I have to admit, Google AdWords confounded me at first. I had logged into the site many times clicked around a little, became frustrated, and found something else to do.  The hurdle I could not overcome was the lack of clear, simple instructions to create an introductory account, become proficient, and enjoy the benefits this tool has to offer.

I can happily report that I finally set aside my reservations and spent some worthwhile time determining how to get my account working – and it works (and I can prove it with real numbers). The good news is that it is really difficult to make a huge or costly mistake with this method of targeted advertising.

Based on my experience, here is the missing 5 Step Startup Manual to get up and running with AdWords:

Step 1: Sign in

When you sign in, you’ll see your “Account Snapshot” with an overview of the payments you have recently paid, suggestions of keywords and most importantly your Campaign Performance, which is the main thing I pay attention to on this page. I keep my campaigns in the mode that compares previous date ranges. This way, I ensure campaign performance heads in the right direction — up.

Step 2: Setup a campaign

From your dashboard, under “Active Campaigns”, click on the “Create Online Campaign”. The two areas to pay attention to here are the geography and budget. While the AdWords program is not specifically geared towards a local market, as an advertiser, you can limit where your ad appears based on the searcher’s location. Be sure to be thoughtful and specify your geographical region – this is a great way to target more specific clients and stay local.

Your marketing budget should obviously be an amount you are comfortable with, but should also be reasonable considering the average cost of your keywords, which you will determine in subsequent steps. A typical place to start is $3-5/day ($100-150/month).

Step 3: Create your ad

The transparency of the internet comes in handy here since you can easily find out what your competition is doing. Hop over to Google and search for a few of your main keywords to view the ads that appear on the first page. There are three areas to consider are: 1) the Headline should include your core selling points and the keywords that trigger it, (i.e. “Minnesota Estate Planning”); 2)  the Description should detail specific benefits that your company offers as well as a clear call-to-action that your customers should take (i.e. “Avoid Probate, and Save Estate Taxes”), and finally the Display and Destination URLs where the Destination URL should lead to a page on your website related specifically to the ad (it is not necessary to type the whole thing on the Display URL).

Step 4: Setup your keywords and bid

While on the same page, you will also identify an initial list of your keywords and determine your default bid amount. During the process of creating your ad, once you input your Destination URL the system will scan your current website and find a few suggested keywords. The most common bidding option is Cost-per-click (CPC). These bids determine the amount you’re willing to pay when potential customers click your ad (as it shows up on Google, or one of their partner sites). Google allows you to set spending limits so you don’t blow your monthly budget, and offers plenty of tools and resources to help you manage your AdWords campaigns.

Once Step 4 is completed, your ad is done and enabled. From this point on, you will only need to determine your measurements of success, review and adjust your settings to continue to hone in on the most effective ad (or group of ads).

Step 5: Measure your success

You can easily measure your success by evaluating the statistics provided by AdWords.

Clickthrough Rate (CTR): To get an immediate idea of how well a campaign is doing, check the CTR (how often people click on your ad). On Google, a CTR under 1% indicates that the ad does not target a relevant audience.

Average Position: Check the “Avg. Pos.” column on the “Campaigns” tab in your account to find out where your ad appears on the search pages. Up to 11 ads show per page, so if your average position is 11 or more your ad is probably not appearing on the first page of search results.

First Page Bids: If your ad is not showing on the first page of search results then you will see first page bid on the “Keyword” tab under the “Status” column. A first page bid is the cost-per-click you need to set to get your ad showing on the first page of search results. High first page bid estimates can indicate that your ads are not as relevant as they could be.

Quality Score: Each of your keywords is given a quality score which can be found by clicking on the icon in the “Status” column on the “Keywords” tab. Google rewards relevant and quality advertising with a higher position on the search page and lower costs. This means, high quality ads have a compounding effect: higher activity and lower marketing costs.

Manual Bidding: If you compete in a saturated market, and want to maximize your results, consider managing your keywords manually. Under your “Settings” tab, you can choose to manually bid for certain keywords. .  I prefer bidding higher on more competitive keywords that offer a better CTR.

A few final tips to go further:

The true strength of AdWords can be found over time when you compare and contrast the results of various ad campaigns. It is possible to create two similar ads–running concurrently–to compare and test a headline, verbiage, messaging, or offers. It is also possible to have some incredible research from prospects, showing real intent, in a matter of hours for less than $50.

Keyword Tool Use this tool to generate new keyword ideas. It identifies the level of competition directly relating to the cost of that keyword and its potential for success. It also indicates local and global search volume for the previous month. Generally, you’ll want a keyword with a mid-range in competition coupled with high local search volume. Its even better if local versus global search volume is high.

Google Analytics: Google Analytics integrates beautifully with Google AdWords and will provide enhanced statistical analysis of how people found your site, how they explored it, and what actions they took on your site. Ultimately the combination of AdWords plus Analytics allows you to target markets and convert your marketing investment into revenue.

Google also offers a few sources to help, the AdWords Beginner’s Guide and

Growing your business with AdWords. While I found both of these helpful in understanding certain terms, for me the best method was to: dive into the tool, implement my own campaigns, learn what works best for me, and adjust my strategies where needed.

(photo billie hara)