Do Google Ads Really Work?

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Many small businesses seem to rue the day they ever took the advice of all those blog posts and invested in AdWords. Everyone seems to be doing it, but not everyone is doing it right. And when enough people aren’t doing it right it can certainly seem that Google Ads just don’t work, at least not for the average budget. Whether it’s costs or confusion that has you questioning the value of PPC, we’re here to tell you not to throw in the towel just yet.

How Google AdWords is (supposed) to work

Get your products and services in front of thousands of people, sell away and become a household brand name. The promising golden glow of PPC and Google AdWords has lured in many hopeful SME’s. Unfortunately, the high costing conversion wasteland that greets them is enough to send them packing and never look back.

So, what is AdWords really supposed to achieve if not eternal glory?

As the name suggests, pay-per-click aims to drive traffic to your website and products or services through clicks, or views in the case of display ads. You can improve your rank, and therefore the chances of views or clicks, by bidding for a click or a view. Where you rank and the amount your charged depends on who else is bidding, what they’re bidding and the quality of your own setup.

So, you set up your text ads or your display ads or shopping ads, and you set all your budgets and wait for the money to roll in and… nothing. If you’re struggling to see the value or AdWords or have heard too many horror stories, then the following might sound familiar.

It costs too much money

This is easily the biggest complaint about Google Ads. Everyone knows that if you’re starting out on AdWords you better get ready to say goodbye to your marketing budget, right?

It is an inescapable fact that AdWords costs money; that kind of exposure to that amount of consumers who are potentially ready to purchase doesn’t come free. We challenge you, however, to find any marketing channel that does, especially one that can lift top-of-mind awareness by an average of 6.6%.

But what about SEO? While it’s affordable, SEO can take 6 months or more to see any results. It’s also notoriously difficult to track any costs you do associate with SEO or put a figure on the return you get from it. Although it needs to be carefully controlled, AdWords is easily the best channel for tracking your spend and your return, and you can start doing it instantly.

Many complain that Google Ads cost too much money, but often this can be controlled with careful management

But SEO is still better

Many businesses think that because their SEO is doing just fine, there’s no need to bother paying out for ads. An easy trap to fall into, but a potentially dangerous one.

PPC has been proven time and again to complement SEO efforts and can help improve profitability. The best example of this is branded PPC campaigns which are even overlooked by businesses already investing in AdWords. After all, what’s the point in paying for something we already rank number one for?

Branded PPC campaigns are usually always the best performing in an AdWords account and can even generate more clicks than the organic result. A number one ad spot isn’t just the first ad on the page, it’s the first thing on the page, period. If it’s capturing that much traffic from your number one organic spot, just think what it can do for everything else.

But when it really comes down to it, SEO and PPC are simply different beasts. Searches driven by purchase intent can often see the top ads outperform the organic results. In fact, for high commercial intent queries, sponsored results account for 64.6% of the clicks compared to organic results. There is a lot to be gained from using SEO results to inform PPC strategy and vice versa. Both need to be used maximise profitability.

Our clients see their branded campaigns significantly outperform their others in AdWords.

As you can see, just two of our clients see their branded campaigns significantly outperform the average.

It doesn’t convert

Getting your campaigns to convert can be a genuine challenge, but one that can often have a simple solution. Poor conversion tends to be closely tied to spiralling costs, with many cost factors also resulting in poor ads that simply don’t convert. This could be a poor structure with cannibalising keywords, getting the wrong type of traffic with unmanaged keyword lists, poor bidding, poor quality scores… the list goes on. The key to conversion is relevance; getting the right traffic with the right keywords, the right clicks with the right ads. While entirely achievable, this is only something that can be done through continual management.

Believe it or not, Google Ads work

AdWords can and does work, but it’s an ongoing process and it needs to be done properly. Some of the biggest brands in the world from across all industries invest millions in AdWords every year. This isn’t a coincidence. Maybe it has something to do with the top ads taking up to 85.2% of the above-the-fold pixels for commercial intent keywords. Or, maybe it’s because the ads for these queries earn 41% of the clicks on the page.

But what about the small guys? Well, it works for them too. Many of our clients see upwards of 50% of their total revenue come from PPC, and they’re by no means an exception. Google estimates that businesses make an average of $2 for every $1 they spend in AdWords.

The great thing about AdWords is that you only pay for someone that has actually clicked or seen your ad depending on whether you’re on the Search or Display Network. Unfortunately, this can often steer people into the wrong area. They focus on CPC and CTR rather than the real key to AdWords success: ROI, with the driving force being conversions and conversion rate.

Read our blog post on delivering for ROI from AdWords for more PPC advice

If you’ve been struggling to balance your AdWords costs with actual conversion, here are a few tips to keep your ad spend low and make the most out of your campaigns.

Start small and use what works

Remember those surprisingly successful brand campaigns? As well as stealing clicks from organic results, we find they’re also some of the best converters for our clients. This is the best example of starting small and using what works.

As well as using your brand, delve into your ecommerce data and look at your best sellers. Anything that sells consistently all year round is your PPC bread and butter. Products that are already attracting customers are probably going to attract clicks and conversions in AdWords too. If you have a small budget, this is the safest place to spend your budget first and hopefully see the fastest returns.

Google Shopping ads are a great place to start with Google Ads and want to keep simple

Start with Google Shopping

If you’re running your own ads and working with a small budget, then Shopping ads are also a good starting point. After setting up your feed you can create a simple campaign and ad group structure to target your best selling product categories. You can be as broad or as granular as you like, even starting off with just an all products campaign to see what sells first.

