Digital Sales & Marketing Advisor, HubSpot Alumni, 8+ Years of Marketing & Business Development Experience
May 10th, 2019
PPC (pay-per-click) advertising (otherwise known as acquisition marketing or paid media) is one of the most common lead generation tactics employed by marketers today.
Like it or not, our attention is bought and sold by Google, Facebook, and Microsoft millions of times each day in an industry that drives billions of dollars in online commerce and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
At IMPACT, our paid media experts work with businesses that span the spectrum of being totally new to paid media on one end -- never having spent a dollar to advertise their brand online -- to businesses that have been investing for years and need some fine-tuning on the other.
For the newcomers, the question we most often get is “which advertising platform is right for me?”
However, like most questions, the answer starts with “it depends.”
Before I dive into the different platforms and their respective strengths and weaknesses, let me establish a few universal truths about advertising on paid media that may affect this:
Universal Truths of Advertising on Paid Media
Choosing the right network on which to advertise primarily depends on your target audience.
If the people you’re trying to reach are on Facebook, then you should think about advertising there. If they’re using Google to search for solutions like yours, then Ads is a platform to think about using.
Another factor to consider when evaluating platforms is the nature of your product.
If you’re selling a service that’s hugely visual like clothing, for example, visually focused platforms like Pinterest or Instagram will be your best bet.
One last factor to consider is how PPC fits into your larger overall marketing strategy.
When interviewing the paid media team at IMPACT for this article, they repeatedly stressed to me, “Don’t expect PPC to be the savior of your business.”
PPC is an amazing way to promote your content, build awareness of your brand and product offerings, and ultimately generate leads, but depending on it to single handedly rescue your ailing growth performance is a recipe for disaster.
To achieve meaningful ROI with PPC, you need to have a comprehensive plan around which types of content you’re going to leverage, how you’re going to optimize your conversion path, and how you’re going to continually optimize your campaigns for performance.
Simply deciding to allocate a large chunk of your marketing budget to PPC is not going to be enough to drive growth through the roof.
Furthermore, every ad platform employs some kind of pixel or tracking code technology that tracks when people visit your website and follows them around the internet thereafter.
Make sure that for whichever platform you’re using, the pixel is installed correctly and is functioning--it will make a big difference in the effectiveness of your ads.
With all of that out of the way, here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular ad platforms so you can get a sense of which is best for your business:
Google Ads (formerly Adwords) is the most ubiquitous and well-known ad platform on the internet.
As such, most businesses have experimented with it at some point or another, and most have been disappointed with the results (if this sounds familiar, don’t worry, you’re not alone).
To be successful leveraging Google Ads, it all comes down to leveraging your prospective buyers’ keyword search intent.
What’s search intent? It’s the reason why someone decides to type words into the search bar at Google.com.
Generally, this breaks down into three categories:
Navigational: someone’s looking to go to a website and doesn’t know (or doesn’t feel like typing) the URL. (Example searches like ‘Facebook,’ ‘YouTube,’ or ‘CNN.’)
Informational: someone’s looking for information about a given topic or problem they’re experiencing. (Example searches like ‘Signs of fever in 5-month old’ or ‘Best ways to optimize marketing campaigns.’)
Transactional: someone’s looking to initiate a transaction either online or in-person after contacting a business online. (Example searches like ‘Get Life Insurance Quote’ or ‘Real Estate Agents near me.’)
For the purposes of our discussion, however, we care about the searches with commercial intent, or the searches with a transaction or business purpose behind them.
Of the three categories above, informational searches can eventually lead to commercial intent, but transactional are the ones that signify readiness to buy.
Transactional searches are the ones with the highest commercial intent. Those are the only ones worth paying for (or at least that have a viable path towards ROI).
You’re a Good Fit for Google Ads If You Can:
Understand Your Audience’s Commercial Intent
If you’re going to see ROI in search marketing, you have to be able to key in on your prospective buyers’ commercial intent.
Spending money to acquire traffic for people who are simply looking to navigate to your website or gain information won’t show a positive return.
It’s all about zeroing in on the commercial intent or signals that someone is serious about buying a product, scheduling a demo, or requesting a consultation.
Make Sure Your Budget Matches the Competition
OK, so now we’ve established the difference between high-intent and low-intent searches, it’s time to see how competitive the high-intent searches in your industry will be.
