Brick and mortar stores are closing more rapidly than expected. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months, and, to many people’s surprise, a lot of them are not “mom and pop” shops. Department stores like JCPenney, Sears, and Macy’s are also taking a hit.
If multimillion dollar stores like Macy’s are having a rough time bringing sales with their physical stores, what should small business owners do?
The Answer: Strengthen Online Efforts
Buyers haven’t stopped shopping; they are just shopping differently. They prefer to shop from the comfort of their home or office instead of having to go through the trouble of running to the store.
Now the question is, what online efforts should you focus on to bring sales? Well, let’s discuss the first stage in the buying process: discovery. Before someone decides to make a purchase, they first have to discover your store online.
Let’s say that you sell athletic shoes; you want your eCommerce store to show up when someone searches for keywords related to your product, such as “working out shoes.” There are 3 ways to be found: with organic listings, pay per click advertisements (PPC), and social media.
Building high organic rankings can take a long time—sometimes months or even a year; however, PPC ads can help your website be found as soon as they are live. The key is to use best practices, manage, and optimize constantly because just setting up campaigns and hoping for the best won’t cut it. The competition is fierce and advertising platforms make frequent updates that, if missed, can leave you at a disadvantage. Whether you outsource your marketing to an agency or try to go it on your own, you can use this guide to improve your retail PPC management.
Understanding the PPC Game
Before we get too in depth, let’s review the basics. Even if you’re an advanced user, still take a quick look, as you may learn something new.
Types of PPC Campaigns
As the name implies, PPC or Pay Per Click campaigns are advertising campaigns in which you pay for clicks instead of impressions. They result in paid listings that appear above organic search results. There are many platforms that offer this service, but the most prominent are Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Bing Ads, and other social media platforms.
Google defines keywords as “Words or phrases describing your product or service that you choose to help determine when and where your ad can appear.”
(Photo credit: Google)
In order to create successful paid listings, it is important to consider user intent, competition, and traffic. It is best to choose keywords that indicate a “buying” intent. For example, if you sell sofas, you don’t want to rank for keywords like “sofa DIY” or “history of sofa making” because, normally, those keywords are going to be used by people who are not looking to buy.
Analyzing your keyword’s competition and search volume is also vital in the keyword selection process. Make sure you choose keywords that have decent search volume and low competition to get a better cost per click (CPC). Also, use a mix of short- and long-tail keywords to accomplish this goal. Long tail keywords will have lower search volume than short ones, but they can bring better results.
Example of a short-tail keyword: men’s shoes
Example of a long-tail keyword: black athletic men’s shoes
Search vs display ads
Search ads appear above or below the list of Google search results when people look for products and services you offer. They are triggered by the keywords users input in the search box.
On the other hand, display ads appear on third party websites or apps and aren’t necessarily driven by a user’s search keywords. Thus, you can use display ads to raise awareness for your brand, remarket your website visitors, or drive traffic to your eCommerce website.
Learning to Manage Retail PPC Campaigns
Now that we’ve gone over some of the basics, let’s dive into the good part: retail PPC management. We’ll briefly go over how to ensure campaigns are set up properly, but we’ll mainly focus on PPC management.
Let’s start by analyzing your overall setup:
Having good organization is key to the success of any AdWords campaign. This helps Google determine what to show and to whom to show it. It also enables advertisers to have a higher quality score, higher ad positions, and a lower cost per click (CPC).
AdWords campaigns follow a hierarchical structure. The top level defines your account information, including email, password, and billing information. Then we have campaigns which branch out to ad groups.
Photo by Google
Ad groups follow their respective campaign settings, which include options such as geographical location, bidding settings, and whether to choose between search or display types of campaigns.
Each type of product should have its own campaign. In the example below, an electronics store has different campaigns for televisions and cameras, and then ad groups are created for variations within those product types.
This organization works, assuming that you only have one target location; however, if you want to target different countries or specific states, you would have to create multiple campaigns for each product type.
If you’re looking to sell TVs and cameras in both the USA and Europe, you would create the following campaigns: TV- USA Campaign, TV- Europe Campaign, Camera- USA Campaign, Camera- Europe Campaign. Then, you’d have to add respective ad groups to each campaign.
