How To Manage & Measure Local PPC Accounts

In my last column, I looked at some of the differences between small and large accounts as the best practices vary for each.

In this column, we’re going to specifically focus on one of the most common small accounts: local accounts; and examine some of the best practices for this type of small account.

A local account is where there is a limited geographic area being served. When you combine a limited geographic reach with a small budget, you often run into problems trying to balance spending the budget on highly relevant keywords while getting a high enough return for the budget so that the advertiser is happy with the PPC account.

The information in this column comes from over a decade of working with local accounts. In some cases, they were direct clients. In other cases, the insights gleamed are from growing one of the largest authorized AdWords resellers userbase to where it was managing tens of thousands of local business.

So, at times the insights might seem harsh (many local business are bad about calling people back). It’s not meant to be harsh – its meant to be truthful.

Account Setup

The first step to working with a local business is to setup the account. The best practices of granular ad group and ad copy organization are true no matter what the account size is; however, there are some differences in the account setup that will vary based upon account size.

Match Types

When you examine match types, exact match should be the preference for many accounts. However, when you restrict the ad serving to a very small geography, you often end up with so few impressions that you can’t spend the budget.

Therefore, with local business accounts you will often end up utilizing a lot of modified broad match and in some instances even broad match.


With local accounts, you often have to give up some control in order to serve ads to enough users to make the account work well.

In many cases, you can’t add your best preforming keywords as exact match due to volume issues, so the best way to manage these broad match keywords is by making good use of negative keywords.

Ad Creation

One of the main benefits of a local account is that they are local. Consumers like to help local businesses and deal with companies in their geographic areas. The ads should utilize this benefit to their advantage by making sure that their location or service area is contained within the ad.

When you examine local businesses, they generally fall into one of two types:

  • They come to you (plumbers, pizza delivery)
  • You go to them (department stores, beauty salons)

When the searcher goes to the business, often the top goal is to make an appointment, contact the company, or get driving directions. The highlighted feature is usually the business location.

When the business goes to the searcher, the top goals are usually to schedule and appointment or to receive a phone call. The highlighted feature is often the phone number and ease of contact.

These two differences manifest themselves in ad extension usage. When the main goal is to showcase the business location, then the location extension is the best ad extension to use.

When the main goal is a phone call, then the call extension is generally the best one to use.

Of course, both of these account types can use sitelinks – a wonderful extension for all businesses to employ.

Mobile Ads

When a business is local, having a mobile strategy is one of the keys to success. The site should work on a mobile device. If it doesn’t (and most don’t) then create a small 1-3 page website that looks good on a phone. This doesn’t even have to be hard, mobile is so key to PPC growth, that Google is offering a one year free mobile website for any business.

In addition, make sure you are using mobile ads and call or location extensions in your mobile campaign. There is enough mobile inventory these days that some small business accounts are only spending their PPC dollars on mobile devices and are not advertising their desktop site.

Measuring Success

This is one of the hardest aspects to measure with a small business. The conversions are often few and far between; but if you can’t measure sales, then you cannot prove to the business how good you are at PPC, let alone present stats on why they should increase their current budget.

If you have easy-to-measure goals, such as driving direction, contact forms, and whitepaper downloads; then using the AdWords conversion tracker or setting up Google Analytics goals is a great idea.

Personally, I like using Google Analytics for small business measurement because once it is setup, then you can adjust the goals as you desire.

One of the challenges with working with local businesses is that they are often not tech savvy. This leads to months of discussion before they can put a simple AdWords conversion tracking code on a single page. If its going to take that much work to get a tag in place, use Google Analytics so you can make goal adjustments without the need for someone ever to touch the website again.

If the main goal is phone calls, then there are ways of tracking phone calls. If you are working with a company that can’t afford phone call tracking, then spend the $2.99 on a Skype number or get a Google Voice number that forwards to the business. While you won’t know what ads or keywords lead to phone calls, at least you will know that you are generating phone calls.

Now, just because you get them leads through contact forms or phone calls, it does not mean they are getting sales. This is where I find local businesses the most challenging – getting them to follow-up on contacts quickly.

The longer a lead sits without being contacted, the less likely you will ever be to convert that lead into a customer. However, if you stop your small business management at the lead phase, then you do not have any insight into this aspect of the business; especially if the business complains about the lead quality. If you wait a week to call all your contacts back, the lead quality will look poor even though it was initially great.

I find that sending all the leads into a CRM system where you can see how long it took them to contact the person, or if they even contacted the person, is a great idea.

