Google [not always] to the rescue

Google AdWords are mighty. Google Adwords are effective. But sometimes Google AdWords can’t help you.

I’m launching a business consulting program for startups called Mo’popular. We soft-launch next month and I wanted to test some landing pages before then. My usual method is to launch a modest AdWords campaign to see what gets clicks.

When this gets tuned up, it’s fantastic. I’ve used the same method for my Digital Fundraising School Free Class schedule. Over the last year, we’ve perfected, pretty much, an Adwords campaign that brings the right people to our landing page, and that page converts. All good.

A keyword-driven approach can pull you off message.

I learned this past week, however, that while ‘crowdfunding’ is a nice keyword in the AdWords universe and signals a clear intent to the viewer, ‘startup’ and ‘business startup’ and ‘business consulting’ mean a lot of different things to different people. They are also really expensive as keywords. Because of keyword competition, clawing my way to the top of results was tough. I was able to mitigate that expense (and competition) somewhat by intensely targeting the campaign to the cities I wanted it to run in, i.e. the cities from which most of my traffic comes from anyway: Los Angeles, Santa Monica, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Vancouver, Austin.

All good. Sort of. Even with their brilliant copy and snappy calls to action, my ads really underperformed. I saw that AdWords was making ‘suggestions,’ but those suggestions were pushing my campaign off message. I didn’t want to emphasize ‘free’ services, but value services, and I wasn’t going after startups at the beginning of their lifecycle, but those in the middle, who had already launched and were seeking more users.

AdWords didn’t work for Dropbox.

Then I came across a story from Dropbox’s early history. Dropbox tried running AdWords campaigns at the beginning, but the ads failed. They failed because at the beginning of Dropbox’s lifecycle, people didn’t know they needed Dropbox (yet) and weren’t using Google to search for relevant keywords. Dropbox realized it was spending $400 in AdWords to acquire each new user. Not working.

Google even got on the phone with me to walk me though some improvements. Wasn’t enough. I didn’t want stratospheric expenses, so I dropped the AdWords campaign for Mo’popular. We will keep it for Digital Fundraising School.

My takeaway (and yours): Bidding up your keywords can fix almost anything in AdWords, but if your keywords are pulling you off message it’s better to step back, press pause, and reevaluate.