Having Trouble Scaling Your Google Ads Campaigns for SaaS? Here’s What You’re Likely Missing

Google Display Network (GDN) reaches around 90% of internet users, and yet we continue to find that many SaaS companies choose not to leverage it. This is just one of several opportunities being missed that’s leading companies to hit a ceiling with their Google Ads spending. 

This issue has been coming up in a lot of conversations with SaaS companies lately. We keep hearing, “We’re spending 5, 10, 15 thousand dollars in Google Ads. We have more money to spend but we can’t figure out how to spend it there. So we’re trying out Facebook Ads instead because it seems like we can spend a lot of money there.”

We find the main problem with their approach to Google Ads is they’re bidding only on high-intent, bottom of the funnel keywords in Google Search Network (eg. “note taking software” or “kanan board platform”). This means they’re only targeting the 3% of buyers who are in the market looking for them right now. Essentially they’re reaching just the tip of the iceberg of their potential audience, and missing out on the buyers below the surface that might eventually buy their products if only they knew about them.

There is an old rule of thumb in advertising that prospects need something like 30-50 impressions of your brand as they go through the stages of awareness, interest, consideration and purchase. So if you’re having trouble scaling your spending in Google Ads, it might be time for you to look at how you can reach potential customers who are higher in the funnel than the “looking for you right now” folks.

In this article I’ll go into detail about the tactics that we use when testing paid media channels with new clients. These tactics should give you an idea of ways that you can scale your Google Ads spending, start reaching prospects who are higher in the funnel, and lower your customer acquisition cost (CAC). 

Throughout, I’ll provide context as to how each of the tactics relate to the missed opportunities that keep showing up with the SaaS companies we talk to. 

Here are the 5 tactics I’ll cover:

  1. Targeting In-Market and Custom Intent Segments
  2. Brand Consideration Intent
  3. Brand vs. Competitor Intent 
  4. Google Display Network with Managed Placements
  5. Using Target Account Lists
 At Powered By Search, we specialize in helping SaaS companies solve digital marketing challenges related to SEO and paid ads. If you want to discover opportunities that you may have to further leverage your Google Ads campaigns, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to set up an evaluation to see where you have room to expand. 

1. Targeting In-Market and Custom Intent Segments

Screenshot from Google Ads of section to select in-market segments.

There is a perception that features like in-market and custom intent segments are sort of advanced, because a lot of the SaaS companies we talk to have strayed away from using them. 

This is a missed opportunity because in-market segments allow you to direct Google to only show your ads to prospects that they have deemed are “in the market”: looking for terms that indicate that they’re preparing to make a buying decision, and have been doing so within the last two weeks. And since Google’s algorithm for this has become quite good, we think more companies should be using this feature. 

In addition to in-market segments, we also have custom intent segments which are similar to in-market, but involve a higher level of precision. As opposed to letting Google figure out who is preparing to make a buying decision, you specify to Google to show your ad to people who have taken a combination of specific actions that you have determined indicate they are in the decision phase (going beyond, but including the keywords users are searching).

For example, if you sell team messaging software, you might set up your targeting such that Google will show your ad to anyone who has searched “team messaging software,” checked you out on G2, visited a popular blog post about about the best team messaging software, and watched a YouTube video about team messaging software products. 

The point of targeting in-market and custom intent segments is that you’ll pay more for clicks from people who you can tell (based off of data) are ready to buy than for people who you’re less clear about whether they’re ready to buy, or they’re just in the research phase. And we’ve found through testing that applying in-market and custom intent segments can significantly reduce your CAC. 

2. Brand Consideration Intent

Another thing we see quite often is that many SaaS companies think they shouldn’t be bidding for the keyword of their own brand because they assume they’ll get those clicks anyway. In doing so, they give up control of those results to review sites like G2 and Capterra, to competitors and to other blogs that end up siphoning clicks and attention away from them. 

What these companies don’t realize is that paying for the keyword of their own brand name when it is attached to terms that show consideration intent (things like “brand name + reviews” or “brand name + discount codes”) is actually low hanging fruit. They will pay a fraction of what everyone else is paying for those clicks because the keyword is in their name. 

Let’s take a hypothetical SaaS client, for example. If we have a client called HR Health Systems who provides HR software to hospitals, and somebody is looking for “HR health systems reviews,” we want to control the experience of what they see. And then we want to use a pixel to resegment these audience members for remarketing ads.

2 Places We Send Users

[Option 1] Send Them to an Internal Page on Your Site

If HR Health Systems has a section of their site where they show case studies or testimonials from users, we can send people to that page. This has the advantage of getting the user instantly onto their own website. 

[Option 2] Send Them to a Claimed G2 or Capterra Profile

If HR Health Systems has a claimed G2 or Capterra profile, we might send searchers through our Google Ad to that profile (which can also help to minimize the PPC fees that these review sites charge), especially if we have the ability to promote the profile in a way that sheds a favorable light on the company. The key is to make sure we’re not conceding the intent of somebody trying to understand how the product is from a third party’s perspective.

Resegmenting Audience for Remarketing Ads

By using a pixel to tag the individuals who click on these links, we’re identifying a group of people who are probably very close to making a buying decision — which makes them more valuable than people at the top or middle of the funnel. Thus we’re willing to pay a much higher bid for these people because they’re not just a click, and we have this data that tells us they’re a legitimate lead. 

At this point we’ll deliver a remarketing ad to these individuals, and use a bid modifier that indicates we will pay, for example, 300% more for their clicks.

The other brand-related intent keywords we test are brand vs. competitor intent

3. Brand vs. Competitor Intent

We also regularly see SaaS companies opt out of bidding on direct comparison intent phrases like “their brand name vs. competitor brand name.” In doing so, they relinquish control to their competitors and the rest of the web to shape the narrative around these results. And therefore, they are missing the opportunity to shape this narrative in their favor. 

