Summary: In this article, I try to look if using Google AdWords is a good strategy to drive customers to your website, and hence mailing list. I will explain what AdWords is, how it works, and whether it is useful for writers.
Like many people, I have an email list for people to hear about my new books (I no longer call it a newsletter, as it’s such a boring term, and no, I have no intention of sending people crap very week just so they can read my “newsletter”).
But no one had signed on to my list. Which wasn’t surprising- I get 4 visitors a day, out of which 2 is my mother in law (Hi mom!). The other visitors are from random Google searches. Back in the day, when I was still drinking the Kool -Aid from all these social media “experts” (you know, the ones who haven’t published a single fiction book, or don’t make a living from fiction, yet think they are qualified to give us advice?), I thought that blogging would be a good way to bring people to my blog. And it was. I get 4-5 people from Google everyday, to my blogs like this one (keyword search: Do bankers deserve high pay). Now the article I linked to, Why CEO’s deserve their high salaries, is funny, but that’s all it is. The people come, they laugh, and they leave. So even though I’m getting visitors from Google, it’s a waste of time, as they are not looking for books to read. I’m not L’Oreal, I can’t spend millions on raising my profile. I am totally not worth it.
I decided to give Google Adwords a try. For those who are not aware, Google makes most of its money from ads. Anytime you search for anything, Google displays an ad at the top and bottom, as well as the sides:
The important thing is, most non-technical people, a good 60-70%, don‘t know that the results on the top are also ads, which is fine by Google. That top line is hence very important, as if you can reach there, many people will click on your link thinking they are clicking on a Google search.
Even if you can’t reach the top, Google ads are still useful; as long as you get your keywords and description right, people might click on your ad if they find it useful.
Google Adwords: The basics
So I decided to get some people in via Google Adwords.
Google adwords is a real beast. It is not easy to get started with, and if you don’t know what you are doing, you can lose some money. If you want me to write a blog on how to use Google adwords, let me know.
Google makes most of its money from Adwords. If you ever tried to contact Google (because they were harassing you, since you made the mistake of using Google+, and broke one of their ten million terms and conditions) and got sick of their terrible customer service, let me tell you a secret: The reason Google don’t give a crap about you is because you are not their customer.
To see Google customer service in action, create an ad, and then don’t activate it. The customer service reps will falling all over themselves to give you good service. Your emails will be answered in no time, your problems will be fixed pronto.
So people like me (who buy ads) are the customers, while you are the poor sods Google has to tolerate. You know, like your crazy aunt Martha, who doesn’t bathe, and lives with a hundred cats? And every time you meet her, you are trying to be polite, all the while you want to throw up and leave the room? That’s how Google sees you. Now you know.
How Adwords work: The theory behind Adwords is simple. People search for things. You can pay to have your ads displayed when they search for certain terms, like “free books”.
Google doesn’t charge a fixed price for these ads- rather, it uses a bidding system. You bid how much you want to pay for a certain term. The more you pay, the higher your ad will be. But that isn’t strictly true. Google prefers to place respectable companies at the top. So if two companies both bid X$, the one that is older and has more links will be placed higher.
How much do these bids cost? It depends on how competitive your keyword is. You can spend anything from $0.10 to $100 per click (or even more). That’s per click. So every time someone clicks on your ad, you owe Google money. Not everyone who clicks will buy. Some people will click by mistake, and immediately press the back button, but you still get charged.
Google allow you to place a maximum budget per day. This is very important, as the costs can very quickly escalate. You might have put a bid for just $1 per click, but Google might get thousands of hits a days for your keyword, and you might be facing a bill for $1000 in a single day, with no sale to show for it.
When setting ads, you can also check where you want the ads displayed. For example, US, UK, etc. Even within countries, you can set it so your ad displays only in certain cities, like London and Edinburgh.
Who is AdWords best suited for?
AdWords aren’t for everyone. To get the most of it:
- Your target market must be online, and use Google for their problems (only Google counts here, as it has the biggest market share).
- Your keyword must have thousands, if not hundreds of hits a month.
- Ideally, you should have a product that can sell itself, so you can track how many people clicked on the ad, vs how many bought. Software is a good example of this, as are books (especially eBooks).
