1“Play their game. You need to embrace that they have a business model. Embrace it and the rules are there. Play the game.” – Ryan Mull, Partner and Director at Imavex
In the game of business, the premise is simple: make more money than you spend. When you take your business online, the game gets more complicated. Cheats and shortcuts that were once overlooked can be taken away, and even the rules you were playing by can change and essentially leave you starting over.
Google is famous for switching the rules of the game, especially when it comes to SEO. Why can this one company have such a big impact? It’s simple. Google controls 65% of the search results on the Internet and 80% of ads online.
So if you’re relying solely on Google’s benevolence to reward you with information or page rankings for free, be prepared to be disappointed. After all, Google’s shareholders demand that it make a profit, and it makes 95% of its profits through its ad network, AdWords.
Not only has Google gotten stingier with free information, but the portion of Internet real estate given to ads in comparison to organic search rankings has grown. Ryan Mull at July’s Smartups said,“I wouldn’t be surprised if the first page or two within the next four or five years is all ads.” Here are a couple of screenshots that show the difference between search results in 2007 and search results now, provided by Ryan Mull. You can clearly see the how much more space Google is giving to ads. Those, images on the right in 2014 are ads as well.
Google search in 2007
Google search in 2014
Google isn’t the only brand to restrict access to free marketing. In January, Facebook followed in Google’s footsteps and announced that it was changing the news feed algorithm for businesses so that their page updates would only show to a very small percentage of their followers. Now if companies want to share content with a large percentage of their customers, they need to buy ads. And if Google and Facebook have changed the game, chances are LinkedIn, Twitter, and others aren’t far behind.
So how can startups with small budgets make PPC work for them while they still work on their SEO?

Utilize best practices to make sure you’re getting the most from your spend

Google makes money when people click on your ads. If you’re not careful when you set up your campaign then Google can run ads that burn up your cash without reaching your target audience.
Steve Hill, Digital Marketing Director at Imavex, also spoke at July’s Smartups and laid out five key things that startups can do to enhance their PPC campaigns so that they’re not wasting money.

  1. Abandon broad match typeIf you set up your campaign with broad match keywords, you’ll find yourself paying for clicks that aren’t relevant to your company. So make sure that you’re using modified broad match. When you change your keywords to modified broad match you’re telling Google that you need all of those words in a search before your ad will show up.
  2. Consider landing pagesCreate your campaigns so that ads take your customers to landing pages that are optimized for mobile, tablet, and desktop. Strip out the navigation in these pages so that customers aren’t distracted. Include call to actions in the landing pages so that customers know where they can take the next step.
  3. Utilize remarketingRemarketing is when you attach a cookie to customers who have visited your site so that you can serve them ads on other places on the Internet. Customers often need many interactions with a brand before they purchase or convert, and so remarketing is a cost-effective way to gain brand exposure.
  4. Use enhanced ad extensionsGoogle has created ad extensions as a way to display more information and increase clickthrough rates.  Hill recommends that businesses use site links, review extensions, and Google My Business (also known as location extensions).
  5. Bid strategically on location settingsYou can target your ads to geographic areas and even adjust your bids on things like zip codes, radius from a location, or city names. This is helpful if you want to reach out to customers in a 30-mile radius, but bid less on customers that are farther than ten miles as those customers don’t convert as well as closer customers.

Consider PPC as a Testing Ground for SEO

When you work on SEO and content marketing it can take months to attract visitors. But when you set up a PPC campaign your ads will start bringing customers to your site away. You’ll get advanced data on your visitors in days instead of waiting around to see if your SEO worked. You can use this data to guide both your PPC and SEO efforts.

Continue Efforts in Both Search and Paid

Another reason to keep PPC in your marketing arsenal is as a hedge against another big change in the search environment that could decimate your SEO efforts and leave you scrambling to catch up with your competitors.
So while it can be frustrating as a startup to play the Google game, just realize that while SEO can be effective, the online world is moving more towards paid advertising. So you need to be playing that game as well. If you start investing in PPC and balance it with SEO, you’ll be on top of the game before you know it.