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John Horn Mastering Paid Search for B2B Companies with John Horn
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Unlock the secrets to successful paid search campaigns in the B2B landscape. Discover how to fine-tune your targeting to avoid spending non-relevant audiences, and leverage ad copy and bidding strategies to maximize your ROI. John Horn, of Stub Group, share why sometimes it’s better to not aim for the top spot on Google, and gives us his actionable and practical insights.

Mastering Paid Search for B2B Companies Summary

Key Takeaways

  • Effective Targeting: Use search modifiers and industry-specific terms to filter out B2C traffic and zero in on B2B clients.
  • Ad Copy Strategy: Craft clear and explicit ad copy to ensure your ads attract the right audience and repel the wrong one.
  • Landing Page Optimization: Ensure your landing pages clearly state what you offer and have strong calls to action to improve conversion rates.
  • Cost Management: Understand that being number one in search results isn’t always the best strategy; focus on cost-effective positions that drive quality leads.
  • Leveraging CRM Integration: Integrate your CRM with Google Ads to track and optimize the entire sales funnel from click to conversion.

Mastering Paid Search for B2B Companies Episode Transcript

Rich: My guest today is the CEO of Stub Group, a digital advertising agency and a premier Google ad agency. He has taught digital advertising to over a hundred thousand students via online courses, and the videos he produces through Stub Group’s YouTube channel have received millions of views.

When he’s not marketing, he loves spending time with his wife and two little boys, and exploring the Texas countryside he calls home. Today, we’re going to be exploring running paid search for B2B companies with John Horn. John, welcome to the podcast.

John: Thank you so much for having me.

Rich: So let’s start with the basics. I mentioned that you’re focused on B2B. What are the differences between paid search ads targeting B2C companies or B2C consumers, versus B2B?

John: Yeah. Great question. The biggest difference initially often is the size of the market and the overlap between those markets. So a challenge that most B2B , or many B2B businesses have, is that there’s both consumers and businesses who may be searching for what they sell, and they’re only trying to go after, let’s say the 5% of the market that’s B2B. And when I say 5% of the market, not necessarily the market value, but 5% of the people who are searching maybe are B2B, and the other 95% might be consumers.

And so it’s often a fun puzzle for B2B businesses to figure out okay, targeting is everything. How can I not waste money on consumers who are not relevant to me, who will not buy my products, and yet still reach as many business owners as possible with my marketing and advertising? And that’s often the first challenge/. There’s lots of challenges to figure out, but that’s probably challenge number one.

Rich: That’s a perfect lead in. Because we’ve seen plenty of businesses that are B2B businesses, but also what they sell appeals to B2C as well.

And for those of you who have never heard these terms, I should have said this at the beginning, B2B is business to business and B2C is business to consumer.

So I’m thinking about this additive company that sells sweeteners and other spices, but their audience are food scientists and huge R&D corporations, not home cooks. So that’s a good example of this. What could a company like that do to avoid getting a whole bunch of people who are looking for a one-pound bag of sugar to stop clicking on their ads?

John: Yeah. So the first place we’ll often look is modifiers. Looking for, are there ways that people search in the B2B space that tell us that’s most likely a B2B search? For example, someone’s looking for bulk, or wholesale, or boxes, or any kind of quantity related things. That’s often a place where we say, okay, let’s go after everybody who’s searching for these quantity type of things, because they’re much more likely to be a business or someone looking to order in bulk. That’s going to work for us.

Then outside of modifiers, you’ve got to do deep research to understand, are there differences in terminology? So often there will be acronyms or maybe names of licenses that you need to have, or things like that in particular verticals where the normal consumer doesn’t use those acronyms, doesn’t know what those license names are, but people in the business space do.

And so we’ve also had clients where we’ll target people looking for the name of a specific license. And so we know someone who’s looking for this very specific thing, they’re probably our audience because only people who are our audience know this thing exists. And so that’s another way you can try and get in front of the right people.

