Paid search (PPC) is an effective and valuable marketing tool in today’s online marketplace. With some well-written ads, you can show up above the organic listings to get in front of potential customers. 

For SaaS companies, however, you have to think differently about the way paid search works. While the key components are the same (write catchy headlines and convert customers), the targeting and strategy require a different approach compared to other industries. 

Selling SaaS requires a greater commitment from the customer. You’ve got subscriptions, set up costs, termination fees, customer service and support, and a variety of other unique items to consider. For these reasons, the SaaS buying cycle usually takes quite a while (it can take 6 to 8 touchpoints just to generate a viable lead).

With the unique nature of the industry, how do you thoroughly prepare your Saas PPC strategy? What are the best practices and tips to consider? We’ve got them all laid out for you in this nifty guide.

Preparing for SaaS PPC the Right Way

Before you get started, there are some key items you need to think through to inject your PPC strategy with the right focus.  

1. Outline Your Unique Value Propositions

Take some time to consider your business’ unique value propositions. You’ll want to highlight them in your ad and landing page. This will create a smooth user experience and give you the best shot at gaining conversions.

Here are some questions to help you solidify your unique value propositions: 

  • What makes your company unique? 
  • Why should people use your software? 
  • What problem does your software solve? 
  • Who is your ideal customer? 
  • What goals do you need to reach to be successful?

2. Peer into the Mind of Your Ideal Customer

Once you have your value propositions laid out, you’ll want to find out who you are selling to. Understanding your ideal customer can go a long way in determining the outcome of your paid search marketing strategy. When you know who your ideal customer is and what they are looking for, your ads can be custom tailored to those needs.

3. Choose the Most Relevant Metrics

Think about what metrics are important to you. This will help you assess your goals and measure the success of those goals. 

Here are a few common helpful metrics to get the wheels turning: 

  • Lifetime Value: One great thing about the SaaS business model is the recurring revenue. If you can secure a customer, that revenue isn’t just a one-time thing. Therefore, it is incredibly helpful to know what the lifetime value of a customer is when planning a paid search campaign.
  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR): Paid search is very quantifiable. We can easily see how many clicks we are getting and how much each click costs. If you know that each lead will on average turn into $100 MRR, then it’s easy to calculate how much to spend to acquire a new lead and be profitable.
  • Churn Rate: On average, how many clients do you lose per month? This is the churn rate. Knowing this helps you to plan out budgets and lead goals since you’ll want to make up for any lost customers on a monthly basis.

Planning Your SaaS PPC Strategy: Best Practices

Once you have a good understanding of your own company, ideal customer, goals, and metrics, you can begin planning out your paid search strategy. 

Running paid search for a SaaS company has its own unique set of opportunities and challenges, much like any product or vertical. No two PPC campaigns are quite the same and there is no single magic path that leads to universal optimization nirvana. 

However, through years of working with SaaS companies, we’ve put together this collection of PPC tips and best practices to help you along the way. Our journey will follow two paths: organization and strategy. 

Organization: Don’t Build Your Mansion On A Mud Pile

The first consideration you should give your SaaS PPC campaign is where you want your budget allocated. In Adwords, full control over your daily budgets lives on the “campaign” level. 

If you only want a certain amount of money going towards branded keywords, then you also need to know how to separate your campaigns. The more control you want over budget distribution across your entire service portfolio, the more granular your PPC organization needs to be.

Organization Tip 1: Start with branded terms + 3 or 4 central services.

We would suggest separating your budget among branded terms and three to four of your central services to start. Further segmentation might also be needed if you plan to target drastically different geographic areas (such as the United States & United Kingdom for example).

Once you have your account broken out into specific campaigns that cover your brand and core services (additional segmentation based on geographic location as needed), it’s time to tackle your ad groups.

Organization Tip 2: Limit ad groups to a handful of related keywords.

Commonly accepted best practices still apply for SaaS companies, and include limiting your ad groups to no more than a handful of related keywords and pairing that with specific ad copy that correlates to your landing pages.

Organization Tip 3: Separate highest performing keywords into separate ad groups.

An additional tip to get the most from your highest performing keywords is to separate those out into their own ad groups all by themselves (commonly called Specific Keyword Ad Groups, or SKAGs).

Putting your top keywords into their own individual ad groups allows you to get hyper focused with your ad copy and final URLs, which is going to positively impact your quality scores. It will also give you a wealth of granular, actionable data to optimize with going forward.

We don’t recommend building out SKAGs for your entire account however, which can quickly turn your campaign into an unmanageable monster. Keep things simple and only build SKAGs for your most important keywords.

Organization Tip 4: Track conversions with help from a CRM.

