Five Things You Should Do Before Launching a Paid Search Campaign

Paid search is a do-it-yourself medium. It takes literally five minutes to set up an AdWords account, fund it, create your first campaign and launch. Google, in particular, has been aggressively targeting small businesses by providing $100 coupons and vouchers through hosting companies and ISPs, as well as reaching out directly to small businesses.

For all of the above reasons, as well as the continued pressure to find new leads and generate new business, many of my small business clients are confused about how to move forward. They feel a sense of urgency to launch an AdWords campaign (everybody’s doing it!) but they aren’t sure how to approach it. Add to this that it’s so easy to get started with AdWords – just register, plug in your credit card and GO! – that the temptation to launch before you develop a thoughtful strategy can be overwhelming.

Don’t worry! I’ve put together a short list of five things you need to consider before launching a paid search campaign. These really extend to launching any paid media initiative where you plan to significantly leverage your web site. Without further ado..

  1. Set Your Expectations: Put some thought into why you’re launching your search campaign, and what you expect to get out of it. Are your expectations realistic? Do you have a sense of how much you’re willing to pay for a lead or a sale? Are you vastly over or under estimating the traffic volume from paid search (hint: Google’s Traffic Estimator can help you answer this)? Does the majority of your audience find you via search engines? Do you know if you want to focus on a regional, national or global target? Figure out where you think your campaign should take you before you launch it so you can establish some benchmarks.
  2. Web Site Due Diligence: Make sure your Web site is ready to receive visitors BEFORE you launch your search campaign. Paid search is paid media and even if it’s just a small fraction of your overall budget, do you really want to send people to a Web site that isn’t prepared to receive them? Your landing page should provide clear direction to all your visitors, but paid visitors cost you money so you need to pay extra special attention to guiding these people. Don’t send people to a product specifications page (for example) with lots of charts and a long list of specs, but no clear actions or next steps. Rather, provide a page with one or two clear paths to the next step and a brief overview of the product or service you are selling. Also, make sure your landing page contains your contact information and a visible privacy link. It doesn’t hurt to review what other people in your industry are doing, which brings me to the next item on my list.
  3. Competitive Intelligence: Most advertisers have to deal with some competition in the paid search results. Many advertisers have to deal with a RIDICULOUS amount of competition. It’s very easy for prospective customers to click back and forth from various ads and compare products and services against each other. It’s therefore critical to ensure your landing page rises above the clutter, just like you need to ensure that your ad copy rises above the clutter. Take some time to perform competitive research for both of these variables so you can refine your ad copy and landing pages and make them stand out.
  4. Keyword Strategy: The language on the site should reflect the keywords you’re bidding on, but also the language of your customers. Don’t get hung up on corporate-speak or industry jargon when bidding on keywords. You may think of yourself as a “housecleaning expert” but I may be looking for “maid service” – be sure to bid on both terms. Performing some preliminary keyword research by looking at competitors and using tools such as KeywordSpy and Google’s Keyword Tool, will help you compile a preliminary list of keywords. But don’t stop with the list – do some actual searches on these keywords to see who is bidding on them, what their ads look like, and what their landing pages look like. Visiting competitors’ web sites is also a great way to come up with new keywords.
  5. Tracking: Figure out what you’re tracking and how you’re going to track it. This may include all or some of the following: sales, leads, specific actions (e.g., coupon downloads, newsletter subscriptions), user engagement, phone calls, subscribers, etc. Many of my clients use Google Analytics to track goals and user engagement. You can also track straightforward conversions (like sales and sign ups) directly in AdWords and Adcenter. Make sure that tracking is set up BEFORE you launch. Get your programmer involved – it’s really not that time consuming and it will give you critical information for campaign optimization.
  6. Reporting: Okay, I’m throwing this one in as a bonus. There’s a lot of up front work in creating and launching a search campaign, but the work doesn’t stop when the campaign is live. Even though you can log into Google or Adcenter and look at your results anytime, it’s extremely helpful to create a dashboard-type report which pulls your performance metrics in from all sources (e.g., Google, Adcenter & Analytics) and ties them back to your original goals. Monthly reports should be kept as simple as possible and while you may find the act of compiling the data tedious, you’ll soon learn that it’s the best way to keep tabs on your campaign and plan your next steps for the coming month.