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How Can I Test a Small Google Ads Account on a Limited Budget?

How Can I Test a Small Google Ads Account on a Limited Budget?

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

How Can You Grow Your SMB PPC Account?

Let’s face it, with rising CPC costs (thanks in no small part to Google’s auction tinkering to hit their revenue goals) Google Ads is increasingly expensive. This means, it’s more difficult for the small advertiser to win at Google Ads. 

Difficult, but not impossible. 

Some may argue that SMB PPC advertising has always been difficult to do well on Google Ads, and they would be right. It's why, in part, we created our MAKROZ SMB PPC Advertising brand!

For the good marketer, advertising on Google Ads with a small budget is possible, but requires some specific methodology and work, especially as it relates to testing new opportunities in the account. 

Demand Capture, not Creation for SMBs

Remember, Google Ads is demand capture which means the demand must be generated elsewhere. This is why at some point in your SMB account, you will hit a plateau and struggle to grow beyond that. You keep showing in the same number of searches for the keywords you’re targeting, at the same traffic and Click-Through-Rate (CTR), at the same Conversion Rate (CVR). You may be able to increase conversions somewhat by optimizing your landing page, or rethinking a different offer (really important things to do, by the way!), but overall you will not see increased traffic on core terms unless some external marketing effort (by you or someone else) causes additional demand for those keywords. 

It Takes Smart, Purposeful Testing

The other primary way you can purposefully grow your SMB Google Ads Account, is by smart testing to find (and capture!) new pre-existing opportunities. The problem with this, is your limited budget! Typically, in a larger, more established PPC account, it’s wise to spend around 80% of your budget on tried and true keywords and targeting methods in your account, then to spend around 20% on testing. This is more difficult in an account where you’re spending $2,000/mo or even $500/mo. You don’t want to spend 20% of your small budget on testing, because (1) that 20% loss in your guaranteed targets will hurt big time, and (2) 20% of a $500  budget is $100. If your clicks cost you $1.50 in avg CPC, then your testing is only analyzing around 66 additional clicks PER MONTH. 

66 clicks per month! 

It's nearly impossible to test that successfully. It could take months or even years to get enough data to feel confident in making a wise decision.

So, you’re stuck, right?

Not necessarily! Here’s where it may help to adjust your testing strategy, and I’d like to show you how we think about that at MAKROZ SMB PPC and ZATO PPC Marketing. 

The key, is to: 

  1. Identify actually significant, successful targets in the account and free up existing budget by eliminating everything else
  2. Invest in a smart burst-spend testing strategy

Let’s start by looking at number one above.

1) Identify actually significant, successful targets in the account and free up existing budget by eliminating everything else

When it comes to Small Budget Accounts, we have to work aggressively to reign in our desire to target all the things. It’s absolutely essential to (a) focus on what 100% absolutely unequivocally will work every time and (b) test everything else in purposeful bursts.

In other words, if you are targeting 100 [exact match] search keywords in your account, but only 50 have ever spent anything at all, and only 15 keywords have driven enough traffic and sales to guarantee their worth, then you need to focus SOLELY on those 15 keywords, and begin testing everything else in bursts. This will help you find budget you didn’t know you had for testing. 

This can be the same for audiences, campaigns, ad groups, or even locations. We recently analyzed a small budgets account targeting all of the US. In this instance, it will likely be a better use of your time to only keep the top 10-15 highest converting Geo-locations live, and then use that budget to purposefully, more aggressively test 1-2 additional cities or keywords. \

2) Invest in a smart burst-spend testing strategy

Once you have freed up your budget, then focus on specific targets, locations, videos, audiences, whatever is the next big thing you want to test in your account. It’s crucial here to have a framework for what to try, otherwise you may just waste money fiddling around with buttons. 

  • Do basic keyword research. What terms are people searching for you’re not currently? 
  • Analyze cities where your products are purchased through other channels, is there opportunity for testing in locations you should be more aggressive in?
  • Analyze competitor behavior. Are they invested aggressively in certain markets or audiences you aren’t currently in?
  • Is there an opportunity based on your content, to get more aggressive with a specific product in your Google Merchant Center feed? 

Once you have an idea of what you want to test, you can simply take the money saved from the pullbacks in the rest of your account, add in a little extra for the smart test (even failed learnings are valuable!) and give it a whirl. 

It may be easier to map this out, so let me illustrate in a fake account. Here’s what it can look like. 

An Example: 

Account: Sam’s Barbershop (located in DFW, TX)

Monthly Budget: $1,500/mo 

Search: 150 keywords live (all match types) spending $1,200/mo, avg CPC $2

GDN: 1 campaign spending $300/mo, avg CPC $0.35

Monthly Leads: 65 (avg CPL $23)

Timeframe: P180D (past 180 days of data, keep in mind that SMB accounts often need far more time to build enough data before analyzing it with any certainty)

“I’d like to test additional keywords, or figure out how to grow leads and our traffic but we just can’t get over the plateau.”

Here’s where we would likely get into the account, and then offer some suggestions (made up for the sake of this article, to walk you through how we think about this): 

  • Eliminate GDN for now (difficult to identify success for local businesses, and we need the cash for more demand capture opps). $300/mo saved
  • We dig in and identify that 75% of their leads come from two geographic locations within the DFW area. But those Search campaigns only account for 65% of the cost. $420/mo saved.
  • We identify that of the 150 live keywords, only 60% of them have led to ANY conversions at all within our timeframe. We pause 60 keywords. The were low traffic, so $100/mo saved (general estimate for the sake of this article).
  • We identify that of the remaining 90 live keywords, 80% are within their target CPA within our timeframe. We therefore pause 9an additional 18 keywords! so $80/mo saved.

Overall, we have now saved $900/mo WITHOUT LOSING ALMOST ANY TRACKABLE CONVERSIONS. We’ve trimmed the fat. Now here’s the deal, admittedly we need to be careful of attribution and the way some of these keywords could be feeding customer leads through other channels, but… at this size of an account that’s a risk we have to take. 

Now, with $900/mo available, I’d recommend to a client that they invest an additional $500/mo for the next 2-3 months and we would put that newly found $1400/mo into some testing. Perhaps now we would aim at terms we hadn’t had the budget before. Let’s say the barbershop wanted to begin advertising shaves as well, and we could hit that hard. OR, perhaps there was a geo-radius region near their barber shop where the barber wanted to hit hard for a month with aggressive keyword, and GDN targeting including an offer for a 25% discount for anyone with a specific code on their landing page. Perhaps they want to make a play to get more aggressive in that area with brand awareness. They have the opportunity to do so because they found a ton of budget without sacrificing the rest of their account. 

This is an example of how to efficiently manage smaller budget PPC accounts and move them towards more specific testing.

Here’s something crucial to keep in mind, in ultra-low budget accounts, you sometimes have to pause what COULD be working, but is simply low traffic, because the aggregate budget from those elements is more important to you currently than is the potential that those keywords will convert in the future. Tracking? It’s not that those keywords will never work, it’s that you’re preventing yourself from possible testing opportunities for growth right now. 

So, what do you think of all this? I hope this has been a helpful article for you, please reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn with any questions or thoughts.  

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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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