The second point is important. My wife runs cooking courses. When I first set her ad up, I forgot to set the country. I soon got hundreds of clicks, from places like Singapore and Tokyo. Luckily, I had placed a very low bid, but I still lost money. I set the search area only around nearby cities. The problem now is, only 10 or so people search for the keyword we advertise for. So even though I got her website on the premium top location, it doesn’t help much, since so few people are searching for it:
Note, this might still be justifiable, if you charge enough to cover your costs. So even with low clicks, it may still make sense for me to continue the ads. It won’t work for something like ebooks, where you may only be making a few dollars.
Enter: Google Adwords for Writers
All that was theory, but how does it work in practice?
I wanted to find people who were looking for books online. So I searched for keywords like “free books” “Free kindle books”, “download books”.
These keywords get thousands of searches. The keyword “free books” alone gets 5000+ searches a month. You can setup AdWords, so Google will either only look for the exact term, or a variation of it, like “free books online”. I chose 10-12 keywords which were getting the most hits.
The next thing is to create an ad. This is a bit of a trial process. The best way is to create at least two ads with different words. You then see which ad was more successful, and use that. Then you create another two ads, based on the winning ad, with slight modifications. This is called A/B testing. The theory is that you run this for a fairly long time (a few months, and thousands of conversions- people clicking on your ads, not just viewing them). I only went through a few iterations, as the process can be very expensive, but I did increase my click through rate very slightly. Here are the ads I used:
There is a third greyed out ad up there- that was the one I was using originally, and getting almost zero clicks. Be warned: Google wants to make money, and if no one is clicking on your ads, it stops showing it.
How much to bid: Google wants you to bid as much as possible, as that’s how they make money. But like I mentioned before, this can very quickly bankrupt you. I set a of bid of £0.10 (Around $0.15). Google moaned that this was too low, my ad wouldn’t show on the first page, etc etc. But the keywords I was using was getting thousands of hits, I didn’t care. I set a daily budget of £1 ($1.5 at the time), and let the ads run for a few weeks. The 1st week I didn’t get any clicks, as my ads were bad, but I slow improved them, till in the second week, I had around 6 clicks. Of these, 4 people signed up to my list. This was from almost a 960 impressions. The most popular term was, of course, “free books”.
Click to see a larger image. I got 6 clicks, which meant almost £0.60. Not bad, but not great either. I decided to really push it. I increased my click cost ten times to £1 ($1.50). This would blow my budget in one click, but hopefully, my ad would now be placed higher, instead of the 2nd or third page.
And it worked. Within one week, I went from 3-4 clicks a week to 10-20 clicks a week.
But here’s the kicker. The people subscribing to my newsletter went down. I only got 2 subscribers from those 20 clicks, while previously I had gotten 4 from 6. The only reason I can think of is: When I was on the 2-3rd page, only the very serious people were there, and they really wanted a book.
On the front page, people were more likely to click on impulse, and immediately click back. I had installed analytics (quick tip: Never use Google Analytics. It’s as fun as shoving a cactus up you-know-where), and they told me people were staying for a very short time. I improved my page and wording a little, but it had no effect. This is the final count:
13000 people saw my ad, of which 50-60 clicked on it, and only 6 actually subscribed. For a total cost of £5 (around $8). Roughly £1 a subscriber. Is it worth it? I don’t know. But most of the £5 was in the last week, which meant that if I had continued this experiment, I could have been spending £10 or more a week (as I was improving my ads, and more people were clicking on them). For free books, from which I wasn’t making any money. So I decided it wasn’t worth it, and cancelled the project.
What I could have done better
I could have spent more time optimising my ads and landing page. However, I didn’t want to spend too much money on it. The proper way to run GA is to let it run for weeks, getting thousands of impressions, and hundreds of clicks, making small changes to test what people prefer more. However, I’m not Facebook, I don’t have black hole of VC money to draw upon.
In retrospect, the experiment was doomed to fail. But in retrospect, we are all geniuses. The problem with the experiment was, the people searching for “free books” were doing just that. They didn’t care about me or my books, they would have been happy with books about zombies, Fifty shades of Gray, or my Lord of the Rings parody. Hell, they would have been happy with a Fifty Shades of Gray type erotic story where zombies do it with computer programmers (and if that interests you, do contact me. I’m totally your man).
I think that was the biggest problem. Serious readers don’t type “Free books” on Google, and click on the first link. Maybe if I had been a household name, or at least a best seller, this might have worked. But if I had been a household name, I wouldn’t be using Google in the first place. I’d be too busy sitting on piles of gold and laughing evilly, like that dragon from the Hobbit.