Most local businesses are not going to refresh their CRM system all day to see if they have a new lead. So not only do you want to send the lead into a CRM system, you want that system to send out an email or SMS (or both) to the business so they know they need to follow-up on a new lead.

Sometimes, it can take quite a while to get the business to the point where you are getting good enough numbers to know how to bid and understand what is working.

While you are getting to that point, the other reason to use Google Analytics is that you can see interaction goals (bounce rates, time on site, pages per visit) to understand the traffic quality until you have better sources of data (actual sales or leads) to make bid decisions.


Ongoing Management

Ad Group Level Bidding

For most small accounts, you will never generate enough data to set keyword level bids. You will need to aggregate the conversions at the ad group level and set bids by ad group.

Because you need to do ad group level bidding, you really do need a very nice granular organization so that each keyword within an ad group is closely related. This will ensure that each keyword has roughly the same value since ad group level bids automatically set the same value per keyword.

Day Parting

Most businesses are not open 24 hours a day. If the business is focused on calls, and only has a person answering the call from 8-5 Monday to Friday; then you should consider using day parting (known as Ad Scheduling in the AdWords interface) so that the account is only driving calls during appropriate hours.


Just because the budget is small does not mean the account is easy to manage and show value. Local accounts come with their own unique set of challenges. They are challenges that can be overcome with the proper setup, management, and sales expectation. However, this is rarely the hard part of local account management.

The most difficult aspect for most local PPC managers is usually goal tracking. Having the visibility into the conversions data is essential, and its usually the hardest part of working with local accounts.

But you need sales data not just so you can optimize the account, but  so the businesses feels they are getting their money worth from their PPC spend.

You can do a wonderful job of management, but if the company doesn’t have any visibility into the number of sales you are generating – the account will ultimately be closed by the business.

Now, while many local businesses aren’t savvy – some definitely are.

When you work with savvy local companies who are willing to go to extra lengths, as creating a landing page for each location by individual city (or who gets it enough to be willing to pay you to do this work); then working with local advertisers can be quite fun and enjoyable.

To make a local account successful, you need to balance the total inventory available with the account’s goals. This can be a tricky proposition with limited data, but if you can manage this juggling act – the local account should thrive.

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

Related Topics: Beginner | Channel: SEM | How To | How To: PPC | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is the Founder of Certified Knowledge, a company dedicated to PPC education & training; fficial Google AdWords Seminar Leader, and author of Advanced Google AdWords.

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  • Justin Sous

    Brad, this post was so easy to relate to, and I echo all of the above. My experiences with small businesses is pretty much identical to what you have explained. It was refreshing to read!

    Something I’ve been seeing recently that is starting to bug me in adWords for local businesses is double serving. It’s something that I have addressed with Google more times than I should have, and it seems as though these businesses are finding some sort of loophole in Google’s TOS. Google does say there are some exceptions which allow certain advertisers to double serve. There are two versions of this I’ve been seeing:

    1. Double serving traditional adwords accounts with differing domains, bidding on the same keywords in both accounts
    2. Double serving an adwords account and an express account paired up with a Google+Local rating (like a rich snippet).

    What light can you shed on this? Are you seeing this type of activity as well? How do you recommend handling it? My clients see this and get frustrated by it (as do I). It’s becoming harder and harder to recommend white hat strategies when Google seems to be turning a blind eye to double serving. The other thing that’s aggravating is Google saying they cannot and will not tell me the status of a double-serving investigation I file, so I never know if they came to a conclusion or not. Any advice you have on this would be great! Let me know if you would prefer to email me directly.

    Thank you!

  • David Kyle

    Solid post, Brad!
    Wanted to share my experience with the extensions.  The phone number one for local campaigns didn’t work very well for me.  The fact they are toll free, and not local numbers was a likely contributor to this.  I find that if your QS is high enough you can get location and sitelinks  displayed together. It makes for a stand out local ad that can deliver a detailed message that a standard ad could not.

  • David Kyle

    Hi Justin, will share my experience with double serving.  I know Google doesn’t like it, and they certainly don’t turn a blind eye to it. The exceptions you mention really can’t apply to local accounts.  There is not a legitimate reason for a local biz to double serve.  

    One of the main causes of what you are seeing are 3rd party resellers.  Once local got big, a big grey area developed in respects to DS. These resellers would actually own the Adwords accounts that would have 100s to 1000s of clients.  It was common for resellers that solicited a biz that already had their own account to say, “we’ll run our campaign against yours and prove we can do it better.”  Their were obviously multiple resellers like Yodle and Reachlocal doing this. So I actually saw instances of triple and quadruple serving for certain businesses.

