEO, but when paying for every click, it’s something to keep in mind.

Use tools to measure the volume of target keywords and research the search landscape. While the tools cannot be taken as gospel, they can provide some indicators. I have found that the more specific targets are, the less reliable they can be.

If a competitive ad is being used, I forecast with a 5% CTR to give me a high cost projection. This can go even higher with a very relevant domain or ad extensions enabled (including Maps, Product Listings, Ratings or Sitelinks).

Focus the Ad Groups around very specific targeting, called the Relevancy Trifecta. At one end are a small set of keywords that represent similar intent, and on the other end, specific ad copy based upon the keywords. The third segment is the landing page, delivering what the searcher is looking for and answering all of the expectations set. The more competitive the market is, the more concise the ad groups should be.

While Ad Groups control the targeting with their three components (keywords, ad copy and landing page), campaigns control the delivery.

How to shed some spend

  1. Shorten the window: Based upon the forecast cost, compare it to the budget available and see if it’s feasible. If still coming up short, I like to focus on shortening the window. Maximize how often ads are shown against how many times the keywords a searched, or Impression Share. The Impression Share can be leveraged by using Day Parting to control when the ad is shown. Day Parting is not just an on/off switch; adjust bids based upon the time of day or days of the week so you’re not paying top dollar during times when performance dips.
  2. Test different ads: Try different headlines, descriptions and display URLs. Not everyone knows about sub-domain architecture, and putting a keyword before the domain can be helpful. Or, for a more savvy audience, put the keyword after the domain. A no-brainer is making sure the keyword is in the headline. The headline draws in the search and the ad build expectations that are then met on the landing page. By testing and refining the messaging, ads will be fresh and competitive. The short PPC cycle is different than SEO, where waiting is awarded with authority. Don’t worry about cycling through different ad variations as long as performance is improving.
  3. Rotate evenly: If you are using multiple ads, it is important to tweak a campaign setting that allows the ads to rotate evenly. The default is for Google to choose what ad to serve based upon performance, which sounds good, but corrupts testing. With even impressions, you can make decisions not just because of which ad gets the best Click-Thru-Rate (Google default), or even Conversion Rate (another option), but by Conversion Value/ROI. Even for lead gen campaigns, if you are measuring White Papers and Form Fills, the White Paper activity can dictate what ad is being seen and adversely affect the Form Fills.
  4. Limit display locations: While in the campaign settings, choose to run the ads only on Google Search & Google Search Partners (disabling the Display Network). The default is listed as “All Sites;” instead select “Let Me Choose.” This will make sure the ads are only seen in response to search. While there have been a lot of improvements to Google’s content network, if budget is a concern, then you’ll see more immediate results from search behavior.
  5. Use negative terms:During the keyword research it’s not only important to define which terms to target, but to also find which ones will disqualify the search. These are negative terms that can be applied at the campaign or Ad Group level, depending on how specific they are. If the Ad Groups are closely aligned or the target SERPs are competitive, it may be useful to apply positive terms from one Ad Group as negatives in another to ensure the right message is shown.
  6. Geo-target:PPC also gives complete control over geo-targeting, either by search intent or by physical location of the searcher. Granted, filtering down to major metros may be more costly than targeting an entire state since the competition is higher. But if a client has a service that only applies to a limited area, don’t waste resources advertising outside of the area. One way geo can be used successfully is if shipping costs vary depending on distance. The default geo-target is US and Canada. While filtering out Canada is customary, it may be helpful also to exclude Alaska and Hawaii or other regions if those markets aren’t cost-effective to serve.
  7. Remarketing: Another option to get more out of the advertising budget is to set up remarketing audiences. After buying qualified traffic, you might as well increase the opportunity to convert them! Tag the site and then build paths that include pages to define the audience. For example, with an e-commerce site, Lost Sales are usually successful targets, defined by those who have added an item to the cart, but did not convert. They showed intent, but did not seal the deal. Remarketing will target them as they surf off your site, after they have qualified themselves. The audience tags can also be used as negatives to filter out those who visited certain pages. So for example, they filled out a form, but did not complete a purchase, that may be another target, and the page will be a filter on the original Lost Sale audience.
  8. Pay attention: Finally, the biggest way to leverage the budget and get the most bang for the buck is you! Watch the account and eliminate inefficiencies, especially early on. Once the account is targeting correctly, I would suggest taking a step back and letting it run for a day or two to allow the stats to collect. A good axiom is: monitor daily, adjust weekly and plan monthly.

Now go buy some traffic!

Chris KosteckiChris Kostecki has been working in Search since 2006, and in marketing since 1997. He created a PPC product for small businesses to supplement a Yellow Page directory product, and worked as a PPC manager in an agency serving eCommerce clients before joining Keurig Inc. as their in-house Search Analyst.

Follow @chriskos on Twitter, where he drops PPC knowledge bombs every Tuesday from 12-1 p.m. EST during #PPCChat.

All views, opinions expressed on and offline are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Keurig, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters or any other entities he is associated with.