If you’ve ever spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on pay per click advertising, but haven’t gotten any leads, there just might be a good reason for that.
Few marketing tactics are as attractive as pay per click advertising. The idea of putting a little ad on Google and driving thousands of visitors to your site is glorious. Think of the volume of leads you’ll create for pennies on the dollar!
What’s more, you’ll be able to knowingly fling around words like “long tail” and “fat head,” and use acronyms like CPA, CTR and CPA. Thousands of leads will magically flow your way. You’ll be the coolest kid in class. Until it all falls apart, and your money is gone and your lead base is no bigger than it was before you started.
That’s exactly why so many agents feel positively hornswoggled after spending money on pay per click (PPC) ads, whether they use a service to place the ad, or do it themselves. Thousands of dollars later, with no leads to show for their investment, they throw in the towel, convinced that all vendors who offer to place ads on the Internet are charlatans.
Set-up to Fail
Not all search engine marketing vendors are thieves, but it’s easy to see why agents might think so. Often, the lack of success in PPC is caused by a diabolical mix-up of dreamy expectations and harsh reality, mashed up with inscrutable and mushy reporting from vendors.
In a perfect world, you would be able to create a mind-blowingly engaging ad, put it on Google, and attract quality traffic to your site.
Not just your site in general, mind you, but a specific, compelling landing page that is so persuasive that all those prospects willingly give you their real names, emails and telephone numbers so that you can engage them.
At that point, you would transform them into real clients because you call them within moments of receiving their inquiry. And that how you measure results: You would tie how you got a client back to a specific ad or campaign.
In reality, though, it’s a lot more difficult than that.
That’s because PPC advertising is frequently set up to fail, because unassuming agents don’t understand the complete picture of what it takes to make PPC really perform. And it’s a lot more than clever headlines or 140 character ads.
The reason most agents fail with PPC is that they don’t have a complete solution to make it a success. This consists of four components:
- A creative strategy, which is clearly defined, with a set budget and duration so that you are not lighting dollar bills on fire with no possible means of measurement
- A website set up to manage inbound leads generated from PPC advertising: Typically, this means that you have the ability to set up a lead capture landing page per PPC campaign
- A tracking mechanism (usually a CRM, like Realvolve or Followup Boss) that enables you to seamlessly pass the lead into your platform, so that you track it, manage it and convert it
- A commitment to treat leads generated via PPC as if they are as valuable as prospects generated through personal referrals or your sphere — meaning that you call people back within minutes of getting an inquiry
If you’re not set up with all four components before you begin your campaign, it’s doomed. Here’s how not to have this happen to you.
There are three terms you need to understand before you start any PPC campaign.
Click through rate (CTR) is the percentage of people who click on your ad after having seen it on Google (or any other search engine on which you’re advertising)
Cost per click (CPC) is the amount it costs to buy a click on an ad you’re running. It’s also the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a click. Since you only pay for each click, this can be very inexpensive, or very very expensive, depending on the search term you’re bidding on.
Cost per acquisition is what it costs you to acquire a customer, not just a click. This is a very important number to pay attention to — because it’s really a measure of your effectiveness at PPC advertising. Let’s say that you spend $1 per click, and 10 percent of visitors who hit your site after viewing your ad actually become your clients. That puts your CPA at $10:
CPA = $1/10% = $10 customer
You’re paying just $10 to acquire each client, which is a pretty good deal. But it’s easy to see how this number becomes extremely expensive if you’re spending $10-15 a click, and just two percent of your visitors convert:
CPA = $15/2% = $750 per customer
Suddenly, small numbers become huge, and more than a little disappointing.
So when a PPC vendor pitches you on cost-effective lead generation via PPC, it’s time to start asking some hard questions.
Is it “Branding” or Lead Generation?
It often seems that PPC vendors in the real estate space say that paid search (another term for PPC) is more about branding than real lead generation. This is especially the case when they’ve got a client that is unhappy with the results.
“PPC is really about brand exposure,” they stammer, as they try to explain why your $1,000 went straight down the drain with no measurable results. While it might serve some folks’ egos to have their ad on Yahoo! Sports in third position, it’s not worth much if it doesn’t generate a lead.
Brand exposure, where leads are not important, is for brands — and most agents are not in the position to run branding campaigns for their individual businesses.