You need to track as much conversion data as you possibly can. SaaS companies tend to have a longer sales cycle and rely on CRM (customer relationship management) services like Salesforce or Hubspot to track their potential customers for months at a time.

If your SaaS company is using a CRM to track its customer life cycle, that can be a treasure trove of data waiting to be used in Adwords. It might require additional steps to get that data delivered into the Adwords platform, but any difficulties encountered along the way will be well worth the results. Tying everything together with a CRM will help you know which campaigns and keywords are moving the needle.

With conversion data pouring in from every source available and a sound campaign structure, we’re now ready to talk about some strategy.

Strategy: Using Data to Drive Decisions

Our last point on organization leads us directly into our first point on strategy: follow your data! With proper conversion tracking, the data you’re collecting with your paid search efforts will provide you with all the insights you need on what’s working, what isn’t, and where you should focus your efforts and budget.

Strategy Tip 1: Test ad copy to increase cost per conversions.

Look for keywords that have low volume but excellent cost per conversion as opportunities for expansion. Adjust your ad copy for underperforming ad groups to test different calls to action. Any piece to the PPC puzzle could be the thing that’s holding your SaaS campaign back, so test everything with the data you’ve gathered!

Strategy Tip 2: Own your core keywords.

One important note: you should always strive to own your core keywords, even if the conversion results are lacking up to that point. If the keywords fall under your main service offering you shouldn’t abandon them. Keep testing and optimizing until you can make it work. Giving up on your core keywords is like giving up on your biggest potential for revenue.

Do searches for your core keywords and see what your competitors are doing. Look at their ad copy, see what landing pages they are using and find ways you can stand out from the crowd! 

Are your competitors using your brand name illegally in their ad copy? Contact Google support and request a review. The SaaS world can be brutal in paid search, so you shouldn’t be afraid to stand your ground if it’s going to have a dramatic impact on your key metrics.

Strategy Tip 3: Take advantage of built in tools in AdWords.

Don’t be afraid to try out some of the available Google AdWords tools either. Create some automatic rules to help guide your account to the promised land. One tool we’re big fans of? RLSA. 

RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) is a retargeting feature that allows you to only show search ads to those who have already been to your site. 

Here’s how it works: Someone goes to your website, they are put into your remarketing list, and then when they search one of your keywords later, you bid higher than your regular campaigns and recapture those users. 

There is a chance the size of your remarketing bucket (e.g. number of cookies captured by Google Analytics) exceeds your ad spend budget. If this is the case, your solution is simple: 

  1. Slap “RLSA“ to the front of your campaign name.
  2. Add your best audience to your current ad groups.
  3. Turn on “Target and Bid” on this remarketing list.
  4. Watch your click-through rate, conversion rate, and return on ad spend take a ride on the upward escalator.

More likely, however, the size of your remarketing list is much smaller than what your AdWords budget allows. 

Our plan of attack is this:

  1. Create the remarketing lists.
  2. Grow the lists to 1,000+ as fast and for as little cost as possible.
  3. Create unique ads that will ring a bell with this audience.
  4. If they are not created already, add remarketing audiences in Google Analytics. An “All Users” group is essential (make sure you expand the audience window length to a generous level). 
  5. Next create audiences for each of the mediums / sources you will be driving traffic from (ie Facebook, Twitter, Referral). 

Remember, there is a minimum amount of users an audience needs in order to remarket to 1,000, so if a channel is not bringing in more than 1,000+ about every month, then you will need to cast a wider net.

We still suggest keeping some portion of your budget for those who are not familiar with your brand. This portion should only go to your top 10 to 20% performing keywords. The rest of your ad spend should go to your RLSA Adwords budget. In digital marketing terms—max out your search remarketing campaigns.

Strategy Tip 4: Focus on negative keywords for your branded campaign.

Through all your work on core non-branded keywords, make sure to give your branded campaign some love too. It can be tempting to spend your time optimizing elsewhere, but the fact will almost always remain that you’re going to get branded traffic at a much lower CPC than any other part of your campaign. Make sure to focus your branded efforts with a strong list of negative keywords to keep that incoming traffic relevant to your goals.

Some examples of great negative keywords to include with a branded SaaS campaign are: login, password, email, salary, interview, job, hire and hiring. You’re only looking for potential customers with paid search, so don’t waste clicks on anything else.

Work with Big Leap to Grow Your Business 

Paid search can be an invaluable part of any SaaS company’s marketing efforts, provided that you collect and utilize the right kind of data. An organized and data driven campaign will build a strong foundation for your SaaS PPC strategy. 

If you need an extra set of eyes on your PPC strategy, don’t hesitate to contact Big Leap. We’re here to grow alongside you and help establish customized strategies to help you stand out in the crowded SaaS industry. Learn what we can do for you by exploring our case studies. 

Janet Lee