Google AdWords: The Missing Startup Manual

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)


  1. The post is about “how” to use Google Adwords but a critical threshold question for lawyers is WHETHER to use Google Adwords. Any empirical data available anywhere about whether lawyers actually “make sales” through this marketing medium? (I expect there’s not. Also, I suspect that certain kinds of lawyers may be able to make it work (perhaps Lemon Law specialists, DUI defense, FDCPA?) but, for the vast majority of lawyers, this is simply not how legal services are “shopped for” or purchased. Am I wrong?)

    • Aaron Street Aaron S. says:


      You ask if there is any empirical data of whether Google Adwords helps make sales for lawyers. In fact, this is the main function of Google Adwords’ interface; the whole purpose of Google’s software is to help users create a data set to analyze how well their ads are converting into leads and to analyze which ads are performing better than others. This is especially easy to do if you integrate your Adwords account with a Google Analytics account.

      (Better yet, intermediate and advanced users should integrate their Adwords and Analytics accounts, then set up “Goal” tracking in Analytics to precisely track the process of Ad Impressions > Ad Clicks > Website Conversion > Sales Lead).

      In the end, of course, any form of marketing depends upon your firm’s ability to turn potential-client contacts into paying clients.

  2. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    You are at least partly wrong.

    People shop for legal services online. In fact, nearly everyone looking for a lawyer does at least some of their looking online. If you want them to find your firm, then AdWords is a very good marketing tool.

    Most online users do not distinguish well between ads and natural search results. They are not being tricked, they just don’t care. If you can target your ads well, you are probably helping searchers find what they need faster.

    Of course AdWords works best when targeted to a specific practice area. But that can be family law or contract review as easily as FDCPA work. If someone were advertising for people searching for “lawyer,” they have a basic misconception of how people use Google, as well as how to brand their services.

  3. The question of whether paid search (like adwords) can generate new business for lawyers has long been answered with a resounding yes. It’s one of the most highly-competitive paid search verticals on the internet (at least some indication that someone is making money from it).

    Aaron’s point is right on. There are many, many, many lawyers who are paying for search traffic and failing to convert it into new clients. Don’t become one of more!

    The truth is, it’s a jungle out there. I would advise any lawyer (especially if you’re just getting started and margins are thin), to ease their way into adwords.

    There is an entire industry dedicated to full-time management of paid search campaigns with professionals with years of experience. Even worse, there are a lot of lawyers who are just pumping in huge dollars, raising the cost of clicks. Just know that is your competition.

    That being said, adwords is one of the fastest ways to get many people exposed to your services. However, it can also be one of the most expensive…

  4. Avatar Karin C. says:

    @gyi I agree – law related clicks are getting ridiculously expensive. While an average click costs around $1.35 or so, many of the generic law keywords can cost $15-18/click. All the more reason to be more targeted and creative with the development of your keywords. With a little research, I was able to narrow down my terms to more reasonable prices. Ultimately, the more specific keywords were less expensive and also more effective.

  5. Avatar Robert Scott Lawrence says:

    I think the conversation is a little more complex than “It Works/No It Doesn’t.” One of my friends who has a small criminal defense firm in San Francisco spends over $60,000 on advertising and marketing (including adwords), which may produce some bang for the buck for him, because he gets calls in the middle of the night from new clients saying their husband is in jail for aggravated assault and what do they do? Me, I’m not getting distress calls from general counsel of large corporations (or even smaller corporations) in the middle of the night after they hop on the internet and do a frantic search for lawyers handling misappropriation of trade secret cases. I’m not saying sophisticated clients don’t use the internet (because they do), but I have my doubts that they find business lawyers that way. I’m still convinced that if they are looking for new counsel that are much more likely to call their circle of friends for recommendations — e.g., their buddies from biz school, or the CFO they golf with, etc. And the larger the client the more likely they have a GC that feeds cases to his old law firm or lawyers buddies. Does anyone really think they’re doing cold internet searches for new counsel?

    • Aaron Street Aaron S. says:

      In addition to what Gyi and Sam have said, I think a practice like yours could benefit from online advertising by creating information products (an email newsletter or white papers) and advertising those offerings with Google Adwords. Then, when a GC is Googling for an answer to a particular question and they find your information-product-answer, you can begin the process of converting them into a client.

  6. Gyi Tsakalakis Gyi T. says:

    @Robert- With regard to your example and adwords, i would certainly agree. However, with regard to the internet in general, I contend that you might be surprised. While GC’s are certainly not typing “new counsel” into google to find a new lawyer, they are reading online. Which means that building a web presence, demonstrating your expertise, etc, can be effective. That being said, your point is well taken and the method of marketing yourself online varies greatly from one practice to another.

  7. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    And while GC’s are not typing “new counsel” into Google, they are using Google to find lawyers. Not always, but when a niche issue comes up and they do not have a ready referral, Google gets the business.

  8. Gyi Tsakalakis Gyi T. says:

    @Sam- Yep. I probably should have expanded on “reading online”.

  9. Avatar Darren says:

    As an advertiser, one of the coolest features now availabe on PPC ads to mobile devices is the Click-to-Call feature. Now you can generate inbound lead calls to your business and all prospects have to do is click one button on their phone when they see your ad. Once you’ve got it setup, all you have to do is optimize your ads to generate increasingly more calls. You can actually even track calls, but that’s technical.

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