3 PPC Strategies to Out-Sell Your Home & Garden Competition
After record-setting snow in Boston this winter, us locals could not be more joyful at some of the first signs of spring trickling in. Yes, we’ve still had a few snowfalls, and days with bone-shaking wind-chill, but those 60 degree days scattered in are finally giving us hope! We won’t die in this rumored snow apocalypse after all!
With these subtle signs of spring, it got me thinking about the huge PPC opportunity for the home improvement & garden industry. After all, with flowers blooming and sun shining, home owners are ready to tackle their beaten up lawns and bring their tulips back to life after being hit with blizzard upon blizzard. As you can see from the graph below, there’s an uptick in searches for gardening needs this time of year (think, spring cleaning needs, gardening goals, pool opening prep).
To get a clearer sense of the strategy and challenges those within the industry face I spoke with several WordStream clients in the industry that work for companies with varying business models. Even with a variety of offerings I found some over-arching themes that home & garden marketers should take note of.
Let’s dive into the specific paid search tips home & garden marketers should implement into their paid search strategies this spring and going forward.
Tip #1: Tailor the Paid Search Experience around Seasonality & Weather
When you work in the home improvement & garden vertical, the entire paid search experience should be built around fluctuations in seasonal demand. But if you’re not careful when building out your account, and if you’re not keeping an active eye on changes that need to be made with seasonal and weather fluctuations, then you could end losing a huge chunk of potential customers.
WordStream client O’Connor Lawn and Garden is a third-generation business that sells lawn equipment and has lots of local brand recognition in their home state, Oklahoma. They decided to branch out online six years ago when they launched their site, but getting involved with paid search proved more challenging than expected: “When we took our PPC in house this year, we realized that lots of stuff was completely wrong. We were paying a lot of money, the ads weren’t set up correctly, we weren’t using negative keywords, conversion tracking wasn’t set up right,” explains Bridgett Davis, O’Connor’s Lawn and Garden Internet Manager.
Aside from the major issues Bridgett had to repair upon taking over their paid search account from the previous company they used to outsource with, she’s found weather to be a prime factor in determining her PPC management strategies. “In the winter months we’re not going to have people purchasing lawn mowers. With 14 feet of snow in Boston, people aren’t really thinking about their lawns,” she says. “We cater our campaigns to seasonality – turning them off in November, December, and January. We move our budget to the months when people are really shopping more.” But this isn’t the case with every location Bridgett is advertising in: “Florida, Louisiana, and Texas are green 11-12 months out of the year, therefore we have a huge amount of customers there. Being in the industry, I know when it’s green in which states.”
Craig Simpson, co-founder of the South African based e-commerce company On the Patio, is relatively new to paid search, but is strongly taking seasonality into consideration. “Coming into our first winter, we are making drastic change. More of our ads are on smaller, kitchen-oriented items, décor items – all of our 360 all-year-round products,” says Craig. “We’ll be taking budgets away from umbrellas, outdoor furniture, and focusing on outdoor covers in order to cover up furniture and keep everything nice for the next season.”
So what steps need to be taken to make sure you’re staying on top of the weather when it comes to your PPC efforts?
- Structure Your Campaigns around Seasonal (and All-Weather) Products: For instance, if you sell lawn mowers and snow plows, you’ll want separate campaigns for each product so that you can easily allocate budgets and also pause and un-pause these campaigns when they’re not seasonally relevant. For products like home improvement appliances and indoor furniture, you could run these products all year around, but you would still want them in a separate campaign with their own budget to make management easier. “Now that we’re structuring better, we’re getting so many more hits so it’s good to be able to pay attention to the months which are busier,” says Bridgett, highlighting the value that account structure can play on increasing conversions.
- Duplicate Campaigns and Target Locations Separately: If you’re selling beach umbrellas across the U.S. you’ll want to run ads for certain locations longer than others, for example umbrellas to shield the sun are likely in demand throughout the year in sunny Florida, but in upstate New York, the span of shopping for outdoor, warm-weather products is limited. Therefore, targeting these locations separately will make for better use of your budget. Craig even found his demographic audience to vary a bit per location, so structuring campaigns to target locations and tweak that ad text to cater to that audience has proven useful. “When it comes to age group it varies by area within the country,” says Craig. “In northern parts of South Africa we typically find 40- to 45-year-olds who are more tech savvy. In Cape Town however we get traffic from searchers as young as 30, way up to those in their 60’s and 70’s who are typically not as familiar with technology.”
- Update Your Ad Text Frequently: For example, if spring is right around the corner your description line might read, “Prepare for Spring! Order Your Mulch Today.” Or you might include more gardening keywords in your ad copy. Of course you would need to update this once spring is in full swing, and then again as summer is approaching. This might sound like a lot of work, in which case you can chose to keep your ad text more generic, but it does typically help to stay current and relevant, which can increase your click-through rates.
- Keep Track of Strange Weather Patterns: With extended winters, and long stretches of rain showers, you might need to delay running certain ads for outdoor products, or you might want to run your shovel sale a bit longer. Watch the weather and take patterns and one-offs into consideration when running ads.
Tip #2: Appeal to the Emotional & Sentimental Side of Your Searcher
Picture yourself on a warm summer night as the sun sinks into the horizon: the kids are full of burgers and hotdogs, and everyone comes together to sit around the fire-pit, tell stories, and roast s’mores. Oh no! You don’t have a fire-pit? Well, you need a fire-pit to make these memories!
