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PPC Optimization techniques

Generating a Return On Investment from paid ads online is hard, right? PPC optimisation is the way forward.

Written by

Robert Hufton

Director & UX Consultant

Our winning techniques for using CRO to enhance Pay Per Click

Generating a Return On Investment from paid ads online is hard, right?  PPC optimisation is the way forward.

Haven't tried online ads yet? You may want to read this Higher Ground article first SEO vs PPC.

For most companies, making money from Pay Per Click (PPC) optimisation is difficult and Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) isn't an easy process. But if CRO is done correctly it can yield good returns and be a lead or sales flow that you can turn on and off to suit. 

In this article we aim to help you mitigate the risks of PPC;  spend your advertising budget with a more considered approach and utilise CRO techniques that will help you succeed.

If this sounds useful to you, please read on. 

I would mention that this information relates mainly to Google Search network strategies. Each platform has their own set of challenges. We want to be clear that we aren’t talking about all channels here. 

Ready, Set, CRO...


From a UX perspective, if not approached correctly, paying for advertising on Google Ads or social media may present many hazards to the return on your investment (ROI). This potential waste of funds leaves many people with the feeling that they wouldn’t want to touch paid advertising at all... or ever again.

How can UX help to solve this issue and how can a business grow using paid ads without wasting essential budget? This is the question we’ll explore a little more below.

How do most businesses approach paid ads?

Following the advice of “Google experts”

While this is ok to get your account up and running, there is a huge danger of Adwords allowing you to spend as much as you want and then providing little or no guidance or advice to help you to spend efficiently and effectively. Paid advertising is a great way to guide more traffic to your site and increase business, but it can become expensive very quickly if you aren’t carefully monitoring and optimising your campaigns.

Scattergun spending on keywords 

The big mistake that many first-time marketers make with pay-per-click advertising is choosing the wrong keywords. When you purchase “head” keywords like “social media marketing”, you will spend significantly more money and reduce your ROI dramatically. The key point that you have to remember is you will get a lot more value for your money by targeting a large number of lower-traffic terms than by targeting a small number of higher-traffic terms.

Advertising a poorly designed page

Having promoted a new site for months with little success, you may wonder why you’re not enjoying the conversions you expected? What makes a bad website page? Here are some common mistakes that are likely to turn away potential customers:

  • Slow loading time
  • Poor quality content
  • Missing contact details
  • Confusing content
  • Unclear value proposition
  • Uninspiring design
  • Weak or overly excessive call to action
  • Annoying intrusions

Not following up or re-marketing

The problem isn’t about having insufficient capacity to follow up leads; it’s about not having the systems in place to do it. Consistent follow-up creates a predictable and profitable stream of leads and customers that buy. Small businesses that capture leads and follow-up with them enjoy higher conversion rates and a higher percentage of referrals than those that don’t. 

The secret to "follow-up marketing" is to make it automatic so that you don’t have to lift a finger but the job still gets done. With today’s technology it’s simpler than ever. 

Automating your follow-up processes gives you more time to work "on" your business rather than "in" your business.

High cost / Low ROI

You are probably reading this because you work in an industry where Cost Per Click (CPC) advertising is pretty much insane.

When we started working on PPC terms such as “life insurance” or “debt management”, CPC’s on average were about £24-£27. A page that converted at 5% to leads would often reach the £100s before a solid lead would arrive. 

The same keywords now are often 10x the cost than in 2010. We’ve seen some groups costing £1000+ before a lead arrives. Scary stuff to play ball in this park - and you will need a very strong CRO strategy to compete effectively. This is the reality for most companies. So they need to find viable solutions like a highly optimised campaign, covering all areas of adwords (not just bidding). Arresting landing pages and a solid quality score are also essential. 

If you are in doubt about how any of this works then talk to a CRO agency like us.  

Fixing your PPC strategy 

After 20 years of work with Google Ads I still see companies pouring money into the pockets of search engine companies and not getting a return on investment.

1. Setting up your account to suit your strategy

If you have a successfully running PPC strategy, you can maybe skip this section. We would always recommend starting with the Google Search Network, this is a group of search-related websites and apps where your ads can appear. When you advertise on the Google Search Network, your ad can show near search results when someone searches with terms related to one of your keywords.

You should be running a Search Network campaign if you're working with a limited budget: in general, when businesses are restricted to a small budget, it's recommended to start with the Search Network. This format is more likely to drive direct conversions, making it easier to measure and justify your PPC efforts.

A throw-stuff-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach can yield some positive results, but it's not sustainable, measurable, or necessarily connected to your business objectives. A digital marketing strategy must serve as a blueprint, a framework, or a roadmap. Call it what you want, it must be structured enough so you can stay on track. 

For pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to work, they need to be built on stable foundations. A solid PPC strategy is the key to planning, executing, and optimising any paid ad campaign. Without a paid search strategy, you’re at risk of spending your budget reactively; with a strategy, you can build and refine a targeted, goal-focused ad campaign.

