Paid search for lead gen: Tips for new accounts with limited budgets

Get the most of your ad spend with these campaign structure, conversion tracking and testing strategies for lead gen campaigns.

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Service and lead-based businesses create thousands of new Google Ads accounts yearly, but few are (or ever will be) high spenders.

Most accounts start and stick with modest budgets. They need the most support in these early stages and against bigger spenders.

One fundamental part is developing a well-rounded paid search strategy that matches your strengths and works within the PPC platform’s limitations.

When you can only spend a few thousand dollars on ads monthly to generate profitable leads, it can feel like your back is against the wall. The solution is to make sure everything is dialed in, so let’s cover:

Best practices for every campaign at your disposal

Lead gen advertisers have access to nearly everything an ecommerce advertiser does, except for shopping inventory, which requires a product feed.

Below are all the campaign types available on Google Ads, with recommendations on how to approach each.

Search is a fundamental Google Ads campaign type that most people are familiar with. These text-based ads appear blended with organic results on the search engine results page (SERP).

For those new to Search, I typically propose a three-phased approach:

  • Take your campaign live using manual bidding and phrase match keywords.
  • Spend the first few weeks of your budget on acquiring traffic and data.
  • After achieving statistical significance, switch to broad match keywords and smart bidding.

Along with this, you want to make sure you do a few other things that will tell Google how to improve the types of conversions it brings you:

  • Integrate your CRM or customer database with Google, either natively or via Zapier.
  • Pass back information on which leads turned into sales to help Google optimize.
  • Monitor search terms data to apply negative keywords and filter out unwanted traffic.

2. Performance Max

Once you’re happy with how your Search campaign is performing, you can choose to layer in Performance Max.

Performance Max is an algorithm-driven campaign that allows you to unlock new opportunities by putting your ads in front of people searching for terms related to your offering.

I don’t generally recommend that lead gen accounts move straight into Performance Max without first building out Search, as those that do so tend to fail at a higher rate.

Because of how this campaign type functions – using a high degree of automation to find new leads – you’ll be quite dependent on historical conversion data to help Google find more of what has worked in the past.

Remember that with lead gen, there is no online sale, which means that you should:

  • Use offline conversions to provide added data on post-conversion activity.
  • Set up spam guards to combat its propensity to include spam leads.
  • Accept that Performance Max may cannibalize traffic from your Search campaigns.

And while ecommerce is highly dependent on Performance Max, for lead gen it remains an option – a good one when implemented correctly, but an option nonetheless.

3. Display

Display campaigns show your ads on the Google Display Network, typically on inventory located on other websites. If you’ve ever seen an ad “follow you” around the web on different sites you visit, there’s a good chance it was a Google Display campaign.

Display placements can be hit or miss, so decide whether you want to test these in addition to Search. You might even opt out completely and save your limited budget for other, more proven inventory.

4. YouTube

YouTube allows you to run banner ads, as well as skippable and unskippable video ads of varying lengths.

Given that most users are browsing YouTube for a mix of entertainment and problem-solving, this can be a gold mine of leads if done right. But it can also be costly with little return, especially if you approach it just like Search.

I’ve covered in detail what you need to understand about YouTube Ads, including:

  • The nature of YouTube and how ads work there
  • Pairing ads with an organic presence
  • Building brand safeguards
  • Advice on monitoring and tracking
  • Reporting and data analytics

5. Demand Gen

The latest offering from Google Ads, Demand Gen, is being rolled out globally to replace Discovery campaigns.

It’s a way of creating new demand by putting your ads in front of people who might have never heard of you before, using platforms such as the Discover app and YouTube Shorts.

Demand Gen works best for larger accounts with bigger budgets and more historical data. But you should test it. Make sure you understand Demand Gen campaigns before you get started.

6. Meta

Though not a paid search offering, once you’ve tapped out available search volume and other Google options, Meta is another option that lets you advertise to users of the social media networks Instagram and Facebook.

Like YouTube, it can be a valuable source of leads or a money sink, depending on how you approach it. Be sure to brush up on the most important things you need to know about lead gen campaigns on Meta, including:

  • What campaign types to use.
  • How to decipher attribution.
  • Setting up audience targeting.
  • Forms and landing pages.
  • Creative suggestions.
  • Intent and funnel targeting.
  • Following up post-conversion.

