As a startup, you’re probably anxious to get the ball rolling, especially when it comes to growing your traffic, increasing revenue, and building your brand. But, sometimes, it can feel like that ball is rolling uphill.
Easy there, Sisyphus. It might seem like an impossible task, but there are ways to score some quick wins while you’re waiting for your long-term marketing efforts to find a foothold.
Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is the solution a lot of startups need to kick their brand into high gear quickly and efficiently. Keep in mind, paid advertising shouldn’t be used in lieu of organic marketing but as a complement to a complete growth marketing strategy.
We’re here to give you all the tips you need so you can keep that ball rolling in the right direction and get the weight of that boulder off your shoulders.
What is Paid Advertising?
Paid advertising is basically any media space you pay for (that doesn’t include any earned or owned media). As a broad definition, it can include all traditional forms of advertising, like broadcast media and print. But for our purposes here, we’re talking strictly about digital paid marketing and, more specifically, PPC.
PPC generally works through an auction system in which you place bids based on your total budget and the calculated cost per click (CPC). The ad platform’s algorithm will analyze your ad quality and how much you’re willing to spend, and if you win the bid, will place your ad.
Once placed, your ad will run until you stop it or your budget dries up. The big thing to keep in mind with PPC is that once your ads disappear, your results will, too. That’s why PPC is best for one-off campaigns, product launches, feature updates, etc.
Why Do Startups Need Paid Ads?
About 9 out of 10 startups will fail (sorry to be a downer). The reality is that a large chunk of them simply don’t have the right product-market fit. But the second most common cause of startup failure points back to not having the right marketing.
But there’s a silver lining here. Marketing challenges can be overcome with the right goals and strategies in place. For startups, that includes working toward both short- and long-term growth.
SEO and content marketing will help pave the way for future success, but for increased awareness, traffic, and revenue in the here and now, you can’t beat PPC. Wondering if you need a paid advertising strategy? Here’s what paid can do for your startup brand:
Get on top of Google
Most SEO strategies take nine months to a year (or more) to really deliver meaningful results. Even then, claiming a top spot on Google’s SERPs is next to impossible. So what brands do get the coveted “position zero”? Most often, it’s the brands that bought the spot. (Caveat: purchasing ad space doesn’t guarantee you’ll be first, but the odds are much better than they would be otherwise.)
And since Google has the highest conversion rate of any advertising channel, it’s the one with the most chance of having a meaningful impact on your startup.
Get ahead of your competitors
Competition is fierce in the startup world, and there’s a good chance that for some of your competitors, this isn’t their first rodeo. Some may have already put in the time and effort to grow their SEO, so your chance of outranking them organically, especially on high-volume keywords, is basically nil.
This is where PPC can give you an edge. With the right targeting and keywords, you can reach the audience you share with your competitors and even uncover new, untapped ones. Using PPC to land you a sweet position in SERPs or put you at the top of their social newsfeed is the quickest and simplest way to best even the most established competition.
Only spend what you can afford
Whatever your budget, you’re in control when it comes to PPC. You set the length of the campaign, how much you want to spend daily, and how much you’re willing to bid for ad space.
Like most things, a bigger budget likely means bigger results, but if you plan wisely and make decisions based on testing and data, you can stretch your PPC dollar pretty far.
A few big things to keep in mind:
- Once your campaign ends, your results will end, too.
- If you set your CPC too low, your bids may not be accepted, and your ad will not run.
- High-volume keywords have a lot of competition, so bidding low on them won’t get you far. Instead, look at lower-volume, high-intent keywords with less competition so you can make the winning bid.
Build your online presence
Brand awareness is one of the best “perks” of PPC. Ranking high in search or getting in front of the right audience on social media builds trust and authority, which helps to boost your brand and keep you top of mind.
PPC does exactly what it says — it gets clicks to your website. So once a visitor has been there, you can run PPC retargeting campaigns, which increase your presence even further. Best of all, retargeting ads are highly effective, and once a visitor returns to your site, they’re much more likely to make a purchase.
18 PPC Marketing Tips Every Startup Should Know
Ready to jump into the world of PPC for your startup? Just remember to look before you leap. These 18 tips will help you find fast, measurable success from your PPC campaigns.
#1: Learn PPC before you start a campaign
Sure, you can just throw money at something and hope it works. But in the case of PPC, you’re much better off doing some research before you begin. Otherwise, you might as well throw that money directly into the trash can (and light it on fire while you’re at it).
