March 24, 2014 E3

AdWords for Small Business: Is It Worth The Cost?

There has been a lot of debate in recent months about Google AdWords. When the Big G cut off access to organic keyword referral data, most SEOs believed it was an effort to force businesses into the PPC arena. And from there, the debate has focused on whether or not AdWords can work for a small business on a budget. The bubbling AdWords for small business conversation reached the mainstream media in mid-February in the form of a piece from The New York Times that concluded that AdWords is completely ineffective for small business and startups.

The article focuses on the cost of AdWords.  The internet has given consumers more choice and more buying power than ever. As such, AdWords has become an extremely competitive sandbox in which to play.  The Times piece quoted Kate Finnegan, founder of shopping app Hukkster. She said that it was just too expensive to test keywords to determine what drives traffic. And another business owner, Jennifer Blumin, of Skylight Group,  cited an inundation of unqualified leads as the source of her frustration with the platform.

These are viable frustrations. It can be very expensive to operate on the AdWords platform. And if you don’t quite know what you’re doing, it truly can be a waste of money.

The Key to AdWords For Small Business

The problem with Hukkster’s blanket rejection of AdWords as flat-out “too expensive” is that the founders aren’t thinking introspectively. Yes, it can be very expensive to test keywords…if you didn’t put the time and effort into researching this beforehand. Advanced strategic planning can save a lot of wasted dollars on a campaign.

And the argument that PPC leads to a flood of unqualified leads also indicates poor campaign management (and possibly some issues with landing page design, web page design, and content messaging). Ads should be properly targeted to hit the qualified searchers. The right words can make a world of difference. And a landing page and a website as a whole should help weed out unqualified tire-kickers. If you’re presenting the right image, prospects will know if they can afford your products and services.

The key to success in AdWords for small business isn’t necessarily a five-figure monthly budget (although that certainly would help move things along). In order to be successful, small business campaign managers have to work their rear ends off. PPC is not a “set it and forget it” method of advertising. The most common mistakes that small businesses make when attempting an AdWords campaign are:

  • Failing to A/B test
  • Logging in to the system once per month or less
  • Bidding on too few keywords
  • Not utilizing negative keywords
  • Only using broad match keywords
  • Making too many changes too often
  • Poorly constructed ads

Elbow grease is the key to success on AdWords for small business.  Marketers must watch their campaigns like a mother hen watching over her chicks. It’s a constant ballet of tweaking and shifting.  However, it’s important not to make too many changes too frequently. You have to give your tests time to simmer. When campaign managers spend time on AdWords, they can get a feel for the right workflow, and it can lead to better choices and more profitable results.

Should Small Business Abandon AdWords?

There have been some search marketers advocating that small business should shift their focus from AdWords PPC to Bing and even Facebook.   There are benefits to those platforms, but most search professionals agree that they should be used to supplement AdWords, not take its place.

Facebook can be a great place to brand your business, but it’s not a platform for selling things. People use Google when they are looking to buy. They are in a specific mindset. On Facebook, people are socializing. They aren’t necessarily thinking about their need for a new printing supplier or what to wear to their nephew’s wedding.

Bing can be effective for certain audiences. They tout their lower CPC rate and their greater transparency as benefits for small business. And those are viable benefits. But their market share is still nowhere close to Google. An argument can be made that the ads will go to a more targeted audience, but at some point you have to wonder if the effort is worth the return for PPC ads in a small arena. It seems like a wonderful supplemental strategy, but it should not be the entire PPC strategy.

Don’t Jump Ship Just Yet

If you’ve tried AdWords and failed, or you’re in the process of trying it out, and you don’t feel as if it’s working, take a hard look at campaign management. If you’re making any of the above mistakes, it might be time to adjust your approach.  It’s also important to note that AdWords for small business – or large business – isn’t easy. And it can be worth the investment to pay a PPC professional to guide your efforts. If it captures even a few clients, the expense can more than pay for itself in the long run.

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