A good many of my clients are Realtors, and a good many Realtors throw away money on ineffective pay-per-click advertising because they haven’t taken the time to educate themselves on the tremendous opportunity afforded by this type of advertising. Pay-per-click advertising (a la Google AdWords) offers a type of advertising that has never before been available in the history of the world: Individualized mass-market advertising.
A Realtor may be an expert at marketing and selling real estate — but that Realtor may not be an expert at writing AdWords advertising copy or managing an online pay-per-click campaign. Pay-per-click is an easy way to get targeted traffic to your web site without waiting for the long-term results of organic search engine optimization. It’s also an easy way to throw away lots of money without seeing any return.
We’ve put together a few tips to help you fine-tune your PPC advertising to help you get the most bang for your buck. This article focuses primarily on real estate PPC advertising, but the concepts are applicable to most any type of service or product.
First, the basics:
What is Pay-Per-Click?
Pay-per-click, or PPC, advertising, is an online advertising model that allows you, the advertiser, to run ads on the Web — and you pay only when someone clicks on your ad and goes to your web site. This is called a click-through (or click-thru). The ratio of ad views to click-throughs is called the click-through rate, or CTR. Google and Yahoo are the two biggest and best-known PPC networks; there are others, but they don’t have nearly the reach of these two — and Google is by far the biggest. We’ll focus here on Google’s AdWords program, but all the major PPC advertising networks operate using similar concepts.
One major benefit of PPC advertising, of course, is that you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Imagine being able to put an ad in your local newspaper that only costs you money when it causes someone to call you! But another major benefit of PPC advertising, which is sometimes overlooked, is that it allows you target your advertising precisely in a way that no other advertising medium can match. Think laser targeting: You make a keyword list, precisely targeted to your professional services. Those keywords will trigger your ad, which is precisely written to capitalize on the keywords that triggered it. And the ad itself sends users to a page on your site that is precisely written to give the user exactly what he is looking for.This is not your father’s advertising — This is Scud-style laser-guided-missile targeting!
Imagine being able to run commercials on television that would only get shown to viewers who had just been searching for exactly your services! And only having to pay if that viewer actually responds to your ad! Then imagine being able to custom-tailor that viewer’s experience when he does respond — controlling exactly the message he gets, which may be different from the message some other viewer gets who responds to different ad you’re running.
How Does PPC Advertising Work?
You, the advertiser, bid on keywords related to your business. You bid the maximum amount that you’re willing to pay per click, and your bids go into a pool of bids. If your bid is high enough (compared to the other bids in the pool), your ads gets shown when someone searches Google using the keywords you bid on. The keywords you bid on trigger your ad to show on Google’s search results pages when a user searches for those keywords, or triggers your ad to appear on web sites that carry AdWords ads, when that site’s on-page content contains those keywords. It gets more complicated that that — you can use different types of keyword matching to define how broadly or narrowly you want Google to match your keywords.
When your ad is shown and a user clicks your ad, they get taken to the landing page on your web site that you specify, and now it’s the job of your web site to induce that user to call you or submit your contact form, or do whatever is it you want that user to do once they arrive at your site.
Setting up a PPC Campaign
In your PPC account, you start by setting up a “Campaign,” which consists of an ad and the associated keywords that you want to have trigger that ad. (You can create multiple versions of the ad within the campaign; we’ll address that a little further down. But it helps to think of a campaign as “one ad and its associated keywords.”) You should set up multiple campaigns, with each campaign being tightly focused on one particular theme or topic. A real estate agent might create separate campaigns for “homes for sale,” “condos for sale,” and “land for sale,” for example, and depending on your marketing approach, you might want to have even more campaigns. You might also want to create one or more campaigns aimed people wanting to sell real estate, who are looking for a real estate agent to represent them in their sale.
Within each campaign, you create an ad and a list of keywords that will trigger your ad. A “keyword” can be — and usually is — a phrase : one or more words together. A Realtor, for example, might bid on terms such as “Punta Gorda homes for sale” or “waterfront condos,” while a carpet store might bid on “carpets,” “floor coverings,” and “rugs.” You want to create a specific and unique list of keywords targeted precisely at the topic of the campaign. For your “Homes for sale” campaign, for example, your keyword list might include “homes for sale,” “houses for sale,” “waterfront houses for sale,” “affordable homes for sale,” and so forth.
Now, wait just a goldarned minute! Shouldn’t the “waterfront houses for sale” be in a separate campaign aimed at waterfront houses? Yes indeed. And shouldn’t “affordable homes for sale” be in a separate campaign aimed at affordable homes? Yep. Exactly so. Look very critically at your keyword list, both while you’re developing it and after you think you’re done, and see if there are keywords that should be separated out into a campaign of their own. After all, we’re working on a laser-targeted approach here.
Keyword Matching Options
You’ll want to read the support documentation in your PPC network for the keyword matching options. In Google, keywords can use broad matching, phrase matching, or exact matching. What are these options, and how do they work? Until you gain experience in your PPC campaign, phrase matching is probably your best bet to use, but here’s a quick rundown:
- Broad Matching: In Google’s AdWords program, this can be a good way to throw away money. The “broad matching” option in AdWords automatically includes Google’s “expanded keyword matching technology,” which tries to use computer “intelligence” to match your keywords with other, related, words, such as synonyms and related phrases, that in all likelihood will include terms that you do not want. Your carefully crafted “Gulf-front home” ad may be shown to people looking for a lake-front mountain cottage. Your target audience will not be well-targeted, and the click-throughs that you get are less likely to be interested in your services. As you gain experience in PPC advertising, you might want to include some broad matching, but if you do, you definitely want to use an extensive negative-match keyword list.
