Sponsored listings can be a great way to promote your photography. But far too many people don’t set up their campaigns effectively enough. A guide to pay-per-click advertising, particularly Google AdWords, including keyword optimisation, effective use of adverts and landing pages, as well as the new ranking methods being used by search engines.
If you’re lucky enough to have a web site that Google likes and you’re ranking high on the first page for searches, then this article might not be for you. However, the chances are that this isn’t the case and you’re looking for another way to get search engine exposure. Or you might be looking to supplement your ‘organic’ results. There’s a very simple way to do this, and it’s via sponsored listings, also known as pay per click (ppc) listings. You may have noticed these – they’re the search results that appear right at the top of the search results page as well as down the right hand side. As opposed to the ones in the main body of the page, which are free, these are paid for. There are two main networks for sponsored listings – Google Adwords (which places sponsored listings on search results for Google and Ask.com) and combined Yahoo/Bing advertising network. If you’re considering using sponsored listings, I’d recommend using Google AdWords as, especially in Europe, they tend to get far higher traffic than the other search engines, even though they may be slightly more expensive.
How much you pay basically depends on how competitive the search terms are that you’d like your advert displayed under. The way this works is by a bidding system. Once you’ve set up your account you’ll need to bid for certain keywords (or, rather, you set the system to automatically bid on your behalf) – this means that when someone types your preferred search phrase into the search engine, it will trigger your advert and if they click on it, you will then pay an amount up to the maximum amount that you bid.
Just where exactly your advert appears in the sponsored search results depends on a number of factors. In the early days, all these models would rank the adverts based on simply how much your bid was when compared to that of others bidding for the same keywords. Now, however, they use a more sophisticated system and look at factors including how much you bid, what your click-through history is, how effectively worded your adverts are, and how well optimised your ‘landing page’ is in relation to the search phrase you’re bidding for. Google gives you a ‘quality score’ based on all of these – the higher the score, the higher you rank.
When you set up your keywords you not only specify the amount you’re willing to pay for your advert to appear, but also your budget. This could be a daily budget or a monthly budget. You will only pay once your advert is clicked, but once you’ve reached your budget then your adverts will no longer be displayed until your budget term is refreshed. So, say you’re bidding £1 per click with a daily budget of £5, then after approximately 10 clicks on your advert the system will stop displaying your adverts until the next day, otherwise it would go over your budget. If you prefer to specify a monthly budget, then once that budget is hit you won’t have any more of your adverts displayed until the next month.
The key to having a successful campaign is to think as specifically as possible. As you’ll be paying every time someone clicks one of your adverts, you don’t want to waste money by having someone click who then doesn’t find your site relevant – that would be a wasted click and a waste of money. Plus, you don’t want to advertise yourself under a keyword as vague as just ‘photographer’. For a start, this is likely to be a very competitive keyword and will probably cost you a lot of money to get displayed high up the list, but more to the point it’s not specific enough. There are a number of factors that could make your site irrelevant to the person doing the searching – for example, they might be looking for someone in a completely different area to you but failed to specify that in their search, or they might be looking for a specific sort of photography that you don’t happen to do.
Let’s say you’re PR photographer based in Birmingham. We’ve already seen you wouldn’t just want to advertise yourself as ‘photographer’ or you’d get too many non-specific clicks. ‘PR photographer’ would be better, but it’s still possible your advert would appear under searches that weren’t specific to your area. By narrowing it still further and specifying the keywords ‘PR photographer Birmingham’ your site wouldn’t be getting nearly so many clicks, but you could pretty much guarantee that anyone who did specifically carried out this search and was directed to your site would find that you were exactly what they were looking for.
The trick then is to think of as many specific search terms as possible for which your site would be a good match. So you might come up with “Public relations photographer Birmingham”, “Birmingham PR photography”, “Birmingham-based PR photographers” etc… Then think of any other areas near you where you’d be happy to work and create keywords for those too – “Coventry PR photographer”, “Press photography Warwick”. Remember to think as specific and as numerous as possible.
Once you’ve done this, you can then really improve your chances of getting click-throughs by setting up different adverts to match different keywords you’re bidding on. If we look at the model that Google AdWords use, when you set up your advert you’ll have three lines of text to fill out – a title for your advert, plus two further lines of descriptive text. A url is then displayed beneath the advert with a link on it (you can specify the link to be to a different url to the one displayed if you want – more on this in a bit…)
Ideally, you should set up different adverts with specific titles repeating the keywords that trigger them. So for your “PR photographer Birmingham” keyword you might like to set up an advert with the title with “PR photographer Birmingham”. The person carrying out the search will then see their search phrase repeated in the title of the your advert, making it all the more likely that your advert will be the one that gets clicked on, The other advantage of this is that Google will reward you for having a relevant advert (it likes keywords to be repeated in adverts) by increasing your quality score, and so will bump you higher up the advert rankings.
Google also reward you if you use ‘calls to action’ in your adverts. The system automatically looks for phrases like ‘get a quote now’ that will encourage clicks. Again, your advert will be placed higher as a result.
Optimising your ‘landing pages’
The final important consideration is to make sure that your advert leads the person doing the clicking to the specific part of your website that is relevant to the keywords that have generated the advert. Say for example you’ve got a website advertising PR and Editorial photography. When you set up the link URL in your ‘PR Photographer Birmingham’ advert, don’t just link through to your home page, but make sure it goes through to the PR photography page. This will increase the chances of the person doing the searching actually getting in touch with you as they will have been instantly given what they’re looking for with as little chance of them wandering off as possible.
You could even set up a specific web page on your site designed to catch the traffic from your sponsored listing. When you do this, make sure that the keywords from your advert are repeated both in the title of the page and in the main text. The benefit of doing this, especially with the system that Google uses, is that your ranking will again be boosted. The adwords system aims to give the most relevant results to its searchers, so by optimising your campaign all the way through like this it will make sure you’re rewarded.
Further ranking considerations
One of the most important factors that all the sponsored listings systems look at when ranking your advert is its past performance. The reason for this is that even if an advert does not bring in so much money on a per-click basis, if the advert is actually getting clicked more often then it will bring in more revenue in the long run. So say two photographers bid for the keywords “PR Photographer Birmingham”. One advert is titled “Photographer Available” and the other is titled “PR Photographer Birmingham”. Clearly the one with the most relevance is going to get the most clicks. So say the first photographer is bidding £1 per click but only gets 1 click in every five searches, while the other photographer is bidding 50p per click but is getting 4 clicks in every 5 searches, then as far as the search engine is concerned the second advert is more profitable as for every 5 searches done it’s bringing in £2 while the other’s only bringing in £1. What this means is that you need to make your adverts as relevant and punchy as possible, and give them time to build up a head of steam.
Sponsored listings are becoming increasingly popular but they are still not used nearly as much by photographers as they could be. Even where photographers are using them, they’re often not using them as effectively as they should be. It may sound a potentially expensive way to advertise, but the pay off could be huge. Even if it’s costing you £10 in clicks for every job you get, then that’s money well spent.
Google’s guide to AdWords (PDF)
About Google’s ‘Quality Score’ (https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=10215&ctx=sibling)
Official Google AdWords Blog (http://adwords.blogspot.co.um/)