If you’re in an industry where huge, public companies with massive marketing budgets are dominating the space (like marketing automation software), than AdWords is going to be an extremely expensive way to acquire new leads.
If, however, you’re in a more niche space where the competition is lower, bidding on those high-intent keywords is going to be a more viable option to grow your business.
B2B companies where there’s only a small amount of search traffic for high-intent keywords are going to have the hardest time succeeding with AdWords because the average cost per click is going to be high.
The more volume for searches there is, the more room in the marketplace there will be for players to jump in and grab a share of the search traffic.
Test Test Test
No matter what industry you’re in and how competitive it is, you’re going to need to have a budget big enough to run tests and incorporate the insights into optimizing your campaigns.
To be successful in any paid media channel, testing and iteration are indispensable.
When someone clicks the link (that you’re paying for) make sure the page you’re sending them to is going to provide content they were hoping for and does so in a compelling way that incentivizes them to convert or purchase.
Don’t be one of those companies that drives PPC traffic to their homepage.
That being said, in order to see a positive ROI from LinkedIn advertising, there are a few important factors to keep in mind.
First, LinkedIn is a place where professionals go to learn and network--not to make purchasing decisions.
In contrast to AdWords where it only makes sense to target people at the bottom of the funnel, LinkedIn is a better place to:
Establish domain authority
Educate your prospective buyers about a problem they’re facing and how your solution could potentially help them
Second, Cost per Click on LinkedIn tends to skew higher than other platforms, so if your average deal size is on the low side, the economics of the platform might not work in your favor.
Third, people browse LinkedIn passively. Think of it like a digital networking event.
If someone barged up to you at a networking function and abruptly went into a sales pitch, their chances of successfully selling you on the spot are pretty low.
On the other hand, if they shared some insightful knowledge to educate you or change your perspective on a given topic or issue, they just earned your trust and are now intrigued by what they have to offer on a deeper level.
You’re a Good Fit for LinkedIn Ads if You Can:
Invest in Video
Think about how you browse the platform. Like you, your audience is probably on their phone, in between meetings, or in transit.
What’s going to break through the noise the most? A well-produced video (with subtitles) is going to get people to ‘thumb-stop’ more than anything else.
Invest in Organic Content (or Posting to the Platform Outside of the Ads Manager)
If you have an active, established business page, you’re sending a strong signal to the platform and anyone who interacts with your ads that you’re a trustworthy source of information.
Make sure to respond to comments, participate in groups, and encourage people in your network to engage with your content as much as possible.
Aim Higher in the Funnel
While your ads on Google are likely more focused on the bottom of the funnel, your LinkedIn ads should be a bit higher up.
Again, LinkedIn is mainly about connection and education. You’re not necessarily only interested in driving awareness of your brand, but your chances of creating a meaningful impression will be that much higher if you educate first, and sell second.
Say what you will about Facebook and their questionable business practices, but as a social platform, it’s so ubiquitous it’s approaching the point of being universal.
If LinkedIn is a business networking event, than Facebook is a bar.
People don’t log on to find any one thing in particular; they browse passively to watch videos, talk politics, and share funny memes.
In that context, think about whether your target audience will be interested in “talking shop” or learning about your product or service.
If so, think about the medium itself.
Facebook content is predominantly consumed via mobile devices and videos are again the big winner in the competition for attention, with over 500 million people watch a video on Facebook each day.
If you’re going to leverage the Facebook advertising platform, I can’t stress enough the importance of your quality score.
What’s a quality score? I’m so glad you asked.
My favorite analogy for the Facebook quality score was coined by Phil Nottingham at his 2017 WistiaFest talk where he described the content you share on Facebook as a guitar and your ad budget as an amplifier.
Facebook assigns everything you share from your Facebook page (organic posts or ads) a quality score and when it does so, it’s listening to you play the guitar and deciding how good of a musician you are.
If your content is really good (people are liking, commenting, and sharing) the platform notices and assigns a higher quality score giving you a higher ROI on your ad investment by showing it to more people (or turning up the volume of your amp).
If Facebook decides your content is not being received well (you’re not a very good guitarist), it will assign a lower quality score and show your content to fewerpeople (turn down your amp).
In both cases, your ad budget stays static, so the higher your quality score, the more people will see your ads for less money (and vice versa).
