Case Study: How a Small Business on a Tiny Budget Doubled Their Quality Score in 30 Days
Folks, we have a winner. The results are in from our Grade and Get Paid contest, and the big winner is GetOutfitted, a small startup based in Colorado. If you missed the announcements surrounding the contest, here’s how it worked:
- We invited marketers and businesses owners to use the AdWords Performance Grader twice – once to get an initial report on their AdWords account performance, and then again after 30 days, to show much they could improve.
- We then asked them to tell us what they learned about their account.
- The business that was able to show the most improvement in 30 days won a tricked-out prize package: $25,000 in free AdWords spend for 2014, plus a year-long subscription to our WordStream Advisor platform to help them make the most of that spend. (They also got a subscription to Constant Contact for email marketing!)
GetOutfitted was chosen as the winner due to the huge improvement in account performance between the two reports. They went from an overall score of 15% (meaning 85% of similar advertisers were doing a better job) to an excellent 83%.
Just look at how some of their top-line metrics improved:
- Impression-weighted average Quality Score rose from 3.8 to 7.8 – more than doubled!
- Average CTR went from .26% to 6.32% (24 times higher!)
- Average ad position rose from 3.16 to 1.61
- Account activity score climbed from 39% to 72%
- Percentage of more cost-effective long-tail keyword impressions rose from 50% to 92%
- The CTR for their best ad went from .1% to 7.1%
- Best practices adoption improved – for example they started using negative keywords and modified broad match.
It was a striking change in just 30 days!
I recently spoke with Kristi Anderson, VP of Marketing at GetOutfitted, about how the contest motivated her to get working on her account and how her approach to AdWords changed after using the Performance Grader. Her story is especially relevant to very small businesses working on a very small advertising budget – as well as those with creative or unusual business models, who may find it tricky to do keyword research.
There’s a lot to learn here. Let’s dig in!
First of all, tell me a little about your business. How does GetOutfitted work?
GetOutfitted is a web service that rents ski and snowboard apparel and accessories directly to your doorstep. With free shipping to and from any location in the US, you'll be able to get on the mountain for a fraction of the cost of buying your own gear.
Here’s how we describe it on our website:
1. BROWSE the rental gear and apparel for purchase to get a complete head-to-toe look for you and your family in your big adventure! When adding items to your cart, be sure to add the optional damage coverage policy and pick a delivery date at least 1 day before you plan to arrive at your destination. Make sure to tell us the details on your hotel, resort or cabin so we know where to send it!
2. OPEN your package when you arrive and rock it out on the mountain! Just be sure to keep your original packaging so your returns are super simple!
3. RETURN your items according to the instructions in your original packaging at the end of your rental period. Drop it at the front desk, a blue USPS mailbox or anywhere a mail carrier will get the mail! We'll clean and inspect every item for the next adventure.
We’re a really small company – I manage all the marketing, with a little help from our CEO and founder, Julian Flores. We also have two interns.
It’s a brilliant idea for a business! How long have you been using Google AdWords? How has your experience been with it?
We just started in November 2013. It works very well for us, but it can be overwhelming. There is a lot of information and you are never certain if your efforts are the right ones. Also, we don’t have a huge budget, so we need to be spot on with our efforts. Other startup marketing efforts take time, like SEO, blogging, email marketing and partnerships. So AdWords was a place we could test the market right away. That was a big draw for us.
How did you hear about the Grade and Get Paid contest? Had you heard of the AdWords Performance Grader before you entered the contest?
I was googling SEO and making a checklist of things I needed to take care of. I ran across a blog from WordStream and thought it was worth trying to see what the Grader had to say about us!
Let’s talk about your first “report card.” What problems did the report pinpoint that needed improvement? Did it tell you things about your account that you hadn’t noticed or understood before? What did you learn?
One of the sections that stood out the most was the Wasted Spend – I found out that we weren’t using any negative keywords. The truth is, I had never even heard of negative keywords before using the Grader!
CTR was another metric that stood out to me. As a startup, we know that click-through rate is really important to our investors. Our CTR should be improving to show investors that we’re learning from our customers and targeting the right people. So I knew that was a key metric to zoom in on.