- Phrase Matching: Phrase matching will trigger your ad for any search query that includes the keywords in the order you specified, even if the search included additional words not part of your keyword. For example, a phrase-match keyword “waterfront homes” will match searches for “waterfront homes with a pool” and “Florida waterfront homes” — the search will always have your keyword phrase in it.
- Exact Matching: Exact matching only triggers your ad for searches that exactly match your keyword. Using the example above, if you put “waterfront homes” in your keyword list as an exact-match keyword, a search for “florida waterfront homes” will not trigger your ad.
The ability to list negative keywords for each campaign is one of your most powerful — and one of the most often overlooked — tools in your PPC toolkit.
You should include negative match keywords in every campaign you create. Negative-match keywords ensure that your ad is not shown for searches that include the negative keywords you specify. For example, in your “homes for sale” campaign, you might want to list “nursing” and “retirement” and “Masonic” and “children’s” as negative-match keywords — because you don’t want to show your ad to people looking for a nursing home or retirement home or Masonic home or children’s home. If you set up a campaign for “luxury homes,” you’ll probably want to list “mobile” and “manufactured” as negative keywords, so that you don’t show your ad to people looking for mobile homes. You might also include “affordable,” “tear-down,” and “handyman special” in your negative keyword list for your “luxury homes” campaign. You should spend at least as much time developing your negative-keyword list as you do developing your regular keyword list.
If you are a Realtor who sells real estate in Florida, you should include every U.S. state other than Florida in your negative keyword list. You don’t want to show your ad to people looking for “homes in Montana” or “condos in California.” You can still display your ad to people in those states — someone in Maine who is searching for “waterfront homes in Florida” is probably a good target for your waterfront homes campaign. But someone (whether in Florida, Maine or California) searching for waterfront homes in Oregon isn’t your target market. Don’t show your ad to those folks.
You have to specify the amount(s) you’re willing to pay for each click on your ad. If you bid too low, your ad won’t be shown. If you bid high, Google’s AdWords program automatically adjusts your cost-per-click (CPC) to one penny over the next-highest competitor. If you bid $4/click, and the next-highest bidder is bidding $0.50/click, you’ll pay $0.51 per click. But be careful: You could cause a bidding war that ends up costing everybody more money. You’ll have to experiment to find the bid price that works best for you. Use Google’s keyword tool to see what the average CPC is estimated to be for your selected keywords, and bid somewhere in that neighborhood to start.
You’ll have to experiment to find the bidding level that works best for you, and you’ll probably need to adjust your bids up or down as your market changes. A few real estate agents over-bidding in your market could cause your minimum CPC to increase significantly — and likewise, a few real estate agents who blew through their advertising budget with nothing to show for it could decrease your CPC when they drop their PPC advertising.
Writing Your Ad
Laser targeting is the key. Did we mention laser targeting? Don’t forget: You’re creating a laser-targeted advertising campaign here. Write your ad headline and copy so that it is laser-targeted to the keyword list you created. Are you bidding on the keyphrase “luxury waterfront homes”? Your ad headline should read “Luxury Waterfront Homes.” Your ad copy should expand on that theme. A campaign for “waterfront condos”? Your ad headline should read “Waterfront Condos.” Give that searcher exactly what he’s looking for.
This is why you should create multiple campaigns, each with its own specific keyword list. Don’t try to use the same ad to reach people looking for luxury homes and waterfront condos and commercial real estate. Create separate campaigns, separate keyword lists, and custom-written ads to laser target your ads precisely at the laser-targeted keywords.
Your Landing Page
AdWords, and the other PPC networks, allow you to specify a particular landing page on your web site for each ad. Do not send simply people to your web site’s home page. Here again, laser target your landing page so that it exactly reflects your ad and your keyword list. Your “luxury waterfront homes” campaign should send people to a page on your web site that promotes and offers luxury waterfront homes. Your “commercial real estate” campaign should send people to the most appropriate page on your site for people interested in commercial real estate
It’s a good idea to consider developing specific landing pages for specific campaigns. If you don’t already have a page on your site that’s exactly perfect for a given ad campaign, you should create one. It doesn’t need to be part of your site’s main navigation, and you don’t care about optimizing it for organic search rankings. You want your landing page to reflect exactly what your visitor was looking for, and exactly what he expected to find when he clicked on your ad.
The Laser-Targeted Campaign
If you have followed the steps above, you have created multiple ad campaigns, each with a carefully developed keyword list, and a carefully written ad, and a carefully created landing page, such that for every campaign, you are targeting a very precise type of search, showing an ad that exactly matches that search, and sending the user to a landing page that exactly matches that search. You’re creating an information scent that the user can follow. You’re taking that user by the hand and leading him down the path to exactly what he’s looking for. Congratulations! Now…..
Read, Read, and Read Some more
There is much, much more. You should spend some time reading everything you can get your hands on about PPC campaigns, and you should spend some time exploring the account management interface in your PPC account. Study up on geotargeting. Learn how to run your campaign only at specific times. Read about the differences between the search network and the content network. Set your monthly maximum budget. Explore different keyword matching options, and try out variations on your ads. Read up on Google’s “Quality Score” to find out how that affects your cost-per-click.
Through research and experimentation, you’ll figure out what works best for you to maximize the return on your PPC dollars.