4 Foundational Secrets to Effective PPC Advertising

This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.

The Central Drakensberg region of South Africa is a popular tourist destination. Falcon Ridge Birds of Prey Centre is one of the most successful attractions in the area. They don’t have a website and don’t buy online advertising of any kind. Yet every Saturday and Sunday, their bird shows are packed with tourists. How do they do it?

Every Friday afternoon a Falcon Ridge staff member stands in the middle of the R103 and R600 junction, handing out flyers to cars as they slowed to make the turn.

Context: Every hotel, B&B, campsite, and self-catering cottage in the area is on the R600, south of the 103 junction. Meaning, every carload of tourists drives through that intersection on their way in. Yet of all the area attractions, only Falcon Ridge spends the money to put a flyer-man on the road for six hours.

The other attractions print flyers, of course. They display them on the wall of the Central Drakensberg Welcome Centre, located 30 meters in from the junction. Dozens and dozens of them, all screaming for attention amid a clutter of competition. Can you see how a flyer handed through the car window works much better than another brochure on the wall?

Falcon Ridge’s flyer strategy contains four foundational secrets to effective advertising.

1. Advertise Where Your Prospects are

Falcon Ridge strategically places the ad at the point where all their prospects must pass.

This seems too obvious to mention; yet many businesses advertise where the ad reps tell them to, or where it’s easy to place an ad, or where they can get a lot of vanity exposure. Make sure you build your ad campaigns in response to prospect behavior, not media convenience.

In search marketing, this is pretty easy. Choose the right keywords and by definition you’ve found your prospects.

Many keywords that seem to represent buyers may not; think about the difference between informational and transactional keywords: “I’m looking for info so I can solve this myself” vs. “I’m looking for just enough info to buy wisely.” Select keywords to target your ideal customer, the one who already agrees with your main value proposition.

2. Advertise When Your Prospects are Receptive to Your Offer

Falcon Ridge doesn’t spend money on flyer distribution on Sundays, when all the tourists are heading home. Figure out when your prospects are hungriest, and catch them then.

This also may seem obvious, but do you still get coupons on the back of your grocery store receipt offering a different brand of the thing you just bought? Can’t think of worse timing to make an offer like that.

In search marketing, timing relates to prospect readiness. Pay attention to the “readiness continuum” that goes from “I just starting thinking about this” to “When can you deliver?” Ben Hunt, in his wonderful book “Convert!“, shares his ladder of awareness, which I’m pretty sure he’d let me reproduce here:


Place each of your top keywords on a rung on the ladder of awareness. Then make sure that your ad and landing page matches that level.

If your prospect is only just aware of a problem (“migraine pain”), and not familiar with potential solutions, don’t go on about how your solution is superior to the rest. If they searched for your brand name, take them straight to a “buy now” page. And so on…

3. Match Your Offer to Your Prospect’s Immediate Desire

The crossroads is a perfect place for Falcon Ridge’s message: “Come with your family and spend 90 exciting minutes with us.” The bird show is a low-commitment event, in terms of time, preparation, and cost. You don’t need to make a reservation. You don’t need to spend all day. And a family of four can get in for under $20.

That makes it a great attraction for parents who have been dealing with fiddly kids in the back seat for the past 5 hours. “Here, look, we’ll do this tomorrow; now stop fighting.”

In the AdWords display network, prospects aren’t actively searching for what you’ve got. Your ad must connect your product or service with a latent need or desire and raise the priority of that need or desire to “I gotta do something about this right away.”

4. Focus on ROI, Not Cost

Falcon Ridge could save money by limiting their flyers to the racks at the Welcome Centre. But by choosing to stand out in a premium location, they get the benefit of a much higher return on investment (ROI).

We see this with our Google AdWords clients who pay a premium for the top-rank ad locations (the ones above the organic search results, as opposed to the right column on the search results page). The difference in response is often astounding, as in the screen shot below.


Within the very same campaign, the ads that appeared in the premium real estate were eight and a half times more attractive than the very same ads on the right side (2.49 percent click through rate vs 0.29 percent). Yes, they cost more per click ($7.67 vs $5.69), but they generated 22 conversions, compared to none for the side column ads.

This doesn’t mean you should always pay a premium for the most visible ad space; that’s your sales rep’s job. Rather, you should experiment. Make investments that your competition is unwilling to make, then measure the results.

Falcon Ridge could easily measure the impact of the crossroads advertising by marking each of those flyers, and including a coupon for free packet of chips on every flyer. Four Friday’s worth of data would clearly show the number of customers that each medium delivered.

Creativity Sometimes Trumps Cost

One way to get a premium listing is to pay for it. You may be the only local sewing machine store in your town to advertise on the Super Bowl, but that may not be a good use of funds. You can rent the biggest billboard, buy air time on the most popular morning talk show, and sponsor the biggest booth at the trade show; but that doesn’t mean you’re going to stand out and get noticed.

Falcon Ridge didn’t just advertise bigger and wider than their competition. They asked the question, “How can we do something nobody else is doing?” and hit upon a winning strategy.

As you plan your next AdWords campaign, be willing to spend for results, but start by spending your creative energy first. How can you get the right message to the right people at the right time in a way that sets you apart from your competition?


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