PPC, when done without taking the proper steps, can be a cash-sucking black hole. The auction/bid system is effective, but when you don’t understand how to strategically place winning bids, you’ll lose out. Either you’ll go in too high and piddle your budget away in a few days, or go in too low, and your ad will never see the light of day.
We know you’re raring to go, but this is when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and take a little time to dig into the details. Most ad platforms, like Google Ads, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on will be able to provide you with in-depth guides to paid advertising, so that’s always a good place to start.
If you want to go even deeper, consider a course on PPC from an online learning platform like LinkedIn Learning or Udemy. While you’re at it, check out what the industry experts have to say on the PPC Hero blog. Ideally, you should also shop around agencies that specialize in PPC. Their guidance and support will ensure you maximize your investment and get results.
#2: Establish goals for ad campaigns
All startups begin with lofty goals (who doesn’t want to be a unicorn, after all?). But when it comes to PPC, you want goals that are firmly planted in reality. That means you want each and every goal you set to be SMART:
- Specific: Go in-depth on the results you want to achieve. More traffic? What percent? More revenue? How much?
- Measurable: Do you have KPIs set and tools in place to track them? Make sure you do before you get started.
- Achievable: Is the goal realistic in the time frame, or are you setting yourself up for failure?
- Relevant: Is the goal meaningful to your business? How does it impact the performance of your startup?
- Time-bound: Particularly important for paid ad campaigns. How long are you giving yourself to achieve this goal? Do you have the budget to sustain it?
Make sure every goal you set meets these criteria.
#3: Start small
A lot of startups seem to have a motto of “Go big or go home.” And that attitude will definitely inspire you to persevere through the tough times. But when it comes to PPC, “going big” is definitely going to send you home (like, living in your parents’ basement). Divvying up your budget across multiple platforms and numerous ads will spread you too thin. You won’t be able to keep it up for long, and the data you collect will be so scattered it won’t be valuable.
Instead of cannonballing off the deep end, stay in the shallow waters for now. Start with one ad on one platform and let it run its course. Even if it’s not as successful as you’d hoped, you’ll be able to gather insights on your audience, what they liked, and what they didn’t. So you can start fresh with a different approach.
Maxing out your budget in an attempt to be all things to all people in all locations will do little more than confuse them and — even worse — confuse Google.
#4: Determine your niche
Have you built an in-depth buyer persona? If not, now is the time. You want to dig deep, outline all of their pain points, and understand how your brand can help solve for them. Going niche may mean a smaller target audience, but it also means you’ll be hitting the visitors who are most likely to pick up what you’re putting down.
When determining your niche, consider the AIDAS theory of selling:
Go through each of the steps while considering your buyer persona. What will get their attention and hold their interest? What do they most desire? What action do you need them to take? And what does your brand do that will result in their satisfaction?
This will help you pin down your niche and speak directly to the buyers who count.
#5: Conduct competitor analysis
You’ve probably already done some in-depth research on your main competitors, but when it comes to PPC, you really need to get in the weeds. You’ll want to know exactly what keywords they’re ranking for and how they’re managing their own paid advertising campaigns. Fortunately, there are many tools that will help you do this:
- Auction Insights: If you’ve already launched a PPC campaign via Google Ads, you can navigate to Auction Insights and see exactly which of your keywords they’re competing for.
- Semrush: This SEO tool allows you to input your competitors’ URLs and see exactly what they’re spending per keyword and who their biggest competitors are (it might be you!).
- SpyFu: The free version of this tool will allow you to see which keywords your competitors are bidding on and even see the ad copy and creative they’re using.
#6: Segment your audience
Audience segmentation will allow you to pull in the most useful data from your PPC campaign to determine what works for the specific niches within your overall target audience. It will also help you drill down your keywords to target those that are most specific and relevant to each segment.
Most PPC platforms allow for pretty in-depth targeting, and having your segments already broken down will help you as you get started. You may want to segment based on geographic location, industries, age, and other demographic information.
#7: Separate networks by campaign
If you’re launching a Google Ads campaign, Google will generally recommend running the same ad on both the display and search network. This will get you a ton of impressions and maybe a ton of traffic as well. But depending on your CPC, all those clicks will consume your budget fast.
