Advertising your Startup, Part I: Adwords

AdWords UNQualified Individual

Google Adwords is a force to be reckoned with in the online advertising space. According to IAB Internet Advertising Report conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the year 2009, search advertising is 47% of all online advertising efforts, and of this Google has the lion's share. So when it comes to advertising your startup by being in front of the most people, many agree that Google is your best bet.

But just going on Adwords, putting together a text ad or two, selecting a few keywords and sitting back is not going to work. Adwords is a complex system to get results from. And once you've tuned it to get good results, you have to keep tuning your keywords, bids, and ads to keep them performing. Adwords in itself could be a part or full-time job for companies with many products (an therefore multiple ads and keyword sets to manage).

A good article to get an excellent handle on this is in the book The Web Startup Success Guide. In the chapter "Money: Raise, Manage, Make", the author (Bob Walsh) interviews Dave Collins, Founder of Software Promotions, which focuses on the "arcane arts" of AdWords, search engine optimization, and web analytics for small software companies. The point that sums it up:

I'd say the single most important fact, if you like, or point that should be behind every decision is that the whole AdWords system is set up for Google. It's a very obvious and very simplistic statement, that every aspect of the system is set up and geared heavily toward Google and their priorities.

There's an obvious overlap of priorities, and, for some matters, what's good for Google is good for you. But there are also a lot of times when you could be spending money on, for instance, keywords that aren't really relevant. Google is happy, and you are not.

So the key thing is, go with your eyes open, and understand that the system is not set up to be your friend, to be on your side at all.

Doesn't that make you feel better?

Getting Started

So when you jump in to Adwords, one of the first things you'll be doing is brainstorming keywords that match your product or service. The keywords you choose should have a decent chance of someone searching for them. If not, Google will warn you that search volume for your keywords are low. Here are some excellent third party services that help you find good keywords in your industry:

Each of these are a bit spendy but in the long run will help you make a lot more money with better ads.

For phrases you are using as keywords, like "gold-plated belt buckle" I recommend setting phrases as "phrase match". This will find them in any combination, and is less expensive than the default "broad match". Set this by clicking the keywords in the keyword interface:

Phrase match

Cost per Click

For each keyword or phrase you'll have to come up with how much to spend per click. This is the dance you will dance with Google and Google always leads. You are bidding against other advertisers for those same keywords. Google will try to point you in the right direction and tell you when you're bidding too low, and will recommend a bid price to get "first page" placement, but it's still hard to know if you're paying too much. I'm sure there are books on this. People get paid to do this bidding for a living, you know.

There is also the content network where your ads can show if you choose. This is not search results. Your ads will show up in the Adsense widget on publisher's sites. I recommend creating another campaign just for the content network and setting those per-click amounts lower, since they will provide good traffic but of lower quality.

Crafting Ads

Good Adwords ads tend to have a few things in common. They tend to capitalize the first letter of each word ("Voted #1 In Customer Satisfaction") (Google recommends it too), the price is listed for the service advertised ("only $19.95"), and the ads attempt to get your attention.

Making good ads involves a bit of trial and error. The nice thing is that with Adwords reporting, you'll be able to discern which of your ads are under-performing.

Landing Pages

Landing pages are where the customer will go once they click the ad and hit your site. The most common advice is to not send users to your home page. Make a set of special web pages that each target a special selling point that your ad is selling them on. Make the landing page match the words and tone of the ad. One approach that you've probably seen is where the landing page matches your search exactly. This is done by passing through keywords in the URL. Then on the landing page you can dynamically generate a title.

What I like to do is make landing pages, and then make sure they are searchable. So make sure there you can get to your landing pages by clicking links from your homepage. That's how the search engines will find them. Then your landing pages can be found by people searching for keywords on your landing pages. If they can find you that way, it saves you advertising money.

Call to Action

Once a user hits a landing page and reads all about your wonderful service, give them a direct path to buy. You need a "call to action" on your landing pages. Place a big signup button, "buy now" button or signup form on the landing page which leads them to the next step. Don't leave ‘em hangin'.

Isn't There an Easier Way?

Yes! There are now services like Trada which will manage your search advertising campaigns for you, not just on Google, but Yahoo and Bing also. Trada leverages a huge pool of search optimizers (humans) that come up with a wide variety of keywords and then they create your ads, manage keywords, and monitor performance.

The video above is an interview with Trada CEO Niel Robertson on This Week in Startups. Look at that great hair.

Trada claims averages of 25 optimizers, 6200 keywords, and over 100 ads per campaign. Here's a short intro video:

Next post: interview with Ryan Sit of PicClick

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