And then a lot of it comes down to unit economics and how much can you afford to pay for a business lead? You’ll have situations certainly where if a new customer to you, let’s say you’re an enterprise space, a new customer to you is worth a $100,000 a year or something like that. You can afford to get a decent amount of that irrelevant consumer traffic. And what you want to focus more on is how do you filter that out?

So you think through your messaging, your landing pages, your website. How can you say, “Hey, if you’re looking for X, Y, and Z, fill out this form. If you’re looking for A, B, and C, fill out this”, and make sure that your sales team is not running across the world trying to chase down consumers and they’re able to see, okay, the fact that they asked for this information or provide this information tells us these are the handful of leads we want to go after out of kind of the more crowded space.

So those are a few ways. And with platforms like Facebook and Instagram, LinkedIn for example, some of those more push platforms. There’s a lot of building opportunities to target people that the platforms know are in the business space just because of their browsing history, because of what job they entered into LinkedIn, for example, et cetera. So there’s also a lot of opportunities to say okay, we have a pretty good sense that most of the people we’re showing these ads to are, based upon that defined user behavior from the platform itself.

Rich: Okay. In your experience, what’s maybe some of the most unusual or even humorous ways you’ve seen a business weed out some of the B2C searchers when they’re going after that B2B audience?

John: Oh, that’s a good question. Sometimes you’ll see a very aggressive ad copy where it’s less about click here for a reason, band it’s more about don’t click here. So the vanilla version of that is people will be like new customers only. They’re trying to not get new customer service, that kind of thing. But you’ll see, “we only work with X” or “don’t click if you are Y”, I’ll see that in ads sometimes. Ironically, people don’t read ads, so you still get a lot of people clicking through, but it helps trim down some.

What is another good example? I think an interesting, fun example, it’s related, not exactly, but I’ll say it anyway. A business, they were targeting consumers, but they were targeting a very specific type of consumer. So they offered walk-in tubs for veterans in particular, and veterans were able to get kind of subsidies related to getting those walk-in tubs, and so it wasn’t much out of pocket expense to the veterans. And so what they did is they didn’t go after necessarily the walk-in tub searches that you might think they’d go after. Because in those areas they’re competing against everybody else who’s trying to sell that and it’s expensive.

So what they did was they went after veteran-related search terms and said, “Did you know you could get a free walk-in tub”. And so that type of creative thinking is something that I see being really important often the B2B space. Which is what is our desired target looking for that will enable us to get in front of them at the right time. Even if it’s not as intuitive as ‘we sell walk-in tubs’, let’s target ‘walk-in tubs’ as a keyword.

Rich: That’s a really interesting approach. It’s almost more of an approach for paid social, where you’re actually going after specific audience types more than anything else. That’s very clever.

I know you only half-jokingly said people don’t read ads, but what are the types of titles and descriptions that we can use that might also help people self-select that this ad is meant for them or not meant for them?

John: Yeah, I’d say being very clear and explicit in the ad copy. If you are selling something in bulk and you’re selling that to businesses, your title should say… for some reason, I like to pick umbrellas as an example. If you’re selling bulk umbrellas to other businesses, your ad should not say, “Best umbrella store in town”, it should say, “Buy bulk umbrellas” or, “Buy 500 umbrellas for 50 cents each”, or just things that communicate to a consumer. I’m not trying to buy 50 umbrellas, that’s probably not relevant to me. And try and weed them out through that ad copy.

Rich: Interesting. I’m also thinking back to the idea of the company selling sweeteners in bulk, and even maybe calling out the audience they want to talk to like, “bulk supplements for R&D scientists” or something like that. So that the home cook isn’t going to think that’s for them.

John: Exactly.

Rich: I’ve seen you say that a number one placement isn’t always best, and yet so many of us want to make sure that we are number one. What in your mind is the argument against being in that top spot when it comes to Google Ads?

John: Yeah, I love talking about this because it’s a great segue into being more strategic with how you run your campaigns. And I’ll explain what I mean by that.

