PPC for SaaS Companies: Everything You Need to Know

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Timothy Bauer

Writer and Podcast Host at Sweet Fish Media

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If you haven’t noticed, organic is in. Bananas, eggs, lettuce, even camel’s milk can be produced organically. What will they come up with next?

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Don’t get me wrong: We love naturally-grown produce here on B2B Growth. We also love website traffic in its most natural form.

But, sometimes you gotta get those conversions a bit faster than what it takes an organic content strategy to fire up. We totally understand.

That’s where a solid PPC campaign comes in clutch. PPC for SaaS companies can be a wild and unforgiving beast. It’s good to learn the ropes before you find yourself holding a spatula up to a hungry grizzly on its hindquarters.

You, my friend, won’t find yourself in such a precarious situation — because, you’re here, learning all about PPC for SaaS and the best ways to outsmart that pesky bear.

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat:

What is PPC? PPC — otherwise known as pay-per-click advertising — is a model of digital advertising in which you, as the advertiser, only pay a fee when your ad is clicked on.

Simple as that! Well… sort of.

Luckily for you, we welcomed PPC marketer extraordinaire, Dylan Hey of HeyDigital, onto B2B Growth. Because Dylan is literally a well of knowledge, we had to cut his episode up into three parts (not kidding). You can find all three of those tasty episodes up top on this page. ^^^

If you’re more of a reader like myself, we’ve curated this PPC for SaaS guide you currently find yourself on.

Don’t worry! You’ll get all the ripe-for-the-pickin’ PPC insights whether you listen to the podcast series or take a gander at this comprehensive guide.

Here’s all you can expect to learn about, whichever journey you choose:

Sound good? Let’s jump in!

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PPC for SaaS Companies: Everything You Need to Know

First and foremost, let’s go over what PPC advertising is in greater detail. A sort of primer, shall we say.

What is PPC advertising

Oftentimes, people go straight to Google when they think about pay-per-click (PPC) ads. While they’re not wrong, PPC is so much more than that.

PPC definition

Like I mentioned earlier, PPC is a form of digital advertising in which the advertiser only pays a fee when the ad is clicked. Essentially, you’re paying for the clicks you’re driving with your ad.

“PPC stands for pay-per-click and it’s a model of advertising where you as an advertiser only pay a fee each time the ad you serve to someone is clicked on. That can be across a variety of platforms.”

Dylan Hey

Although advertising on platforms like Instagram or LinkedIn is considered “paid social” advertising, those types can also fall under the umbrella of PPC.

Think of PPC holistically

Dylan suggests thinking about PPC for SaaS from a holistic perspective — a bird’s eye view.

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Take a moment to consider how your PPC strategy impacts your target audience at every stage of the sales funnel. Do your ads guide the lead smoothly down through their purchasing decision? Or is the user experience disjointed and clunky?

Taking a holistic approach means considering all advertising platforms: traditional PPC and paid social. (We’ll just refer to both types of digital advertising as PPC from here on out.)

Ask yourself: How do all these ad platforms work together to cause one person to convert? How can we make it that easy for the rest of our audience?

We’ll get into more strategy in a minute.

The benefits of PPC for SaaS companies

Depending on the stage your SaaS company is at, the advantages of using PPC are going to vary.

Early-stage SaaS company

So, you’ve bootstrapped your way up until this point. Or maybe you’ve just received your seed funding.

Either way, you’re a spring chicken in the B2B SaaS world. Welcome!

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As you’re building out your content marketing model, PPC is a great way to test the waters. The cool thing about PPC is that you can get uber specific about who you’re putting your brand in front of. This can help you:

  • Test out various types of messaging
  • Experiment with diverse audience segments
  • Quickly expand to other markets
  • Get familiar with different types of ad platforms

Pro tip: As an early-stage SaaS company, you don’t want to dive into PPC full force. Experiment with specific audiences and messaging, but before you have your content marketing built out, don’t throw your budget at PPC.