Beyond that, the audiences on those networks generally want different things, so you’ll just be wasting bids on an ad that doesn’t appeal to that wide an audience. Instead, do some research into what audiences want from each type of ad on each network, and build specific campaigns accordingly.
#8: Choose your paid advertising channels based on your user needs
To best target your buyer persona, you’ll need to understand their needs and how that affects the messaging and platform you use to reach them. The first step is to map them to the buyer’s journey.
Their needs will vary depending on where they are in the journey, and buyers in different stages may be hanging out in different locations.
For example, a very broadly targeted awareness ad on Facebook probably won’t get much traction from users who’ve already expressed a specific interest in your brand — but a relevant retargeting display ad might.
#9: Continuously monitor your ads
Our best advice here is to strike a balance between monitoring your ad performance too much…or not enough. It’s tempting to check every day, especially when you’re new to PPC and want to know if it’s working. But that won’t allow you the distance you need to identify trends. On the flip side, if you launch your PPC campaign and then totally ignore it, you won’t be able to adjust messaging and make tweaks when something isn’t working.
For more experienced PPC marketers, monitoring monthly is typically sufficient. But for those just entering the game or with a tight time constraint, you’ll want to plan to monitor on a weekly basis. Be sure you’re checking your position and making tweaks to your bids and ad copy every time you monitor.
#10: Use location targeting
Targeting your PPC campaign by geographic location comes in handy and can make your budget go further. That allows you to serve up ads only to consumers that are positioned to buy from you.
Let’s say you sell retail products that require shipping. If there are certain countries or areas you can’t ship to, there’s no point in using up your budget delivering ads to users in those places. Or if your business license only permits sales in certain locales, you can target users in those locations to ensure they’re able to successfully convert.
Even if your SaaS or tech startup offers a digital product on a global scale, there may be times you want to reach specific audiences in specific places. Geo-targeting is a valuable way to do that and will help your budget last as long as possible.
#11: Target bottom of the funnel keywords
While PPC is great at increasing overall awareness, it’s also a powerful conversion tool for buyers already in or near the bottom of the funnel. You may have broader goals for your early PPC campaigns, but at some point, you’ll probably want to shift your focus to bottom-funnel (BOFU) messaging. The users you’ll reach in this space are motivated and ready to buy, so be sure what you’re offering gives them a reason to click. Some ideas include:
- Free trials and product demos
- Q&As and live sessions
- Exclusive discounts, freebies, and incentives
- Limited-time deals
- Retargeting ads tailored to the interest they’ve already expressed
Use these offers to create messaging around and bid on BOFU keywords.
#12: Measure the customer journey
As you monitor your results, be sure you’re collecting all of the valuable data that a PPC campaign will give you. You should be able to mine deep insights into your buyer persona so you understand when, where, and why your messaging is moving the needle…and when it’s not.
For example, if you get a large number of website visitors and want to retarget them, you wouldn’t want to drive them back to your homepage, where they might be overwhelmed by options or just not interested. Instead, direct them to product pages or lead gen landing pages with a clear, singular call to action.
You want to make sure the campaigns you run are specific to just one stage of the buyer’s journey. If awareness is your goal, you don’t want to focus on BOFU keywords and insta-conversion. If you do want visitors to take a specific action, you don’t want to waste money on a general awareness campaign that isn’t conversion-focused.
#13: Improve your ad copy
You might think copywriters are a dime a dozen and that anyone can write a basic PPC ad (um, ouch), but the copy you use is crucial to your campaign’s success or failure. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning out your ad messaging:
Benefit-driven landing pages
Where do your visitors end up when they click on your ad? Does the content there fulfill their search intent? Does it give them a clear path to conversion with one singular action you want them to take? If not, look at ways to optimize your landing page before they arrive.
Are your CTAs optimized for conversion? Do you only have one action per landing page? Are CTA buttons or boxes prominently displayed? And is the copy good enough to coax them to click? Make sure your CTAs aren’t overly aggressive (no “BUY NOW!!!”) or too vague (a simple “Download”).
Like SEO, content takes a while to start delivering results organically. But for an effective PPC campaign, killer content is necessary right from the get-go. Before you dive into PPC, take a little time to make sure your brand’s content is in order. Clean up, refresh, and republish old or outdated blogs, optimize landing pages, and post thought leader content on LinkedIn and industry publications.