Plus, because Google matches your products to searches based on the category taxonomy you already have set up, Shopping ads are easy to manage. Adjust your CPCs depending on product performance or build out products that are performing well. Whether you want to get technical or keep it simple, Shopping ads are often some of the best performing campaigns in our clients’ account and a good place for beginners to start.

Be realistic with your budget

Costs are much easier to manage when you set a realistic budget. Starting small means you won’t have to worry about AdWords suddenly eating your marketing budget. If you’re running your own ads and just starting out, there will inevitably be some learning curves. An affordable budget means you can spend some time testing out techniques and getting used to AdWords without worrying about costs.

Focus on one of the starting points we’ve already recommended, such as Shopping ads or a branded campaign. Once you’re used to how it works and start seeing a return here, you can increase your budget and build out your campaigns to target more products.

Make sure you set a realistic and small budget to keep Google Ad costs from spilling at out of control

Account structure

Poor account structure is often the number one reason for unsuccessful campaigns. You’ve probably heard it time and again, but make sure your campaigns and ad groups follow your website structure. Keep your ad groups granular to avoid keyword lists that are too broad and untargeted. A good account structure is key to ensuring high relevance between your keywords, your ads and your landing pages. If you’re not sure what landing page is the right one for a certain ad, then it’s probably an indication that your ad group and keyword lists are targeting more than one thing.

Focus on the right metrics

Impressions and CTR are great for getting more eyeballs, but they don’t translate into cold hard cash. Smaller budgets or wary businesses understandably want to see results, not just a lot of clicks with a lot of costs attached. Focusing on CTR is a cost trap many unsuspecting SME’s have fallen into.

Instead, your key metrics need to be conversion rate and CPA, or cost per acquisition. These are the driving forces behind your ROAS and the new best friends to your bottom line. Just be careful to use these metrics together to inform your decisions, and judge what’s right for your industry and your business. Some industries will naturally see higher CPA’s and lower conversion rates than others, but with high ticket items and healthy margins, this isn’t an issue. On the other hand, if you’re paying £10 for a conversion on a £15 product, even a healthy margin won’t make this a valuable conversion.

Make sure you track the right metrics and focus on the right keywords for successful Google Ads

Get your keywords right

If you’re using text ads it’s important to get keywords right. Use the keyword planner to identify the most relevant keywords for your products, and don’t forget to use your own data too. Ecommerce data from the internal search on your website can provide valuable insight into what your customers search for to find certain products.

Once you have the right keywords, make sure you use the right match types. Match types make a significant difference to the costs of your keywords. Broad match keywords are notorious for runaway costs, and broad match modifiers can be even worse. Generally, we recommend sticking to phrase match and exact match, unless the performance of a certain keyword or research has indicated otherwise. Once the traffic starts coming in, regularly monitor your search term lists and add any irrelevant terms to your negative keywords lists to make sure you’re only paying for the right clicks.

Finally, don’t forget your quality score. Many fall into the trap of thinking their keywords are costing a fortune for a decent position when in fact a better quality score could improve ad rank and achieve a lower CPC at the same time.

Keyword quality scores consist of your expected CTR, landing page relevance and ad relevance. While ad relevance is usually easy to resolve, landing page relevance may take a bit more work, or often simply indicates that your keywords and your landing pages aren’t specific enough. You may have another landing page that works better or it may be a sign that you need to work on your category structure and landing pages. CTR is the dominant signal for quality score, but only improve this metric if your costs are under control and you have the budget to do so. Remember, relevancy is the key to conversion.

Think about what’s right for your business

At the end of the day, every business is different and not everything AdWords has to offer will work best for your products or goals. Some products sell better as Shopping ads, others work best as text ads. The Display Network can sometimes send costs skyrocketing with not much gain while for others it outperforms their standard text ads. The best thing to do is to start small with the basics, preferably starting with some Shopping and some text ads before branching out into the world of remarketing and the Display Network.

Our only real tip here is to avoid Search with Display Select. Search and Display are different entities, with different metrics that need to be tracked individually for the best results. Text ads running on Search with Display Select often result in costly campaigns that are hard to track and improve.

Don't forget to think about what's right for you business as Google Ads work differently for everyone

Pro tip: bid adjustments

If you’re running your own ads with a bit more time to invest and feel more comfortable getting your hands dirty, take a look at bid adjustments. You’ll need to have data over a fairly long period to make accurate decisions, but when done right bid adjustments can help you capture the most valuable conversions and cut costs in poor performing areas.

You can set bid adjustments for devices, time and day, and demographics including age and income. The most obvious bid adjustments are usually for time and day, where it quickly becomes apparent people are clicking but not buying at two in the morning. You can either change your ad schedule to not show ads at all during these periods, or set a bid adjustment to control your spend. Similarly, you can decrease your bid for tablet devices or people aged 18 – 24 if they’re not converting to reduce costs. Alternatively, increase your budget in the areas that are getting the most conversions and earning the most money.

Not enough hours in the day

There are plenty of basic tips to help achieve AdWords success, and many of them don’t take much time to implement. It is an ongoing process that needs regular management, but even ten minutes a day can start to deliver considerable returns.

You don’t have to be a PPC expert to make AdWords work for you, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Even ten minutes a day is a big ask for many business owners, and information overload can make them a stressful ten minutes. Fortunately, there are PPC experts out there and just like AdWords, they don’t have to cost a fortune. Our affordable PPC packages start from just an hour a week, with our expert team making the most out your time and budget to deliver fantastic returns.

Fancy taking on the challenge yourself? Why not find out about our new AdWords Training programs, the affordable way to make the most out of your own PPC campaigns.