How much do Google Ads cost, anyway?
If you’ve been wondering how much it costs to run Google Ads successfully, what your monthly budget for PPC (pay-per-click) should be, or whether you should try and run paid search ads yourself–then you’ve come to the right place!
You know that Google Ads are a great way to drive traffic to your website, but you’re not sure if you can afford to run them…or afford not to. In this article, we’ll give you some guidance on how you can run a successful paid search campaign under a tight budget.
But first, a word about working with an outside vendor:
How much does it cost to work with a Google Ads (or PPC) agency?
Agency prices can vary greatly for running your Google Ads accounts, also referred to as SEM (Search Engine Marketing), paid search, PPC, or Google Ads (formerly Adwords).
It will depend on your monthly ad spend, the number of campaigns you need to run, your competition, your location, the agency’s experience, and the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow–among other variables.
However, most reputable agencies require a monthly ad spend of $1,500 or more, and layer their management fees on top of that. Sometimes it’s a percentage of ad spend, sometimes it’s a flat fee, and sometimes it’s a combination of both. Other agencies charge you by the number of campaigns or ad groups you have in your account, or how active they need to be in the management of the account.
It’s not uncommon to start with a monthly spend of $3,000 on the low end, and $10,000 or more for bigger, more complex accounts.
Is it worth it? This is actually an easy question to answer. Within a few months they should have collected enough data to optimize your account, and you can tell if the number of leads you’re getting, the number of conversions you’re seeing, and the revenue or profit you’re generating from these sales covers the monthly spend and management fees you need to lay out.
However, if you’re just starting out, you may not be able to “front” this kind of expenditure while you wait to collect the necessary data. This is especially true if you have a long sales cycle, where a lead might take months to convert.
So, what are your options? Do you have to give up on Google Ads entirely?
Spoiler Alert: No.
How to Run Google Ads Yourself on a Limited Budget
As you may know, Google Ads run on a modified auction model. If you need a little primer on Google Ads, be sure to check out this article on Google Ads Fundamentals.
Google has set up the ads platform so that “anyone” can run ads, regardless of budget. I added the quotes in there because it’s important to recognize that while anyone can run ads, you may be competing against ad agencies with years of experience and expensive AI-powered software that can take some of the guesswork out of the process, resulting in more data and faster results. Couple that with competitors with budgets that dwarf yours, and it might feel like playing one-on-one against Lebron James.
But you’re not a quitter! And the truth is, no one knows your business, your offerings, or your customers as well as you do. So, with that in mind, let’s get started.
Set a Limit on Your Google Ads Spend
The most important question is: What are you actually willing and able to spend on your ads? Set a maximum amount you’re comfortable spending each month, and from there you can begin to determine whether this amount will be effective or not. Here’s how:
Google divides your monthly budget into a daily budget, allowing your ad spend to spread across the entire month. So, instead of Google burning through your entire budget in a few days and rendering your account inactive the rest of the month, every morning your daily budget refreshes.
Let’s say you’ve looked at your finances and you can budget $150/mo to spend on ads.
Divide this number by 30.4 (the average number of days in a month) for your daily budget…in this case $5 per day. See! You can afford that! You just need to give up that morning latte. Or that footlong sub everyone used to sing about.
Two other factors might change what you’re willing to spend each month:
1. Conduct some Industry Research
Determining what your competitors are spending, or what a typical bid is for keywords in your industry. This graphic from Wordstream gives an overview of CPC across different industries:
2. Choose what You Consider a “Conversion”
Conversions are measured as the desired action taken by a prospect. That could include downloading a white paper, signing up for an email newsletter, completing a contact form, or clicking a “buy now” button.
If your conversion isn’t selling a physical product/service with a clear-cut monetary value, you’ll need to calculate your close rate on people who sign up for a webinar or book an appointment on your calendar.
While you may not like the idea of spending several hundred dollars a month on ads, it might go down easier if you knew that just one conversion could pay for your ads for a month, a quarter, or even a year! For example, we work with a general contractor that only needs one or two leads a year to cover their annual expenditure on search ads.
Narrow Your Business Objectives
Once you know what you’re willing to spend, it’s time to make the most of that spend, and that comes down to focus.
One of the reasons agencies require a minimum spend is because the truth is, the faster you spend money, the sooner you’ll get valuable data, the quicker you’ll be able to make improvements to your campaigns, the faster Google will set it’s machine-learning to identify your best prospects and show them the ads, and the faster you’ll start generating leads.
A bigger spend also allows you to try different campaigns and compare different ads, bid on more competitive keywords, target broader geographic areas, and more.
But the whole point of this article is to talk to you about running ads on a limited budget, so how do we accomplish that?
Consider a laser vs. a lamp. A laser is an incredibly focused light beam. While it can’t light up a room, it can travel insane distances (literally to the moon and back!), as well as entertain a cat for hours–both equally important.
