How To Optimize B2B Pay Per Click In 4 Hours A Week, Part 2

In Part 1 of "How To Optimize B2B Pay Per Click In 4 Hours A Week", I wrote that in most B2B companies, the person or team that manages PPC campaigns and landing pages is under constant pressure to "do more with less". This means that search marketing is at best a part time job, squeezed in around email campaigns, field events, whitepaper creation, and perhaps much more.

However, just because you are pressed for time doesn’t mean that you can just "set it and forget it" when it comes to PPC. I believe that with the right routines and an investment of just four hours a week, anyone can be on their way to optimizing their B2B pay per click campaigns.

Part 1 covered how to spend two hours a week to find your best performing ad groups and make them even better (put more wood on the fire). Here, in Part 2, I cover methods for finding—and fixing—your underperformers in the other two hours.

Block Two—Find and Fix Your Losers (2 Hours)

There are a variety of optimizations and improvements you can make to your campaign, depending on where each ad group is lacking. Here are some ways to find out where to focus your time.

Low click through rates (45 minutes). Having a low click through rate (CTR) is bad for two reasons. First, it means missed clicks and second, a low CTR hurts your quality score, so you need to bid higher to get the same position and clicks. Since your expected CTR varies by position, deciding what is low needs to be relative to how your keywords rank. To find the losers, sort your ad groups by position and look for any ad groups that stand out with CTRs lower than its neighbors. Using this method, pick one or two ad groups to work on each week.

A low CTR might be caused by your ads, your keywords, or both. For ads, do a search on Google for a few of your highest impression keywords and look to see if your ad stands out among the competition. Which ad would you click on? Would you click on yours? Do your ads have a strong enough call to action? Use testing to improve your ad, and consider experimenting with dynamic keyword insertion (which inserts your keyword into your ad headline and/or text to help make it look more relevant).

Next, look for keywords that get lots of impressions but have a low CTR. These are the ones that are dragging you down. Consider pulling the words into a new ad group so that you can write ads that are more targeted to those words. Also, if you are using broad match, perhaps your ads are showing up for irrelevant queries. This suggests you should switch to using phrase or exact match and/or you need to add negative keywords. To find potential negative keywords, enter the low-CTR keyword into your keyword tool and see what comes up. For example, if you enter SEM, a common abbreviation for Search Engine Marketing, you see that SEM also means Scanning Electron Microscope. This suggests that "-microscope" is a good negative word to add.

Poor conversion rates (45 minutes). Once you’ve gotten the click, you’ve already paid for it regardless of whether or not the prospect converts. So a low conversion rate literally means you are throwing your money away. It’s easy to find low conversion rate ad groups: simply sort by conversion rate and find the losers. (Just be careful to make sure you are looking at enough data; if the ad group doesn’t have at least 10 conversions, the calculated conversion rate won’t be statistically significant.)

Using this approach, pick one ad group to work on each week. Since the most important factor in conversions is the landing page, your goal should be to have (at least) one optimized landing page for every ad group. If you don’t have a custom page, create one. If you do, try to make it better. For tips on how to do this, see Better B2B Landing Pages—A Case Study.

Also, make sure that the clicks you are getting are the right kind of clicks, i.e. ones where the keyword the prospect is using is actually relevant to your landing page. To do this, make sure that your match types and negative keywords are set properly, and that the call to action in your ads is attracting the kind of searchers you are looking for.

Very few impressions (15 minutes). In some cases, you have ad groups and/or keywords that you believe should work, but that get too few impressions. Pick one ad group a week that you think should be getting more impressions, and figure out why it’s not. It could be that it only has low-volume words that people don’t actually use when searching. This is not uncommon when a company uses their own jargon when picking keywords instead of researching how their customers talk about their needs. In this case, try using your favorite keyword tool to add additional keywords to the ad group.

A more subtle cause can be that you have a duplicate or overlapping keyword (perhaps in another ad group). For example, if you bid on "network security" and "network security software" but your bid for "network security" is much higher, then it’s likely that "network security software" won’t get any impressions. If you have absolutely 0 impressions, it could mean you have a negative keyword that’s preventing your keyword from showing up. Finally, it could simply be that your bids are not high enough to get sufficient impressions, which can happen with very competitive words. See the next point for tips on what to do about that. Regardless, the AdWords "Ads Diagnostic" tool (found under "Tools") can be help you to pinpoint the reason for low or no impressions.