How do you get a higher quality score? Invest time and effort in sharing content people will like organically. You can then turn those high-performing organic posts into ads or simply benefit from the boost your ads will get.
You’re a Good Fit for Facebook Ads If:
Your Average Transaction Size Is Larger Than Your Cost Per Acquisition
First, your average transaction size (or target cost per lead) needs to be at least $60, so you’re turning a profit on sales/leads you drive from your Facebook Ads. According to our Facebook experts, $60 is the ideal target for minimum transaction size (or cost per lead). You may be able to get away with a positive Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) with a lower minimum transaction size, but it’s not likely.
You Have a Healthy Ad Budget
Our Facebook Ads team recommends having at least $3k in ad budget each month. They’ve found that this budget will enable you to run ads with enough volume to run tests and learn from them in order to continually optimize and iterate.
You Have Sufficient Visual Assets
If you’re running ads on Facebook, you need to be promoting something visual - whether that’s videos, photos, or content offers, in order to grab someone’s attention as they scroll between memes, underwear ads and political rants, it has to be something dynamic.
YouTube ads are often overlooked in the paid media universe, but as the cord-cutting movement grows and it becomes more and more the primary provider to most video-consuming adults, it’s gaining momentum.
YouTube ads are managed under the Google AdWords platform so retargeting is a great tactic to employ here.
You can also target specific keywords or topics (similar to search marketing) or target influencers and the most prominent YouTube channels in your space (i.e. targeting people who watch HubSpot’s YouTube videos if you’re a HubSpot agency).
You’ll See ROI on YouTube Ads If You Can:
Use Video Assets
This one’s pretty obvious, but if you’re going to succeed leveraging YouTube ads, you better have some great video assets that are tailored to the medium.
YouTube has some pretty specific constraints they put around their video ads, so make sure you’re taking them into account when you’re producing your videos.
Test, Test, Test (Again)
All of the same criteria for success leveraging Google Ads apply here as well in regards to testing and iteration.
For those totally unfamiliar with it, Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users in the form of opinions.
Users ask questions about anything and everything, and the best answers are upvoted and seen by thousands (and sometimes millions) of users.
Maybe you’ve stumbled upon it when doing some online research or even trying some Quora Marketing, but did you know it has a robust ads platform as well?
Similar to all the other major players, you can install a pixel on your website to track visitors and retarget them once they go back to Quora.
On the platform, brands can advertise around the most popular questions and answers that pertain to their buyer’s intent.
Very similar to Google Ads search marketing, Quora makes it extremely easy to zero in on your buyers’ intent depending on the nature of the questions they’re asking.
If someone is asking, “how best to see ROI using HubSpot,” an agency selling HubSpot consulting services could advertise around that question.
That same agency should also invest time and effort in answering the question organically and asking people in their network to upvote (since we all know the value of organic vs paid).
While Google and Facebook boast billions of users on a daily basis, Quora is a relatively new player in the paid media game, so don’t expect the same immediate return you might get with Facebook and Google Ads. That being said, you also will have significantly lower competition than the other more popular networks.
You’ll Be Successful Using Quora If You:
Understand Your Audience’s Commercial Intent
Like Google As, focus on the questions and answers that have the highest commercial intent around them.
Questions around cost, comparison, reviews, best of lists, and problem resolution (otherwise known as The Big 5) will be the best questions to target.
The Value of the Omni Channel Approach
At IMPACT, we push as many of our clients as possible to take an omni-channel approach to their paid media efforts, or to invest in as many networks as makes sense for their business and coordinate their efforts.
Why? Because most people you’re trying to reach will touch Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and maybe even Quora in a single day. If your ads can follow them as they go from place to place, the odds of reaching them are that much higher.
You can also take into account the different strengths and weaknesses of the different platforms when you build your omni-channel approach. You can aim higher in the funnel on LinkedIn or Facebook and then aim more down-funnel on Google or YouTube.
In today’s day and age, the competition for your buyers’ attention is fierce.
If you can have one team to build campaigns that touch all the networks you have available to you, you can make sure your ads have the best fighting chance to succeed.
Now that you have a sense for what it takes to be successful leveraging each of the aforementioned paid media channels, think about your business.
Before you spend a single dollar, think about the assets you have at your disposal, your conversion paths, and your overall business strategy.