Small Business Saturday Advertisers: These 5 PPC Goofs Will Ruin Your Holiday Campaigns


Small Business Saturday might feel a bit weightier this year for many, given the shortened shopping period from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Individual retailers and restaurateurs participating in the annual holiday season kickoff plan to offer coupons, discounts and other holiday promotions, according to new research from American Express and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).

This year, 70% of those participating believe it will help them attract new customers, and 67% plan to offer discounts to drive sales. Offering a free gift with a purchase is an incentive 33% plan to deploy. Notably, the number of small business owners planning to rely primarily on paid advertising to promote Small Business Saturday has doubled since 2012.

Now in its fourth year, Small Business Saturday falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and has grown into “an annual celebration of the independent businesses that help boost our local economies,” say Amex and NFIB.

If you plan to participate, how can you ensure your paid search marketing spend is maximized and gets you the most bang for your small business buck? Avoid these five PPC goofs to help make your Small Business Saturday a win:

1. Don’t Set It and Forget It

Earlier this fall, the WordStream team discovered a few frightening SMB AdWords behaviors that mean big opportunities for those who can get it right. Over half your competition – 53% of small business advertisers – optimize their ads only once per quarter. That’s right, once every three months. If ever there were a time to get active and make optimization a regular habit, this is it. Take time in the run-up to Small Business Saturday to clean up your account, optimize your campaigns and plan for the weekend, but also plan to spend 20 minutes a week optimizing going forward.

2. Don’t Use ‘Holiday’ in Your Retail PPC Ad Copy

The Bing Ads team shared some interesting research recently that uncovers critical ad copy insights for retailers. PC users don’t look fondly upon ads with the word “holiday” in either the title or description, for example. The word “Now” in an ad title doesn’t perform well among PC users, either, though they respond well with increased CTRs when it’s placed in ad copy. Bing’s John Gagnon shares their heatmaps for prime PPC terms, with breakouts for Apparel & Accessories, Consumer Electronics, Department Stores and other verticals here.

3. Don’t Ignore Your Quality Score

A lower quality score can mean costs per click up to 400% higher, with a 64% more expensive cost per action. Considering that the average small business quality score is 5/10, there should be room in your campaigns for improvement!

Small Business Saturday PPC

Site extensions are but one tool you should check out to help give your QS a boost. Elisa Gabbert recently shared a few other  quality score hacks that should have you well on your way to substantial improvements.

4. Don’t Skip Over Negative Keywords

The terms you don’t want to appear for are just as important as those you do. We found that 1 in 5 small business aren’t using a single negative keyword – these advertisers are essentially throwing money at unqualified traffic.

Small Biz Saturday PPC

Negative keywords are sometimes obvious, i.e., you sell boys clothing and don’t want to appear in searches for “Mens” or “Girls” clothing. Others are more difficult to determine and might require a bit of legwork to uncover. Erin Sagin has some great tips for advertisers looking to beef up their negative keyword base and avoid nonsensical clicks.

5. Don’t Send Your Traffic to Never Never Land

Once you’ve spent for the click and captured your prospect’s attention, why on earth are you sending them to some generic landing page or – *shudder* – your website homepage? You’ve caught their eye with a specific offer, now deliver on your promise and send them to the right landing page. Amazingly, 25% of small business AdWords advertisers send all of their PPC traffic to just one landing page, while another 20% are satisfied sending clicks straight to their homepage. This is a bad experience for a potential customer, who is now seeing irrelevant information after the jump. A good experience will see PPC traffic landing on a clean, attractive page with a strong headline, concise copy and a clear call to action. Learn more about landing page optimization here.

Are you ready for Small Business Saturday? Had you heard of it before you read this column? Let us know how you plan to use paid search to boost your holiday sales and where your greatest challenges lie so far.

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Jerry Nordstrom
Nov 22, 2013

Great advice Miranda.Small businesses should know that companies like ours get ansy if we are unable to optimize a campaign multiple times a day! Not touching a campaign for 3 months would be negligent. In the context of the seasonal rush I would add these items as well.RemarketingUse remarketing lists, but use them wisely. Consumers will shop around for best prices, but rarely bookmark your website or specific product page. By using a remarketing list you can be sure that the product they viewed on your website is presented to them throughout their research process. Keep your remarketing list very specific and with a short life span. Don't create lists for anyone who hits your home page and hammer them with ads. Instead be very selective, and track only those who have taken a specific action, added a product to a shopping cart, checked on your shipping costs etc. Create ads to address their interests.Refine your display partner listRun a simple display partner report to see which websites and web pages on the display network are delivering results.Target the performers and exclude the losers.The Multiple Minds of Mobile:

  • Early season - People will use mobile to browse for ideas while board, in line, waiting somewhere. Low conversion - use remarketing.
  • Mid Season - Shoppers tend to use mobile to price shop as they find presents and want to know the price online or at a competing store.
  • Late season - Shipping costs, delivery times, and in stock are all important questions mobile shoppers have as they find a store doesn't have something in stock.
  • Last Minute Mobile Shoppers. People are procrastinators, ads targeting "Is xyz open today" or "store hours" for any company are excellent candidates to target.
Quality ScoreHonestly, we pay little attention to quality score. What Google considers quality and what true quality is, is often VERY different. QS is based mainly on a CTR and CTR is also based mainly on the ad copy - Guess what? Advertisers Mislead; "$99 iPhone" oh did we forget to state this is an iPhone3, refurb from China? CTR rewards this kind of activity and QS forces other advertisers to compete against it. A good Quarlity score certainly helps, but don't get too caught up in chasing a high quality score at the expense of creating ads that YOU know connects directly with your target customer.I hope the small businesses rock it this year! 

Miranda Miller
Nov 22, 2013

Thanks for your thoughtful and helpful comment, Jerry!

Nov 22, 2013

Great article Miranda!I'm still having a hard time with the fact that more than half small businesses only update their ads once a quarter. Why not just put up a billboard instead? Digital marketing is real-time, that's not just for results, it's how marketers react too. Sending traffic to "never never land" as you call it, is another things we see way too often from small business PPC campaigns. One of the simplest, yet least-followed guidelines of PPC best practices. This all means job security for marketers, thanks again for sharing. 

Miranda Miller
Nov 22, 2013

Thanks, Alex. Agreed! It's good that they're trying, but you almost can't even call it that when you're basically throwing your money away.

Ajith Edassery
Nov 25, 2013

Excellent post. Also, not to forget to start the campaigns a couple of days earlier than the planned peak time (e.g. CyberMonday or BlackFriday etc). I had this bad luck of some campaigns not getting approved by AdWords on time. Also, when in doubt never modify the current ads, instead copy and change. Again timely, approval is the culprit.

Totally agree with the other points.

SMTP Services
Dec 04, 2013

Hehehe great images with valuable tips.

Dec 17, 2013

Actually, I hear this for the first time=)Thanks to you I became aware of this thing a bit.But those are really good tips you've mentioned. Thanks a lot!

Zach @small business
Jan 27, 2014

Excellent Miranda. Focus on your target market, monitor your campaign's quality score, and prioritize your negative keywords as well.. these are important factors that are usually disregarded by some PPC professionals. Better stay focused 24/7.

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