So a lot of businesses, maybe they’ll reach out to us and be like, “Hey, okay, we want the number one top spot in Google. That’s what we want.” And the reason they say that is because A, they think that most people click through the first thing that comes up, which these days is an ad. And there is true truth to that. Definitely a much higher percentage of clicks goes to the first thing that comes up than anything else. So there is truth to that.

But the second kind of idea is we have to be at the top, we have to be above our competitors in order to get all that traffic and to look as credible as possible to people. But the reality is you often pay a lot more for that top spot then you may pay for other spots. And that means that you might be getting more traffic, but it might not be profitable traffic for you, or not every single time, not every single person, will it be profitable traffic.

And so what we try to have a conversation with our clients about is we use bidding strategies that look at what’s actually working for them. We use things called ‘target return on ad spend’, ‘target cost per acquisition bidding’ where we’re looking at what people are clicking through the website and then converting on your website. It could be filling out a form, placing an order, placing a phone call, et cetera. We’re importing that information back into the system, back into Google. So we’re informing Google this is what’s working. And then we’re telling Google, hey, these are our parameters. Here’s what we can afford to spend for a lead, or here’s our return on ad spend that we’re trying to achieve.

And then we’re able to leverage Google to say, you know what? If we got position one on this search, we’d have to spend so much on it that we can’t get the cost per lever trying to get. But you know what? We could have position three and spend a little bit less, and that actually would work. And I would much rather have position three in that case than be telling Google, no, I always want position one. And then you’re just spending too much money. And across the board, your ROI is not where it needs to be.

So to some extent, I use that idea of you don’t always want to be in position one as an intro into the conversation of look, we need to use more strategic automation and looking at the data to really understand where you should be, how you should be, when you should be, as opposed to just assuming I should be on every single search at the top of the page all the time, because that often may not be the best case for your business.

Rich: Also, we always hear about people who just click on the first link without even looking at it. Obviously that gets expensive. I’m guessing that the, I don’t know if there’s a term for it, these reactionary clickers, but I’m guessing that’s much less for positions two and below because they’ve already made that mistake once and they realize this is not the right search for me, perhaps, and they’ll go do a different search. So you’re also getting less, not fraudulent clicks, but miss misaligned clicks in that situation too.

John: That definitely happens. Yep. And you’ve got people who just go through everything until they find what they want, or they just click the first thing. Especially in the customer service space. This has happened a lot of times where people will Google something trying to reach out to customer service. And they just tap the first thing that comes up, and that’s not a valuable interaction per se. Because now you’re paying for an existing customer to call you, and they could have just found your number organically.

Now I will say the flip side of that is that sometimes we’ll see situations for clients where the first one or the first two spots, people who come through those are way more relevant than other spots. Because people are clicking through and they’re like, “Oh we called the first place” and we’re a tire kicker and they weren’t able to help us. We called the next place, they’re not able to help us, et cetera. And so sometimes we’ll actually see situations where we really don’t want to show up in those lower spots. If we’re going to show up at all, we want to be aggressive and be at the top because we see such a difference in relevancy in that particular industry for that particular client. But it’s not it’s not a uniform rule across the board. And so that’s where the strategy needs to come in.

Rich: It sounds like there’s a certain amount of experimentation and measurement to get those results, not something that you’ll know or understand right out of the gate.

John: A hundred percent. Lots of experimentation, lots of testing, and then lots of leveraging. And if I’m Google in particular, leveraging their algorithm to make the decisions for us, we give them parameters to use. There’s I think over 70 million signals, little pieces and big pieces of information, that go into every single time you do a search on Google, it goes into what ads Google chooses to show to you.

I, as a human, cannot think about a fraction of that, let alone do that a billion times a day. And so good management campaigns is all about leveraging the machine learning and the automation to do what it’s good at, and then providing the human inputs, the manual inputs, the creative inputs, and also the controls of, you know what, you’re going crazy machine learning, you’re spending too much money, we need to pull you back here, we need to redirect you here. And so marrying those two things together is what we see be most successful on behalf of our clients.

