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A Search Campaign Template for SMB Accounts: PPC How To

A Search Campaign Template for SMB Accounts: PPC How To

10/25/19 UPDATE: Hello Facebook Agency Visitor Person!  We’re delighted to have you visit this awesome post. About a year ago, ZATO stopped offering Facebook Ads solutions so we could focus solely on what we do best: Google Ads. Because of this, we’re always interested in partnerships with great Social Advertising agencies (like yourself, wink wink!) and we offer referral fees for signed clients!  Anyway, back to it, and happy reading…

Post Summary

I know there are a lot of people out there building businesses with little to no budget for Google Ads, so I thought it would be helpful to share my framework for thinking about managing PPC on a limited budget. For the sake of this post, when I say limited budget, I am referring to spending anything between $1000-$5000/mo. 

The tips I’ll share can absolutely be used on accounts with larger budgets, and you may find the need to adjust this template for your specific account (we find a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works in our accounts, though we like to begin with a basic template). 

If you are spending under $1000/mo then likely you’ll want to focus primarily on brand-term-control against competitors while you build out the demand generation side of your business on other channel.

For the sake of keeping this from getting too long, we’ll focus solely on Search Ads in this post and look at Shopping in another post. 

First: what is search engine advertising?

Let’s start by refreshing our memory of the philosophy of search, as that’s important in determining where Google Ads fits into your marketing strategy. People don’t know the words to type (or speak) into a search engine without some preconceived awareness of their interest in that product or service. This means search is more on the demand capture side, than demand creation or generation. In terms of costs, you are paying for each time a person searches for something they are interested in, and then clicks on your ad (CPC - cost per click). Because of this auction environment, CPCs tend to follow what the market considers the desired value of that search… i.e., it’s likelihood to turn into a sale with profit left over. This market environment can be unfairly advantaged toward larger retailers who have the budget to bid more aggressively than makes financial sense in individual auctions. This can make it difficult, but not impossible, for small budgets to compete with larger retailers. But all that being said, with rising search keyword click prices, and the fact that demand capture tends to be more of a wider net cast, PPC is not typically a good option for creating demand for small budgets.

In this way, the overall template we tend to apply to small budgets focuses instead on capturing demand from the search terms most likely to lead to a sale, i.e., the bottom of the marketing funnel… those who have already determined they are willing to take action and are thus now determining from whom they will purchase. 

It is with that lengthy, but important, caveat that I’d like to walk through a basic template I think most smaller ecommerce brands should begin with in Google Ads. 

So how should you build an SMB Ecommerce account from scratch?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume for the rest of this post that we’re talking about a brand with $2500/mo in Google Ads spend.

Where should that go?

Here’s how I would think about that: 

Our primary objective will be to capture high-intent, bottom of funnel (BOF) traffic, so the best way to do this is with the good ole Search keyword, however we’re going to layer in Shopping Ads as well when it makes sense. 

With Search, we will look at two primary campaigns to build out, and we will focus on the Phrase and Exact match keyword types. Broad match is an excellent option for driving traffic from new customers by identifying searches you wouldn’t normally have thought of, but remember, that comes with a higher cost since you’re casting a wider net. In advertising CPC terms, casting a wider net means you’re spending on a lot more people to find those who actually want to purchase from you. 

This takes time and money. For the sake of this brand, if we have just $2500 initially to begin with per month, we need to be more focused on establishing channel profitability within Google Ads, so then experimental expansion can go from there. This is why we suggest beginning with a focus on BOF search for capturing the demand that your social campaigns (TOF) are generating. 

Because of this, I like to turn to these two main Search campaigns: 

  1. Search - Brand - US
  2. Search - Core - US

(1)  - Search - Brand - US

While some dislike the concept of bidding on brand, I think there are times when it is worth it. I have previously written on the 3 Reasons NOT to Bid on Brand, and you can check that article out if you are interested in thinking through that more in depth. Suffice it to say, for the vast majority of new ecommerce brands attempting to break into an established market, ensuring the hard-fought dollars you have already spent on the upper funnel are not wasted going to a competitor bidding on your brand terms for what tends to be a lower CPC (Google’s ad rank system tends to favor the brand being searched for due to relevancy), unfortunately, more of a Google tax than anything else. 

That being said, we do like to create separate ad groups for individual brand categories, or products, or even common search modifiers based on individual accounts. For instance, you may have people search for

“Is {brand} a scam?”

“{brand} product reviews”

With text ads, you can create a “” page (that will likely get ranked on organic search for these terms as well!) and then jump to the top of the page past all those annoying aggregate review platforms to own the story on those queries.

You could do the same thing with coupons as well. Anyone hate coupon sites? Create a dedicated landing page on your site (benefits both SEO and PPC), and get to the top of SERPs by advertising specifically on your brand terms with “coupon” as part of the search. Land them on your current deals, or perhaps just a page with your top products and customer reviews. The goal here being to keep them engaged on the page and site rather than heading back to SERPs to try to find some leaked code somewhere. Even if you only save a few dollars on this per month it could be worth it. 

Regardless, even with Brand it’s important to think of optimization for maximum efficiency. If you’ve already spent money to bring people to the point where they search for your Brand, then you need to maximize the efficiency of these campaigns… so don’t sleep on optimizing Brand terms.

One of the best ways to do that, is to ensure your search terms are thematically tight.  The idea with more targeted Search (brand in this case) is to split ad groups by core keyword themes so you can target specific ad text, audiences, and landing pages to those various themes.

