Tools Used In This Recipe
Search engine marketing (SEM) is a critical component of any startup's marketing strategy. By leveraging search engines like Google, startups can effectively reach potential customers who are actively searching for their products or services. Unlike traditional advertising, SEM allows startups to target their ideal audience at the exact moment they are looking for a solution, increasing the likelihood of conversion. In this Recipe, we’ll set up a Google Ads campaign to drive traffic and generate leads for your startup.
Before you begin
Before you run your first SEM campaign you’ll want to have a few things in place. First you’ll want to have a place to send clickthroughs - this may be your Website’s home page, a product/service page, or a keyword-optimized page. For an early-stage company you may not have the resources to build and maintain keyword-specific landing pages, but as you build your campaign you’ll want to think about the user’s end-to-end experience. Does the process of clicking on an ad and arriving at a page on your site feel like a natural transition?
You’ll also want to have a budget set for this and all the campaigns you run. Because every click costs you money you need to be sure that you stick within your budget. You should also start to calculate your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) if you aren’t already doing so. Paid search can quickly eat through a marketing budget, especially if it doesn’t lead to sales!
For Google Ads campaigns you’ll also want to have Google Analytics configured and set up for the website to which your ad will send people who click. This way you can get a complete picture of how users engage with your ad and website, and you can adjust your marketing to increase the ads that convert to sales and remove the ones that don’t.
Start by accessing the Google Ads homepage, and sign in to your Google account. Next Click the Start Now button. Once you get to the Google Ads dashboard click the Create button to create a campaign.
Running a Google Ads campaign can be complex, so the first screen that Google shows when creating a campaign is a list of common objectives. If your startup sells online through its website you’ll want to pick Sales, but you can also optimize for Leads if your startup has a personal sales process, or App promotion if you want to drive installs of your app. For this Recipe we’re running ads to get users to visit the Startup Recipes site, so we’ll choose Website traffic. Note that if you select a different objective for your startup here, some of the screenshots and walkthrough instructions will be slightly different for the rest of this Recipe although you should still be able to follow along.
Based on the objective we selected, Google provides a default conversion goal. Setting a conversion is important for your campaign because you want to know if you’re getting value for your money, and it’ll also help you to identify any differences in engagement between users who convert and users who don’t, so you can continue to optimize your website.
Next you’ll select a campaign type. Most people think of Google Ads as just the text links that appear at the top of search results but Google has a wide variety of ad type, including video ads that can run on YouTube and Ads on Google Shopping, among others. For this Recipe however we’ll focus just on text-based search ads. Click Search.
Next enter your startup’s website and give the Campaign a name. Click Continue.
Next you’ll tell Google what you want the campaign to optimize for. The default is Conversions, which is the best choice if you are either selling online or driving traffic towards a sales process like a contact form. For this purpose we’re just trying to get users to click through to the site, so we’ll select Clicks. Then click Next.
On the next screen you’ll have the option to limit your ads to specific locations, or to target only languages your customers speak. The screen after this is an important one. It allows you to use information Google knows about its searchers to help you focus on users who are likely to be a good fit for your startup’s product or service. Take the time to go through the options here and select the ones that are good fits for your business. If there are categories here that are a match for your startup, select them.
If you don’t see a good fit you can use Audience Manager to define a custom segment. Startup Recipes is designed for entrepreneurs but since that’s not a category we’ll define one in Audience Manager.
Continuing with the campaign setup, next you’ll have the option to set up parameters for tracking this specific campaign. You should take the time to set this up and make sure these are unique for each campaign you create. These URL options are how Google Analytics will be able to distinguish ads coming from this campaign from the rest of your website’s traffic. This will help you discover which campaigns are producing better conversions. Setting up a tracking template is a big enough topic to be worth an entire Startup Recipe by itself, but this guide from Practical Ecommerce does a good job of describing the process.
Once you have set up your tracking options you can move on to keyword suggestions. These are the search terms that your ad will potentially be a candidate for. They’re generated by Google based on the list of most frequent searches for the audience and website, but they are very broad and often have high cost-per-click (CPC), so if you are trying to manage a budget you should use Google Ads keyword planner to identify search phrases that are a closer match to your startup’s product or service and/or have a lower CPC.
