Paid advertising costs an arm and leg, but unlike organic marketing, paid channels are more measurable and predictable tp help SaaS startups to lay down a clear lead-to-conversion path, while they grow their organic online presence.
There is little guesswork involved when you understand how various paid channels work best for which situation. In this article, we’ll talk about the three best places for startups to put an ad to get the highest possible ROI.
1. Search engine marketing (SEM)
Search engine marketing or SEM is still one the most preferred paid channel for B2B marketers, according to Content Marketing Institute report from 2015:
SEM is the paid counterpart of SEO, that is, you place ads to get leads from search. You need an SEM/SEO specialist or agency to help you with the gritty-nitty details of tapping this channel. However, at the least, you should understand the key concepts to discuss this tactic more effectively.
Generally, you use PPC to drive sales traffic to your page. It can be a free trial, signup section, or any landing page with fulfillment. For every click on the ad you get charged, so you want that click to at least fill up a form. In short, make sure you’re targeting the right audience for your offer.
On the other hand, CPM is best used to build brand awareness or tell the world that you exist. You’re charged per one thousand impressions (exposure), so CPM works on lead volume rather than quality leads. A SaaS startup will find CPM practical to–not only attract raw leads–but to generate publicity to get the attention of potential investors.
How to optimize AdWords
AdWords is Google’s search ad network and it’s one of the most effective SEM channels because it rides on the strength of Google search, which enjoys a 65% usage share versus its nearest competitor, Baidu, at 8.2% (ComScore, 2012). This makes AdWords a high-ROI paid channel, but also a highly competitive platform.
To prioritize which ads to display, Google calculates a quality score using factors, such as:
- Rate of people clicking on the ad
- How your ad aligns with your offer
- Ad text optimization
- How often you use your Google ad account.
The higher the quality score the more priority your ad gets (thus, more clicks), which effectually brings down your PPC rate vis-a-vis the ad’s returns.
To optimize your AdWord promotion, consider these techniques:
- Use long-tail keywords. They have less competition, hence, lower PPC rates, and they drive quality traffic because they are highly targeted.
- Replace poorly performing keywords in your ad account because they drag down your average quality score. This undermines your other working keywords.
- Bid highest during the day’s most valuable time. For SaaS companies, this means business hours. Split test which specific hour in the morning and afternoon that you get the most clicks.
- Use AdWords mobile. According to the Google/Millward Brown study (2015) 42% of B2B buyers use a mobile device when looking for a product. Moreover, Google’s mobile ads feature a Click-to-Call button, which immediately connects a lead to your sales hotline and drastically cutting the funnel short.
- Retarget web visitors. People who clicked on your PPC ad and landed on your page but didn’t take an action can be recaptured by using the Google Display Network. Once the same people visit other websites that are enrolled in this ad network, your ad can be shown again on these sites. But use a followup message instead of the same ad to realign your offer.
2. B2B Review sites as part of SEM
B2B review platforms are independent websites that collate and assess business solutions to help buyers shortlist their choices. They are popular among B2B buyers at the early stage of their purchase journey because, instead of scouring the internet for dozens of websites to look for the right products–a time-consuming and inefficient process–buyers simply check the top B2B and SaaS review platforms to cut to the chase.
This consumer behavior is captured in the Google/Millward Brown study, which reported that buyers conduct an average of 12 searches prior to visiting a product site. Throughout the initial research (see figure below), buyers are searching for:
- Product reviews (2)
- Comparing products (4)
- Watching product videos (6)
- Noting product ratings (8)
- Reading user comments (10).
In most cases these activities are mostly happening on B2B review sites like FinancesOnline.
In short, B2B buyers will use review platforms in one way or another to perform their initial research tasks. This makes B2B reviews sites a prime SEM strategy. You can even outfox the competitor’s high-performing search ad by making sure you have a strong presence in one or all the top B2B review platforms. Let us illustrate.