To get your budget to go farther, you’ll need to narrow your business goals, probably down to a single objective to start. Yes, this limits your opportunities to get found for all the things you do, but you won’t burn through your budget without gathering critical data.
Let’s say you’re a financial advisor. You may not be able to run campaigns on:
- financial planning
- tax planning
- fiduciary partner
- saving for college
Instead, you’ll want to choose just one objective and focus your time, energy, and budget towards that. This choice could be based on a low-performing product or service you’d like to sell more of, the service that brings in the most money (higher conversion value), or the one with the least amount of competition on Google (more about that coming up).
Once you know the upper limit of your budget and you’ve narrowed your business objectives (hopefully down to just one), it’s time to target your keywords.
Which Keywords Should You Target?
Trick question. If you’re really on a strict budget you should start by only targeting one promising keyword (or a couple, if they have a low enough cost-per-click).
While a lot of the presearch that you do can give you an idea of what you’re going to spend or which keywords might be most valuable, you need enough real world data from your own campaigns to optimize your targeting, bidding, and spend.
Just like with business objectives, if you spread your limited budget too thin over too many keywords, you won’t be able to gather enough data to make informed decisions.
However, once you do hone down your keyword, your ad, your targeting, your bid, and your landing page to where you’re generating a positive ROI on that campaign, then you can start going after other keywords in the same manner (while still keeping an eye on that original campaign.)
Which keyword to target comes down to keyword research, as your keywords are essentially where your money is spent. You bid on how much you’re willing to spend for each click on those keywords. The more companies that want to appear as a result for those keywords, the more competitive (read: expensive) the bidding will be.
The unfortunate reality is that there are some industries that are insanely competitive, making it difficult–even nearly impossible–to successfully compete in the Google Ads arena with a limited budget. You can target less expensive, more focused keywords, lower your expectations for the number of clicks you can afford each month, or put a couple of more lattes a day towards your business objectives.
Use Google’s Keyword Planner
One of Google’s most valuable tools within their ad platform, is the Keyword Planner. This is where Google allows you to input the geographic location you’re targeting (for projected search volume, your website domain (so they can provide the most relevant keywords to your business), and a few products/services you’re looking to advertise.
From here, Google provides you with a projection of search volume, competition, and approximate cost of the keywords you added, as well as Google’s keyword suggestions.
Choosing Your Keywords
Regardless of how competitive (or not) your industry is, if you’re working with a limited budget you should choose one or two long-tailed keywords to go after.
This is the difference between going after “truck” vs. “truck dealerships near me” or “truck dealerships in Portland, ME”. People doing the first search may be looking for stock photography of dump trucks, truck reviews, or are just at the very beginning of their customer journey. People doing the second search are just about to choose a dealership near them for pricing and a test drive
The search volume is generally lower for these keywords, but you can also expect that these people are closer to making a buying decision. Long-tail keywords also tend to cost less due to the lower search volume and competition.
The mistake a lot of people make is that they want to reach as many people as possible, and not the audience that’s most likely to convert. Companies like Amazon or Home Depot can afford to go after broad keywords to drive traffic to their site, but you need to be much more intentional with your spend.
In a limited budget situation, you need to focus on that second audience, even if it means missing out on all your potential business.
Some industries may still have high competition and bids for their long-tailed keywords, so above all, check out the projected cost-per-click of each long-tailed keyword to make your best decision.
Target a Smaller Geographic Area
Another way to get the most out of a limited budget is to run your ads in a specific geographic area. This is obviously beneficial when you only service your local area, but can even be beneficial if your product or service can be delivered anywhere, like business coaching or e-commerce.
While you may serve customers across the US (or beyond), trying to blanket this geographic expanse will spread your budget too thin, causing it to be less effective than targeting a specific region, state, or even metro area.
So where should you target your ads if you don’t have a retail spot or limited service area? Take a look at your Google Analytics and see where your visitors are coming from. Look at your sales and see where your customers live. See if you can pinpoint some areas of higher than normal activity and focus your ads there.
If you’re lucky enough to have some leftover budget at the end of each month, you might consider widening that target area or going after other areas of activity.
Make an Exact Match
You’ll want to pay attention to the type of match your campaign is based upon. This has to do with how closely a given search matches with the keyword you’re targeting. If you’re working with a limited budget, you should never go with Broad Match! Again, to get the most out of your spend, narrow your focus.
Whether you choose Exact Match (narrowest) or Phrase Match (somewhere between exact and broad) comes down to how long your long-tail keyword actually is. I might recommend starting with an exact match initially for keywords like “hair salons in Chicago, IL”, but if you don’t generate any clicks in the first couple of days/weeks, change it to phrase match and see what searches you show up for.
Below is a graphic from another flyte Google Ads blog post, with examples of what searches you may show up for using the three different keyword match types.
Don’t Run Ads on “Partner Sites” or the Display Network
When you create a Google Ads campaign, Google automatically opts you in to show your ads on their partner sites and on the display network. While this seems innocent enough, this is an excellent way to drain your budget. Google has over 500k search partner sites, and you have absolutely no control of which of those potentially irrelevant sites your ad is shown on.