Once you have a brand and content that you know resonates with people, advertising becomes that much easier.

“If you’re an early-stage SaaS company, PPC shouldn’t be the first channel you dive deeply into… I recommend focusing on content and brand first.”

Dylan Hey

Dylan points out that because his good friends at Drift have such strong brand recognition with their audience, they hardly have to worry about PPC conversion rates. Livin’ the dream, am I right?

Mid to late-stage SaaS companies

Ya’ll have an established content model in place and are averaging 10s to 100s of thousands of website visits a month. This means you’re probably searching for other scalable acquisition channels. Enter, PPC.

Not only do PPC metrics appeal to investors and leadership, but you can get super specific with who you put your ads in front of. An optimized PPC campaign can help your team:

  • Generate exceptional tracking metrics
  • Test out new markets to expand into
  • Support smart content production
  • Find the best ad network mix

Remarketing ads

Whether you’re an early, mid, or late-stage SaaS business, at the very least you should have remarketing ads set up.

Remarketing advertising: A form of digital advertising (duh) that allows advertisers to target consumers based on their previous online actions.

AKA, you visit target.com for the hundredth time today and you see an ad pop up on YouTube for those zip-off cargo pants you were eyeing.

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Remarketing PPC ads are awesome because they’re extremely cost-effective and high-converting.

Pro tip: In a B2B sales cycle, you need to be in front of your target buyer 8-16 times before they’re ready to make a purchasing decision. Remarketing ads via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google display — pretty much any ad platform — gives you a channel to communicate relevant messaging to your target audience.

Remarketing ads provide the highest return on investment than any other sort of digital ad. You can make sure your target buyer remembers your brand for a really low price.

Get on that remarketing train!

Questions PPC beginners should be asking

We’re not trying to put words in your mouths, PPC newbies. But… I guess we are.

These questions, though, are the essential ones you should be asking!

The purpose of your ads

No need to get existential here, however, asking about the purpose of your PPC ads is a good start.

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Question: What’s the purpose behind these ads?

Bad answer: Uhh, well, lead conversions, I guess.

Good answer: To drive more meeting signups.

You want the purpose of your ads to be as specific as possible. Otherwise, you might be just throwing away money. What’s a mission without a purpose?

Historically, HeyDigital has been driven towards three main metrics:

  1. To increase meetings scheduled with someone on the sales team
  2. To increase the number of free trial signups
  3. To increase sales meetings that generate revenue

Of course, those metrics have distinct numbers tied to them IRL. But you get the idea.

More questions to ask

To really understand the purpose behind your PPC ads, ask questions like… 

  • What are we optimizing these ads for?
  • Are we targeting branded keywords or unbranded keywords?
  • Are we targeting top-of-the-funnel (ToFu), middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu), or bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu)?
  • How does the copy reflect that particular stage of the sales funnel?
  • What’s our target buyer’s experience like once they click on this ad?

It pays to be conversion-focused with your PPC ads as opposed to awareness-focused. By asking the right questions, you can get an expansive understanding of how the target buyer is going to interact with the ad.

Mistakes to avoid

Dylan points out that a lot of SaaS companies fail to properly segment their PPC campaign.

They’ll often have their keywords split into two categories:

  1. Branded keywords. These are search terms that target your own brand. When someone searches for your brand specifically, you want your company to pop up in the results, not some other schlub.
  2. Unbranded keywords. These search terms are unrelated to the brand, but instead target services or features your company offers.

A much more effective way of dividing up keywords is segmenting by the sales funnel stage (ToFu, MoFu, BoFu).

Segmenting your keywords this way helps Google optimize for the intended audience. If you have a lot of ToFu and BoFu keywords mixed together, for instance, it’s confusing for Google and subsequently confusing for ad viewers.

Example: Your SaaS company sells podcast editing software. You decide to create an ad campaign targeting the keywords “best podcast editing software” and “how to start a podcast.” The first is a BoFu search term, the second is a ToFu search term.

