Dear Business-Builder,

If you’re not already taking advantage of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to pull qualified traffic to your site, now’s the time! PPC is hands-down the fastest way to get targeted traffic to your site.

But did you know it’s also a lean, mean testing machine?

That’s right. This HUGE ADVANTAGE comes from the ability to quickly test, track, compare, and tweak your ads.

Use your results to decide what new keywords to optimize your site for. Figure out what types of opt-in offers get the best results. Use it to help you write top-performing copy for your website and landing pages. You can even use it to optimize the text in your meta description tags — which Google displays with your URL in the organic search results.

You can harness the power of your own pay-per-click campaign in just five simple steps:

  1. Set up a Google AdWords campaign.
  2. Set up your PPC conversion tracker.
  3. Split-test versions of your ads.
  4. Find out which ad pulls the highest click-throughs and conversions.
  5. Use your top-performing campaign elements to optimize your website!

Let’s start by making sure the basic elements of your AdWords campaign are in place.

Step 1: Lay the groundwork for success
with these AdWords essentials

If you don’t have an AdWords account set up yet, go get one at

The instructions are fairly straightforward. You’ll be setting up an “Ad Group” for each of your keywords. Within each Ad Group you can elect to have your ad appear when variations on your keyword are typed into the Google search engine.

And since you’re able to test different ads against each other within one Ad Group, it’s a good idea to create ad versions that include variations on your keyword.

As you go through the process of setting up Ad Groups, check to make sure you have these essentials in place:

  • Use Google’s Standard AdWords Edition — NOT the Starter Edition. You want full control over all settings and advanced options that aren’t included in the starter version.
  • Create one Ad Group per keyword to keep your campaigns organized. Name it after the keyword for easy reference.
  • Enter three ways for AdWords to “match” your keywords to search results in the “Choose Keywords” box to make sure your ad gets the maximum number of impressions:
  1. Broad match = keywordAs the name suggests, broad-matching matches your ad to a wide range of phrases built around your keyword. This includes synonyms, singular/plural forms, relevant variants of your keywords, and phrases that contain any of the words in your keyword phrase, in any order.

    If you’re selling home-smoked salmon and using the keyword “smoked salmon,” broad match would appear for search terms like “salmon smoking,” and “how to smoke salmon.”

    Google AdWords automatically tracks which broad match variations produce the most clicks on your ads, and automatically excludes the broad match terms that don’t convert.

  2. Phrase match = “keyword”Phrase match brings up your keyword phrase only in the order it’s typed. It may include additional keywords on either end.

    So your ad might appear for the search phrases “smoked salmon recipes,” but NOT “smoked like salmon”.

  3. Exact match = [keyword]As it sounds, with exact match chosen, your keyword will only appear when it’s typed into Google Search exactly — with no additional terms included.

    With exact match, your ad will appear only when “smoked salmon” exactly is typed in.

  4. Negative keywords = -[words you don’t want]In the same area, but on a separate line, include “negative keywords” by typing a minus sign or hyphen before words you’d like excluded from the results.

    You would use “-smoker” to make sure your smoked salmon ad doesn’t show up in search results for salmon smokers.

    (Incidentally, making sure your ad doesn’t appear for search terms that include the word “free” is a REALLY good idea. People searching for free solutions to their problems are not your ideal customers! On the other hand, if you’re trying to get opt-ins with a free sign-up offer, people looking for free solutions are just what you want.)

  • Write compelling ads that focus on the benefits of your product. Spell out (briefly!) the main way your product or service will improve the lives of your customers. A well-written ad will draw more attention and bring in more traffic than a poorly written ad with a higher ad position.Make sure your keyword appears in your ad title and somewhere in your two-line description. Google will bold the keyword wherever it appears, so the more often you include it in your ad, the more your ad stands out.

    Google will also consider your ad more relevant to the keyword (aka the searcher!), which can translate into a lower cost per click for you. Plus, your ad will appear more relevant to the person who typed in that keyword, so they’ll be more likely to click on your ad.

  • Opt out of Google’s Content Network. Google’s Content Network consists of websites that display Google AdSense ads in exchange for a percentage of the cost per click paid by the advertiser. (When you sign up for Google AdWords, that advertiser is you!)Your ad appears on websites that are considered to have content that’s relevant to your keywords.

    Advertising on the Content Network is one way to get exposure beyond the search engines, but it should be tested carefully. It’s a different platform that requires different strategies.

    So if you’d like to target Google’s Content Network, create a separate campaign to do so.

