Google launched its AdWords advertising platform in 2000. In the ensuing years it seemed like an exciting way for photographers to drive new business. Unfortunately, AdWords earned a poor reputation within the creative community. I know many photographers who set up accounts, picked keywords, created ads and sent visitors to the front page of their website, and then waited for their campaigns to bring home the business. What happened?
I think you know. Photographers spent $50 or maybe a few hundred dollars on this campaign without seeing the promised new business. So, they pulled the plug on AdWords. Did this happen to you?
It’s possible that fellow photographers warned you about wasting money on AdWords. If they did, they were mostly right. You will waste your money if you do what many people do when it comes to creating an AdWords campaign: fail to educate yourself, dabble with the platform, lose money and quit. You don’t have to follow this failing pattern.
The AdWords solution
Quality advertising costs money. A traditional paid advertisement in a newspaper or magazine, or on the radio or television, costs hundreds to thousands of dollars. If you have experience with traditional media, you know a one-time ad buy is a waste of money. You can spend $5,000 on one ad that has a shelf life of a month and receive no return – not even an inquiry — on your investment.
To be successful you need to place multiple ads. You need to test and experiment with calls to action over time. This is where AdWords becomes an excellent solution. It can be less expensive than traditional advertising, but if you think of it as the cheap alternative, you may be disappointed. AdWords is a flexible and efficient advertising solution that targets people who are searching via search engines for what you have to offer. Search marketing is an extremely powerful way to get your message in front of the right people.
AdWords are the advertisements that run on the top, bottom and to the right side of your search query results (shown by the “sparks” below).
Google spends a lot of time, money and effort making sure those ads are as relevant as possible to your search query and that is why it has become harder over the years to run a successful campaign using the AdWords system. Mistakes are punished. This also means well-run campaigns are rewarded with good placement and opportunity.
Google uses a scoring system to determine if your ads are worth placing in the top spot. Only part of the equation is based on how much you bid. Keyword relevance in relation to your ads and landing pages plays a role, too. Google also considers your track record as an AdWords advertiser when evaluating your ads for placement.
People will continue to trust search ads more every year.
Let me be clear. Organic (non-paid) search results are still preferred by search engine users. My preferred method of marketing my photography is organic search. Like traditional media, it is more powerful to be the focus of the feature article than the ad resting beside it. Nonetheless, both have their place within a marketing campaign.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaigns take time. It’s tough to become an expert in multiple disciplines requiring a large variety of keywords. When it comes to SEO, keep focused. That doesn’t mean you need to give up developing new business within other markets.
AdWords allows you to quickly find your place at the top of the search engines without the effort of a long SEO development campaign. I use AdWords for personal and client campaigns where we are solid in organic results. Studies suggest this reinforces your expertise and band trustworthiness. I also place search ads where I want to develop more business, but don’t have the depth of content or expertise worthy of ranking well on the search engines.
The big advantage for photographers using AdWords is the ability and flexibility to test. Testing headlines, keywords, offers, calls to action, images, and text without spending thousands of dollars per experiment saves money. You learn quickly and inexpensively what works and what does not connect with your target audience. You can use this information for your more expensive traditional media advertising. Other advantages include using AdWords to target your ads geographically based on country, state, city or zip code. You can even choose the time of day your ads run.
How to set up a campaign
First, be realistic about your budget. If you can’t spend about $25 a day you might want to look elsewhere for now. If you only have a small budget, such as $250 per month, and still want to experiment with AdWords, be more selective. For example, you can test for only 10 days of the month and advertise to a narrowly defined keyword, geography or focus. I don’t recommend this approach. If you are serious about developing new business, you need to invest. A $750 monthly minimum really is not a lot of money compared to other advertising options.
Organization is key
One AdWords campaign is usually enough for a photographer. The creation of multiple ad groups is for the purpose of reaching different target prospects. There are three important elements to your ad groups within your campaign: the keywords, the ads, and the landing pages.
Keywords are the words people type into search engines for their search queries, such as Kentucky food photographer or Austin wedding photographer. This is where you start. Develop a good focused keyword list before you begin the process. Each of your ad groups must have a keyword theme. For example, all keywords related to architectural photographer should be in one group. Even architectural photographer could be broken out into smaller ad groups such as interior photographer, kitchen photographer, building photographer, etc. I have many ad groups containing only one keyword.
Each ad group must contain at least one ad. That ad should contain the focus keyword. In most cases it should be placed in the title of your ad. How the keyword is used will ultimately depend on testing your ads. Regularly challenge your best ads. See if you can write better ad headlines and copy that people click on more than the ad you are currently running. You can run as many ads as you wish. I recommend you don’t run more than three ads at one time unless you have a high traffic campaign. Two-ad campaigns are my most common.