Despite what some PPC vendors in the real estate space say, branding campaigns don’t generate leads. Branding campaigns get broad exposure for a product or service. But most agents want leads, not brand exposure.
Yet PPC can work for agents and brokers. Venerable vendors like Curaytor, Real Estate Webmasters or Boomtown generate massive amounts of leads and prove the point that PPC is a valuable tool, if you use it for the right purpose and are set up to succeed.
It’s also important that you don’t have to use a vendor to get great results, but if you’re not an expert you’ll need to spend quite a bit of time learning how to leverage PPC.
Setting up for Success
The first thing you need to do is consider your budget and goals. PPC is pure math, mixed in with a bit of savvy creative.
Here are a few things you can do to get going:
- Establish your budget. Most agents in most markets probably need to allocate at least $500 a month to get any traction at all, and preferably closer to $1,000. If this seems steep to you, save your money and try something else. Don’t fall for anyone who says they can get you results for less than $100 a month, and wants you to sign a year-long contract.
- Decide how long your campaign will run — and shorter is probably better. If you’re new to PPC, it’s best to run a short test so that you can fully gauge what a campaign can do for you. Measure, measure and measure again, but go the distance so you can really see if PPC works for you.
- Choose your objective. Is it to get visitors to give you their email? Look at specific properties? Get a free home valuation? Whatever your goal, stick to it — and it alone — and build a landing page appropriate to your purpose. Landing pages should be short and sweet, not lead to other pages on your site, and capture email addresses and contact information of visitors.
- Do your homework. Whether you decide to run a PPC campaign on your own, or use a vendor, look at the competition in your market. Who is running a PPC campaign on Google, or Microsoft’s ad network (Bing and Yahoo!)? What are they advertising? Which keywords are they targeting? How can you stand out?
A Word about Keywords
By this time, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about keywords. But just in case you’re not completely sure what a keyword is, here’s the simplest explanation:
A keyword is a search term a user enters into search engine to get a result. It can be one word (“houses”) or a combination or words, or terms (“blue houses on Elm Street).
However, not all keywords are created equal. Some are more popular than others. For example, very broad keywords, like “houses” or “shoes” return untold millions of results, and are very difficult to dominate (or rank for).
This means that it would be extraordinarily difficult for you, as a sole agent or broker with a limited budget, to have your search ad (or even content on your website) come up first in your market when someone enters the term “houses” with no modifying terms such as the location or other features of the property.
That’s not a bad thing. Consider this: there’s a hidden benefit to ranking for more obscure search terms, like “mid century three bedroom two bath houses Evanston IL walking distance.” This much more specific term is probably less expensive to bid on, and it’s also easier to rank for since fewer people are entering that exact term into the search engines.
This type of term is known as a “long tail” keyword — and typically, the people who enter these terms are much farther along in their buying process than someone who simply puts “houses” into Google.
Your mission is to optimize your ads against the way you think people will search for you, and bid against the terms they might use to find your ad. There are a zillion tools you can use to figure out what people are searching for, and how much it might cost you to rank for those terms. Those specifics are for another post — but you still need to be knowledgeable enough to be dangerous about keywords. Here’s why.
You’ll need to tweak and tune your advertising to continuously optimize your ads to achieve the highest click through. (Or you should hold your vendor accountable, particularly if you’re not seeing results.)
There’s another reason that you want to optimize your ads. Google will reward you for quality ads, and give you the best rates and premium positioning if your ads are effective. That can give your campaigns the extra lift you need to get the most out of your PPC budget. Google’s Quality Score is based on the expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience.
Why doesn’t PPC Work?
Frequently, when a PPC campaign is very expensive with few results, the issue is in the basic strategy, keywords or campaign structure.
That’s why you need to understand how your campaign is structured in terms of keywords, bidding strategy and duration in order to fix the issue. Even if you’re using a vendor, you need to stay involved, because you’re in charge of your budget and marketing strategy. PPC is most certainly not a set it and forget it medium.
Yet if your click throughs are high, and your cost per click seems reasonable, and you’re still getting a bad conversion rate, the problem could be on your landing page. If you’ve managed to get a user to click on your ad, but lose them at the front door of your site, that’s a waste of a click.
What’s important to remember is that PPC is really a troika: Great creative, smart bidding, and compelling landing pages. When you hit all three, you can knock it out of the park.