  • Create a minimum of 15 Ad Groups representing your top keywords to maximize the amount of traffic you pull with PPC. This also gives you a great opportunity to test the effectiveness of your top keywords.
  • Set a minimum budget of $10/day, more if you can afford it. Anything below $10 and Google will think you’re not serious and won’t give you any breaks. (Did you know that the average AdWords client only lasts two weeks?)Set your budget options to the standard delivery method so your ads show evenly over time. Then set the ad serving option to “rotate” so your ads are displayed more evenly. These settings will give you the best sample audience:
    Image: rotating ads

Once you’ve created a minimum of 15 Ad Groups, set up AdWords to track your conversions.

Step 2: Monitor your campaigns with
AdWords’ conversion tracker

As I mentioned earlier, tracking your conversions means that you can make adjustments to elements of your ads for MAXIMUM results.

AdWords has a handy conversion-tracking tool that will allow you to easily test and tweak your ads:

Image: tracking conversions

Here’s how you set it up:

  1. Log in to your AdWords account
  2. Under the “Campaign Management” tab, select “Conversion Tracking”
  3. Click the “Start Tracking Conversions” button
  4. Put a check mark in the “Purchase/Sale” check box, and click “Continue”
  5. Choose the format of your Google site stats label. (Not a big deal. Once you have enabled conversion tracking and someone clicks through to your site and buys something, your user will see this label — which allows them to give Google permission to track that conversion.)
  6. Choose your report language and security report. Copy the code from the text area (starting with <!--Google Code...>) and paste it on whichever page you direct customers to when they’ve completed their purchase (usually a “thank you” page).
  7. Test to make sure your conversions are being tracked by clicking on one of your own ads and navigating to your conversion page. Then check your “Campaign Summary” page in AdWords to make sure your stats are being tracked. (It can take up to 24 hours for these to show up.)
  8. Return to the Conversion Tracking page and repeat the process, except:Put a check mark beside “Signup” instead of “Purchase/Sale” where prompted.
  9. Copy the page conversion code to your “Thank you for signing up” HTML page.

That’s all there is to it. Using AdWords’ campaign management reports, you’ll be able to gauge the effectiveness of several different ads. Now you’re ready to create and test different versions of each of your ads.

Step 3: Split-test your ads for maximum click-throughs

Split-testing allows you to find out which versions of your ads attract the highest number of qualified visitors — that is the number of people who BUY your products once they click through an ad and land on your site. And Google AdWords makes split-testing EASY!

Just select an Ad Group, and click the “Create an ad variation” link at the bottom of the page to create another text ad. Create a minimum of two text ads per Ad Group.

Here’s an example of two ads we set up to test against each other:

  1. Everything Neon Fish
    Neon fish supplies below cost.
    Visit Fish Tropics Today!
  2. Find Neon Fish Supplies
    Find everything you need to build
    your own neon fish aquarium!

Use the ad you created when you set up your campaign as your “control” — the yardstick against which you’ll measure the performance of your other ads.

Then, changing one element at a time, test variations of your:

  • Headlines/Ad title: Try using different words to grab attention. For example, “Buy” versus “Download.”
  • Unique selling proposition (USP): You might think you know what differentiates your product from similar ones on the market, but your target audience might have their own ideas! So test your USP and find out!
  • Benefits: Highlight different product benefits to find the ones that are most appealing to your market. For example, “save time” versus “save money.”
  • Emotional appeal: Create an ad that connects through a fear of losing something compared to one that focuses on the gains of clicking on your ad.
  • Offer/Price: Test different offers in your ads. For example, a 30-day versus a 60-day trial offer. And if price is a benefit of your product, try creating an ad with the price displayed compared to one using the word “affordable.”
  • Call to action: What words most create a sense of urgency in your ad? Try using different power words like “buy,” “get your,” or “sign up”).

Test different ways of telling your target market what to do (e.g., “Sign up for free membership now” and “Save on used sports equipment”).

Google will automatically rotate your ads equally between impressions — so you can find out which ads are most attractive to your target market.

After you’ve got a few hundred impressions for each ad, take a look at your statistics and see which ads are more popular with your target audience.

As soon as you see one of your test ads consistently outperforming your control ad over the course of a few days or weeks, make this one your new control ad.

Here’s an example of testing in action: In the example below, we’ve split-tested three different headlines — each ad using identical ad copy — for the keyword “used baseball cards”:

Vintage Baseball Cards
1000+ Baseball Cards 1952-2005
Free Shipping on $50 Singles Orders

Headline Impressions Click-throughs CTR
Vintage Baseball Cards 1551 79 12.25%
1950s Baseball Cards 1589 54 8.58%
Rare Baseball Cards 1536 91 13.97%

The headline “Vintage Baseball Cards” is our control headline, but as you can see, “Rare Baseball Cards” is seeing more click-throughs over time. So in this case, it would be wise to make “Rare Baseball Cards” our new control.