By assigning different campaigns to different locations, you also get the chance to use different bidding strategies and different keywords that are specific to each location.
Conversions may be the most important metric in your campaigns. It’s the simple piece of code that lets you know if your ads are driving results. Make sure this code is working properly by going to the “Tools” tab and selecting “Conversions” from the drop-down menu.
Once in the “Conversions” page, look at the tracking status. The tag needs to say “recording conversions.” If it says “no recent conversions,” and you know you’re getting results from AdWords, there may be something wrong. “Unverified” means that the tag was placed recently, and Google needs time to verify it.
If you get a positive tracking status (“recording conversions”), it’s still a good idea to double-check the tracking code on the page you’re looking to track. Do this with the help of the Google Tag Manager Extension. Simply install the extension and visit the page you’re trying to track. This is usually the “thank you” page that shows after a purchase, in the case of purchase tracking. A green label means the code is working properly, blue means it needs improvements, and red means there is something wrong.
Ongoing Retail PPC Management
Now that you know your campaigns are set up properly, it’s time to discuss the ongoing management and optimization of your account.
Get a Complete Picture
The first thing you want to do is choose a date range. If it’s the end of the month, you may want to choose a 30-day range to evaluate last month’s performance and create a monthly report. You can also create a comparison report to compare last month’s performance to the prior month.
Click Through Rate (CTR)
Click Through Rate or CTR measures impressions vs. clicks. A low CTR may be an indication your ads or keywords are not performing well. Maybe the ads are not compelling enough to users, or maybe the keywords are retrieving the wrong type of ads. Check each campaign to compare individual click-through rates.
What is a good CTR? The average CTR varies, according to industry and to search or display networks. Usually, display campaigns have a lower CTR than search campaigns. The eCommerce industry has an average close to 2%.
For conversions, measure amount, cost per conversion, and quality. Take into consideration the different types of conversions you’ve set up (for example, add to cart vs. make a purchase) and see if the cost per conversion makes sense for your business. Can you afford to gain a new customer for $20, $50, or $100? Figure out your ideal customer acquisition number and try to match your cost per conversion to that number.
“All conversions” are conversions that happen across multiple devices. For example, this type of conversion can happen when someone clicks on your ad from a mobile device, and then goes home, visits your website from their home desktop, and converts. An “All Conversion” can also happen if the user used two different browsers or calls made after viewing an ad from a different device.
It’s important to track this type of conversion to learn more about your customers’ purchasing behavior and avoid making decisions using the wrong data. Your “All Conversion” may be higher than regular conversions for some of your campaigns, and, without knowing this data, you won’t be able to make wise decisions.
Taking a Closer Look …
Now that you have a complete picture of your overall performance, let’s take a closer look at each individual campaign.
First, check what keywords are retrieving your ads. To do this, go to the keywords tab under your campaign’s Ad Group and click on “Search Terms.”
The system will show you a list of keywords that retrieved your ad. Browse through the list to add good potential keywords to your Ad Group, or, alternatively, filter out keywords that you wouldn’t like to show up for. You can do this by adding “bad” keywords to your negative keyword list. Your ads won’t show for this list of keywords.
To check out your complete list of negative keywords, simply go to the negative keywords tab next to the search terms. You can also add negative keywords directly here. I usually have a list of preset negative keywords for every campaign I set up.
Also, make sure your ad groups have appropriate match types. Broad match is the least recommended of the bunch since it triggers ads for a very wide range of keyword variations. Instead, experiment using broad match modifiers (e.g., + mens clothing or mens +clothing) to yield more targeted results. In addition, use phrase match and exact match as necessary.
Google has recently started providing more space for ads with expanded text ads. Take advantage of it to provide more compelling reasons to click your ad and use it to pre-qualify your traffic. You’re paying per click, so you want to make sure potential customers fulfill your minimum requirements before clicking your ad.
Ad variety and A/B testing are also really important. Test one thing at a time to make as many variations as you see fit. Google will start by rotating the ads evenly to see which one delivers the best results. Experiments can also be implemented to A/B test variations.
