10 Common Mistakes In B2B Paid Search

B2B SEM often feels like the ugly step-sister of B2C SEM, mainly because the budgets for most B2B campaigns are so much smaller than consumer campaigns. The ‘sexy’ side of B2B SEM, however, is in the potential ROI that a company can get out of a great paid search campaign.

Imagine a company that has an average order value (AOV) of $1,000,000 – if that company spends $20,000/month and gets only two sales a year as a result of their SEM spend, that’s an incredible  return on ad spend (ROAS) of 833%. Try getting that sort of return in B2C marketing!


It's not easy getting buyers through this funnel.

Despite lower budgets, B2B SEM is often a lot harder than B2C SEM, primarily because its goals are more considered purchases from savvier buyers.

As a result, I often see larger and more frequent mistakes in B2B SEM than in B2C. Here are a few of the most common mistakes found in B2B paid search accounts.

Faulty Measurements

1.  Not integrating with your CRM system 

Most B2B sales are closed by a sales team instead of via an online transaction. As such, it’s crucial that paid search B2B campaigns are integrated with a company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Integrating with your CRM generally means passing the keyword/source information from a tracking URL into fields in the CRM associated with a lead. When the lead closes, you can then attribute the revenue from that lead to your marketing source.

(Note: until recently, Salesforce – a leading CRM – had an app that integrated AdWords directly into Salesforce, but that app is being phased out.)

Advertisers who have no visibility into which keywords drive qualified leads and which keywords drive junk have no ability to adjust bids and budget to maximize the number of qualified leads that are being driven by SEM.

Put another way, advertisers without CRM integration are likely to be outbid on performing keywords by advertisers who do, leaving the advertisers without CRM integration with just the clicks from poor-performing keywords!

2.  Not tracking phone calls

Most businesses prefer phone calls over online leads because a phone call generally indicates a higher degree of purchase intent from the prospect.  When you send a user to a paid search landing page that simply has your standard 1-800 number on it, you are unlikely to properly give paid search the credit it deserves.

Even if you tell your phone representatives to ask “how did you find out about us,” it’s unlikely that you’ll get the level of granularity you need to make smart bidding decisions (e.g., most people don’t remember the keyword they used to find your site).

A relatively simple technical solution to this problem is call-tracking software. Companies like Mongoose Metrics, IfByPhone, Marchex Call Analytics (formerly VoiceStar), ClickPath, MyNextCustomer, and LogMyCalls can provide you with dozens (or even thousands) of toll-free numbers that you can associate at a keyword level.

In other words, if someone does a search for “blue widgets,” your landing page shows a dynamic phone number that is associated with that specific keyword. When the user converts, you have the keyword/source inserted into your CRM via the call tracking software, and you can attribute credit properly.

3.  Expecting instant ROI

The bigger the purchase, the longer the sales cycle. Consumers have no problem instantly whipping out their credit card for a $12 book, but a one-million-dollar piece of enterprise software could take months to close.

B2B companies that spend $10,000 in a month, see no sales, and then shut down their PPC campaigns are making a fatal assumption: that, somehow, SEM customers convert way faster than any other customers.

4.  Waiting too long to measure success

The flip side of expecting instant ROI is waiting too long to determine success. Just because your typical sales cycle is 12 months doesn’t mean you need to invest $25,000/month for 12 months before you decide that your SEM campaign isn’t working.

There are numerous ‘proxy metrics’ that savvy B2B marketers use that can help assess the efficacy of a campaign long before the first sale closes. Examples might include benchmarking SEM against established marketing channels based on:

  1. Cost per lead
  2. Cost per qualified customer
  3. Cost per appointment
  4. Cost per proposal

My personal favorite is cost per qualified customer. If a PPC campaign sends your business a customer who is clearly interested in your products or services, that is a great indication that your marketing dollars are attracting the right type of people, even if the pot of gold (i.e., the sale) is still many months away.

Fishing In The Wrong Ponds

5.  Buying “double entendre” keywords

Many keywords have a dual meaning depending on whether you are talking to a consumer or a business. For example, the word “electronic sign” probably means a wall-mounted “Bud Light” sign in a pool hall for a consumer, but might mean ‘sign contracts electronically’ for a business.

The problem for B2B marketers is that there are far more consumer than business searchers online, which means that buying a keyword with even a hint of consumer meaning could cost you dearly in terms of unqualified clicks (and sadly, even if you write ad text that indicates that you are selling an electronic signature solution and not a beer sign, consumers will still click on your ad!).

The solution to this problem is two-fold. First, as noted above, creating ad text that focuses on your B2B audience should reduce irrelevant clicks on double-entendre keywords.