Again, once you’ve figured out which headline performs best, start experimenting with variations of your ad copy.

As you look at your split-testing results, be sure to monitor your conversion rate. Remember: Ads that generate the highest clicks don’t necessarily bring in the most opt-ins or the highest number of sales! Your goal is to find ads that generate the highest number of opt-ins or sales.

Step 4: Measure your results

Once you’ve run each version of your ad for at least 1,000 clicks, it’s time to analyze your AdWords metrics to find out which ads pulled the best results.

With your Ad Group selected, you’ll see the columns with the following headings:

  • Default bid: The default bid is the maximum price you are willing to pay when someone clicks on one of your ads. Set daily limits so your click costs don’t spiral out of control!
  • Clicks: Check the “Clicks” column to see how many people clicked on each version of your ad. Higher clicks indicate a stronger ad.
  • Impressions: The number of times your ad has appeared on Google for the specific keywords you selected.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): Your CTR is the best measure of how effective your ads are. The click-through rate is found by dividing the number of ad impressions by the actual number of clicks.Impressions/Clicks=CTR

    Generally, the higher this number the better. Keep testing variations of your ads until you find the one that pulls the highest click-throughs.

    If you just can’t get this number up, it could mean you’re chasing after the wrong keyword.

  • Cost-per-click (CPC): The amount you pay per click can fluctuate according to the time of day, how many other advertisers there are, or even by how Google rates the quality of your ad. The CPC gives you the average amount you pay each time someone clicks your ad.For example: if your ad receives two clicks, one costing $0.20 and one costing $0.40, your average CPC for those clicks is $0.30.
  • The total cost of all clicks per Ad Group in real time: This is simply the running total cost of all clicks to date.
  • Conversion rate: The goal of PPC is not just to get lots of people clicking on your ads. It’s to get the most clicks from people who’ll actually buy something once they land on your site!Your conversion rate tells you exactly what percentage of the people who clicked on your ad did what you wanted them to when they landed on your site (buying your product or signing up for your newsletter, for example).

    Number of click-throughs/Number who converted = Conversion Rate

  • Cost per conversion: How much does it cost you to make a single sale? Your cost per conversion tells you the total amount you’ve spent on advertising to get one sale (calculated by dividing the total cost of your Ad Group by the total number of conversions for that Ad Group).Aim for a return that’s 2-3 times your investment. As a rule, the amount you spend on PPC to make a sale should NOT be more than the revenue generated by that sale. An exception might be if you have high-priced backend products with good conversion rates, which would offset the loss you take on the front end.

As with any marketing effort, PPC is an ongoing process. Monitor your bids and watch your costs. Is there a cheaper keyword you can use to get the same results?

Test and tweak your campaigns until you find your winning combinations.

Step 5: Use your top-performing campaign elements
to optimize your website!

As you can see, the true testing power of PPC comes from being able to find out crucial information about your business very quickly. In fact, you can have a gold mine of information at your fingertips in just a few days!

Now that you’ve dug up this valuable info, don’t let it go to waste. Take what you’ve learned, and:

  1. Optimize your website copy with your top-performing keywords. Create site content based on your top-converting keywords, and include them in your heads and subheads, image alt text, and throughout the body of each page.
  2. Optimize your site description in the organic search results. Small changes to your PPC ad can have a HUGE impact on the response they pull. And the same is true of the website blurb displayed along with your URL in the organic search results.
  3. So take advantage of what you’ve learned from your PPC tests, and optimize the text in the appropriate page’s meta tag description. Many of the search engines display that information in the search listings. So take advantage of the ones that do to create a compelling description of your site that encourages maximum click-throughs!

  4. Integrate into your sales copy your winning campaign elements, including your best USP, most compelling benefits, your call to action, your offer itself, and, of course, your ad titles. (Make sure you test each element against the ones already on your site — one at a time!)

PPC and SEO are the staples of your business. PPC is an instant traffic generator — and an invaluable testing tool. And the information you gather forms the basis for all your SEO efforts, so you’ll enjoy a steady stream of highly qualified visitors!

Like your search marketing efforts, PPC should be an ongoing process. The words people use to search for things change. Keyword conversions and responses to ad copy can go stale over time. So make testing and tracking your PPC campaigns — and the keyword research that powers it — permanent SEO strategies.

Contributed by Derek Gehl
Guest Contributor