#14: Focus the core of your resources on channels that yield the most ROI
Paid advertising has been shown to deliver incredibly high ROI. Sounds great, but if you’re using up all your budget to hit the widest audience across the most channels, you’ll be likely to win back your initial investment.
As previously mentioned, it’s better to concentrate your budget on fewer channels and a more targeted audience that will get you better results. This will involve some trial and error, but launching just one campaign at a time will help you gather the data and insights you need to make more informed decisions so future campaigns always hit the mark.
#15: Address the problems your product solves
Your audience doesn’t just want a solution — they want to know that you “get” them — that you understand their pain points and genuinely want to help them find relief from whatever is weighing on them.
In some cases, your audience may not even realize yet that they have a problem, much less know what that problem is. So you want to be sure your messaging speaks to the problem and the solution and clearly outlines your USP and how your product will solve it (better than your competitors).
Walk a mile in their shoes (or Google an hour in their office chair) and consider what you’d need to hear to be persuaded to click. Jot down a list of keywords and start researching. Problem-based keywords are likely to be different from general awareness or even BOFU keywords, so take the time to be sure you’re targeting the right ones.
#16 Focus on educating your audience
As a startup, the audience you’re going to be hitting with your PPC campaign doesn’t know you from Adam (or Eve, for that matter). They have zero brand awareness and very little reason to trust you. Getting overly sales-y or uncomfortably aggressive right off the bat is going to be a major turn-off. Not only will you lose out on clicks, you might also damage the brand reputation you’re trying to build.
Instead, focus on making your ads, landing pages, and content educational. Unless you’re doing a retargeting campaign for visitors who’ve already expressed an interest, these buyers won’t be ready to commit. They probably aren’t ready for a free trial, and you can bet the farm they aren’t going to hand over their credit card info at this point.
At this point, it’s better to be a little chill. No pressure and no grand, sweeping promises. Educate them on who you are and why you’re about to be a big player in your industry. Appeal to the early adopters, but don’t come on too strong. Most of all, lean on your content to do the heavy lifting once your PPC has gotten them to your site.
#17: Track and measure performance
You’ll need to allow roughly 30 days to get a clear picture of how your PPC campaign is performing. During that time, you should be monitoring KPIs around once a week. At the one-month mark, you should have enough data that you can identify trends and build insights.
This is the time to take a step back and make some decisions. If you’re on track to meet your goals — great! Consider lengthening your campaign and allocating more budget for it.
If you’re struggling to get the traffic and conversions you want, you may decide to pause the campaign until you can reevaluate and regroup. Or you may need nothing more than a few tweaks to the messaging or a slightly stronger bid to kick the existing campaign into high gear.
Once you’ve gathered up the data, you can begin some A/B testing. Keep in mind, when testing PPC, you’re not split testing the ad itself (which would just cause confusion and dilute your results) — instead, what you should be testing is your landing page. Begin testing one change at a time — headline, CTA, multimedia, etc. — and make adjustments as you go.
#18: Go beyond Google ads to social media
Google is, of course, a fantastic place to start your PPC journey. The ROI is high, and the conversions are strong. It also reaches a massive audience. But when you’re considering expanding your PPC efforts, here’s the key factor to keep in mind:
You need to be where your audience is hanging out.
And okay, sure, literally everyone hangs out on Google. But you don’t want everyone — you want your buyer persona, your target market, your ideal customer to lay eyes on your brand. So if you’re a SaaS startup with a fintech product, LinkedIn — where you can target professionals in specific industries — might be your best bet. Or maybe you’ve developed a product no influencer can live without — you should be advertising on Instagram, like, yesterday.
Most paid social platforms will allow you to target your niche audience, so once you understand who they are and what they want, you can create specific ads that address their pain points and hit them right where they already are.
Hire a Paid Ads Specialist to Run Your Ad Campaigns
That was a lot. And if you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, shake it off. There’s a lot to consider when starting your PPC adventure, and it’s normal to feel like you’re getting in way over your head. We know that startups like to learn by doing, and we applaud that can-do spirit. But if the reason you haven’t tried PPC yet is because it all feels like too much, we’re here to throw you a lifeline.
Hiring a paid ads specialist or PPC agency is not admitting defeat. Rather, it’s maximizing the budget you have to get the most meaningful impact out of your ads. At FPS, our paid ads experts are here to give you the guidance and support you need to ensure your PPC campaign work to grow your brand and deliver results.