3 Ways a Small Business Can Compete with the Big Guys in PPC [DATA]

Allen Finn
Last Updated: November 22, 2021 | Paid Search Marketing
HomeBlog3 Ways a Small Business Can Compete with the Big Guys in PPC [DATA]

Being the little guy can be tough. You’re underfunded. You lack resources. You spend lonely nights eating cans of warmish black beans googling buzzwords like “grassroots” and “bootstrap.” But no matter how many times you nod off to a Seth Godin audiobook on the subway, competing with the biggest and baddest in your vertical can seem daunting.

Fret not! There are ways to thrive in PPC even without an unlimited budget at your disposal. In this post I’ll show you how – illustrated with a real-life example (a WordStream client), so you know it works!

Selvera is a small business offering personalized weight management solutions through cognitive behavioral therapy, dietary tracking, and home-delivered meals. As the comprehensive nature of these offerings suggests, Selvera isn’t cheap, but it’s effective: 90% of their clients experience sustained weight loss.

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…which is more than we can say for some alternatives

Despite overwhelming success once clients are enrolled, the price point and comparatively small advertising budget in an extremely competitive space (Selvera’s top competitors include Nutrisystem, Medifast, and Jenny Craig) makes customer acquisition challenging. As such, we delved into the vertical’s most granular recesses to devise an SEM strategy that would yield great returns.

Strategy #1: Uncovering Hyper-targeted Keyword Niches

Using a combination of SEMRush and simple Excel tools to conduct competitor analyses, we determined a subset within the weight loss niche that remained untapped. Typical costs per click for generic weight-loss solution keywords like “best weight loss solution” exceed $15 for top positioning. However, we discovered that keywords pertaining to medical issues related to weight loss are substantially cheaper.

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After researching a variety of medical conditions impacted by weight we found that keywords built around diabetes, like “diabetes weight loss solution,” have CPCs closer to $2 and boast higher conversion rates than generic terms. By pivoting spend away from unsustainably costly terms in favor of keywords explicitly pertaining to weight loss for people with diabetes, we cut the account’s average CPC drastically; tweaks to the ad copy and a landing page catering to the desires of our new target demographic had similarly positive results.

When the strategy proved effective on traditional search, we decided to establish a corollary campaign on the Display Network using managed placements.

Strategy #2: Targeted Managed Placements

Generally speaking, the Google Display Network can be harrowing for small businesses. It serves as an excellent means to grow a brand but it’s not necessarily the most cost-effective paid search channel in terms of generating conversions. Managed placements afford the user a greater degree of control over ad placement on the Display Network than, say, keyword or topic targeting, making it a great tool for businesses with budgetary restraints.

Straight from the horse’s mouth: “[managed placements] are a targeting method you can use to specifically chose websites, videos, and apps that are part of the Google Display Network where you’d like to show your ads.”

Thanks to concentrated text and banner ad creative, the Selvera account has thrived across a carefully pruned list of managed placements. One placement in particular, tiered with a keyword context target for diabetes, has yielded 44 converted clicks in the last 30 days alone. The success on Display reduced CPCs for the campaign even further, dropping down from about $2.02 to just $0.28 after 60 days.

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Strategy #3: Demographics Are Your Friend

Believe it or not, women click on weight-loss related paid ads more often than men do, BUT on the (comparatively) rare occasions when men do click an ad, they convert at a much higher rate! Armed with this knowledge we created a display campaign—using the techniques mentioned above—targeting male audiences.

We started with a series of cheeky banner ads (see below) shown across dating sites and personals. Clicks here were extremely cheap, between $.08 and $.16, and click through rate improved. Best of all CPA for the campaign was just over $14 (for perspective: the account-wide CPA was about 3X this). This success spurred us to expand the campaign, experimenting with topic targeting directed at male audiences, which ultimately proved less effective (in terms of both conversion volume and CPA) than the managed placements.

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Unfortunately, when we replicated the campaign, making minor tweaks to target a female audience, the results could not have been more different. The ads received fewer clicks despite higher impressions, and I think we tracked a single conversion over the course of a month. Sometimes changing one variable (this is admittedly quite a large one) yields drastically different results. Speaking of…

The Client’s Results

Since the first week in April 2015 (when these initiatives began in earnest), Selvera has seen a 127% increase in leads generated via PPC (100 monthly leads vs. 227 monthly leads), evidenced below:

adwords for small businesses

As a result, CPA has dropped a precipitous 63%, from $94.00 to $35.17 (again, see below):

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In July, a historically slow month for the weight loss industry, our efforts produced Selvera’s best single-month performance on AdWords to date: this paradigm-thwarting performance is a testament to the power of subversive thinking in PPC.


Hopefully, given the success of the techniques showcased above, you see a different sort of value in the Display Network. While you might not be able to pour hundreds of dollars every day into plastering banner ads in every nook of the internet, you can take advantage of advanced targeting features to make the Display network work for you. By taking the time to research who you’re marketing to you can grow conversion volume—and lower CPA.

Meet The Author

Allen Finn

Allen Finn is the co-founder of Toasted Collective, a cannabis-focused digital agency. Many moons ago, he worked at WordStream, where he reigned as fantasy football champion for some time.

See other posts by Allen Finn

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