With home improvement advertising, unsurprisingly the target demographic tends to be families and home-owners, so what better way to sell then paint a picture of family bonding, happiness, and memory-making? It couldn’t be easier to appeal to the sentimental side in this industry, yet companies don’t think to take advantage of the opportunity within their PPC strategy. This is a huge mistake because emotions are insanely powerful, and once you awaken this side of your searcher’s brain, they’re going to feel like they absolutely need your product.
I recently spoke with Clare Esson, Sales Manager at Katchakid, a brick and mortar business selling pool safety equipment such as safety nets, fences, pool covers, and other equipment to ensure child pool safety. Clare explained how instead of heavily pushing the products they sell, her paid search strategy is to focus on drowning prevention. “We believe in not only the products we sell, but the philosophy of why we sell these products,” she says. “You can’t be untouched by what drives people to make calls to places like us. Maybe a neighbor just had an accident or something even worse. We try and appeal to the parent’s emotions to encourage them to make a purchase to prevent a dangerous incident like this from occurring.”
When implementing a paid search strategy to gain conversions, Craig faced several challenges. “We’re pretty much the only e-commerce business dedicated to this space in our region, although we do have competition from the brick and mortar guys,” says Craig. “We realized early on that we need to create ads proving to people that the experience we’re creating is a better experience than going to the store.” How did Craig prove this? By appealing to the sentimental side of the searcher, which leads me into what you can do to improve your PPC experience through emotions.
- Craft Your Ad Text Wisely: You only have limited characters, but you need to utilize that space to convey trust, value, and positive emotions. Your ad copy needs to be persuasive and compelling, while creating a sentimental experience. “We try to convey a bit of a story in our text ads,” says Craig. “The challenge is trying to convey, in a very short number of characters, what the experience means to them. We want them to feel like having the experience with us is very personal, in a safe space (typically from one’s homes), rather than just getting in line to make a purchase at a store.” On the Patio makes great use of their ad copy space, while highlighting key benefits of the purchase, like well-being, relaxation, and family bonding. They also provide trust signals and highlight the upside of purchasing with them over a local store. The ad below shows how they convey the visual of relaxation while showing how easy the shopping experience is with free delivery, secure payment, and personal support.
- Create a Visually Intriguing Display Strategy: Did you know that 67.5% of ads on the display network are plain text ads? So boring! If you’re advertising on display in the home improvement advertising industry and not taking advantage of visuals, you’ve got a lot more problems than I realized! After all your industry, like travel, is a VISUAL industry. With that said, you don’t want to use any plain old images of your products, but images that convey the feeling you want your searchers to get. Whether it be a family laughing by a bonfire, or a newlywed couple enjoying an intimate moment on their new hammock, find a way to make your images convey a powerful emotion.
”With our display ads we try to tell a story through the visuals,” says Craig. “We try to convey that emotional feeling of being outside on a patio with friends and family, and that helps push people to the site because when seeing the image they think ‘I want that experience.’”
Tip #3: Have a Sales & Holidays Strategy in Place
Holidays and life-events like graduations, weddings, and anniversaries naturally bring up home & gardening needs, and while marketers in the industry likely think about this, they might not spend time adding holiday-related keywords (think “Easter tableware” or “outdoor lights for 4th of July”), tweaking ads, and running special promotions to gain an uptick in conversions during these peak times. Well, reality check, you absolutely should be leveraging holidays, sales, and promotions to the best of your ability with your PPC strategy.
So when is the best time to run a sale? This could take some trial and error to figure out, but some of our experts weighed in.
“We run two separate sales periods,” says Craig. “The first is our Spring Sale – we make a big effort with display and text ads, use ad extensions to promote our 25% discount on outdoor furniture, and we see a massive increase in traffic and overall revenue.” Craig explained that for the spring season he decided to run this at the very beginning of spring, before the upside of the season when people will buy regardless, but his winter strategy is a bit different. “For winter sales, we’ll likely do these towards the middle of the season to support the downside of the sale. As numbers change we like to prop those up.”
Bridgett’s strategy is a bit different as she has to work with the manufacturers who provide the lawn mowers, but she uses the discounts given from them to provide more value to her customers. “The manufactures put out rebates at specific times of the year, so we look at those and then I promote them on AdWords. We also buy in volume so we get discounts that we then pass on to our customers,” she says. “We can beat the price nationally and we usually do. Some areas in the U.S. I can ship to cheaper than buying it locally, which is why they should buy it from me.” But what about holidays? Aside from these sales at random, Bridgett advertisers more heavily the week before the 4th of July and Memorial Day, which makes sense since you can imagine home owners are looking to clean up their lawns before their big firework-filled 4th of July barbeques.
Lastly, Clare runs promotions at the beginning of each season as she finds these times to be the most valuable since shoppers are starting to fulfill their seasonal needs.
So, what can you do to promote holidays and sales?
- Run an Ad Group(s) with Holiday Targeted Keywords: Make sure these keywords have enough search volume, but find holiday and event related keywords to bid on and push to a holiday ad with your product. For example, “memorial day outdoor furniture sale,” or “summer wedding arrangements” – make sure you have different offerings and holidays/events in different ad groups directly to relevant ads and landing pages.
- Utilize Ad Customizers: If you have the time to manually tweak your ad text with special sales and promotions then by all means do it. It’s so important to highlight 25% off deals, or buy-one-get-one-free specials, because these steals will create a sense of urgency and tremendously increase the chance of conversions flooding in. If you want to make your life even easier utilize ad customizers to automatically update ad text based on what the user is searching for or the webpage they’re viewing. Learn more about ad customizers because the implementation is simple and the maintenance is pretty much non-existent.
Home improvement advertisers, stop day-dreaming about summer barbeques and start implementing these strategies to increase sales in all seasons through your paid search efforts!