Buying an ad in the local newspaper has been standard practice for most small- and mid-sized businesses for decades. The problem with that marketing strategy today: Traditional newspaper readership has been in dramatic decline for years (in 2002, just 41 percent of Americans said they read the daily print newspaper; today, that number has dropped to 23 percent).
Meanwhile, the number of people getting their news (and just about everything else) from the Internet is on a rapid rise. Today, the average American spends 32 hours a month doing something online; and a whopping 76 percent of the public reads the news on the Web.
So if your customers and potential customers have all flocked to the Web, maybe it’s time you started advertising there, too. As they say, “it doesn’t take a genius” to figure these things out.
Most businesses that advertise online use Google AdWords. Those are the text-only ads that appear in the margins of your computer screen whenever you do a Google search for something. They also appear in the margins of millions of websites.
Unlike with newspaper advertising, there’s no cost to post a Google AdWords ad, however, each time someone clicks on it, the advertiser – that’s you – pays a pre-determined rate (usually between 35 and 45 cents per click).
Yes, it’s more convoluted and confusing than buying a newspaper ad. But the cost for giving it a try is very small (Google even offers free-trials from time to time). Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Visit https://adwords.google.com
Step 2. Enter your email address and website address.
TIP: If you don’t have a business website, you can use the AdWords Express feature, which provides you with a Google-based Web page for free.
Step 3. Specify how much you’re willing to spend on the ad (per day). Once that limit has been reached, your ad will be removed for the remainder of the day.
TIP: Start small ($10, for example) and see what happens. You can easily change the amount at any time in the future.
Step 4. Choose who you want to see your ad (you can focus on specific countries, cities, regions, even select zip codes, as well as all the different types of websites that partner with Google).
Step 5. Choose the “keywords” you want to trigger the display of your ad. (When someone uses one of your selected words/phrases in a Google search, your ad will display). Google provides a list of recommended keywords (based on your profile), or you can enter keywords of your very own choosing.
TIPS: Use specific, super-charged terms, like “Seattle real estate agent,” instead of simply “real estate.” Imagine your typical customer; then ask yourself, “what words would that person use to find a business like mine online?”
Step 6. Specify how much you’re willing to pay each time someone clicks on your ad (those willing to pay more are rewarded with better ad placement).
TIP: If you want your ad to appear in a prime spot (above all the ads from your competitors), it needs to satisfy Google’s “quality score,” and you need to be willing to pay more for each click than the other advertisers competing for the same spot. If your ad isn’t appearing where you want, work on improving your quality score first, then start increasing your pay-per-click amount.
Step 7. Write your ad (using a maximum of 25 characters for the headline, 35 characters for the first line of text and 35 more characters for the second line of text).
TIPS: Include some of your keywords in the headline and/or text. Focus on what makes your business better than your competitors. Feature low prices and special offers. Try a couple different versions of your ad and see which works best (a dud won’t cost you much, because you only pay when someone clicks on the ad).
Step 8. After your ad is live, use Google’s online tools to analyze its performance. Your AdWords account will show how often your ad appeared, how many people clicked on it, which search queries drove the most visitors to your site, which ad text worked best, and much more.
Another tool, called “Conversion Tracking” shows how many of the people who saw your ad ordered a product, filled out a form, or visited a specific page of your website. If you choose to display a phone number with your ad, you can also see how many calls it generated.
TIP: Let your ad run for about a week, then use all the feedback provided through your account to make any necessary adjustments. Try the new approach for another week, then make more adjustments, if necessary. Fine-tuning based on detailed feedback is the key to success with online advertising.