How to Win with Pay-Per-Click Ads (and Avoid Advertising Blunders)

Ranking #1 in organic search results used to be the gold standard for local search.  Not anymore.  Local businesses risk getting lost amid the clutter if you are not deploying a strategic Google Ads campaign.


Pay-per-click advertising

Google Ads Wake-Up Call

Try searching for your company’s product or service in your home town.  If you are in a competitive industry, then the web search results are likely packed with competitors, all clamouring for attention.  Five years ago, the natural search results were located at the very top of the search results page.  Now, you’ll find organic results have been pushed down the page, past the ads and past the map stack.  As a result, searchers are becoming more comfortable clicking on ads and map listings.  To make it even more enticing to click through, Google has gradually changed the way the ads look.  Ads used to be designated with a yellow icon, then a solid green icon, now an inconspicuous green outline.

NetGain Ad Example

There are 3 primary ways to advertise with Google.  You can place an ad in the traditional ad section.  These appear at the top and bottom of the search results page.  Additionally, you can place a “remarketing” banner ad (these are the ads that follow you around the web for a few days after visiting a website).  Local service providers can also pay their way into Google’s map stack with a sponsored location pin.

Map Stack Ad Example

Even if you are ranking well organically, pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is a powerful way to capture new leads that would otherwise go to a competitor.  However, all too often, we see new advertisers inadvertently sabotage their pay-per-click program with fundamental mistakes.  Let’s review the biggest blunders so you can sidestep them on your way to a profitable PPC campaign.

Dedicated Landing Pages

The first classic mistake is sending paid traffic to your homepage.  Counterintuitively, this is the absolute wrong place to send your visitors.  There are 2 reasons for this: conversion and tracking.  Your goal isn’t to get clicks, it is to get conversions.  In digital advertising, a conversion simply means that a visitor clicked your ad, then took further action (by subscribing, placing an order, phoning you, or sending a form submission).  The goal of your ad campaign is to capture conversions and make sales.  So, the problem with sending paid traffic to your homepage is that your website offers too many escape routes.  Visitors will browse around your site, watch your video, check out your Facebook link, then poof, they’re gone.  You’ve just wasted a $10 click.  The solution is to set up a dedicated landing page to increase conversions.  Your landing page will have the same look and feel as your homepage but without all the navigation buttons and other distractions.  This leaves your paid visitor with 2 choices: submit a contact form or call you.  This is a giant leap towards your goal of landing a new customer.

Tracking Return on Investment

The second reason to set up a dedicated landing page is to track the return on your advertising expenditure.  If you link your ad directly to your homepage then it is difficult, if not impossible, to figure out whether an incoming lead originated from paid traffic or natural traffic.  By comparison, landing pages offer sophisticated tracking metrics such as number of impressions, click-through rate, and most importantly, conversion rate (in terms of number of form fills, submissions or phone calls).  Speaking of phone calls, local advertisers are twice as likely to receive a phone call versus a form fill, therefore it is critical to set up a call tracking phone number.  There are several companies that provide this service for around $30/month.  I like Call Tracking Metrics and Call Rail.  Inbound calls are indistinguishable by your staff, but at the end of the month you’ll receive a report with quantity and duration of calls that are a direct result of your advertising.  You’ll even get a recording of each call, so you can do a quality-control check.

By measuring the success of your paid advertising, you can make immediate adjustments if things are not working out.  Conversely, with a highly-performing ad, you can confidently increase your advertising spend in search of your natural saturation level.  That’s the beauty of digital marketing.  With proper setup, you can exactly track ROI (unlike traditional advertising such as a radio commercial or billboard).  And to take it a step further, you can then calculate your cost to acquire a new customer by knowing your closing ratio.  If you are not implementing these powerful tools, then you’re doing it wrong.

Bidding Strategy

Bidding strategy can be tricky.  A lot depends on how competitive your market is.  Ideally you want your ad to display near the top of the first page, in position #1 or #2.  Your ad is not likely to be clicked if it is at the bottom of the first page or anywhere on the second page.  Google evaluates several parameters in how your ad is displayed – including max cost-per-click and quality score. Correct bidding strategy is one of the most crucial factors.  Don’t just set it and forget it.  Bidding refinement requires continual monitoring and adjustment to be effective.  Toss out the underperforming keywords and increase bidding on your top performers.

Other PPC mistakes we see involve bid modifiers such as type of device, day of the week, and time of day.  For example, if clients aren’t searching for your service on a Wednesday at 3 o’clock in the morning, then don’t run your ads.  You’re wasting clicks.

Keyword Set Up

Anticipate the keyword variations that customers might type in when searching for your product.  When in need of a local plumber, people might type “leaky pipe” or “clogged drain” or “plumber”.  Do your homework and uncover the most relevant combination of keywords and phrases that people are searching for.  Here’s an excellent primer to get you started on keyword research.  Study your competition and pay attention to where their ad appears, based on a variety of search terms.

Exact Match Keywords

Start with a small selection of laser-focused keywords.  Add these words as “Exact Match” keywords.  This way, your ad only displays for exact relevant search queries and not variations that Google may think are appropriate.  Over time you can safely eliminate keywords that aren’t being clicked and broaden your approach for effective phrases.  For example, if “bridal gowns YourTown” is working well, then add more Exact Match variations to your campaign. Pair the phrase “bridal gowns” with postal codes, nearby cities, and province.  Also try variations like “bridal gowns near YourTown”, “bridal gowns in YourTown”, etc.

Broad Match Modifiers

As you get comfortable with your keyword selection, you can harness the power of modified broad match keywords.  By adding a + plus symbol before each keyword, then you cast a wider net and capture variations in spellings that searchers might use (for example, a pool installation company might explore words like: swim, swims, swimming, swimmer).  While it adds a level of complication to Google Ads management, broad match modifiers are a powerful way to increase click rates and lower your cost per click.  Be warned: this extra flexibility also comes with extra effort, since you now must anticipate more possibilities.  Here are variations that a web developer, like NetGain, might use:

  • Exact Match Keywords: [website design Barrie]
  • Phrase Match Keywords: “website design Barrie”
  • Broad Match Keywords: website design Barrie
  • Modified Broad Match Keywords: +website +design +Barrie


Don’t throw your advertising dollars away with a hastily-prepared pay-per-click program.  Be methodical in your approach and stay mindful of the desired outcome (a new customer).  With practice and patience, you will be reaping the rewards of a well-tuned digital advertising campaign.

If you are contemplating a pay-per-click advertising campaign, then call the friendly staff at NetGain to help you navigate the waters.  If you are experimenting with Google Ads but you are worried that you might be botching it, don’t worry, we can salvage your work and create a program with measurable results.  Call our Barrie office at (705)797-2455 to get started connecting with new customers.