Think about what you want to accomplish with your ads - visits, sales, brand awareness - and how much you’re willing to spend to accomplish that goal. Your ads should encompass a few things like who you want to target; the theme of your campaign; how you will measure success and the type of campaign you will run.

2. Analysing poor performing ads

If you aren’t able to see how each of your ads is performing, then you shouldn’t be buying paid advertising at all. The great thing about online advertising is that you get the opportunity to track everything. Google Analytics is an absolute must when it comes to online ad buying. This analytics package is free and easy to install.

Once you have it set up, you should become very familiar with Google Analytics Custom Campaigns. These options allow you to create a customized URL for each ad that will help you see overall performance for all of your advertising. Using Google Analytics in this way will give you a single dashboard for comparing all of your advertising campaigns.

Be prepared to stop and change keywords that are under-performing. Remember, conversion rates are your most important statistics, not clicks. Clicks just waste money unless they are doing something purposeful for you. With all paid advertising, especially AdWords, the longer you run your ads, the better your rates and quality score will become. 

3. Reconfigure your account for better control

It is important to send incoming visitors to a unique page (called a landing page) on your website, rather than your homepage. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are three very good reasons for using this strategy:

  • Customise the message for incoming visitors to continue the message started with your ads, creating a cohesive experience.
  • Push visitors toward specific actions, such as downloading a free ebook. Displaying traditional navigation may distract your visitors.
  • Track your visits very easily with landing page analysis. This is especially important.

When you combine this strategy with funnel-tracking tools, you can quickly gain a lot of information about how to reach and sell to your new visitors. In some cases, you can create a single landing page for an entire ad campaign. In other cases, you may want to create a specific landing page for each keyword that you purchase.

4. Test ads with UX based information

Good keywords will get your ad in front of the right people; good copy will get those people to click on your ad. You need to give the user exactly what they’re looking for and make sure that is clear through the words you use.

Search ads consist of a headline, a URL and a short description. To make the most of the limited character requirements make sure your advert copy does the following:

  • Speaks directly to your target persona
  • Includes the main keywords
  • Provides an actionable CTA 
  • Makes the offer appealing
  • Uses language that matches your site

5. Improve the UX of your landing pages

Arguably the most important element of PPC (after your ad copy) is the page that you send leads to after they click on your ad. This page needs to be highly targeted, relevant to your ad, deliver what was promised, and present a seamless experience. Why? Because the point of your landing page is to convert your new visitor into a lead or customer.

Not only that, but also a high-converting landing page will improve your Quality Score, leading to better ad placements. There’s nothing that will diminish PPC returns like a poorly crafted landing page.

What should a PPC landing page include to increase conversions?

  • Headline that mirrors your ad
  • Clean design and layout
  • Responsive, easy to use form
  • Clear, stand-out CTA button
  • Specific copy, relevant to keywords 
  • Present the offer that was promised
  • A/B tested

6. Following up on leads with a CRM

You would be amazed to hear how many companies don’t use even a simple Customer Relationship Manager method or tool. Client Databases can be one of the most lucrative resources a company has. So nurturing a good CRM should be always part of a strong digital marketing strategy.

One important aspect of the CRM is the compiling of data from a range of different communication channels, including a company's website, telephone, email, live chat, marketing material and social media. Through CRM, businesses learn more about their target audiences and how to better cater to their needs.

Services such as call tracking metrics take CRM a step further and allow you access to each call made through people calling your company from a Google Ad. This way you can quickly assess if people are calling for the right reasons. They may be calling to speak to the returns department, but unless you investigate call quality you will never know. 

7. Learn, optimise, CRO, CRO, CRO

Businesses can and do spend time and budget tweaking keyword bids, but if their landing page could increase conversion rates by even just a small amount, the ROI would be stronger. This justifies higher future bids = higher positions = higher impression share = better click through rate (CTR) = better quality score etc. etc..  It’s an upward spiral. 

Adopt a test and learn mentality with PPC, just like you do with on-page conversion rate optimisation. Develop a hypothesis and go about proving or disproving it. For example, can you analyse all the leads gained over a weekend if their order values are drastically different to those mid week? You might find you can tolerate a much higher cost per acquisition (CPA) on certain days.

Ensure you’re not only tracking leads but also final conversions to sales. For example you may generate enquiries for keyword A and keyword B at a similar level, but on further analysis, what if keyword A enquiries convert to sales twice as often? Or on average convert to a higher value? Then you need to factor that into your target CPA.

Think about trying to increase conversion rates by introducing other channels: research shows that phone calls convert much more highly to customers than clicks. Call agents can build relationships, overcome objections and answer questions that could otherwise cause bounces on a web page.

In a world where customer journeys are increasingly complicated, it’s important to properly measure conversions to ensure you optimise on the correct date. Only 11% of journeys are solely online now and you need to factor this into any analysis.

In a digital landscape that can change overnight, your best bet at keeping up with the best practice out there is to continuously analyse your site data, test performance and make regular improvements. Businesses that take a structured approach to conversion rate optimisation through site testing and experimenting are more than twice as likely to see a large increase in sales.

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