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Intimidated by the Cost of Google AdWords? This Case Study May Surprise You

exclusive-marketing-bGoogle AdWords have scared me for years. The expectation that costs would be astronomical, especially for a small business, have kept me on the sidelines.

While I’ve spent an entire lifetime managing marketing for a wide variety of professionals and entrepreneurs, Google has only been around for the past decade or so. But in that time, it has changed the entire landscape of business as we know it.

Google’s dominance of the Internet has wiped out traditional marketing instruments like the printed yellow pages, and continues to threaten the existence of printed newspapers, magazines and the rest of our old advertising standbys. Instead, search engines rule.

But as generous as Google has been with its organic search results, catapulting some businesses to the tops of the lists, it can snatch such free success away like candy from a baby. This has left some businesses that grew too comfortable with their good fortune to now fear serious financial ruin without a clue about how to fix their new dismal rankings. Even though they’ve tried countless tried-and-true SEO strategies to regain their old supremacy, the coveted page-one ranking remains mysteriously out of reach, driving some to elevated levels of panic and depression.

As an objective website and SEO expert, I can say that I have noticed a new phenomenon which has probably spelled the end of organic search dominance forever. And it was inevitable! How long did we expect Google to give away the farm for free? All these years, they have shared copious amounts of knowledge, advice, techniques, and content for the benefit of the entire cosmos. Now, it’s time for them to cash in. Enter: Google AdWords.

Luckily for me, I recently acquired a client who readily agreed that he was game to try an AdWords campaign as long as I managed it for him. Having no previous experience, we knew it would be an investment in time to learn, but I welcomed the opportunity. Had it not been for one thing alone, we probably never would have ventured forward. That one thing was, the whole campaign can be stopped on a moment’s notice, and I would be in total control.

My first question to my Google ad rep was how much would this cost my client? As with everything related to Google, an online Google ‘client center’ dashboard provides answers to every imaginable question. However, we needed to determine the keywords we would be using to get such pricing. Since my client and I are virtual novices at this, although I have the benefit of years of website and SEO experience behind me, he let me make the decision about what keywords to use. Since organic SEO usually requires a geographic frame of reference, my immediate inclination was to apply that concept here. However, my ad rep quickly showed me the AdWord map on which I could designate my preferred region of application, allowing me to exclude parts of counties, states and entire zip codes, as I wished. So, without the need to define my region within my keywords, I was left with the client’s service offerings as the obvious keyword choices. From my dashboard, I could see each keyword’s range of costs per click based on a national database, which my ad rep advised would not be accurate within my little region.

He asked me to e-mail my keyword list to him, as well as a number of other important pieces of information about my client’s services. He would submit it to the Google powers-that-be to provide a fully constructed AdWord campaign pertinent to our custom region, complete with composed ads. After our review and approval, I would pull the trigger to implement from my dashboard.

Upon receipt of this wealth of knowledge, I learned a number of essential facts. First, using a single keyword is not advisable. It is better to use a phrase to focus more specifically on what people might be searching for. Second, for every keyword, there is a negative keyword (or a whole list of them) needed to deter inappropriate searches.

To provide an example of what this means, my rep explained that if you are targeting searches for window replacement, you could also attract everyone looking for Microsoft Windows software and be paying for all those clicks, to no avail. Another example would be attracting people looking for a job in your field, or do-it-yourselfers who have no intention of hiring you as a professional service. The list of negative keywords can be mind-boggling.

Also, keywords can be designated as “broad match,” meaning that they would capture anyone’s search using a synonym of your non-case-sensitive keyword, singulars and plurals of your keyword, etc.; “phrase match,” for which you must surround your keyword(s) with quotation marks, such as “landscape service,” which would attract a somewhat narrower scope of reference; and “exact search” which must be enclosed in brackets, such as {patio builder}, which attracts only identical search terms.

My ad rep advised that we use Google’s recommended bids which are purposefully higher than the norm to guarantee a top, page-one position among the AdWords which are shown. Scoring high in CTR (click-through rate), meaning above one percent, and having a high QS (quality score), now believed to be 5/10 or above, can reward you with lower bid prices. However, many things affect those statistics, beginning with the accuracy of your keywords, how they relate to your ads, and how your ultimate landing page on your website fulfills the user’s satisfaction with his search, etc.

I was advised that on a national level, 100 clicks per day was considered an ideal showing, while regionally 20-50 clicks per day was more realistic. On a local level like ours, 10-20 clicks per day was to be expected. However, since each click produces revenue for Google, you have to wonder whether these statistics might be the outcome Google prefers as opposed to those measured from real campaigns.

Also, if desired, you can control which parts of the day you prefer to have your AdWords appear. But, a word to the wise: one pharmaceutical client my ad rep recalled found that most of their AdWord clicks came in at 3 a.m., the time of night when intestinal indigestion struck. So, the timing of clicks can be hard to predict.