Next you’ll set up your ad copy. For Search ads you are able to specify a headline and body copy for the ad. Here too Google will generate suggested headlines and descriptions. Review the ones it proposes and if you are happy with them you can use them. You can also use generative AI tools to create new headline and descriptions. Note that headlines are limited to 30 characters because they need to fit on one line in a variety of devices, so you will need to be concise.
When filling out descriptions, keep in mind that Google Ads will actually test different combinations of headline and body copy to see which ones convert most often. So don’t write descriptions that only fit with a specific headline.
When your ad is in the first position and directly matches a search term Google rewards you with additional screen space for your ad. These ad impressions can feature up to four additional links to pages in your site that might influence a user to click through. If this campaign will run for a limited time, like a holiday shopping promotion, you might use these sitelinks to directly send users to a promotion page. You can also include links to FAQ pages, your product overview page, and more. While adding sitelinks is optional, given how valuable screen real estate on Google’s search results page is you should definitely add them. You can add up to four sitelinks, and each one allows you to customize the link text, add two (very short) descriptions, and specify the URL the sitelink goes to.
Featured Google ads can also include up to three short callouts. These are additional text snippets that will appear in bolder text near your ad. Even though they are very limited in length these also are worth adding because the additional real estate is extremely valuable.
Once you’ve added all the text for your campaign the next step is to set a budget. It’s important to note that the budget you set here is just for this campaign, so if you are running multiple campaigns you need to keep your total ad spend in mind or you could wind up blowing your entire budget, especially if your ads aren’t converting well. Google’s recommended daily budget is based on the average cost-per-click for the keywords you’ve selected, but you should always set a custom budget based on the funds you have and your ability to predict the number of sales you’ll get from the campaign.
Once you have set your budget you’ll have a chance to review the information, and if everything looks good click Publish Campaign.
Before you enable your campaign you should take some time to set up your negative keywords. You can get to this screen by clicking the Tools and settings button at the top of the page, then selecting Negative keyword lists from the menu. Negative keywords are words that you want to make sure your ad does not show for. At first glance this may seem counter-intuitive but there are a lot of cases where you would not want your ad to show. For instance, as an early-stage company you almost certainly never want any of your ads running for a keyword search for your company name, as long as it’s distinct enough. The reason for this is it is very common for people who have either already interacted with your company or heard about it from a friend or in some offline place to do a web search for your company name rather than typing in the full domain name with extension. Since ads show before organic search results these searchers will likely click on the ad to get to your site instead of the organic result, costing you money to obtain a visitor who was just trying to get to your site in the first place. The two exceptions to this are:
- If you don’t already rank in the top page of search results for your company or product name
- If competitors are running ads against your company name in an attempt to steal traffic from you
Other keywords you should enter here are things like problem, reviews, sucks, contact, and address. Searchers who have a complaint about your business or who aren’t looking to buy from you will often start with a web search, and you don’t want these people clicking on your ad either out of ignorance or revenge. For a more detailed list of potential negative keywords (specifically built for companies that sell B2B) see this article from KO Marketing.
Once you’re finished click Save.
You’ll need to have a valid form of payment associated with your account before you can enable your ad. If you’ve paid for other Google tools or you are managing the campaign from your startup’s Google Workspace account you will likely already have a credit card attached to your profile, but if not you can add one by clicking Tools and settings, then the Summary link under Billing, then click Payment methods from the menu on the left. Add a credit card and a backup card or other payment method if you wish.
Once your campaign is live it’ll take a few hours to a few days to start seeing clicks, depending on your budget and keywords. You can use the Reports button at the top of the page to see how your campaign is performing, and if this is your first Google Ads campaign your Google Analytics reports will start to show Paid as a traffic source, and you can use this channel as a cohort to see how users who arrive at your site from an add behave compared to other users.
Be prepared to continually monitor both the performance of your campaigns and your expenses. Paid search is a faster way to get to the top of Google search results than Search Engine Optimization, but the cost can add up quickly. Be sure to funnel this information into your startup’s budget so that you can use it to inform your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), a key metric for any company.
The contents of this Recipe are © Innovation Works, Inc. and are licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0 . Contact us with questions or feedback, or to learn more about our structured program in Entrepreneurism based on Startup Recipes.