Overall the report refocused me. If I wanted to, I could spend my whole freaking day in AdWords, playing around and trying different optimizations, but I have other things I need to be doing. And Google really doesn’t give you any tips or direction. I liked that WordStream pulled out the top areas of my account that needed work and made suggestions on what to do to get better results. I was able to refocus my efforts and take care of things in better order of importance.
It sounds like your initial report motivated you to get working on your AdWords account! What areas did you tackle first?
Very much so! I changed our ads and keywords and switched how we were managing our daily budget, all due to our first Report Card.
For example, in the first month, I concentrated on better keyword targeting – I realized we were targeting the wrong audience at first. We were going after a really broad audience, anyone who was doing searches related to skiing and winter sports. I changed our keywords to terms to that actually describe our service, like “rent ski clothes.” When we went after keywords like “buy ski clothes,” we found ourselves competing with much bigger advertisers, like REI.
Did your AdWords management process/workflow change during the month?
Yes, after we understood how well it was doing, we were able to put a few things on autopilot and check it once a day, rather than obsess over it all day. I stopped stalking our ads, once I realized that our top performers were pretty consistent. I also stopped playing with bidding every day. I was able to focus our efforts in other areas after that.
Were you surprised by your second report after 30 days? What changes stood out to you the most? What improvements were you most excited about?
We had finally snagged the right keywords and people were looking for our services! Rather than wondering where to find new customers, we were able to find out people were in fact looking for us. It was empowering!
Your impression-weighted Quality Score went way up in your second report. How do you account for the QS improvements?
We kept making daily improvements to the account. You can see that reflected in our account activity score. We did a great job with customers coming to us and we tweaked our keywords, negative keywords and our ads just slightly until we found some sweet spots.
One of the ways we changed our ad text was to stop advertising “free shipping” in our text ads. We ship free both ways, but we realized that putting that in the ads was confusing our prospects and making them think we were a retail site. Once we took that language out of the ads, we had more room to actually describe our service. We got people interested that way, which improved our click-through rates dramatically. We went from an average CTR of 0.26% on the search network to 6.32%!
Amazing! You also made some awesome progress on long-tail keyword optimization. Your score went from 49% to 94%. How do you find new keywords to target in AdWords?
I take the suggested keywords Google suggests of course, but I also thought, if I were in my customer’s shoes, what I would I actually be looking for? I also took a look at the competition (using Google search as well as Open Site Explorer) to see what they were doing well with.
What are your top three tips for making the most of AdWords on a small budget?
- Geotargeting – We focused our spend in the US, particularly in Colorado, where we’re based. We realized we were wasting money on international audiences. Our business model is much more focused than that. We also allocate some spend in Mexico, since we do see people booking ski vacations from there.
- Focusing on our top keywords – We allocated more of our budget to our top 10 keywords, stuff like “rent ski clothes.” Since those search queries are so relevant to our business, we should always win that auction. Now we’re spending most of our daily budget on those money keywords.
- Negative keywords – As I mentioned, before I entered the contest, I didn’t even know these existed. We started restricting our impressions and clicks by adding words like “cheap,” “buy,” and “sale” as negative keywords. This got rid of visitors that were looking to buy, rather than rent, their ski clothes and equipment. It also meant we didn’t have to try to compete with huge advertisers like REI for those keywords. They’re spending $50K a day on AdWords, not $50.
My approach was to try to make $50 a day go further, rather than just adding more money. With a small budget, little tweaks can still make a big difference.
How would you rate your current experience with Google AdWords, after entering the contest? Are you getting return on your investment?
We are very satisfied with AdWords and what it is doing for us, for now. We need a bit better ROI and our customer acquisition cost is still high, but there are improvements still in the works with that. It was very exciting to prove that people are in fact looking for a company like ours. I can’t wait to dig in with WordStream Advisor and start making improvements.
Would you recommend the AdWords Performance Grader to friends and colleagues?
Absolutely! It is good to have someone in your corner when you are navigating the huge waters that are Google. It can be overwhelming to get started. This makes you feel certain you are on track and what to do when you are not.
Kristi’s prize package includes a free year-long subscription to our WordStream Advisor software. We’ll be checking in with Kristi periodically throughout the year to see how her AdWords results are improving. Stay tuned!