Second, think twice before buying these sorts of keywords! Start campaigns conservatively with keywords that can only mean something to B2B shoppers and test more generic keywords with low budgets only after establishing your beachhead on more realistic keywords.

6.  Ignoring Day and Day-of-Week parting

When you’ve worked a 10-hour day, put the kids to bed, and finally opened up your laptop to check the latest sports scores, you might not want to see ads related to your job.

For this reason, it’s common to see lower click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates (CR) after work and on the weekends for B2B campaigns.

That’s not to say that people never convert during these times (they definitely do) but simply assuming that the ROI of campaigns outside of work hours is going to be the same as work-hour campaigns is making a big and potentially costly assumption.

7.  Not investing in the Google Display Network &  Contextual Advertising

Search is great for people who already know that they need the product or service you are selling.

Many B2B companies, however, sell products that are not at the forefront of a potential customer’s mind on a daily basis. For this reason, almost any B2B company can benefit from contextual campaigns via the Google Display Network (GDN) or other similar networks.

For example, let’s say you are selling an alternative to Microsoft Outlook, a very common email solution. It’s unlikely that existing users of Outlook are going to type “alternative to Outlook” into search, and those who type “problems with Outlook” are looking for an FAQ site rather than a new product.

But imagine running banner ads on discussion groups and blogs about Outlook that encourage readers to download a brief whitepaper with a catchy title like “5 Simple Tricks to Save Outlook Users 10 Hours a Week!”

These users didn’t wake up thinking that they needed a new email system, but now you’ve put the idea in their mind (my team calls this “inception” after the movie).

Best of all, GDN is available via the AdWords interface, allows for text ads, uses CPC bidding, uses the AdWords tracking pixel, and does not require an ad server or a DSP, so anyone familiar with AdWords can do a reasonably good job with GDN. Other networks like IndustryBrains, Advertising.com Sponsored Listings, and Pulse360 also offer similar contextual opportunities.

Not Applying B2B Techniques

8.  Ignoring Lead Scoring and Nurturing

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes calling prospects knows that not all leads are created equal. As a result, an entire industry of “marketing automation” tools has emerged to help marketers separate the “Glengarry leads” from the worthless leads. Leading players include Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot, and ActOn.

Typically, marketing automation does two things: lead scoring – determining which leads have the highest potential for closing; and lead nurturing – sending prospects down different paths depending on where they are in the sales cycle.

For many businesses, paid search leads rank among the highest-quality leads and thus deserve immediate attention. Without marketing automation, however, these leads would get the same priority as leads from lesser sources, and sales from PPC would likely suffer.

Similarly, a user who types in a broad keyword might need a lead-nurturing funnel that is a much slower path than one who types in a keyword with high purchase intent.

9.  Thinking you need a soft sell

There’s a perception amongst many B2B marketers that the bigger the AOV, the less aggressive you should be in your marketing. While there are definitely times when you should adjust your aggressiveness (as noted above, based on lead-nurturing rules), AOV alone is generally not a good enough reason to tone down your approach.

To expand on this further, this doesn’t mean that you should create a landing page that says “Order your $1,000,000 enterprise server online right now!”, but it does mean that you should be aggressive at asking users to specifically enter your sales funnel.

For example, rather than sending users to a product page with detailed specs about your server (soft-sell and boring), send them to a landing page with a whitepaper and a clear prompt: “Download Your Free Whitepaper!”

Even though this is just the beginning of a long and complex sales cycle, aggressively asking users to engage with you is almost always better than a non-committal, passive approach.

10.  Not targeting prospects in ad text

Earlier, I discussed the problem of double-entendre keywords and noted that even targeted ad text may not be enough to dissuade consumers from clicking on what is clearly a B2B product ad. Of course, even if it discourages a few consumers, you are still going to save money as a result of this technique.

Importantly, the technique of targeting ad text is equally (if not more) effective for B2B-focused keywords. Because few businesses target all segments of a market from small-to-medium businesses (SMB) to enterprise, creating ad text that focuses on your target segments is crucial.

We once had a client that focused on mid-market and enterprise clients but had an ad targeted toward entry-level employees at small business. Worse still, the competition (which was focused on SMBs) offered free trials and plans starting at just $10/month (while our client’s solution cost thousands per month).

After some brainstorming, we came up with an ad that said “Serious about [product]? You deserve better than a $10 solution!”

The result was two-fold: first, the client saw a huge uplift in quality leads, and second, competitors stopped boasting about their $10 price point in their ad!

Closing Comments

Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll look at B2B PPC in a new light. Perhaps it’s unlikely that – in the minds of most marketers – B2B will ever fully transform from ugly step-sister to Cinderella.