The first keyphrase relates to searchers who are closer to making a buying decision. The latter relates to those who are still in an educational phase of the buyer’s journey. Google is confused about the purpose of this particular campaign and avoids displaying either ad.

The moral of the story: Segment your keywords according to funnel stage.

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User experience

Before you start putting money towards PPC, think about the experience a person will have if they click on your ad (think holistically).

How can you optimize the UX in terms of:

  • Ad copy?
  • Landing page copy?
  • The call-to-action?
  • The desired action you’re hoping they take?

Once you have those questions accounted for, it’s safe to start testing the PPC waters.

Ad networks: What are they?

Remember when we described PPC as the umbrella over all digital ad types? That means PPC encompasses all the different ad networks.

The best way to define an ad network is to offer an example.

  • Google is an ad network. Under Google, you’ll find:
    • Google search ads
    • Google display ads
    • YouTube ads

That ^^ is an ad network. Sometimes it helps to think of it as a hierarchy:

PPC > Google (the ad network) > Google search, Google display, YouTube, etc.

Kapeesh?

Now, there are several ad networks that B2B and SaaS players should be paying close attention to. 

  1. LinkedIn offers several ad placements within its ad network (text ads, sponsored content, sponsored messaging, dynamic ads). Since Microsoft has acquired it, LinkedIn’s ad network has improved a great deal. However, it’s still a little spendy.
  1. Capterra (software review site) can be really cost-efficient to advertise on due to its high conversion rates. Site visitors are ready to make a purchasing decision, so when you’re targeting them with a BoFu ad, it’s more likely they’ll click on it.
  1. G2, another review site, offers relatively good conversion rates as well. 

Dylan and his team at HeyDigital have found success in advertising on the above three ad networks. Maybe you can, too!

Quality score: What is it?

Quality score: Google’s way of telling you what to do. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

How quality score works

Here’s the deal. When you’re advertising on Google’s ad network, you want to appeal to Google. This is because Google want to appeal to the most buyers possible.

Google gets more ad clicks, you pay Google for those clicks, it displays your ad to more people. It really is a love/love situation.

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The quality score is how Google grades your ad. So, you want that quality score to be as high as possible.

How to improve your quality score

Our buddies at HeyDigital have expounded upon 10 ways to improve your Google ads quality score. Check it:

  1. Don’t advertise multiple products in one ad. Stick to one offer per ad.
  2. Include your targeted keywords in your URLs. Google likes that.
  3. Use targeted keywords in the ad headline and on your landing page.
  4. Make sure your landing page is uber-fast.
  5. Create enticing ad copy. The more clicks your ad gets, the better your quality score.
  6. Keep these ratios low: Keyword to ad ratio and search term to keyword ratio.
  7. Personalize your ad copy according to what the search query is (instead of ‘software,’ try using the word ‘app’).
  8. Try using negative keywords (the opposites of the keywords you want to rank for, but may gain clicks from).
  9. Match the searcher’s intent.
  10.  Implement mobile-friendly ad extensions.

Then, watch your Google ads quality score launch into the stratosphere.

Click-through rate (CTR)

Click-through rate — or CTR — refers to the percentage of ad viewers who actually click on your ad. 

Competing for clicks

Although you’re paying for each time your ad is clicked, generating a sufficient CTR is important for the success of your ad. Additionally, you want as many people in your target audience as possible to see — and hopefully click — the ad.

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Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there’s one thing standing between you and your best CTR: other advertisers targeting the same keywords.

Plus, Google wants to display the ad that’s producing the most clicks. This is where a few tips on improving CTR can come in handy.

How to improve CTR

To improve your ad’s click-through rate, try the following.

  1. Make sure the experience is dialed into the intent of the searcher. That includes the platform, the ad itself, and the landing page.
  2. Make it attractive.
  3. Include social proof within the ad copy to boost your credibility.
  4. Don’t let your copy get boring. Try to evoke an emotion in your target buyer.
  5. Include the targeted keywords within the ad copy.