Rich: I’m sure a lot of businesses, maybe ones who don’t have a lot of experience in running Google ads in the B2B space, come to you and expect immediate ROI. The moment they start running ads, they should be getting leads that afternoon.

When you’re talking to clients, and I’m sure it depends, but what do you usually tell them in terms of when they should start to see a true ROI and where you think we’re at a place where it’s going to be steady positive ROI going forward?

John: You’re absolutely right. Love the conversations. Sometimes we set expectations as best as we can out of the gate and then you launch, and you get to call that afternoon. And we go, “Oh, we spent money. Where’s our lead?” It’s going to take some time.

So the expectations we generally set are, we will very quickly be able to see whether or not people are actually engaging with the ads. We’re going to know, are people clicking through or not. But it’s going to take longer to see how are they converting on your website, whatever the call to action is, and what’s the quality of those leads.

And then, things are not going to be dialed in from day one. When we launch, you’re not going to have your perfect cost per customer acquisition from day one. Because of all those different strategic elements we just talked about, we’ve got to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, test, iterate, play around, set different numbers, test different ad strategy, test different landing pages, et cetera.

So from a timeline perspective, generally we’ll tell clients, look, we really want at least three months to show you how we’re getting good results and we’re either hitting your goals or we had the right trajectory in place. That doesn’t mean it’s going to take three months for us to tell you what’s starting to happen, what we’re seeing, whether or not people are engaging. It’s not going to take three months to see our people clicking on ads. We’re going to know that very quickly. And we might say, you know what, our initial keyword strategy was too conservative, nobody actually searches for these things. We’re going to have to cast the net a little bit broader and go after a different category. And all those types of things are happening during those three months.

And of course the other big reality that plays into that is what that business’s sales cycle is. So if it’s an impulse purchase, people are either going to get to the website and buy it or not today. You’re going to much more quickly know what your conversion rate is and be able to iterate than if you’re, an enterprise software that takes six months for people to make a decision on. Then you’re going to have to factor in that sales cycle, and we’re not going to know for six months even if lead number one converts, let alone what happens after that. And so we try to work with our clients to be realistic about their sales and factor that into when they should expect to see good results.

Rich: And when you’re talking about this, obviously in B2C, we make the decisions on our own. In most cases, it’s a quick decision more often than not. For B2B sales, especially as the dollar amount starts going up, that sales cycle and the number of people involved in it starts to grow.

So are you taking a look beyond just that first interaction? So somebody clicks on the ad, they go to a landing page, and in a perfect world maybe they download a white paper or in a more perfect world, they ask for a quote or a meeting or something like that. But if there is a longer sales cycle, what are the different types of approaches – or if there’s multiple people – what are the different approaches that you need to take to run ads that are ultimately going to succeed?

John: This is where a CRM is so crucial for businesses to have. A client relationship management tool where they’re able to collect that contact initially, and then do that follow up, track it through the process of things. Integrate that with let’s say Google ads or other platforms, so that we’re able to import information about different milestones.

So for example, real life example, HubSpot is a very popular CRM. We can integrate HubSpot with Google ads. And when a salesperson changes the contact life cycle stage for a contact and says, okay, they were sales qualified, or Hey, you know what? We sent an agreement or, Hey, they became a customer. We can set things up to import those pieces of information back into Google ads, so we can see not just how many initial leads are we driving, but which ones of these are turning into customers, or turning into sales qualified leads, or fill in the blank.

And then if there’s enough of that data, we can actually optimize towards those things and tell Google, look, this is what’s actually becoming customers. We want to pay X for each of these, and now go use your machine learning to find us more of this type of person. And so that’s really crucial, especially in the B2B space. Our best  clients, especially the ones that are most successful with advertising, are the ones who have really good processes in place to actually do something with those leads and maximize their rate of turning those leads into customers.