    The grey area here is that even though it was the same biz being advertised, it was different businesses owning the various Adwords accounts that did so. 

    If you were Google, how would you enforce that situation?  It’s not the same as finding the guy with 3 different accounts using the same credit card to pay.

    I’ve honestly seen a decline in this in the cities and verticals I’m involved with.  Part of it might be from some effort by Google. I think the main reason is because it doesn’t make financial sense for the average local business, especially with the space becoming more competitive in recent years.  Your case may be an exception. Certain verticals will always have a shady element, i.e. locksmiths, carpet cleaners, etc.

    Keep doing the right thing. I’ve been managing local campaigns since 2007, and have never seen a biz brazenly violate TOS do so for very long.

  • Justin Sous

    Thanks for your input, David. There are actually a number of reasons why small businesses would double serve. I guess it depends on the vertical, but regardless, this is what I see:

    1. High traffic keywords which aren’t all that specific. For ex. a keyword like “pest control” doesn’t indicate which pest the user has an issue with, so I see a lot of pest control companies advertising multiple accounts (multiple domains) so their ad copy can target the general query of “pest control” as well as specific pests that may be “hot” that time of year. They’re taking up more real estate on the search results page and are well aware they may be paying a premium for it. 

    2. Certainly a domain that looks more local could have an effect on CTR. I see a lot of advertisers with domains for every major geography in their territory. They run ads in accounts such as these while also managing an account for their main domain.

    I’m glad you’ve noticed the amount of DS going down. I suppose each vertical is on it’s own pace. When I said “turning a blind eye”, sure Google may be trying to eliminate DS behind the scenes, but with my experience, bringing individual cases to them has been dealt with horribly. In fact, not 1 case of DS I’ve brought to their attention has been remedied. In all instances, the Google rep agreed it was DS but had to pass it along to the team that actually deals with the issues.  I understand what you’re saying – it’s very difficult for Google to find these cases of DS. BUT when cases are brought to their attention, I can’t let them off the hook :)

    Thanks again for your response!

  • Brad Geddes

    Just to add my $0.02 – Kyle is 100% correct.

    What I often find is that if a reseller uses the client’s website, then there is very little double ad serving due to how Google doesn’t show too root domains in one SERP.

    But I often see resellers build their clients websites, landing pages, or use reverse proxy to new URLs; this is where its almost impossible for AdWords to police. I’ve tried to think of non-burdensome solutions to this – but its just not an easy issue to solve.

    I have seen a bit less of this in the past couple years, but it does still happen. 

    The main rules around double ad serving for a while were for a reseller to serve multiple ads when the landing pages were different companies. There’s not much of this anymore as Google made a strong effort in the reseller channel a few years ago to push to resellers using individual domains for each clients.

    But it still happens. In most cases its just because of the system. When its a company deliberately trying to get around the rules (multiple credit cards, domains, etc) then Google usually takes a stronger stance. 

  • Matt Cooper

    Hi All,

    Great article Brad!  Thanks for the heads up on double serving Justin and David,  I hadn’t run into it where I am yet, but I’ll be looking for it.   One service I wanted to recommend for Call Tracking is This allows you to not only easily track the number of calls but call Google Analytics and Adwords conversion code with out needing much input from the client.

    There are a ton of example pieces of code you can have the client upload to their domain and that’s all that’s required.  In addition to being extremely cost effective, it allows for a number of the features you mentioned Brad.  SMS, email, and call recording are features you simply turn on.  This allows you to not only report on the number of calls but also conversions and even quality of sales conversation.

    The most recent setup I have running for a local business has the campaign using a very narrow combination of phrase and exact match for each of the services that this business offers.  From there they are directed to a landing page we designed using  this service allows the A/B Testing of a number of the landing page experiments.  They also offer templates for mobile. This makes it super simple to have multiple versions of the landing pages running separate calls to action depending on the day and time of the week.  Mobile and desktop landing pages emphasize calling and evenings, and weekends promote versions of the pages that have contact forms when no one is there to answer the call.  

    So far, this approach is working extremely well.  We are noticing conversion rates well into 30%+ and the ROI is over 2000%+ Because calls are recorded and sent to the business they can easily determine which turned into business and which did not. This makes the offline interaction super simple to measure

    Thanks for validating the approach we have been using, I hope the tools I mentioned are useful. I’d love to hear any other tools you guys find work well for you.


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