Google Adwords: Not DIY anymore?
The words "DIY" and "cheap" are like crack cocaine to us small business owners. Google figured this out long ago and sold the Adwords program as a self-service solution. I don't think that's a fair representation anymore.
Peter Carruthers and I presented hundreds of hours of Adwords training to more than 1000 small business owners between 2008 and 2011. These wonderful people are smart and skilled in the work that they do. They're the fittest who've survived in one of the toughest small business environments in the world.
I then spent the cold winter months of 2010/2011building MarketingMotor. It's a tool that allows a paint-by-numbers approach to building Adwords campaigns and the backing websites. It hides most of the complexity and prevents mistakes by forcing good default choices.
It was wildly successful:
- for around 100 of the 1000. Some have become highly skilled at Adwords. They've made great returns on their investment. Others were just lucky. They stumbled into markets where the competition was worse than they were. They found untapped demand where the profit per sale was high enough to hide the cost of their mistakes.
- but not for the rest of them!
A whole bunch simply never got started. The demands of running a business meant they didn't have time for yet another thing.
Some tried and failed:
- Not enough traffic.
- Tough competition (anyone in tourism, accommodation, car hire or financial services is going up against some of the biggest spenders in the world).
- Lack of technical skills.
Enough of them asked us to do the work for them that we ended up in the business of AdWords lead generation. We've delivered almost 1 000 000 sales prospects in fields as diverse as aerial photograph, balloon flights, swimming pool repair and medical gloves proving that our approach makes sense, our simplification of the tech works and that the Adwords program can add value to small businesses.
Business problems kill Adwords campaigns.
The chain has lots of weak links. Most of them are downstream of the Adwords campaign - in the business and nothing to do with the system Google built. An Adwords campaign stands or falls on things completely unrelated to the system. Business (or more accurately business owner problems) can kill even the most successful campaign.
Take a look at some of the challenges or hero has to beat.
- 25 hours work. 24 hour day. 'nuff said.
- Numbers numbers numbers. Adwords gushes numbers from every screen. It calls for a high degree of numeracy. Some people don't know that 12,5% is the same as an eighth and that if your click through rate is 1% and your page conversion rate is 1% you need 10 000 impressions to get one conversion. And that if your off-site conversion rate is 1 in 3 your ads need to show 30 000 times before you make a sale. And, then, to compound the problem these numbers need to be understood in context. Our DIY advertiser has to understand what a 2.5% increase in click-through-rate means AND know if it's good or bad. Does it need intervention? Does it call for an urgent intervention or can it be left alone?
- Too much information, too little information. A single campaign produces both too much and too little data. Too much in that our hero has to figure out what she can safely ignore and too little in that her campaign performance is compared only with her past performance. She has no way of benchmarking against other similar businesses.
- An ever more sophisticated engine. Google released 103 changes to their advertising system in 2012 and hope to release more than 200 during 2013*. These changes are better for Google, better for the purchaser but not necessarily better for our advertiser. At best she has to crowbar the time to keep up with them into her day. At worst they get ignored.
- Good campaigns rot. Adwords is not a fire and forget system. The number of different phrases your prospects use to look for what you sell doubles every year. The market changes. A winning bid today won't guarantee a good spot for your ad tomorrow. Experienced campaign managers would break out in a rash if they saw the neglect inflicted on some DIY campaigns.
- Google shifts the goals. A DIY advertiser contacted me this week. Most of his keywords quality scores had gone down from 7s, 8s 10s to 3s,4s and 5s. He'd not touched his website or campaign since he built it 18 months ago. I dug in and it looks like he was getting penalised because his site doesn't look good on mobile devices, and, he was getting lots of traffic from mobile devices. He'd missed this campaign killing development while tending to the rest of his business.
* Google Engage Box of Tricks, London, November 2012.