While this isn’t a point of concern for large companies spending thousands of dollars each day on their ads, for a business with a small budget, this can be a death sentence for your budget.
So, make sure to uncheck these boxes when creating your first campaign!
Use Negative Keywords to Rein In Your Spend
Negative keywords have nothing to do with self-deprecating language or bullying! It’s about making sure your ads don’t run on searches that don’t serve you, even if they use a lot of the same words.
If you’re a cosmetic surgeon targeting “plastic surgery,” you don’t want your ad showing up when someone searches for “John Travolta plastic surgery.” They’re just interested in photos, not in getting work done themselves.
You can often guess at negative keywords, but part of your ongoing work is to monitor the searches that your ad is shown for and continually add negative keywords so that your ad only shows when your ideal customer does an appropriate search.
Every misguided click eats away at your monthly budget. On top of that, getting a lot of SEM visitors who “pogo stick” off your site in search of a better result will hurt your Quality Score and ultimately force you to pay more for the same visibility.
Use Dayparting to Control Ad Spend
Google also allows you to run ads on certain days or at certain times of day that will be most effective for you.
If your desired conversion is a phone call, you may want to limit your ads to show during your normal business hours. If you are targeting late night food deliveries, you may not want to start running your ads until 10pm.
Again, the more you narrow your parameters, the farther your ad dollars will go.
Make Sure Your Landing Page Converts
How well your landing page converts–whether people take a desired, measurable action there–can have an indirect effect on your ad spend and a very direct effect on your ROI!
When someone clicks on your ad and visits your site, but then quickly hits the back button to return to the search, that’s a mark against you. It tells Google that your ad isn’t as relevant to that search as it might have been. That causes your “Quality Score” to go down, resulting in you having to spend more per click just to appear in that position.
The more you have to spend per click, the more quickly your ad budget runs out. We want every click to convert so we can gather as much data and generate as much ROI as possible!
This is why it’s best practice not to send someone from a Google Ad to your home page. Even sending them to a specific secondary page on your site isn’t as effective as it could be.
If you’re doing e-commerce, sending them to a specific product or category page can still be effective. But if you’re doing lead generation, if you want someone to complete a contact form or register for an event, it’s best to create a special “landing page” that’s stripped of anything that could be a distraction.
That can include your site navigation, a search bar, or anything else that distracts people from walking down the path you’ve laid out for them.
Things to include on a landing page:
- Imagery or videos that support and don’t distract
- A conversion action you want users to take. Make sure they can complete the action directly on that page (submit their email, fill out a form, etc.) Avoid leading them to a secondary page to complete the action–the less clicks to convert, the better!
- Create a “thank you” page for whatever conversion is featured on the landing page. When someone completes that action, send them to that page. The “thank you” page is how you track your conversions, as we know that anyone who lands on it has completed your desired action. This page can have navigation to the rest of your website, if you'd like users to have the opportunity to learn more about you after converting.
- Feature your keyword(s) throughout the page, this indicates to Google that your landing page is relevant to users’ searches.
- Information about your business, your goals/history/etc.
- Social proof like testimonials, affiliates, companies you've worked with, etc. (this is the hardest piece to obtain for many new businesses and industries with private services).
- Some bulleted key points about your services
- Removed page navigation. This prevents people from wandering away from completing the conversion on your landing page. However, many people feel uneasy about this, so ultimately it is up to you! This is less about what Google is looking for, and more about your conversion goals.
- Plenty of information about you and the specific service you're advertising – this is especially important if you decide to remove the navigation from this page.
Running your own Google Ads on a limited budget used to be much easier, before companies realized the benefit of PPC and put more of their budget and attention towards these traffic-generating ads.
However, if you follow the simple steps of setting a budget, narrowing your focus, and staying on top of your ads and negative keywords, you can start to build a foundation of steady traffic, more leads, and a positive ROI.
What if This All Still Seems Overwhelming?
I’ve been running this business since 1997, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that to grow you need to outsource everything you can that’s not a core competency. In other words, unless you’re planning on running Google Ads for your customers, this may not be the best use of your time or resources. It might make sense to hire an agency.
But that may not be an option. When I was just starting out, I had little to no budget to hire anyone else. If I couldn’t do it myself, it didn’t get done.
If that’s where you are, there are an infinite number of YouTube videos and blog posts that will walk you through each step of the process. If you’re someone who likes “spending time in the lab,” or “putting in the reps,” this might be the right approach for you.
However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and looking for a little bit of guidance…a co-pilot you can rely on…there may be another option. While we do run soup-to-nuts Google Ads for our clients, we also set up and optimize limited-budget Google Ads accounts, offer some training, and consult as needed.
If you’re not a DIYer, and you don’t have the budget for a full-on agency experience, our do-it-with-me approach might get you faster results, more leads, and more sales.