Campaign structure: Go narrow and shallow

I typically like to keep campaign quantity and structure light for newer accounts or when managing smaller budgets. Creating too many campaigns or ad/asset groups can hamper Google’s ability to maximize your impression share and conversion volume.

For example, I’ll usually advocate for one Search campaign with a couple of ad groups built around keyword themes. With larger budgets that skew small, we’ll add a second campaign.

Budget, performance and location are other valid reasons to split out your lead-gen campaigns.

Conversion tracking: What can you measure?

When an ecommerce campaign gets a conversion, the sale is done (assuming no returns). But for lead-gen accounts, the actual “conversion” is still some time away and likely involves several offline activities:

  • Qualification.
  • Outreach.
  • Quotes.
  • Demos.
  • Phone calls.
  • Salesmanship.

Your marketing objective must be clear so you can track the right customer goals for lead generation. We typically track three types of actions:

  • Calls, both via the ad and the website.
  • Form submissions.
  • Chat engagement.

Salesforce and HubSpot have direct integrations with Google Ads. For other tools, you can use Zapier to get all the leads from those different sources into your CRM, collecting the Google Click ID (GCLID).

This allows you to push that post-conversion offline data back to Google Ads as sales progress through the pipeline.

Common lead gen mistakes

Oversights, mistakes and experimentation are part of all PPC management. Other times, ad platforms like to opt you into programs and settings that are important to them but don’t necessarily benefit your account.

Be sure to pay especially close attention to these five mistakes new lead-gen advertisers make:

Location targeting

  • Ensure that your location targeting setting is dialed in to “presence” not “presence or interest.” 
  • This allows your ad to only show to people physically in your target geographic areas.

Search Partners

  • Every now and then, you’ll see text ads on a website or in its search results. 
  • These are Search Partners placements and tend to be irrelevant. If you test this, opt out quickly if it doesn’t work.

Spam guards

  • The web is full of bots and bad actors. You need spam guards to combat click fraud. 
  • Methods such as reCAPTCHA and Honeypot are good at minimizing these junk leads.

Conversion tracking

  • When selecting your events for conversion tracking, choose something meaningful that shows real and active intent. 
  • Events like page visits rack up your conversions, but they’re meaningless as data and business assets.

Auto-apply recommendations

  • These are Google’s version of “set it and forget it” optimizations and settings changes. 
  • Not all of them are harmful if you know what they do, but save this for when you’re more familiar with Google Ads.

Dig deeper: Improve your Google Ads performance: 3 simple setting changes

Test smarter on a limited budget

Testing is fundamental to Google Ads and all paid search. But you must pick your battles when deciding what to test. I advise no more than 10% of your budget for experimentation, and I typically try not to run any tests that will grab a larger portion of that budget.

If you’re testing two landing page versions, watch the conversion numbers closely. Typically, you want hundreds of clicks – if not 1,000 – to call a test. But sometimes, smaller budgets mean you have to call it even with lower statistical confidence.

Think about campaigns driving fewer than 100 daily clicks that cost $1,000 in some industries and $50 in others (depending on your cost per click). You want enough data to be statistically significant, but the truth is that you don’t always have the luxury.

When your campaign’s budget is $100 a day and each click costs you $7-8, you won’t see four-figure traffic for nearly 90 days. In that situation, you must decide earlier, perhaps after 250 clicks rather than 1,000.

Between testing and learning periods when using automation, there is a “cost of doing business” in Google Ads. Not every test and dollar will contribute to leads and profit, but the goal is to aim for net positive growth.

And when in doubt, stick to what you know and what works. Usually, that will be the simplest solution.

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About the author

Menachem Ani
Menachem Ani is the founder of JXT Group, a US-based agency specializing in multi-channel online advertising. A digital and search marketing veteran, he brings to the table more than 20 years of experience creating high-impact growth strategies for eCommerce and service-based businesses.

His track record of delivering consistently above-average results stems from his forward-thinking mentality. A pro-automation paid media specialist, Menachem adapts the fundamentals of marketing to ever-evolving ad platforms. Today, he is one of the leading authorities on modern Google Ads tactics and campaigns, including Performance Max, Demand Gen and offline conversion tracking.

Outside of running his agency, Menachem is also a highly regarded author and speaker. He has shared insights on paid media and growing a digital agency at SMX, BrightonSEO, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Foxwell Founders, and several other publications.

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