For instance, if you sell Simple Modern Water Bottles and Simple Modern Coffee Mugs, then you want to have two unique ad groups. Those are two completely different products types so don’t have them stuffed into one ad group landing them on your home page… have ad text devoted to each audience and then land them on the corresponding page on your site (ideally sorted by your top selling products within that category). 

(2)  - Search - Core - US

So what about non-brand terms? This is where things can become far more industry-specific so Your Mileage May Vary here. However, what we have found is that most brands do have core product offerings, and thus core demand search terms that can be identified.

What I mean by “core” here, are the BOF terms searched for by people who are already interested in your products. The idea here is that you don’t typically have to convince these people to buy your vertical, you have to convince them to buy your specific brand over your competitors!

In that line of thinking, there are likely a number of key non-brand bottom of funnel terms that will be more likely than not for you to be able to convert a higher number of ad clicks directly from the sale. 

How do you find these terms? 

Some ways we look for them: 

Your main menu navigation: 

It’s an obvious one, but it isn’t always acted on. An easy way for a lot of brands to immediately find core terms is to take variations of their product categories and bid on them with Exact match terms (and/or Phrase match depending on things like vertical auction prices, available budget, average expected conversion rate, etc). If you think about it most menus are designed around product categories, which actually follow some sort of natural search term delineation.

For instance, a person looking for a modern sofa is often different (at that exact moment!) from someone looking for a new bed frame… even though they’re both furniture. If an ad landing page and text are dramatically different for a specific product category, that’s usually a good idea of when to build a new ad group around each category. 

The really tricky thing is you want to strike the balance between starting too broadly, and getting so narrow that Google slaps the cursed Low Search Volume (LSV) label on your keyword so you can’t bid for it. What I have found is that more specific keyword modifiers around the type of product you sell can really help narrow down your spend to the most likely to convert.

For instance, let’s say that you sell 70% modern style sofas over a more classic style, and let’s say of that 70%, a whopping 80% are various shades of gray. This means a large portion of your customer base buys a gray sofa, so instead of bidding on the high volume, low conversion rate keyword or “sofa”, you can try bidding instead on something like [buy modern gray sofa]. While these terms still require you to sell them on the landing page (there are many CRO tips for product category landing pages we won’t go into here), it is a far higher intent keyword to bid on, and its based on your actual sales history and product make-up so you have a better chance of getting the best bang for your buck.

Keyword Planner or Suggestion tool: 

If you’ve never advertised on Google before, the Google Keyword Planner is a great option for at least getting you started on various averages of what to expect in some of your key auctions. It should be remembered that these are averages based on a variety of historical auction factors… i.e., it’s using data in the past to attempt to determine future costs and traffic, but auctions aren’t in a vacuum and they can change so keep this important factor in mind. Use these as pretty wide directional estimates, not an exact projection of what will happen in your account.

The thing I like about the most recent iteration of the Keyword Planner, is the ability now to input your website (or a specific page) to then ask Google what terms are popular based on your website. If anything, this can give you insight into how Google sees your website!

Once you have a list of keywords (for instance, from my previous point above), you can add them to Google to get some sort of estimate on expected cost, traffic, ad impressions, etc. Keep in mind the same caveat as above, that this is averaged data that should be held loosely in building a plan. It is interesting to adjust the slider to see what sort of traffic you can expect based on average CPCs… higher cost doesn’t always make sense since you can overbid to win the same auction. It’s interesting, play around with it!

Key Product specific terms (especially what your target audience calls them):

A great option for specifically targeting high potential keywords affordably, is to find commonly used terms your audience uses with specific modifiers. For instance, you may sell industrial lasers often used in construction. In that case, it’s worth seeing if you can attach unique modifiers to that, so when you target exact match terms you can more easily aim at high intent audiences without wasting spend across those without as much purchase intent.

You may want to bid on [construction laser] or [lasers for surveying] or [land development lasers]. Target your ad text at those terms, and land them on the dedicated landing pages for them, and watch your conversion rate rise! In fact, if you have core audiences you know convert on certain terms, then you can target those demographics with unique landing pages.

KURU Footwear has done a great job with this by having dedicated audience landing pages that help both Ads and SEO! Example:  

There are other tricks as well, but hopefully this has given you much to think about in terms of SMB PPC. PPC can be more tricky for the Small Budgets, but with the right targeting, it can still be an efficient bottom-funnel source of revenue for your growing brand. 

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Kirk Williams
@PPCKirk - Owner & Chief Pondering Officer

Kirk is the owner of ZATO, his Paid Search & Social PPC micro-agency of experts, and has been working in Digital Marketing since 2009. His personal motto (perhaps unhealthily so), is "let's overthink this some more."  He even wrote a book recently on philosophical PPC musings that you can check out here: Ponderings of a PPC Professional.

He has been named one of the Top 25 Most Influential PPCers in the world by PPC Hero 6 years in a row (2016-2021), has written articles for many industry publications (including Shopify, Moz, PPC Hero, Search Engine Land, and Microsoft), and is a frequent guest on digital marketing podcasts and webinars.

Kirk currently resides in Billings, MT with his wife, six children, books, Trek Bikes, Taylor guitar, and little sleep.

Kirk is an avid "discusser of marketing things" on Twitter, as well as an avid conference speaker, having traveled around the world to talk about Paid Search (especially Shopping Ads).  Kirk has booked speaking engagements in London, Dublin, Sydney, Milan, NYC, Dallas, OKC, Milwaukee, and more and has been recognized through reviews as one of the Top 10 conference presentations on more than one occasion.

You can connect with Kirk on Twitter or Linkedin.

In 2023, Kirk had the privilege of speaking at the TEDx Billings on one of his many passions, Stop the Scale: Redefining Business Success.

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