How small businesses can nail paid search

- December 4, 2019 4 MIN READ

Despite search marketing being one of the quickest and most productive ways for companies to acquire new customers, rising costs and Google’s 88 per cent market share dominance in the space can make it challenging for small and mid-sized businesses with limited ad budgets and less big-name credibility to take full advantage. This requires business owners to be more strategic with their digital advertising plan to lower cost-per-acquisition (CPA).

There has been a lot of concern about Google’s stranglehold on search, especially the paid variety. Jason Fried, CEO of project management tool Basecamp called Google’s paid search ads a “shakedown” when speaking to CNBC. Bill Griffin, CEO of price comparison site GoCompare, complained about escalating search costs in the LA Times and the Detroit News. These red flags and concerns over antitrust violations, bloated keyword click prices and the tech giant’s acquisition and bundling of ad tools are not just seen by CEOs, they are felt deeply by small and mid-sized businesses .

When creating a diversified and strong digital advertising strategy for the year ahead, here are three major questions to consider.

Should I Focus on Product Discovery or Conversions?

If you’re a small business, product discovery and conversions are both equally as important. A winning paid search strategy that relies less on Google while still bringing in cost-effective conversions requires distributing search ad spend across several platforms.

A brand’s strength and recognition are important to evaluate when considering to loosen the Google shackles. Stronger brand names make it easier for companies to excel outside of major search engines. SMBs have a harder time gaining conversions outside of the platform because consumers must learn about these lesser-known brands before trusting enough to make a purchase. It’s important to perform a self-assessment of brand strength when cutting back on Google Adwords budget to improve return on ad spend (ROAS).


Newer or smaller companies should anticipate a longer consumer discovery phase, in which potential customers learn about the product before making a purchasing decision. Accounting for discovery as part of the strategy will help small businesses to develop realistic goals that best work with their marketing metrics.

What Are The Best Tools for Discovery?

SMBs can have great success with search strategies that focus on video search ads on major social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The most fruitful are video ads that are integrated directly into relevant feeds and appear ‘native’ to the customer’s preferred content. Further, these videos should clearly depict the product and its use cases to customers. Nearly two-thirds of people say they discover new products and become more interested in making a purchase after seeing it on Instagram; video product ads are even more effective for teens at 73 per cent. Its advertising can reach up to 849.3 million users. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram’s large communities typically provide more qualified leads than alternatives. Directly following these social media ad campaigns with display ads in search engines targeted to interested users leads to a higher rate of conversion.

Pinterest is another platform well-suited to the discovery phase. SMBs and lesser-known brands can achieve impressive results when devoting ad spend here. The platform is specifically advantageous when selling seasonal products that require longer cycles of consideration, such as holiday home decor and lawn and garden equipment for the spring. By encouraging consumers to pin products and curate their own relevant content through the platform, brands build consumer interest and brand familiarity. A search of “home improvement ideas” on Pinterest may be top-of-the-funnel but it will indicate intent. This consumer indicated that they are in the discovery phase but are looking to make a purchase in the near future; if targeted strategically at the right time, say with a discount, a purchase could ensue at the time a consumer would look to improve their decor.

Lesser-known brands have to work harder than big-box retailers to convince consumers to make a purchase, as the latter has a big name behind it that minimizes the required discovery phase. Big brands can be laser-focused on the lower-funnel to simply reach the right user at the right time.

How Do I Turn Intent Into Conversions?

While major search engines like Google are useful for targeting consumers at all stages of the sales funnel, there are additional digital marketplaces where brands can spend ad dollars to get conversions for an even lower CPA. It’s important for brands to use cost-effective, intent-driven and long-tail keywords outside of Google Adwords to reach leads they may be overlooking. It may be wise to leverage those search ads for mid-funnel and then strike with cheaper, intent-driven keywords outside of search engines lower in the funnel.

For example, if an advertising platform knows that a customer has searched for “best lawn equipment,” and visited Lowe’s website in the last couple days, it is much easier to target this consumer directly with a sale at a similar retailer and expect a conversion.

Amazon is also a key CPA and pay-per-click (PPC) ad network to leverage since it is a ‘go-to’ site for customers looking to purchase. Consumers on the site are typically already lower-funnel. This allows brands to hit more frequently on hyper-targeted, long-tail keywords. Amazon’s ability to reach online buyers is so effective that eMarketer estimates the sales giant will gain 12.9 per cent of the U.S. paid-search market share by the end of this year. Yet, the global e-retailer is not without its flaws. The company has found itself in the hot seat for promoting its own products over paid search ads. Advertisers should be cautious to first manually target when using Amazon as part of ad spend plans while testing the platform’s automated targeting tools in isolated instances to confirm favorable results.

Overall, a brand should build its paid search strategy around its existing fame and strength in the market. The more diversified the ad spend portfolio a brand has, the more they can ensure potential buyers are not falling through the cracks. Relying exclusively on Google or major platforms can cost brands big in ROAS.

By evaluating your own company’s brand recognition, analyzing the specific products that you’re interested in promoting and understanding your customers and where they are in the sales life cycle, SMBs can help to avoid falling victim to Google’s paid search “shakedown” and double or triple customer conversions.

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