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Pay-per-click advertising, also known as PPC or Google Adwords can be an effective way to draw prospects to your site. There are people out there, right now, looking for the very product or service you sell!

Many small business owners make the mistake of thinking they can just turn on this type of paid advertising and they will have new customers instantly. In addition to setting up the ads themselves, there is a ton of foundational work that must be done if you want your advertising to be effective. If you skip these steps, you may be prematurely calling your campaign a failure.

We recently set up some PPC ads for Branding Compass, our software that gives automated expert branding advice. We worked with our partner at Horizon Digital Marketing to help set up and monitor the campaigns, but before we turned them on, there was a huge list of items we needed to finalize.

Allow 2-3 weeks to prepare a google ads campaign

Several times throughout this process I thought we’d be ready tomorrow to turn on the ads, but then we found a few more details to work out. Give yourself enough time to work through all these tasks. Spending the time here will allow you to spend less with a better return on the ads themselves.

These 16 steps give you an idea of all the pieces that need to be organized, written, designed and connected for your campaign to be as strong as possible. You’ll see how one task often led to the consideration of another task.

1. Set up Adwords. Set up an Adwords (or now just called Google Ads) account. Use the same Google account as you do for your analytics.

2. Connect Adwords to Analytics. Make sure your Adwords account is connected to the Google Analytics account for the website you are trying to pull prospects to. Google makes it possible to run campaigns without them connected, but you’ll want to study how traffic from paid campaigns works its way through your site, so make sure all the logins and accounts mesh together.

3. Research your keywords. Have you ever thought about what someone actually Googles to find you? The industry jargon that you use may not be what your prospects put into the Google search box. There is a lot of advice out there on how to find the best keywords, but my point here is just to realize it may not be as straightforward as you assume. Also, you’ll need to understand how competitive the words are since you are bidding for the ads. Use Google’s Keyword Planner for data on search volume and approximate costs.

4. Do the math and set a budget. You have to tell Google how much you are willing to pay per click. Consider conversion metrics when setting the budget – what percent of people clicking your ad will do what you want them to? Make sure you’ve calculated your cost per click and your cost for the acquisition. If you spend $1 on a click and 25% of the people who click achieve your goal, you’ve really spent $4 per lead or customer. How does that compare to your current cost per lead? It’s very easy to spend a lot of money with little return if you use pay-per-click poorly.

5. Write the ads. Google’s PPC campaigns are all text-based ads that follow a certain setup for the lines of text and character counts. You need to be succinct and compelling. Your ad should connect with the search terms people have entered. You may want to test different ads.

“Pay per click campaigns should be considered what they really are: a project with a schedule, to-do list, and enough time to review/improve key elements like landing pages. A key step is to map out the funnel that you want your prospects to move through to customers. For many services and products, prospects won’t convert on the first click.” —Dan Sexton, PPC expert at Horizon Digital Marketing

6. Create a landing page strategy. Pointing people to your regular home page usually isn’t the most effective way to convert PPC viewers. Think about creating a custom landing page for each campaign. How will you customize the message and design to make it more on-target for those actively searching?

7. Figure out how to make landing pages. You may be able to easily make landing pages using your current WordPress platform or another web-building tool. Or, you may want to use a tool like Squeeze pages to make it easier to set up and track landing pages. If you are setting up customized landing pages, you want to find a tool that allows you to quickly create custom landing pages.

8. Write the message and design the graphics for your landing pages. In step 6, you created an overall strategy, but now you need to write headlines and create the design. How much is the right amount of copy to make your point without making it too long?

9. Set up the pages and URLs. You may find that you have different pages for different variations of the campaign or ad. You need to create each page and keep track of which URL connects to which ad. Make sure to designate the landing pages as ‘Goals’ inside of Google Analytics.

10. Set up your web forms. If you have an e-commerce site, you may be able to send someone right to a product page where someone can immediately buy from you. But, if you’re not trying to get someone to instantly buy a product, you may be trying to at least get their email address. You’ll need a form on your landing page to collect email addresses.

11. Create offers. Again, if you are selling products using an e-commerce site you may not need any special offer, you just direct the viewer to your product. But, you may be using PPC to attract prospects who take a bit longer to buy. For large ticket items or items that require research, they are not going to just put something into an online shopping cart. So you may want to entice them with an offer in return for their email address. It’s unlikely someone will just sign up for an e-newsletter so consider a special offer. This may be a discount, a piece of high-value content like a whitepaper or worksheet, or you may create some other incentive. If this is something like a whitepaper you’ll need to write and format that, too!

12. Configure your e-newsletter tool. That email signup form in step 10 was generated by an email tool like Mail on the Mark or Mail Chimp. Make sure you have your account set up there.

13. Set up the auto-responder. In that same email tool, you’ll set it up so that everyone who gives their email automatically receives a welcome email or their emailed offer.

14. Write the message and design the graphics for your auto-responder emails. What does this email say and what does it look like? Is there a series of emails that get sent or just one? You need all these details ready to go before you push “go” on your marketing campaign.

15. Test additional words, ads, and landing pages. You learn something with every campaign. It will take some testing of different keywords, different messages in your ads and different offers in your landing pages to reliably convert search traffic to paid customers. So you may loop back to step 3 and repeat over and over again.

16. Monitor your campaigns. You will want to continue to monitor your campaign to ensure that you are using your budget wisely or to create new offers.

Budget time and money beyond the ads

If you’ve tried to do this all yourself, it’s easy to miss a step and get poor results. If you’re hiring someone to do this for you, we hope this gives you insight into why the fees for PPC campaigns go far beyond just the ad budget that goes to Google.

A well-designed campaign may have more upfront time and costs to set up but should allow you to be more cost-effective with the ad spend.

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