Using extensions allows you to get more real estate and exposure for your ads. It also helps you offer more reasons to encourage people to click. There are many different types of extensions: callouts, reviews, sitelinks, call, and more. Some of them are clickable and others are not. At the very least, you want to have callout and sitelink extensions.
Google Shopping or Product Listing Ads (PLA)
Google shopping ads allow you to display product images, pricing, and descriptions when people search for products similar to yours.
It works with a product data feed that relies on accurate inventory and pricing information, among other data. It’s also important to note that product listings are targeted by products and product categories, not keywords. Therefore, Google will select relevant data based on your product feed.
Data Feed Optimization
Think of your data feed as an SEO optimized piece of content. Optimize the description, product title, and product type to include relevant keywords that Google can use to trigger your product listing. Also, keep in mind that all data should be legible and user-friendly and not a nonsense combination of keywords.
Product Group Segmentation
Segmenting products into product groups allows you to manage your bidding wisely. Instead of bidding the same amount for all products, different product groups allow you to bid less for cheaper products and more for more expensive products. Try first segmenting by category or brand, and then by product ID.
Unlike your regular campaigns, this type of organization won’t give you more relevance with Google, but it still works to your ROI’s advantage. Once your campaigns have been running for some time, consider creating a product group for your best sellers.
Google AdWords allows us to reach potential buyers when they are actively looking for products similar to ours, but social media allows us to catch them by surprise. Someone may be scrolling through their feed, trying to get in touch with friends or, maybe, they are just watching entertaining videos to pass the time.
Whatever the reason may be, they didn’t actively look for products like yours. Thus, it’s important to approach these types of PPC ads from a less “salesy” perspective. We’ll mainly focus on Facebook management for this section.
One of the main pillars of a successful social media campaign is proper targeting. Use combinations of interests, behaviors, life events, and more to create a highly-targeted audience. When doing management and optimization for your social media ads, think about testing different targeting variations and save them as audiences. Only by testing will you be able to get better results. Find your audiences under the “Audiences” tab in the ads manager section of Facebook.
On Facebook, you’ll also want to check metrics, such as results, reach, cost per click, and relevance score. The latter is a score from 1-10 that estimates how well your audience is responding to your ad. The higher the relevance score, the better.
Be careful looking at the conversions column. It can lead you to believe that Facebook ROI is a lie, but the issue, many times, is misinterpretation. Sometimes, people can take longer to convert than expected, so just simply changing the attribution window can change your conversion story.
Another best practice is to have multiple ad variations. Test your image, ad copy, and ad type to discover which variables bring the most results. Facebook video ads are proving to be very effective at capturing people’s attention and getting engagement.
20% of people need to see a social post or ad 5-8 times before making a purchase. So, if you’re not remarketing to your audience, chances are you’re missing potential sales. See your marketing audience as “hot leads.” They already know your brand and products, but they may need a small push to make a purchase. This type of ad can be managed similarly to regular ads; just make an extra effort to keep them new and fresh to prevent people from getting bored of your brand.
Other Types of PPC Campaigns
Google and social media are kings in the PPC world, no doubt about it; however, there are other PPC campaigns that may be worth a shot. We’ll cover discovery platforms and Amazon Sponsored Product Listings.
Discovery platforms allow you to run display ads that look native to the third-party websites. You can usually find these ads at the bottom of the page in a section called “from the web.” I’ve had good and bad experiences with this type of PPC advertising, but it’s affordable enough to try. It works particularly well when promoting content.
For example, if you’re looking to promote your men’s footwear store, you would run an ad to advertise a blog with the latest styles for men’s footwear.
Amazon Sponsored Products
If you’re selling on Amazon, Sponsored Product ads may be just what you need to bring extra traffic to your store. These are image ads that seamlessly blend in with the rest of the listings:
Similar to Google or Bing, sponsored products use keywords as triggers and are PPC ads. You can let Amazon choose the keywords for you or choose them manually. Since the cost per click is very affordable—many times less than $1—I recommend giving it a try.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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