Rich: It’s interesting. So on the B2C side, it tends to be more, it’s that one stop shop. It’s that one interaction. And if you set up Google ads correctly, Google ads can feed that information back into itself and make quicker adjustments.

But on the B2B side, where so much of the sales process may take place after that first conversion or KPI, that you have to either manually or set up automatically with a third-party CRM to feed some additional data back into Google ads so that it can make better decisions going forward. Is that what I’m hearing?

John: Generally speaking. Yeah, absolutely. And of course, there’s always exceptions to that on the B2C side too, where you’ve got businesses with longer sales cycles and a lot of it comes back to, okay, how much is going on offline? How much is the sales team actually need to be communicating with people? And then just getting that information back into the platforms to report upon and optimize towards.

Rich: I know this is going to be another “it depends” answer, but in the B2B world, obviously costs are more expensive. It’s always more expensive to do B2B business than B2C business. When you talk to your clients about their monthly ad spend, what kind of minimums do you recommend they go forward with so that you can gather enough data to actually make better decisions within that three month window?

John: A lot of it comes down to what is the size of their market. So for example, on the Google side of things. If we’re going to do Google search campaigns, going after people who are searching for particular thing. We can do research and get a sense for how many people and how many searches are there on average in a month for these types of keywords in the geographic region they’re targeting. Generally, what do we think the cost per click might be? And so we’ll have a sense for, if you wanted to spend as much as possible on this category of traffic, here’s what that number would be. And then we might not want to start there, but that kind of tells us what the market cap is to a certain extent.

So from there, it’s a matter of let’s start more conservatively, which we do often. It’s about again, looking at that likely average cost per click, and thinking through how much volume are we going to be able to collect each day to be able to make decisions upon.

So we’ve got clients that spend, $500 a month, we have clients that spend millions per month. So there’s a tremendously wide range. But ideally we want to be able to have, I’d love to have a hundred clicks a day ideally for business. And what that costs is going to look different for a business. It could be $20 per click is going to be whatever that number is. I’m not going to do the math right now. It could be $2 per click. It’s going to be a very different budget number, but we try to look at click volume as a gauge and think through, okay, if we could collect at least a hundred clicks a day, then we can make statistically significant decisions. At this point, we can understand what the conversion rate looks like. We can test and iterate and go from there.

Rich: All right. John, up until now we’ve talked primarily about how we can set up the ads to attract the right type of clients and what that process looks like. Obviously, once they click they get on a landing page. It may be too late at this point to save them from making that click if they are a B2C type customer. But what messaging should go on a landing page to reinforce and to increase conversions at that point?

John: The landing page is crucial. And I think it’s something a lot of businesses overlook. They’ll really focus on the ad itself and spend all the time thinking through what their ads say, is it saying the right things? And that’s very important. The ad is crucial, certainly. But the ad is very small compared to the amount of space and opportunity and time you have in a landing page to communicate what you want to communicate. People are going to make a split decision often on a ‘click this’ ad. Then the real sales process, marketing process comes in of what are they seeing? Are their pain points being answered on that landing page?

So there’s all sorts of things that are, I think, key on a landing page. But some of the most important ones are really explicitly and clearly saying what you do. A great example, we’ve got a client right now, they they’re in the custom home building space. And so we’re going to be running some campaigns for them in that space. But they have a landing page with pictures of custom homes to build, et cetera. But it doesn’t say ‘custom homes’, the headline says ‘new construction’, and there’s really not other information on there about what they do per se.

And so we’re going to them saying, hey, we need to change this landing page because when someone clicks on this ad, they need confirmation that you do custom homes in X location. Because that’s what they’re looking for. You got to tell them that right away in your headline. That’s the most important thing. And then yes, you should have pictures of custom homes to show them what that looks like, et cetera. But you got to tell them what you do. And you’ve got to tell the visitor what you want them to do on your page.

