Google AdWords for Startups

Google AdWords is all about user acquisition. It’s just another opportunity for you to find new, qualified customers who are looking for your products and services online.

I’m running Google AdWords campaigns for my clients since 2004. During the last 12 years, I’ve directly worked with over 50+ ad accounts – startups, SMBs, SaaS, marketing agencies, and ecommerce companies – managed over 10M in ad revenues.

The journey started from a limited budget, cost-per-click campaign for a trading software vendor. After a few years, I entered into ecommerce search marketing with a way more sophisticated ‘ad stack’ – Display Network, Shopping and YouTube campaigns, mobile audience targeting, and remarketing.

And it’s the ecommerce world where I have learned the ropes of what it takes to create a full-fledged campaign with a great ROI. The high demand for the products – with active buyers across the globe and the plethora of advertizing tools – fueled my creativity and helped develop analytical approach to managing an AdWords account.

Beyond AdWords, every project I worked on included a great deal of website improvements – from addressing site speed and mobile experience issues to conversion rate optimization and analytics tweaks. Off-site and on-site efforts should be always executed in sync.

There’s been a lot of speculation lately around using AdWords for startups. Let’s see what we can do to put AdWords at work.

  1. Users’ attention is getting harder to attract (and not only with AdWords)

The hard thing about AdWords is that the cost-per-click is getting higher and higher every month, the competition is fierce, and there’s a high barrier of entry for a new website / app / service / Kickstarter campaign to get its business on AdWords up and running with a good ROI.

In 2016, for a highly competitive keyword you can pay $10, $25 or even $50 per click. While an average cost-per-click is $2-3, some of my clients are enjoying a CPC of $0.50. It’s much cheaper if you want to use Google’s Display Network, where startups, with correct targeting and the right message, still can get quality visitors for just $0.04 per click.

For the record, it’s not about AdWords PPC campaigns only, the Facebook Ads ecosystem is also becoming highly competitive and challenging for companies with limited budgets.

Many businesses, and especially startups, are dissatisfied with AdWords. Their primary concerns are:

  • It doesn’t perform that well (or as promised by someone)
  • Too expensive
  • We don’t have a budget
  • We’re not in a position to employ a marketing manager

The most common scenario I’ve seen with AdWords “exits” based on the above scenarios: startups with a budget of 1-3K switch to content marketing and growing their email lists. Say, a SaaS company started to concentrate on creating 8-10 high-quality blog posts per month (paying around $300 per post) and it was an extremely successful user acquisition strategy.

There’s no one solution for all. You need to give AdWords a try to see how it works for you.

  1. Your goal with AdWords

All you need to do is to set up some good campaigns, scale them for a bigger spending and then fine-tune it to perfection.

But before you begin, you need to cover some of the important things to make sure that the campaign you about to set won’t be a money wasting project:

  • Know your budget, goal cost per acquisition and LTV.
  • Who is your ideal customer? Create a customer profile.
  • What you need: initial feedback, awareness, growth, sales, backers?
  • Set crystal clear campaign goals and objectives.
  1. The things to keep in mind

There are several major things you need to consider first to get some momentum: a solid budget, time, and a professional who is able to execute it without wasteful spending.

If you’re on a very limited budget, say just have a $150 coupon, most likely you’ll end up with nothing.

To get a critical mass of data, you need initial time to execute your experiments – give it 2-3 months to deliver those results.

Most ad campaigns will eventually work out as AdWords campaigns are profitable – it’s Google behind them. As you progress, you have to trust the data: be ready to adjust or pivot. Or stop, it you don’t see a decent ROI.

Red flags to watch out for:

  • Target search niche is too small, no search volume
  • You haven’t evaluated the competitive landscape – big guys pay big money, the niche is saturated
  • Your website (or app) isn’t prepared
  • Don’t blame AdWords marketing if your product is a problem

I’d highly recommend you to subscribe to AdWords channel on YouTube to stay up to date with the latest. They have covered many specific topics like Measuring ROI, Understanding Bid Strategies, and App Install Campaign Implementation.

  1. Get your analytics early

Analytics setup is your killer feature, spend as much time as needed to get it up and running. You won’t regret, there several debugging tools to make the process much easier: Google Analytics Debugger and Tag Assistant.

  • Set analytics, conversion tracking
  • Use Tag Manager
  • Google Analytics
  • AdWords Conversion Tracking
  • Remarketing Tag
  • Use Google Tag Assistance to find any issues

If you’re using Mixpanel, here a good article on how to Measure your AdWords campaign with Mixpanel.

  1. Relevancy is your mantra

AdWords is an intent-based advertising and Google wants its ads to be as relevant as its search results as possible. And it’s not only ads – everything you create has to be in sync with that vision: the keywords you select, your ad creatives, and the landing pages on your website.

“Better relevance and clickthrough (CTR) lead to higher Quality Scores, which in turn can lead to better positions, lower CPCs, or both. That leads directly to the bottom line: better returns for your ad spend.” ~ SEM Best Practices Series by Google

The good thing is that it’s an ongoing process. The more you learn with AdWords about your audience and more relevant your offerings become over time.

