Companies of all sizes pay quite a bit for pay-per-click conversions. The average cost-per-action (CPA) on Google Ads is $48.96 for the search network and $75.51 for the display network.
The companies that are paying these high CPAs are in a variety of industries, but many of them have something in common: they are victims of a paid SEM strategy that creates low conversion rates, missed opportunities, and lost goals.
It’s called a template.
I know what you’re thinking: Templates are a good thing! They provide organization and structure. How, exactly, are they bad?
The Problem with Templates
It’s common for marketing agencies (and some in-house teams) to shoehorn any account they get into a template. They might have a different template depending on the type of client they’re working with (e.g., ecommerce or B2B), but the results are essentially the same: the client’s unique needs are overlooked in favor of the ease and efficiency of a template.
When you actually address a client’s true needs, you realize that you need to customize your PPC strategy—and, thereby, your account’s campaign and ad group structure—to ensure their primary concerns are being addressed. Only then do you have the power to truly reduce their CPA while increasing conversion volume.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore the industry’s tried-and-true best practices. However, it does mean you need to step outside of the box a bit to address specific goals and needs.
Using Best Practices to Build a PPC Account from Scratch
When a marketing agency builds cross-account templates, it does so with best practices in mind. That means it looks at proven tactics and methods then uses them without fail. From the account structure to the types of keywords used, everything is set in stone without much wiggle room.
For instance, if you have an ecommerce client, you use your ecommerce template. It likely includes a set of campaigns for branded search terms, a set of campaigns for high-traffic, short-tail terms, a campaign for each product category, and possibly a few other campaigns. You’ll use the same campaign settings as your other ecommerce clients.
It doesn’t matter if the client wants to focus on raising brand awareness or focus on driving sales at maximum return on ad spend (ROAS); the template remains the same.
Due to the lack of wiggle room, clients are unable to reach specific goals. The templates are far too general for that, causing clients to overspend while receiving subpar results.
Again, this is not to say that best practices are a bad thing. After all, these practices are statistically proven to work. That’s why best practices are the perfect starting point when building a PPC strategy from scratch. But best practices need to be evaluated against the business’s goals, budgets, and marketing gaps. Then, they should be tweaked as needed so the company can reach its goals at the most efficient costs possible.
Building PPC Strategies from Scratch—A Case Study
When a tire retailer came to Portent a few years ago, the company wanted to overhaul its existing PPC accounts. Its previous marketing agency set up campaigns to drive users searching for tires and tire services to their nearest store location.
The team at Portent spent some time talking to representatives from this retailer to find out what goals the company wanted to achieve. Like most companies, the end goal was to make more money. To do that, they needed to get customers through the doors of their store locations.
The Problem: An Inefficient Template
The closest proxies the client had for measuring success (foot traffic in stores) in the digital space were two actions: users clicking the phone number of their local store to call it directly or users clicking the option to get directions to their nearest store. Thus, these two actions were counted as conversions in their Google and Bing PPC campaigns. They wanted to make sure they were getting as many conversions as possible with their fixed budget and were confident they had been missing out on opportunities.
They were right. Some geographic markets were seeing average CPA levels over $100, with average click costs under $1. Conversion rates were poor and there were some serious efficiency gaps we needed to identify quickly.
The Solution: Customized Features
The team took some time to pore over the current campaigns, and it quickly became clear that previous methodology used a templated campaign structure that started with best practices but didn’t take the need for efficiency into account. While the template was logical, it did not meet the client’s needs and wasn’t getting the results they wanted.
For example, the most glaring issue had to do with location targeting.
Campaigns were broken out by product or service type and replicated for each market the client had stores in. However, geographic targets were set at the regional (Nielsen DMA) level and didn’t quite coincide with the actual locations of the client’s stores. Ads were generating clicks and impressions to users a hundred miles away from their nearest shop who were unlikely to travel the distance needed to walk in and buy a set of tires.
Furthermore, this campaign setup didn’t guarantee each store got an equitable share of advertising budget. This was an important piece to the client’s strategy because a portion of the digital advertising budget was supplied directly from the stores themselves. If they couldn’t ensure each one got an equitable share of the pie, so to speak, they’d risk losing advertising budget from select stores for future years.
Portent took both of these observations into account to create a new campaign structure that diverged from the typical best practice of segmenting campaigns by product or service type. Instead, we created a campaign for each store. This allowed us to take advantage of granular location targets (town-level and radius targets) and ensure each store got its own budget. We then reconfigured ad groups by product/service and keyword match type, setting keyword bids according to each market’s click metric history.
From there, we customized ad copy for each store location, added varying ad groups based on geographic location and search trends (e.g., “snow tire” keywords in areas with harsh winter conditions), and tweaked ad schedules based on time zone and historical click performance.
The Result: Achieved Goals
The results of these new campaigns were stunning. The client went from spending more than $100 per conversion in some markets to $30 or less. Several markets started seeing average CPA levels drop below $10. And that’s not all: conversion volume more than doubled in the following three months.
On the surface, this looks very simple. It seems obvious that you should avoid displaying ads that far away from a physical location. But that is what happens when you use a template. The template likely worked well for other accounts that didn’t have our client’s needs. It just didn’t align with this specific company’s goals.
Take a Malleable Approach
It’s important to understand that, when you build an account from scratch, you have to be malleable. Templates that don’t change can do more harm than good if you’re not careful.
If you start with one, you have to be willing to adapt it to meet the needs of any given account. For instance, our client now has an account that performs well according to their needs. However, it would be a mistake to let it run on autopilot. We add or subtract ad groups and keywords based on a campaign’s performance. We tailor ad copy as needed and ensure bidding strategies match the needs and performance of any given market.
It’s important to remain diligent. That means looking at your campaigns’ analytics on a regular basis and optimizing as needed. When you do this, you find new opportunities to exploit and gaps to fill.
In our case, until someone is paying a penny per conversion, there is still work to do. With a malleable strategy, you can roll up your sleeves and get it done.
Key Things to Remember
If you take away anything from this article, remember these three key points:
Your client’s needs come first. Turn their needs into a measurable key performance indicator (KPI) and then start creating a strategy that is centered on that goal.
Best practices are good place to start. There’s a reason certain methods are used across accounts and across agencies: they work. However, that doesn’t mean you should stick with only that limited set of tactics and force each account to use them in the same manner.
Be malleable. Once you have a good starting point and a campaign structure you’re confident will meet your client’s goals, don’t be afraid to vary from it a bit in any given campaign that shows through data it needs some optimization.
If you keep these three points in mind, you can reduce CPA while helping your clients reach their stated goals. You will no longer be limited by PPC templates. Instead, you will reach new heights with your clients’ campaigns.