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How to make Google AdWords work for service businesses

We’ve taken over the Google AdWords accounts of a few service business recently and have been taken aback by the unnecessarily high cost-per-click some have been paying, and the amount of wastage – i.e. clicks from people you just don’t want. Pay-per-click (PPC) management is not a specialism of ours, but it informs our website development skills and lots of our clients use it to some extent. We know we’re good at it thanks to seeing the campaigns we inherit and how much we improve on them.

Why pay-per-click is ‘difficult’ for non-retailing businesses

For retailers, calculating the return on PPC campaigns is easy: you track each sale back to see both where it came from, and how much you paid for the click-through. A glance at your margins tells you whether or not you’re making money. For service businesses, it’s much harder. The desired outcome, in most cases, is a phone call, so you’ve lost the direct connection immediately. Worse, that call will, at best, lead to a series of conversations which might, days or months down the line, result in a deal (and you still won’t have got paid).

Money: how much do people pay, per click?

Er..think of a number. Any number. We run campaigns in which 20p per click is common. We recently inherited another in which the client was paying £2.40, and got that down to 92p. Few of our clients regularly pay more than ¬£2 per click, but one has another business (which we don’t manage) which rarely pays less than £12 per click (often £20) and we know of another which, every month, spends hundreds of thousands paying an average of just over £100 per click. The fact that those businesses offer, respectively, loans and online gambling, tells you something about their margins.

When AdWords work for service businesses (and how not to over-pay)

AdWords are great for new services and new websites, because they short-circuit the long time which SEO takes, sending you straight to the front of the queue. AdWords are good, too, if you have a less-than-unique company name (Jones Accounting, say) and if you offer any service for which new clients are likely to search (almost anything these days – think about how your own behaviour has changed).

To avoid over-paying, there are two key areas to check when you look at your AdWords reports (and which, if you pay someone to manage your campaigns, you should insist upon seeing). Firstly, are people you really don’t want, clicking-through? You can tell this from the keywords and phrases they enter. Incredibly, it is commonplace for someone who has searched for, say, ‘modern bath suite’ to click on ads for ‘Bath Solicitors’. Over time, almost all such wastage can be cut out through the use of negative keywords.

Secondly, look at the quality scores of the keywords being used to trigger your ads. Google rates these from 1 to 10. The lower your score, the more you have to pay, to get a decent ranking. This is a straight bet on Google’s part. The quality score reflects how likely Google thinks it is, that people will click on your ad (no click, no money for Google).

More broadly: get specific with the keywords which trigger your ads. One or two qualifying words can make a world of difference to paying less and being found more easily. Think ‘PHP programming’ rather than just ‘programming’.

There are lots of other ways to get the costs down and ROI up, but these offer a good start. Used well, AdWords are an excellent way to get attention from those looking for you or what you offer. Just don’t pay more than you need to.

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