For those who are willing to apply best practices and rigorous analysis, proper management or B2B SEM can lead to “fairy tale” results!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: Search Marketing


About The Author: is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Kevin James McAuley

    Hi David,
    Really enjoyed the article. I have experienced similar problems before in the B2B search space, especially trying to filter out the B2C intended search terms.What I like best is how you were able to turn the low price point of the competitors against them in the ad, great idea and something I will definitely try when promoting more premium products. 

  • Pat Grady

    Don’t mean to pimp, but how did you leave Ring Revenue out of the phone tracking folk?

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Great stuff, David.  Another good trick with long sales cycle leads involves using benchmarks for “early bird conversions.”  The notion is that if the average sale takes 12 months to close there will be some sort of distribution curve around that average.  You might be able to determine from historical data that 25% of eventual closes will happen within the first 4 months, so we can estimate the lead value as being 4 times observed sales after 4 months divided by the number of leads.  You can use the same trick in shorter sales cycle businesses, studying the 1 hour conversion rates to gauge the impact of a promotion or seasonal event, or whatever.

  • Trace Ronning

    Number 6 is interesting to me.
    Maybe this is just because I work for a company that does B2B business, and when doing PPC, we let our campaigns run 24/7 because we work anywhere in the world and one can buy it anytime, without speaking to someone. Since we handle an overwhelming majority of our customer service in the US, I wonder if that would cause a potential customer to refrain from signing up if they were in New Zealand and clicked on our ad during our evening hours.

  • marisafox

    Number 6 was interesting to me, too. I agree you shouldn’t make the assumption that all days & hours are equal, but that is true of all campaigns – B2C & B2B. If someone searching for what a company offers after business hours, why would he not be interested? If he wasn’t interested, he wouldn’t have searched.

    And number 9 is something I struggle with. If I am searching for a product or service an get to a page with a white paper instead of detailed info about that product, I’m a bit perplexed. I want info, a demo, a free trial – maybe secondary a white paper. But if I’m clicking on a paid search ad, it’s because I want more product info, not just a white paper. Just my opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    Thanks Kevin. Quality *can* trump price, if positioned correctly!

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    I’m not personally familiar with the product, it was non intended.

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    Great point George! This is particularly true for mid-market purchases I would think, where the volume of sales is relatively high. It would obviously be much more difficult for a high-end enterprise sales cycle where the number of total purchases on an annual basis would be in the single digits. Still, any sort of proxy you can infer early on – even if not an actual sale – gets you intelligence that can prevent a lot of wasted budget!

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    Hi Trace, I’m not 100% certain about this, but I’m pretty sure that when you day-part campaigns on Google, the day-parting is applied to all time zones. Hence, you could set your day-parting to 9-5 and the ads would show at 9am in New Zealand and then stop at 5pm.

    If this *isn’t* true, my advice would be to set up separate campaigns by time zone and day-part accordingly in each campaign.

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    Thanks for the comment Marisa. In regards to #6, I’ve clearly seen a decline in conversion rate during off-hours (or for B2C, off season). People still search for products/services during these times, but the percentage who end up buying is much lower. 

    For example, a person searching for “Christmas cards” in June is much less likely to buy these cards than someone who does this search in November. Hence, the bids should be reduced. The same seems to be true for B2B searches in off hours.

    Regarding #9, this always needs to be tested and it may turn out that different keywords merit different conversion funnels. In most cases, however, we find that a page with a ton of product info gets a high bounce rate and low conversion rate, whereas a page with an “offer” (which could include a demo or free trial, btw) gets much better engagement.

  • http://twitter.com/iashishPsingh Ashish Pratap Singh

    Great point George. Thanks for pointing out Buying “double entendre” keywords. Many professionals don’t know about such cases. It reminds me my very early days when I was making this kind of mistake.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sompura13 Master Sanket

    nice post thanks for this valuable information

  • Jeff Dinardo

    I’d love to track phone calls, tied to paid search. How do you do that, though, when offering thousands of items on your site? Meaning, when someone comes to our site looking for blue widgets, but then clicks to a secondary page after the landing page to refine their search, or perhaps because they’re interested in other links/pages/categories on my site, then if they purchased a red widget, wouldn’t that confuse my data? Or does call-tracking software handle this?

  • High Core


    I like this article, helped a lot. Thx 

  • Trace Ronning

    Good point. Also, it’s just smarter to make new campaigns for different geographic targets because their values and online behavior are going to differ.

  • Trace Ronning

    About #9, I think one of the smarter things I’ve seen is WordStream’s AdWords grader. Especially when your core product takes weeks to really register to the user as a good value (You can’t totally turn around a PPC campaign in one night, after all), it’s a great idea to give a potential customer instant gratification. Personally, I find that to be way more valuable than another white paper.


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