  1. AdWords for success

Here’s my set of pro tips:

  • Ideas first, tools second: build a backlog of ideas, develop and then test your hypothesis
  • Do a really comprehensive keyword research
  • In Campaign Settings, segment and separate everything
  • Create a specific call-to-action or, even better, an irresistible offer
  • Create several conversions, including micro conversions
  • Keyword Match Types, start with Phrase and Exact match, don’t go with Broad
  • Use keywords in your ad copy / Dynamic Keyword Insertion
  • Include one or more mobile-preferred creatives per ad group
  • Use phone, location, sitelink extensions, customer reviews
  • Watch your Bounce Rate. High BC = ads are irrelevant
  1. Fine-grained reporting
  • Use built-in AdWords reporting
  • Use AdWords Reports in Google Analytics (connect accounts)
  • Don’t rely on a single metric, segment your reporting
  • On a weekly basis, make sure you have a healthy account: CPA, Quality score, CTR, CPC, impressions
  • Separate PPC performance and Conversion performance

Hope that helps! I want your ad campaigns to do well, be analytics-driven. Good luck to you! If you have any questions, please email me at or comment below.

About the Author: Alex Grechanowski is a marketing mentor at Start-up Chile and an owner of Marketing Sutra, a digital agency that loves helping startups, SMBs, SaaS and ecommerce companies build better products, find traction, tell compelling stories, and scale growth. Say hello:

Reducing CPA in AdWords with No Guesswork. Well, Almost.

Got the following questions in my inbox:

How quickly do you estimate you could drop the CPA by 50%? 80%? What experiences have you had with other clients in similar markets?

It’s impossible to predict a drop in the CPA or make a targeting decision based on what works for others. But there’s no need to produce guesstimates – better start with AdWords campaign audit – very often “basic” things are not done in the right way. Issues can be found in the campaign structure, selected keywords, bids and landing pages.

According to Google, however, on average, AdWords campaigns adopting the Conversion Optimizer achieve a 21% increase in conversions while decreasing their CPA by 14%. They say that the actual impact will vary from campaign to campaign (and a small number of advertisers could conceivably perform better without Conversion Optimizer).

Couldn’t agree more on the latter point. My experiences with Conversion Optimizer / CPA bidding is that they work not for all campaigns and success will depend on a number of factors, including how long you’ve had conversion tracking running, the historical CPA performance, increased competition: your actual CPA depends on factors outside Google’s control.

CPA can be a powerful method as cost-per-acquisition is what we are all after and is very close to ROI. With little help from Conversion Optimizer we can slash ad spend while boosting conversion rates for established campaigns.

PS About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog about what AdWords clients want where I tried to classify the expectations of some clients. Probably I should add a new role to the post – CPA Minimizers :-}

To Get AdWords Campaign Started, Use Conversion Tracking

If you currently have your AdWords campaign set up, Goals in Google Analytics are also in place, don’t forget to set up and use Conversion Tracking in AdWords. I am amazed by how many small businesses and PPC managers do not use it.

Click "+ New conversion" to start tracking a conversion.

How-to: AdWords Conversion Tracking Setup Guide.

What else I can do for you:

PPC: What Clients Want

Very often people have no idea why they’re entering the PPC game and what they want out of it. Therefore, before starting a PPC campaign, it makes sense to think about the objectives, both short- and long-term, and how to achieve them. A better understanding of the goals can help to avoid months (or even years) of wasted efforts and money.

Fair wind on your PPC sails!

Based on my work with different clients, I’m trying to classify PPC marketing by common conceptions (goals) people have at different stages of their PPC management.

Clicks Explorers
“I received some free credit with Google AdWords (aka coupons) and think I need to start a campaign.”

“We’ve not done a lot of marketing in the past because we’ve kept busy with word of mouth. Now our primary concern is exploring the PPC world and then improving performance.”

Leads Generators
“I’m looking at how we could potentially generate new leads using Google AdWords.”

“Our goal is to generate revenue through PPC. For this we need to create a PPC campaign using the proper keywords with a budget of $$ per day. The PPC should not exceed $$$ per month. Make sure that we stay within budget and we also want to maximize that budget. If we can get positive results, then we might increase our PPC spending.”

Conversion Junkies
“We don’t care about how many clicks we do or do not get. The only thing that we care about is the opportunity to develop a Visitor into a client. So we want to Drive Conversions. Maybe landing pages would be good? Maybe creating new types of content or blog entries would be good? We must do whatever must be done to increase conversions.”

“We want to minimize wasteful clicks and maximize clicks that result in conversions. We would rather spend $10.00 on an ad for “specific keyword” than $1.00 on an ad for “general keyword” because we believe that the Visitor who searches for a “specific keyword” is more likely to become a client of our company than a Visitor who just does a search for a  “general keyword”.

ROI Overachievers
“I spent $200K on PPC for my affiliate business and now i’m just doing it for my store.  I’m doing pretty well already getting 400+ visitors a day. So you think you can do anything?”