Since you’re competing for clicks with other advertisers with the same keywords, it’s worth it to invest some time and thought into your ad.

Pro tip: It’s true: B2B ad copy is often dull as ditchwater. Using emotional triggers in your copy can help your ad catch your target buyer’s attention. Play to emotions like instant gratification, pride, or FOMO.

Do not — I repeat, do not — copy and paste your product features into your ad copy. It’s boring and probably should be outlawed.

What’s a good CTR?

If you’re working to improve your CTR, it’s probably helpful to know the percentage you’re shooting for.

According to Dylan, your CTR will likely be around 3%-4% when you’re first starting out with PPC advertising, depending on the volume of people who see it. 

After your PPC campaign is all ramped up, a good CTR percentage to work towards is 5%-7%.

More on keywords

To determine which keywords to target via PPC and how many of them to target, you’ll need to take several factors into account.

Searcher’s intent

Get into the mind of your target buyer. What are they searching for? Why now? What problem do they need to be solved? What are their goals?

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Once you get a good idea of what the searcher’s intent is, you can break your campaign down by match types.

  1. Exact match. This is the safest match type of the group. Using exact match means you’re telling Google you only want your ad to show up when the exact key phrase is searched.
  2. Broad match modified. With this match type, your ad can still pop up even if the searcher doesn’t type in the key phrase exactly. Dylan suggests using broad match modified when you first start out with PPC so you can cast a large net for search traffic. The risk with this method, however, is that you’ll generate some irrelevant traffic.
  3. Long-tail keywords. By targeting long-tail keywords, you’re lowering the competition and potentially catching searchers at the time they’re ready to make a buying decision. These keywords are longer, more specific search terms.

Choosing match type

The number of keywords you choose to target will largely depend on your budget. 

When the budget is tight, focus on exact match campaigns. These are the most cost-effective and safest route.

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If you have the budget and are looking to uncover more keywords to target, use the broad match modified technique.

Ad groups

There are limitless ways to structure a PPC campaign. Even so, there are three elements every campaign should have.

Campaign structure:

  1. The campaign, under which everything else is housed. The campaign should be labeled according to which stage of the sales funnel you’re targeting.
  2. Ad groups are the level below the campaign.
  3. Keywords are organized by the ad group they belong to.

Each keyword should have its own group of ads to pick from according to the search intent.

Best practices

Dylan offers a few best practices when it comes to ad groups that he’s learned over the years.

  • Don’t overload a campaign with hundreds of ad groups. Think of ad groups as having 20 fancy Italian sports cars and the campaign as the garage space you need to store all of them. You only drive one or two of them, but still need to pay for the space to keep the whole lot. If you have hundreds of ad groups, Google will show the ones that are performing the best. But you’re still paying to have the others live there.
  • Don’t have too few ad groups. This usually means your ads are too broad and won’t drive conversions.

SKAGs

Single keyword ad groups, or SKAGs, used to be best practices for PPC campaigns but is now being used less and less.

Nonetheless, SKAGs can be useful for smaller campaigns. 

By targeting single keywords, you’re probably missing out on a lot of good results. But, if you’re trying to be laser-focused in your efforts, SKAGs is a viable option.

PPC budget

To figure out your PPC ad budget, follow these four steps:

  1. Define the purpose of the campaign. Try using the SMART goal methodology.
  2. Understand what you need to do to drive the desired amount of traffic.
  3. Find an estimated cost-per-click. The best way to do this is to look back on past campaigns and calculate what it cost for each click.
  4. Multiply the traffic needed by cost-per-click.

Voila! Your PPC budget.

The padawan becomes the master

Hopefully, this guide has helped you become well-versed in the art of PPC.

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The main takeaways we hope you walk away with are… 

  • Knowing the purpose of your PPC campaign makes it way easier to implement.
  • Really get to know the search intent of your target buyers.
  • Don’t be afraid to test the waters before you jump into PPC.

For daily tips on B2B marketing, head on over to The B2B Growth Show.

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