Let winners run. Don’t continuously challenge your winning ads. Let their strong click-through rates (CTR, or the percentage of people who see the ad and click on it) do the work by driving people to your landing page.
Yes, I said landing page.
One of the biggest mistakes people make using AdWords is to send people to the front page of their website.
The front page of most company websites is not focused enough to be a landing page. It’s amazing how many front webpages don’t even have a call to action. You must create a specific landing page related to the keywords and prospects you are targeting.
If you have multiple ad groups, create multiple landing pages. Landing pages are a science unto themselves. Based on my experience, simple is best. Make sure you have a clear call to action. What do you want the visitor to do? Email you for more information, download information, or purchase a product? Make sure the page is about the topic of your keywords and the text, videos or imagery ultimately directs visitors to do the one thing you want them to do on that page. Once they have completed that action, it’s called a conversion. Congratulations, you have successfully guided your prospect through your digital sales funnel.
Just like digital ads, you need to test your landing pages. It’s amazing how little things increase conversions. Changing a word in a headline, a photograph or the size of a button.
How do you test pages?
First, you must have Google analytics tracking your website. Within Google analytics you have the option under the tab behavior to create experiments. Google will display variations of the landing pages you create. My recommendation is that you start with 2-4 extremely different page concepts. Create short form, long form, different styles and messages. Test them until you have an obvious winning page that converts better than the others.
Once you find your winning page, let it run for a while, then start challenging it with variations of the page. Just change one element at a time, such as your headline, photo, or call to action.
There are other services available for creating landing pages. Unbounce.com is a landing page service we often use at Synectics Media. Other services to consider are landerapp.com and leadpages.net. All the services have their unique selling points.
What is success?
Success comes from conversions. Driving people to your landing page depends on click-through rates. I consider a keyword or ad with lower than a 1 percent click-through-rate as failing for AdWords. My goal for most ad groups is an average 2 percent click-through rate. For tougher industries or high competition keywords, 1.5 percent or a little lower may be acceptable. Note that different digital ad models such as Facebook or Twitter have different measurements for success.
When it comes to conversions it truly depends on the industry, type of conversion or offer. I will also consider a lower click through rate (CTR) as acceptable for ads or keywords if their conversions are higher. For example, an ad that has a 1.5 percent click-through-rate and a 5 percent conversion rate is more valuable than an ad with a 2.3 percent click-through-rate and a 2 percent conversion rate.
It is important to keep track of your conversions by setting up goals in analytics. You will find the goals option under the conversions tab. Add a value to your goals. For example, if you are a wedding photographer and you know you book one out of every four wedding prospects, you can easily track the profitability of your AdWords campaign. Lets say the profit from your average wedding is $1,000. If you only book one out of four leads, then you need to make sure you are not spending more than $250 per conversion on average. This would be true for any advertising platform.
Another consideration is the lifetime value of your new customer. If you tend to receive referrals from your clients or the same clients tend to use your services later for other family photography assignments, than figure that in to your profit and goal value equation.
Photographers have many digital advertising options. Facebook, Twitter, Bing and industry related websites. AdWords is a powerful platform if used well. This is because the people it targets are looking for what you have to offer using Internet search engines.
Developing a focused structured sales funnel is an important part of digital advertising success. There are numerous approaches you can take to structuring and refining your campaigns. No mater what you do you need to test and continuously work to improve and adjust your campaign. Competition for your key words changes throughout the year and so does how you manage each ad group.
Most of your time spent on your Ad Words campaigns will be in the first month or two. Give yourself the time to find the right combination by testing your keywords and ads. Make sure you gather enough data before you make major decisions. More data is always better, but you can usually gain a hint if something is working by the first 1,000 impressions.
Don’t let keywords run away from you. This can happen early in campaigns. Some common keywords with multiple uses or meanings may receive a lot of impressions quickly. If your ads are not relevant your CTR will be low (well under 1 percent) and that will cost you more money in the long run. Check your keywords often after you start a campaign and pause the ones with low CTR and approaching 1,000 impressions. Promote (give more money) the keywords with high CTR and quality scores.
By the second month you should have winning keywords and ads with solid CTR. You should also have a winning landing page. Always continue to develop ads and keywords, but from this point forward put more emphasis on conversions.
By the third month basic maintenance every few days should be all you need to keep your campaign producing well-earned and deserved new clients and profits. Once your campaign begins to prove itself and produce a positive return on investment (ROI) start to increase your budget. Increase your investment, as you are comfortable.
Once you understand how to create a quality sales funnel with AdWords you can take this approach to other platforms. If you believe in advertising on specific websites or to people with certain interests or demographics, consider expanding to Google’s display advertisements. You need a multi-channel approach to create a good marketing plan.
Digital advertising is not easy, but it’s certainly not out of the reach of the average businessperson. The ability to inexpensively test your way to profitability makes AdWords worthy of your consideration.