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3 ideas on search engine advertising

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Search engines like Google and Bing reserve some space at the top of their search results for sponsored snippets of text. In these snippets, companies can include a short message about their product or service. The space for these snippets is typically sold to the highest-paying bidder.

Example of a Google Search ad

Many marketers rely on search engine advertising to drive traffic to their website. But search engine ads (SEA) are a significant investment for smaller companies who are just starting to market their business.

And without an in-depth understanding of how search ads work, it’s easy to splurge (and waste) a ton of money on your first campaign. So before you set up your ads, let’s look at three fundamental, spiritual principles.

Principle 1: To win paying customers, create a strong circular value flow

Anytime you trade, you’re exchanging value. When you go to a restaurant and get a delicious meal, you give the waiter 20 euros. You get to enjoy good food, and the restaurant owner can enjoy whatever they buy with your money.

The owner can, for example, spend that 20€ bill on a gift for their kids, or save it to buy a house from hundreds of bank notes. Money therefore works as a proxy for value that can be stored or exchanged.

This also holds true when you’re buying ad space from the likes of Google and Bing. You give the search engine operator money and they show your ads to their users.

Now suppose a search engine operator decides to take your money without actually serving the ads and you find out. What do you?

Stop paying. And look for another company who will uphold their promise. Because the search engine operator, hasn’t provided enough value for an exchange, you lose interest and no longer want to trade. So the flow of value stops. 

Now the interesting question is: what kind of value flow do you need to sustain for search engine advertising?

With search ads, value needs to flow between you, the search engine operator and the people seeing your ads. You pay the search engine operator, so they show your ads for the appropriate search results. The operator then delivers your ad, along with a list of relevant resources, to people searching for particular keywords or topics. From this list, people choose the resource that seems most relevant to their needs.

As search engines make money on a per-click basis, they benefit when the ad is the main resource that people choose. They can influence people’s choices by showing ads above search results – but people will ultimately go for the resource that offers most value.

If you want to make people buy from your ads, that means you better offer a lot of value upfront. The more value you provide, the more money you can earn.

So how can you make your ads more valuable?

  • Narrow in on your audience: How valuable your product is, depends on who you ask. You want to make sure you only show ads to people who will be a good match. One way to do this is by using long-tail keywords. Instead of using generic terms for your ads (such as ‘shoes’ for a shoe shop), you want to get ultra-specific and serve ads for particular types of shoes, such as ‘kids running shoes’, ‘long-distance running shoes with ankle support’ or similar.
  • Level up your ad quality: Great ad copy is genuinely helpful and professional, all while delivering value in a language that the user understands.

 Consider this ad for charging management software:

Here are three ways it could be improved:

  1. Focus on value delivered: Shift from buzzwords to results. “Unlock your potential” and “next-level” are nice marketing lingo, but what do they actually mean? What can your customers really gain from your product?
  2. Write as you speak: Use simple words that your audience understands. Instead of talking about “asset management”, why not say “manage your chargers”.
  3. Add proof: testimonials, fact and figures lend credibility to the ad. See how I’ve included the phrase “trusted by 40+ leading brands” in the ad below.

Here’s an example of what an improved ad could look like:

Principle 2: Invest what you believe in

If you expect a project to fail, you wouldn’t invest any money in it.

The same goes for search engine ads. If you don’t think they work for your business, they’re probably not a good investment.

Even with the best advice from marketing experts, if you don’t believe in the power of ads, you’ll subconsciously sabotage your results. This is because we often shape reality to match our own beliefs.

Therefore, before investing in search ads, ask yourself if you truly believe in them. (I’d do this for any marketing channel I’m considering btw.)

With search ads in particular, you’re not just investing money into ad space, but also buying into some underlying beliefs and assumptions that come with these ads.

For example:

  • Do you believe that advertising is a legitimate and fair way of doing business? Or do you think that ads are sleazy?
  • Do you feel comfortable using platforms with a larger reach to find customers for your business?
  • Do you want to pay for visibility?
  • Are you happy to let others make decisions for you? (Your search ad appearances rely on third-party tech, and even ad copy can be generated dynamically based on user input)
  • Do you trust ‘the data’? (You can only evaluate the performance of search ads based on the metrics and reports you get from the search engine operator. Do you believe this data is true and are confident enough to make financial decisions based on it?)
  • Can you provide genuine value through your search ads?
  • … and so on.

Principle 3: Resonate with your customers

Following the law of attraction, we connect with people who have similar beliefs and values as we do. A big success factors for your ads therefore is that you effectively transmit your company’s values in your search ads.

You can do this by including your values in the ad copy, landing page and offer presented to prospects. These tricks only work, however, when your customers are receptive towards ads.

While openness to advertising differs between people, I’ve generally observed that ads work best for ‘mainstream-approved’ products, like shower gel, laptops, and other seemingly essential goods. The reason here is that around 80% of people think they need these products to stay healthy, work or gain acceptance in society.

This gives advertisers an edge, because the inherent value proposition of their product is clear – all they need to do is persuade prospective buyers that their product is better (in some capacity) than competitor’s offers.

Meanwhile, luxury products are rarely marketed through search engine ads. They’re not essential goods, so marketers have to do more work to persuade their target demographic of the products’ value. This is difficult to do in the small space that search ads offer – which is why longer-form channels are typically favoured by these brands.

Another interesting dynamic is that the target audience of high-ticket, luxury brands is generally less receptive to search ads. Indeed, many wealthy executives prefer exclusive, limited otherwise unique products that act as a status signal.

Search ads interfere with this messaging because they inadvertently signal lower status. The underlying idea is:  if you need to sell using search ads, your product probably isn’t very good.

Just think about it: you wouldn’t expect Rolex to advertise watches or Warren Buffet promote a high-level investment consulting through search ads. At this level, business relationships are built on trust and credibility and using search ads undermines that.  

Ads also don’t work well on people who are very self-aware, sceptical or spiritual. These people can easily see through the lies of others and know that ads are intended to change their perception and ultimately influence decision-making.

If you happen to be marketing products or services to this segment, please consider that they will see right through any manipulative sales techniques. Advertisements for this market need to be honest and informative. It’s very hard to get this right with search ads, because you don’t have much space to work with. That’s why I’d be cautious about using search ads to reach out to honest, self-aware and spiritual people.

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