Originally published at Hoovers.com
In 2016, it can be easy and cost-effective to target your audience using Search Engine Marketing across a variety of online channels. The trick is knowing which of those channels will give you the biggest Return on Investment (ROI), and which types of online ads will inspire your audience to take action.
While many small business owners use Search Engine Marketing to connect with their target markets online, most focus solely on Google AdWords campaigns. However, there are many online advertising opportunities that can be just as effective as AdWords, if not more so.
When you move beyond the traditional definition of a search engine, you can open yourself up to advertising on more strategic search channels – channels like Facebook and LinkedIn, where it’s possible to develop deeper connections with your target audience while creating ads that pinpoint their unique wants and needs.
Although Search Engine Marketing has become more strategic and more effective than ever thanks to social media, many small business owners still waste precious time and resources advertising in the wrong places, to the wrong audiences, with the wrong messages.
Here are the 7 most common Search Engine Marketing mistakes small businesses make, and how to avoid them:
1. Choosing the wrong platform
When you buy online ads, you are essentially ‘paying to play’ in the online space; in other words, you’re spending money to attract your target market online and get them to click on your ad.
Choosing the right platform is crucial to Search Engine Marketing success. If you don’t advertise where your target market hangs out online, you’ll waste money marketing to those with no interest in buying your services.
Why do so many small business owners create a Google AdWords campaign and stop at this point?
While advertising on Google search can be an effective strategy, it can also be wildly expensive and ineffective for certain types of businesses.
People use Google search to find information and answers to problems they’re having. If your business has a “how-to” blog where you focus on solving hyper-specific problems, such as how to troubleshoot smartphone issues or how to bake the perfect soufflé, buying AdWords could be an effective Search Engine Marketing strategy.
If however, your business is built on relationships, or creating tribes, or providing consulting services that require a lengthy courting process (as opposed to a ‘quick fix’), AdWords might leave you lost in the giant sea of Google.
When thinking of search engines, remember that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube are all search engines. Because of that, your Search Engine Marketing can focus on any of these platforms, all of which offer paid advertising opportunities and the ability to target smaller, more specific target markets.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match platforms as well. You may find that combining AdWords with YouTube advertising targets different buyer personas more effectively.
2. Writing the wrong ad copy
When purchasing online ads, you have very limited space to craft the perfect marketing message – one that will get the user to click on your ad.
Because of this limited space, it’s important to create a powerful, benefit-rich headline and text that includes a specific Call to Action (CTA).
Let’s say your company sells accounting software, and you want to run an ad on Google. Every part of the ad – from the headline you choose to the URLs you include – has two jobs:
- Intrigue the user and distract them from what they were already doing online
- Get the user to click on your ad
The only way to achieve these goals is with copy that gets attention and clearly states the benefits of your product.
Instead of focusing on features of your product or service (“offers payroll and payments”), use your limited space to focus on benefits (“free trial,” “custom solutions,” “quick to deploy,” “money back guarantee,” etc.).
Next, use the rest of the ad space to tell the user what to do next. Move beyond “click here” to more specific, benefit-rich CTAs like:
- Get the app
- Take a free tour
- Try it free for 30 days
Remember that with Search Engine Marketing, every word counts. Choose your keywords carefully by asking yourself “What is my target market searching for?”
Whether creating an AdWords campaign for Google or advertising on a different search engine, it’s helpful to use the Google Keyword Planner to find affordable-but-competitive keywords for your ad.
3. Using a bad design
One of the costliest mistakes I see people making with their advertisements is poor design. The design of your ad matters, not just in terms of getting people’s attention, but in getting them to actually click on the ad.
With AdWords, you don’t have much say in how your ad looks. But if you’re advertising on Facebook, Pinterest, or another website, the visual aspects of your design become very important.
The design of your ad should be appropriate for the platform.
- If you’re placing a banner ad on a professional-looking financial website, don’t use a flashy design with crazy colors and frenetic animation.
- If you’re targeting Millennials on Reddit, on the other hand, a fun, eye-catching GIF or wild image could be just the way to get the click.
4. Clicking through to the wrong landing page
With all the time and money you’ve spent getting the click, you’d think the story of your ad would end there. The user clicks your ad, you kick back with a latte, and the profits start rolling in. Right?
Getting the click is just the beginning. What happens once the user clicks your ad is the most important part of the process.
Make sure you’re sending them to…
- A landing page, website, blog post, or opt-in form that delivers on the promise made in your ad. Don’t hype up the amazing benefits of your accounting software and then send them to a generic homepage about your accounting firm.
- A page that offers something of value, followed by an opportunity to interact with your brand. This might mean a sales page where they can make a purchase, but it could also mean a lead capture form where they can sign up for your email list.
- A page with a clear CTA. Just as your ad tells the user what to do next (“click for a free trial”), the page you send them to should tell them which action to take (“download your free trial here”).
5. Failing to test
Search Engine Marketing can only be successful when you test, test, and test again.
What do I mean by testing? Constantly tweaking:
- The copy you use
- The images you choose
- The platforms you advertise on
- Your daily per-click budget
If you create an AdWords campaign and find that it’s not working, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Try changing one aspect of the ad – say, the headline – and see if that improves your click-through rates.
You can also run simultaneous ads with slightly different elements to see which ones are more effective.
- Try creating two different campaigns with exactly the same copy, but different pictures.
- Test what works best, and use what you learn to improve all of your current and future campaigns.
6. Not tracking ROI
Search Engine Marketing can feel really expensive, especially if you fail to track your Return on Investment. If you’re spending $1 every time someone clicks your ad, what is your ROI for that?
Things can get a little hazy here, especially if you have a sales funnel with multiple steps. If a user clicks on your ad, then completes a series of additional steps, and ends up purchasing from you six months later, how can you tell whether that ad was worth it or not?
- First, set specific goals for every ad campaign you create. Only when you define clear outcomes can you measure the success of those outcomes.
- Second, make sure you’re tracking the right metrics when running an ad campaign. This might mean creating tracking URLs in AdWords, measuring email opt-in’s after someone clicks a Facebook ad, or modifying your AdWords account to better reflect your specific advertising goals.
- Third, use all of the tools at your disposal – from Google Analytics to social media metrics – to determine a specific dollar amount that indicates the ROI of each ad you place. You should be able to say “if we spend $1 per click on this ad, our ROI is $1.25, or a twenty-five percent profit.”
7. Not scaling ROI
Once you’ve successfully determined your ROI, don’t stop there. Many small businesses make the mistake of getting stuck into an advertising cycle and ‘failing to scale.’
If you’ve created an ad with the right copy, the right design, and are advertising on the right platform, you should see a positive ROI. Once that’s in place, it’s time to scale your ad in order to increase profitability for your overall campaign.
Let’s say you’re spending $100 per month on an AdWords campaign, and that’s generating $125 in revenue. If you scale your campaign by spending $200 per month on advertising, will your revenue increase to $250?
The only way to find out is to test.
If you increase the amount of your ad spend and find that your profits hold steady, try continually increasing in increments ($500/month, $750 month) to see if the campaign scales. If it does, you’ve discovered a ‘secret sauce’ that works with your target market – keep scaling up to keep increasing your profits!
In order to preserve precious resources and make the most of online advertising, be sure to….
- Advertise on the right platform.
- Write the right ad copy.
- Invest in the perfect ad design.
- Make sure your ad clicks through to a strategic landing page.
- Test different versions of your ad with different audiences on different platforms.
- Track your ROI.
- Scale your ROI to increase profits.