Google search advertising is a nearly bottomless source of high-intent traffic that is looking to purchase. It’s also expensive click traffic which is one of the easiest ways I know for a founder on the early stages of their go-to-market journey to throw a few thousand dollars down a hole to no effect.
There are 3 ways to make your first foray into Google Search go way better than that:
- Research before you buy
- Build your funnel in pieces
- Learn elsewhere, execute in search
Research before you buy
When you first sign up for Google Adwords, you’re presented with either a step-by-step guide to building a campaign very simply or a rather terrifying complex UI. There are literally 38 different things to click on this screen. And, unusually for me, I’m going to tell you that you want the crazy complex view.
To enable it, after you’ve gone through the forced ad setup, you want to change your view to Expert Mode. You can always change it back later when you’re building ads if you like, but for research, I much prefer Expert Mode.
The absolute best tool to understand your market
One of the absolute best tools to research and understand your market is hidden away right here:
In our last go-to-market article, I talked about an imaginary dog chew toy e-commerce brand. Let’s continue researching for that company.
I can start with the simplest search terms: Pet toys, dog toys, and puppy toys.
Google already has a host of suggested terms you can use to expand your keywords: Pet products, dog items, etc. Let’s not add these wildly yet, because we’ve already got thousands of keywords to look at.
There are two ways you want to conduct research: branded research and intent research. Branded research is where you’re looking at search volume and demand for your competitors’ brands. Intent research is where you’re trying to find search terms that show someone is looking to buy what you’re trying to sell.
When you want to start with branded search, it’s really easy to target just those search keywords:
… and I can instantly filter out all of the search terms that don’t include a brand term that Google recognizes. It’s not perfect–many small brands will not be picked up with this–but it’s a good start:
Immediately, I get tremendous free competitor research:
The top players in the space are getting a few thousand searches a month, and I see what I’d need to pay in order to compete with them by buying ads that rank above organic search results. It’s immediately obvious from just this small slice of insight that I’d much rather figure out an appeal that gets me people searching for Kong dog toys, at $0.50 a click, instead of Super Chewer toys, at nearly $2 a click.
See how competitive a search term is
Another key item to do is to see how competitive a search term even is, for paid traffic. To do that, add a column to your reporting.
Click on that button, select “Modify Columns”, and then add in the Competition (indexed value) column. Click on the “Competition (indexed value)” column header twice, and you can instantly see search terms that aren’t competitive, which means you could make low bids and get clicks for way less than the more competitive terms.
So a lot of low-competition keywords here look like this:
This tells you 2 things:
- This person is worried right now about their dogs’ health because it ate a rubber toy, and
- They will soon need another toy, probably not from the brand name their dog just ate
Create good content around what to do when someone’s dog eats a Kong rubber bone or a nylabone, or many other brand names and you could probably win both organic and paid traffic to your new dog toy brand’s website. Make strong claims about the safety, ruggedness, and–most importantly for these dog owners–that eating your dog toys won’t make their puppies sick, and you might have a good funnel to build traffic to your store for cheap.
This kind of research gets you into the deep inner workings of search engines–and it doesn’t cost a cent.
Go over to the right column and change keyword filters to exclude all of the branded terms and only find non-branded terms. Your view of search opportunities will change tremendously.
Here we find both a source of anxious pet owner queries–“Tennis ball bad for dogs”, “Puppy steals toys from older dogs”, “best toys for dog [breed]” and so on, all with decent traffic but not tremendous competition.
Armed with this research, you can construct plans for validating your GTM plan, your content marketing, your website, and even your product offerings, all in less time than it takes to drive out to Starbucks and back.
But what do you do with this knowledge?
Building your funnel in pieces
When you’re preparing to launch a new idea, it’s very tempting to think about the whole funnel you want to build: find an audience, convince them to check you out, get them to sign up for a trial or book a call, and then sell them on your product for actual money.
That’s what you need to grow your business, after all.
But that’s not what you’re doing right now. We’re creating a go-to-market plan, and you’re best off building this in pieces. A GTM plan requires 3 things:
- An audience
- A solution
- An offer
And most founders focus on step 2 the exclusion of everything else.
Let’s talk about each of those 3 stages.
Find your audience
Start by building the top of this. Who is your audience? Even for pet toys, there are all kinds of audiences: people with large breeds of dogs, small dogs, aggressive & high-energy dogs, older and gentler dogs, anxious puppy parents, and experienced dog owners with a half-dozen dogs at home.
The same toy is sold in very different ways to each. Product requires an audience before you know how to describe it, so once you know what kind of product you want to sell, you need to go find that audience.
I talk a lot about using paid acquisition to find your audience or using social media distribution to find your audience. Paid audience discovery is faster, but costs money instead of time. Social distribution is “free”, as long as you don’t think about the labor required to execute and the opportunity cost of learning slowly instead of quickly.
In either case, when you’re building the top of this funnel you don’t really care what they do if they’ve engaged with your content or clicked on your ad. Put together the most minimal landing page you can fly with to gather some leads and let people perform minimal research into your product before taking a demo call.
The more effort you put into your product before you validate your audience, the harder time you’ll have tailoring it to the audience that you find. Launch with the absolute least you can. I often launch with only a landing page and a Savvycal link.
Build a solution
Once you’ve validated that audience, then you can frame your product into a solution.
Steward Butterfield, the founder & CEO of Slack, wrote one of the best ways to talk about a product as a solution I’ve read. You don’t sell a bullet list of features.
You sell an answer to a problem. “My pitbull keeps eating her nylabones”. “My toy schnauzer keeps eviscerating his stuffed toys”. Those people aren’t looking for another toy, really. They’re looking for someone to give their dogs joy, give them less stress or less cleanup, and someone to tell them they’re being good to their dogs,
So sell that–in whatever form your actual clients need.
Take every feature and rephrase it as a way to answer one of the problems that your audience has.
Craft an offer
You don’t sell dog bones, but you kind of do in the end. So you’ll eventually need an offer.
Buy now, sign up, free trial, etc. Each of these should be almost a formality for the right audience. Your offer should be compelling enough that 5% or more of your traffic that sees the offer jumps on it.
But for early-stage tests, when you’re validating your audience?
You don’t care about this offer yet. You don’t know what will work, because you haven’t even found your audience yet. Don’t stress it for now.
So if you have a theory for your audience and you have a solution outlined on a landing page, you’re ready to buy Google Search ads now and test those ideas, right?
Research on Google, execute elsewhere
Google clicks are pretty expensive. I’ve run a few million dollars of performance marketing over the last 4 years, and Google is usually the second most expensive source of traffic (LinkedIn is usually higher).
Those clicks, especially in your early research days, aren’t going to make you any money. You might as well lose as little as possible when you’re learning.
Once you’ve run enough tests to learn your audience and what they’re want, the lessons that apply on social media platforms also apply on Google Search.
Google Keyword Planner is one of the best competitive research tools out there. Too many people sleep on how it can be used to make all of their other advertising work better.
What do you think? Have you ever tried something similar? Hit me up @trevorlongino on Twitter and let me know what you think.