In this example, we searched for the keyphrase “top collaboration software” and you can see part of a page-one SERP below. Redbooth.com got an ad priority (at a high PPC rate, most likely), but FinancesOnline (red circle), a B2B review platform, has an advantage because organic results get more clicks.
When you click on the FinancesOnline link, you get this landing page:
In the case above, Wrike and the other collaboration apps on the landing page may not have an ad priority in search, but in practice, they’re likely to get the first attention from buyers at the early research stage. As the Goolge/Millward study pointed out, buyers at this stage are reviewing products, not clicking on ads to visit a specific product site.
So, how do you leverage B2B review platforms to advertise your product?
Aside from getting your product review published on popular B2B reviews sites like FinancesOnline you should levereage various marketing services offered by such platrofms. These services are meant to distinguish you from the competitors that are most likely also present on these sites. To give you an idea how you can do that, let’s examine the lead generation services offered one of the top B2B review platforms, FinancesOnline. Here’s what they are and how they increase your conversion rate:
Product page buttons – directly link the review page of your product to your product homepage and free trial form. These buttons let you ride on the review site’s high Page Rank in B2B software keywords. Once a lead lands on your review page at FinancesOnline and reads a positive review of your product the buyer can easily sign up on your website with one click.
Comparison highlight – draws attention to your software during the critical moment when a buyer is comparing her top choices. Your product column is highlighted with a different color and the product page buttons are displayed. FinancesOnline said their clients have had experienced 7% conversion rate with this tool alone, which is remarkable when compared to the industry standard of 3%.
Verified Quality Seal – it’s a form of guarantee displayed beside your software every time it appears on the review site. You can also display it on your own website and throughout other online channels. The trust seal signifies to buyers that your software has been independently validated for quality features and support reliability. This helps to build buyers’ trust and can increase conversion by as much as 12% based on FinancesOnline’s client metrics. If you’d like to promote your product on FinancesOnline with techniques outlined here you can easily ask for a review of your product.
3. Use LinkedIn above all paid social
LinkedIn is the most used social media network to distribute organic B2B content. A report from Content Marketing Institute (CMI, 2015) showed that 94% of marketers use LinkedIn, ahead of Twitter (88%) and Facebook (84%). The social network is effective to project thought leadership by sharing your expert knowledge and insights and discussing these with groups of professionals who are potential buyers. On the same note, you want to prioritize placing paid ads there–where many professionals and executives hang out–before other social channels.
LinkedIn gives you two paid advertising options: Sponsored Updates and LinkedIn Ads. Many marketers say they use Sponsored Updates because it’s less intrusive; the ad appears as an ordinary post, giving a native feel to your promotion; hence, more engagement. Likewise, Sponsored Updates option gives you generous display size compared to LinkedIn Ads, which is constrained in a much smaller space in the column next to the news feed. However, both options let you drill down to juicy profile details that are not available in other social media, including, company name, office location, and job positions.
Paid social media works best to reinforce your value content and organic leads, not pitch your product. You’ll get more engagement when you advertise your SaaS product along talking points that are important to your audience. For example, a help desk software vendor can promote a case study on support issues in different cultures based on a survey of the vendor’s global client base. The same report can subtly show the software’s global capabilities. Find an interesting topic or story and package your ad in it.
Paid social is also effective to promote your time-sensitive events like a webinar or conference, whether you’re the host or sponsor. In rare cases, people are likely to be receptive of product-centric social ad when it’s used to announce a key product update or innovation that greatly impacts its users. On the contrary, paid social is not recommended to grow your fans or create engagement, where an organic approach is more apt.
If you have a limited budget for paid advertising, it’s recommended you focus on these top three paid channels first to get the most ROI: B2B review sites, paid search and LinkedIn. If you have a bigger budget, then you can allot more to expand your reach in these three paid channels. In short, it doesn’t matter if you have a small or big advertising. These three channels should always be on your marketing plate. If you want to improve your presence on B2B review sites you can request a review of your product here.