We bit the bullet and enabled the campaign with a total budget of $30 per day. Once the clicks reached approximately that billing amount, our ads would stop showing. Some days that happened by 5 p.m. We also noticed that more clicks tended to arrive after 5 p.m. when people presumably got home from work. As a result of missing those clicks, the dashboard recommended that we increase our budget to $50 per day, which we did. Without increasing our number of clicks significantly, our ads usually kept showing during the evening hours and we reached an average of 14 clicks per day.

Having linked Google Analytics to this AdWord campaign, I was able to see what queries matched our AdWord keywords and also note the dreaded “bounce rate,” which was high. After discussing this with my ad rep, he said that since a week had passed, he needed to submit our campaign back to the Google wizards to “optimize” it which would likely reduce the bid prices we had been charged. (We did not feel gypped by this claim since Google had given us a $100 coupon to use that essentially reimbursed us for any incorrect charges.) I also researched our predicament within Google’s documents and ultimately came upon these words of wisdom: “It’s all about experimenting.”

Ahhhhhhh. So that’s the genius behind Google’s success. Exactly how I go about everything: Trial and error; trial and error. Or should I say, trial and success? Because I went through our entire campaign and rewrote all of our ads, revised most of our keywords and eliminated whole ad groups altogether.

In the days that followed, our bid price went down, our click-thru rate went way up and our quality score increased from a 4/10 average to a 6 /10 average. Granted this is a work in progress, but as you can see, a little intelligence can go a long way. Instead of paying upward of $50 per day, my client is now paying an average of $20 per day. His bounce rate has improved as well. But there will always be those clickers out there who unwittingly click for the wrong reason and exit quickly as a result. You can’t control human nature.

However, since I was able to get my client’s phone number to appear along with his website-linked ads (at no additional cost), his ad impressions, which always appear wonderfully at the top of page one in search results, have produced phone calls from people in exactly the towns he is targeting.

And, best of all, he locked in a large contract from one customer who gave his website a glowing review.

My client, a reticent, reserved person by nature, has sent me numerous e-mails praising my efforts from the creation of his website to the management of his entire marketing campaign, including the infamous, previously terrifying Google AdWords account.

Still, not a day goes by when I am not sweating out the number of clicks he’s gotten by noon, only to exult in a skyrocketing number by day’s end.

Worry. The nature of the beast in marketing: at least for me, it is.


Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 37 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but also through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at http://www.midhudsonmarketing.com. Connect with ‘Marilyn Bontempo’ on Google+.

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Marilyn Bontempo

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 45 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at https://www.midhudsonmarketing.com

8 Comments

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  • I totally abide by your points that Google always makes it difficult for you to publicize yourself in course of time but that does not means it stops you from doing that. So, at this stage its better to abide by the rules and find some alternative like you did to carry on with your work as this industry is not so easy as it looks.

  • Site Pro News has put staggered paragraphs in this article. It seems that SPN does not know how to post an article properly and did not read the article after posting. Why don’t you read this and fix the problem that you know you have now. The article was great , why muddy the water when it was so clean otherwise … SPN needs to live up to the name. The writer was great and the problem seems to be created by SPN. JMHO

    • Thanks for pointing out the 3 additional line breaks in the article. The formatting in the original word document contained some extra breaks and we didn’t notice them before posting. Hopefully it didn’t affect your reading experience too much.

  • Nick Verwymeren at Site Pro News, Thank You for your corrections. Yes, formatting does affect MY reading an article, that is why professionals in Publications work so hard, especially online, where it can be edited or corrected after publication unlike the many errors the NYTimes must submit to readers for corrections the NEXT day. Site Pro News just won Kudos from ME.
    Ricky Wilson

  • You state that Google ads is applicable for B2C businesses because of massive “small” visitors, while it is not so economical for B2B marketing. Do you have any experience or comment on it?

  • Too many articles like this do not touch the real issues with Google Adwords. Such as how to get a better quality score. This has been one of the most frustrated issues for smaller companies. Because they do not have the resources to dig through all the Adwords documentation and even if they would the documentation is as vague as you are on how to improve the quality scores and that while it determines your price per click. Your list of ‘things that affect those statistics’ is falling short to be helpful. For example I have learned from a Google rep that the quality scores is also changed by winning or losing the bid auction and that if you misconfigure your campaign you might be bidding against yourself. With the Adwords complexity and the lack of resources as a smaller company that is easy to achieve. I do not find it useful to read that you are using a ad rep that in turn uses another party to optimize your campaign. Google staff will not change your campaign so you are saying you use an ad-rep and they use another Adwords specialized company at no additional cost?

    • Arnaud,
      Thank your for your comment. We did not use any outside ad reps. Everything we did was handled via our Google ad rep who in turn submitted our campaign to other Google employees to optimize. As regards your claim that the article was too nebulous about quality score, I admit I too am still grappling with that challenge and mentioned Google’s advice which was “It’s all about experimenting.” Once I find the magic formula, I will be sure to share it with you.