Another really big thing, a call to action is often missing from any landing pages. If you want them to call you for a free estimate, you need to tell them that. You need to make your number really prominent, really easy. Because people are lazy, and they are moving quickly. And if you don’t tell them what you want them to do, some people will not do it. They’re not going to take the time to figure it out. So don’t make them dig around your website. Don’t make them go to your contact page and be like, oh, okay, I could email them or fill out a form. No, have a form on your page, say “fill this out for your free quote” or whatever the case may be. And just keep it clear, keep it easy, answer their pain points, tell them what you want them to do.

Rich: Are there any elements on a landing page that you feel are universally good or bad? Especially these days, is video important? Is putting the form at the top of the page important? Are there certain things where you’re like we’ll test everything, but we’re always going to start with these things and we’re never going to start with these things?

John: Yeah. Great question. I say some very common elements that are going to be important on almost every landing page would be first of all, credibility elements. Often it’s going to be reviews from your customers. It could be badges, it could be licenses you have. But it’s incredibly important to communicate to people why they should trust you and what the experience has been of other people who are working with you.

And it’s great to handpick those experiences too. To think through, okay, what are the most common pain points that we know our customers have? Let’s choose customer reviews that in and of themselves answer those pain points, and let’s feature those so that we don’t have to tell you, we’re fast. They can take Mary’s word when she said, “These guys got to me same day, took care of things”, et cetera. That’s gold. Credibility elements, reviews, I think, are almost always going to be important on landing pages.

Video is awesome when possible. I love using video on landing pages. Video is not always the easiest thing for everyone to create, so I’m certainly not going to say it’s a must. There’s plenty of landing pages that work well that don’t have it, but when you can create it, it’s awesome. And also, I think it’s often easier to get some decent video than people think, especially these days.

Customer reviews are a fantastic way to get video. Just, asking your clients, ask your customers, incentivizing them, “Hey, could you make a video review on your iPhone? We’ll, I’ll send you a link.” Like we have some of our clients use links that they can send out just really easily collect that video review. And then you can feature that on your website, and it just makes things pop and takes that customer credibility element to a whole different level.

So outside of that, definitely having your call to action ideally on that page. So if you want them to fill out a form, most of the time, yes, that should be on that page. They shouldn’t have to click a button to go elsewhere. There’s exceptions to every rule. Sometimes people are using landing pages in and of themselves as a qualifying thing. They want to actually make people do some work because they only want to work with the people who are invested enough to actually go through the funnel. And so that’s a strategy. So sometimes you make it harder for people to get through things because you’re trying to get only the most relevant. So that’s a strategy as well.

And probably the last thing I would say is it has to look awesome on mobile. That’s another thing I see websites miss often is they spend all of their design time on the desktop version of what on your laptop or whatever. And yet most, a majority of traffic, in most cases, 50 to 60 percent at least, if not more of the people getting to your website are going to be on their phone. And so you got to make sure it looks good, it’s easy to navigate. There’s not so much information that it takes forever to scroll, or it’s hard to get to your form or whatever. Make sure it looks good on mobile.

Rich: Fantastic. This has just been an amazing amount of information, a great resource. John, if people want to learn more about you, learn more about your agency, where can we send them online?

John: Yeah. Stubgroup.com is our website. We’d love to see you on there. You can see more information about what we do and reach out for a free consultation through there. And also if you want to see a bunch more free information like this, I put out a lot of videos on our YouTube channel, just search stub group on YouTube and you’ll see all sorts of videos about Google and other marketing platforms and success for small business in our digital advertising age.

Rich: Excellent. John, thanks so much for stopping by today.

John: Thank you so much for having me. It was a great conversation.

 

Show Notes:

John Horn lives and breathes Google ads and is passionate about sharing his vast knowledge of campaign types, bidding strategies, keyword structure, and more, to help businesses get more ROI from their marketing campaigns. Be sure to check out their website for a free consultation, as well as their YouTube channel for insightful videos to help elevate your marketing success.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 25+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.