How to get started with Google AdWords

The AdWords home page offers a snapshot of ad performance.

Writing Your Ad

Next, it's time to write your advertisement. There's a science to copywriting, but ultimately you'll want to experiment with different headlines and descriptive text over time. You don't get much space to work with: A headline of up to 35 characters, then two description lines of 35 characters each, then your URL. Pack these lines with your best sales pitch, and make sure you write with the reader's/shopper's value in mind. Buy-one-get-one-free offers, discounts, and strong calls to action ("Buy it now!") tend to work well. Remember, though, that Google approves and actively polices ads, so don't try anything iffy. Google's Best Practices are worth reading to help guide your writing.

Below the ad itself you will create your keywords. Again, this is a complex and hotly analyzed topic far outside the scope of this article. In general, you will want to target the same keywords that your website does. Keyword rules are about the same as for website SEO: The more common the word or phrase (divorce lawyer) the higher the traffic will be—and the more competition there will be for that search. Narrower search terms (divorce lawyer jackson mississippi) will have less competition, but less traffic to grab, too. And keep in mind that for search terms that have very little traffic, Google will not display ads at all, even if you are the only bidder for that term.

Results.

Google's Keyword Tool is a huge aid here. This service lets you plug in your keywords, and  it offers alternatives you might not have thought about, along with estimates of how much traffic those terms get and how competitive the bidding is for them. For our divorce lawyer above, "divorce attorney jackson ms" sees low search volume but has high competition. However, "child support in jackson ms" gets similar traffic, but has low competition. While targeting some high competition terms is pretty much unavoidable, the latter terms are the kind you want to seek out for the best ROI. There's no limit to the number of keywords you can use, but keeping the number manageable is smart.

Once your ad is written and your keywords are selected, you will (again) be asked for a bid for this ad group. You'll probably want to leave this the same as the default bid for the campaign. Save the new ad group, and you're ready to proceed.

Tracking Performance

Once your ad is created (in fact, immediately after it's created), you'll be able to see how it's doing. The AdWords home page shows a nice graph of your performance, plus tables outlining how various categories of keywords are performing.

To drill down further, on the AdWords home page, select your campaign and an ad group. You may quickly be disappointed by your results. AdWords is a hypercompetitive landscape now, and prices are sky-high for many keywords. On this page you'll see a column marked "Status." Keywords noted "Eligible" are running. Keywords marked "Below first page bid" are not. For these ads, you either aren't bidding enough money or the "Quality Score" of the ad is too low. The Quality Score is a complicated topic, but the gist is that Google compares your ad with the search keywords you target and the landing page where you are directing users and makes some conclusions about their value. (This is primarily a spam-reducing system.) The more closely these match up, the higher the Quality Score. (Don't feel too bad if these are low; I've never seen a Quality Score above 6/10.) The easy way to turn those "Below first page bid" errors around? Simply increase your bid.

There's always a chance to tweak your ad budget.

Refining Your Ads

Once you start with AdWords, your work is never done. An ad that did well last week may be inactive this week, either due to Google's audit of its quality or because a competitor is now bidding more than you. Check your ads regularly to see what's working and what's not. Bid more when you need to. Kill off weak ads when you must. Change your ads altogether to see if different text brings more clicks.

The Opportunities tab on the AdWords home page can give you additional ideas on how to optimize your account, and you'll also want to pay attention to your email. Google will periodically send you messages if it thinks you're losing out on AdWords traffic.

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