Very low positions (15 minutes). Sometimes, especially for competitive words, you simply get outbid and your ad doesn’t even show up on the first page of results—which pretty much counts as not showing up at all. This can be frustrating, especially when you believe (or worse, your boss or CEO believes) that you should be showing up for those keywords.

There are two ways to respond to this. The first is simply to bid higher until your ads do show up. If you take this approach, be sure to measure the results meticulously—you can easily use up a significant fraction of your budget on a few high volume, expensive words. However, if the word is as important as you think it is, perhaps you can make the business case for the higher spend based on ROI or branding value.

The second (and I believe better) approach is to bid smarter by thinking of the words in your campaign like a portfolio of stocks. Your job when bidding is to allocate your spending across all your keywords in the way that will drive the best results. Mathematically, this is the point where the marginal return of spending more on any given word is the same across all your keywords (this is know as the "Pareto Optimum"). In other words, if you take $1 of monthly spending away from word A to give it to word B, you’ll lose more from A than you get from B. If you take this approach to bidding, then ultimately position doesn’t matter—what matters is finding the position where your marginal return is the same across keywords. (Clearly, finding this point is a complex calculation, but that’s where PPC bid management tools can help.)

Other optimizations to make

There are two other basic optimizations I recommend making. These are not weekly activities, but can be an important part of optimizing your B2B pay per click campaigns.

First, consider turning off the Content Network (Google AdSense), especially if you are budget constrained. Many B2B marketers get poor quality traffic from the Content Network, yet the clicks from the Content Network can use up 80% or more of their budget. I’ve seen this at some of Marketo’s clients, and the instant results from turning it off and letting the budget go to Google Search are dramatic. If you believe you should use the Content Network, I recommend creating a separate campaign for it. This lets you manage how much of your budget goes to it, and lets you write ads that are better suited for people who are browsing rather than searching.

Second, I recommend that you manage your PPC spending with bids, not budget. Using the AdWords budget control to manage spending can result in fewer clicks and higher cost per click, since the way that AdWords ensures you don’t exceed your budget is by limiting the number of times your ad is displayed (which limits clicks).


Many others have shared useful tips for optimizing pay per click campaigns. Here are some of my favorites:

I’m sure there are additional tips and best practices for quickly finding and fixing common pay per click problems. If you know of any, please use the comments to share any additional tips or resources.

Jon Miller is VP of Marketing for Marketo, a provider of affordable, easy-to use-marketing automation software that helps B2B marketing professionals drive revenue and improve accountability. Jon’s blog, Modern B2B Marketing, explores best practices in business marketing, ranging from pay-per-click management to lead nurturing to marketing accountability. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: SEM | Search Ads: General


About The Author: is VP of Marketing for Marketo, a provider of affordable, easy-to use-marketing automation software that helps B2B marketing professionals drive revenue and improve accountability. Jon's blog, Modern B2B Marketing, explores best practices in business marketing, ranging from pay-per-click management to lead nurturing to marketing accountability. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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  • crimsongirl

    “I recommend that you manage your PPC spending with bids, not budget.”

    I agree with that 100%, but I can’t get my coworkers to adopt this policy. Some campaigns we will hit the budget every day.

    Coworkers: The client wants to limit spending to $XXX per month
    Me: OK, but we are losing clicks. Why don’t we lower the bids?
    Coworkers: Because we want to have a high position.
    Me: If we are going to hit the budget, we might as well lower the bid and get more clicks for the dollar.
    Coworkers: We need to have a high position.
    Me: [bangs head against wall]

  • Brendan OConnell

    It is also critical to understand how Business to Business (B2B) Purchasers not just search.

    The recent Enquiro study found that in the researching phase, a purchaser is five times more likely to turn to a generic search engine for information than a B2B search engine. As purchasers enter the later research phase and start compiling information to begin the actual negotiation, many rely on B2B vertical search engines, such as, KnowledgeStorm, or, to help gather the detailed information they require. B2B search engines were the first choice of 22.1 percent of respondents in the negotiation phase, and 18 percent of respondents in the purchase phase.

    The must read study is available for free here

  • Brendan OConnell

    I meant of course “It is also critical to understand how Business to Business (B2B) buyers PURCHASE – not just search.


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