[My comments in this article refer to lead generation campaigns, rather than ecommerce or brand defence campaigns.]
The smallest estimated search volume I'd be comfortable with depends on if the campaign is for a new or existing client.
For a new client I want at least 3 000 searches a month. (I have been wrong on this. Details below.)
Why 3 000?
The number has nothing to do with technology. It’s all about headology - what the client thinks and feels.
Feelings matter. They could be even more important than the numbers we live and die by - impressions, clicks CTR etc.
It is quite likely that a new client will distrust Google Ads. They may know someone who wasted a load of money on Google Ads and never saw any ROI. They may have been burned by an unscrupulous agency or ignorant freelancer. They may have built a Smart Campaign themselves with predictable results.
If you don’t deliver leads before you deliver your second invoice, that distrustful feeling will win. It will drown out the client's logical knowledge that one sale a year is enough to pay for your costs, Google’s costs and a new Ferrari.
3 000 searches a month will almost always turn into at least 20 leads. Even with a brand new unoptimised campaign.
20 leads a month is roughly 1 lead per working day. That’s enough to keep the client feeling like something is happening. That they’re getting value from the money they’re paying me and Google.
Existing client are different. They know Google Ads works, and that you know what you’re doing. They’re likely to be less anxious. They trust you.
I run campaigns for existing clients that get as few as 300 impressions a month.
For instance, I advertise several services for a client who fits aluminium windows and doors. That’s her bread and butter. Google Ads sends her 60 - 100 leads a month for this aspect of her business.
I also advertise commercial grade automatic door repairs for her. On a good month she gets 5 enquiries.
That’s not a lot but, most of them turn into sales right away. When a busy shopping mall has a door hanging off it’s rails they have to have it fixed pronto.
My client has the process of becoming the go-to-guy (go-to-girl?) for any future door repairs down to a fine art. She usually ends up selling an annual service and maintenance contract somewhere down the line too.
I am cautious. I don’t want to take on a new client unless I know I can deliver great results - not OK or good results, but fantastic ones.
My former business partner would often tell me that I spent longer dissuading potential clients than I did selling them. He may have been right.
In the past I have been proven wrong. I have accepted clients where the search volume doesn't meet my threshold. Some of these campaigns generated more leads than expected.
Search volume estimates are based on historic stats. Extrapolating past search volume to predict the first few month’s performance is always going to be inaccurate.
I have significantly underestimated traffic when targeting a small location - city rather than a state. The actual number of impressions turned out to be much higher than the estimates suggested.
I had a client who did aerial survey. They were the first in their area to introduce airborne commercial LIDAR survey.
When they approached me there were fewer than 100 searches per month for the broad keyword LIDAR. There was no long tail. Nobody in their market had heard of the technology.
I didn't want to build a campaign but the client was insistent. Each sale was worth a lot of money up front and in repeat business. Also, the cost of a Google Ads campaign was tiny compared with what they'd invested in the project.
The client had got in at the start of a trend. Over the next few months search interest in this technology exploded. Our campaign started slow but it grew in tandem with the rise in search traffic.
I base my estimates of how many leads we'll get from a new campaign off a fairly big sample. I've launched about 2 000 campaigns in the decade I've been doing Google Ads.
But, sometimes a new campaign will do much better than expected. Take a look at the screenshot from a low traffic campaign below.
We had 1993 impressions in the 9 months that the campaign was running - about 220 impressions a month. That’s about what I expected.
But, both the CTR and the conversion rate were much higher than I anticipated. The CTR averaged at 29.85%. The conversion rate - completing an enquiry form - was 22.52%.
We got 134 sales leads during the 9 months that the campaign was active. That's about 15 enquiries a month, enough to keep this client very happy.