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Attraction over advertising: stop wasting money on Google AdWords

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 8 December 2016
Advice How to do marketing

Google AdWords doesn’t work for many businesses. It didn’t work for me. Over the course of two years I spent more than £25,000 on AdWords for Turbine but I never managed to get a cost of customer acquisition below the average first year’s revenue per customer.

Believe me, I tried to make it work. I optimised my ads, tweaked my landing pages and redesigned my website. Even after reading countless articles and a 500-page book on how to ‘do’ AdWords, I resorted to hiring an AdWords ‘consultant’. None of it made any difference.

Change the strategy, not the tactics

If you knew you were going in the wrong direction, you wouldn’t walk faster, you’d change direction. If you keep optimising an inherently bad strategy all you do is become better at being bad.

Most online advice about AdWords will tell you spend more time or money making it work. But Google AdWords is so complicated, wrapped in a geeky illusion of data and control, that it takes a long time to realise you’re lost.

The second problem with Google AdWords is that the results are ephemeral. Google sells ‘clicks’. It doesn’t sell fans, engagement, leads or customers. So, if you do achieve some success with it, you need to keep paying to sustain it.

Not only are the results ephemeral, but they’re also addictive. I talk to a lot of small businesses who get most of their meagre web traffic from AdWords. They’re reluctant to let go of this source because they’re measuring the wrong things. Traffic is mostly a vanity metric, especially in isolation: you need to look at conversion rates and sources.

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Choose inbound marketing

I’m not against advertising on principle. But, as an inbound marketer, I am more in favour of building a loyal audience of fans and subscribers with remarkable content.

That’s not to say that you should never advertise. Combined with good inbound marketing, it can work well. For example, at Articulate, we have seen some success with targeted LinkedIn ads connected to lead-capture landing pages. We’ve seen the cost per lead drop to around £18 with good targeting and good offers.

But first you have to stop paying for Google's party planes. Here’s the roadmap for escaping from the AdWords money pit:

The goal is to turn your website from a passive recipient of AdWords traffic into an organic, self-sustaining, long-term lead capture engine for your business.

However, if you do want to continue with pay-per-click advertising:

  • Set Goals in Google Analytics, such as a lead capture, and measure outcomes that are meaningful to the business
  • Measure your return on investment and make sure your advertising is cost effective, not just in its own right but in comparison to other forms of marketing
  • Experiment with different channels, including remarketing, banner ads and different social media platforms
  • Drive traffic to landing pages so you can convert a one-time click into a long-term relationship

So, what happened with Turbine? At first, I switched my ad budget to other channels – mostly SaaS comparison sites – and instantly saw a better ROI and six months ago I stopped advertising altogether as we started the journey towards inbound marketing. It’s the road less travelled but it goes in the right direction and, at the end of the journey, you get rich instead of Google.

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See also: organic traffic

Related service: Marketing Strategy