In our work with clients, we’ll strategically create direct comparison landing pages that live on our client’s own website, and describe in detail the differences between the services. We’ll make it clear for the reader who this service is for and who it’s not for — with the intention of saving the customer the pain of wasting time and money by signing up for the wrong solution. 

And while some are of the opinion that direct comparison pages are unethical pot shots at competitors, we disagree with this sentiment. By creating this page and having it live on your own website, you can remain transparent and be real about the differences between what you have to offer that might be a better fit for the reader. 

 

You can even show respect to the other service. Here is a great example of an artfully crafted comparison page: Drift vs. Intercom

An artfully crafted direct comparison landing page by Drift that addresses brand vs. competitor search intent.

4. Google Display Network with Managed Placements

GDN gets written off left and right because it does not directly drive conversions. But as we mentioned in the introduction, GDN reaches around 90% of internet users, and it is an essential asset to create awareness of your service with people higher in the funnel. 

The targeted way of using GDN is called “managed placements.” It is the opposite of what is called “automated placement,” where Google will display your ad on literally any website, with no regard for the relevancy of your ad with that audience. With managed placement, you choose which specific websites your ad will display on. 

So if our client knows which websites their prospects go to during the different stages of awareness, interest, consideration, and purchase, then we will target those websites with customized advertising. 

For example, if I’m FreshBooks, and I see that there is a blog post about “The Best Invoicing Software of 2019”, I can create an ad that offers an incentive for a trial, and place it on that particular page. 

We find that this type of targeting and specificity can be really effective for generating awareness and interest in your product from new prospective customers using GDN. 

5. Using Target Account Lists

Screenshot from Google Ads showing process of creating a similar audience using the customer match feature.

Using existing customer or pipeline data in conjunction with your keyword targeting is another tactic that is often overlooked. This data can be used with Google’s “customer match” feature to reach audiences that share characteristics with your pre-existing customers or leads. You can use this to tell Google to find more people like them.

To achieve this, we typically need either 100 purchase conversions or 1,000 near purchase conversions. This is because the machine learning algorithm gets more and more precise based on the volume of data you feed it (more = better). Most ad platforms recommend a minimum number of conversions for their automated conversion objectives to be effective. Our rule of thumb is a bit higher than what they typically recommend.

Let’s look at two examples to illustrate this. One that’s straightforward because the company has an adequate volume of purchase conversion data. And one case that is slightly more complex.

Example 1: A Client with a List of 100 Purchase Conversions

Let’s say our client has the magic number of 100 accounts that have purchased their service. We’ll use the customer match feature to upload the CRM data for first name, last name, email and phone number. (We hash the data as we upload it so that the personally identifiable information is protected.) 

Ad platforms typically cannot identify 100% of this converted audience, so out of the 100 people who converted, we might end up with 80 members that we can use for the customer match audience. So, if HR Health Systems main customers are marketing managers, we tell Google Ads that out of the population of all marketing managers, try to find the 1% of them that are most like the 80 members from our customer match audience.

We’ll set the same goal, typically a conversion objective, and send the same ad that we’d show to a cold traffic visitor (usually some sort of awareness ad). We do this because at this point we’re just introducing our brand with either problem-aware or problem-unaware content. From there, we’ll try to get this person to either give us their email address and become an MQL off their first visit, or we’ll do remarketing to move these audience members down the funnel.  

Things are more straightforward when you have an adequate volume of customer or lead data, but what about cases when there isn’t clearly enough of this data to create a customer match audience?

Example 2: A Client with Low Volume of Premium B2B Customers

If we’re working with a B2B SaaS company whose product costs $20,000 per year, they may only make one or two deals per month and be sustaining their business with 30 customers total. You can’t create a customer match audience based off of purchase conversions because there’s too little data. 

If this is the case, the next step would be to move up the funnel and look at how many prospective customers are currently in the pipeline of leads. So we look at this and find there are 50 leads in the pipeline, and we’re still below the range of 100-1,000.

This is when we ask about target accounts. How many companies are on the list of accounts that our client has identified as customers who would be a good fit for their service? It turns out they have a list of 300 target accounts.   

Now we can take the 300 target accounts and create a meaningful lookalike audience from them. (And we’ll follow the process from Example 1, above, to create the audience.

The pyramid approach to building customer match audiences in Google Ads for SaaS companies.

Bonus: The Pyramid Approach to Building Customer Match Audiences

For established SaaS companies that have access to a lot of customer and pipeline data, there is a more advanced approach where you can create customer match audiences for different customer segments.

Imagine an inverted pyramid — as shown above. You have the highest LTV customers at the bottom, the people who are paying you the most and staying with you the longest. Then, moving up the funnel you have: 

  • Average customers 
  • Qualified leads who are ready to close
  • Sales qualified leads 
  • Marketing qualified leads
  • Site visitors who have been to a combination of your pricing page, product page, and/or case studies page

When you create customer match audiences for each of these segments from the bottom of the funnel, all the way up, you can narrow down your targeting even further for Google to show your ads to the right people.

Always Be Testing

If you’re a SaaS company and you have a scaling problem with your Google Ads spending, it is likely that these are things you can test out that will allow you to spend more there. By utilizing Google Display Network, targeting in-market and custom intent segments, and bidding on your own brand, you should be on your way to spending your ad budget wisely while lowering your CAC. 

At Powered By Search, we specialize in helping B2B SaaS companies solve digital marketing challenges related to SEO and paid ads. If you want to discover opportunities you may have to further leverage your Google Ads campaigns, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to set up an evaluation to see where you have room to expand.