“Google Ads don’t work for me.”

“The water-treatment industry is just different.”

“My marketing company doesn’t understand our business model.”

“Our marketing company says we get a lot of clicks and conversions, but it never pays for itself.”

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard these lamentations from business owners in this industry. Typically, I follow up by asking, “Why do you think that’s the case?” Over the years, I’ve heard varying degrees of uncertainty when they respond to my question, and the consensus is they simply don’t know.

That’s fair.

The world of digital marketing is complex, constantly changing, and full of players with varying degrees of experience and expertise. Business owners are at the behest of their marketing team, whether internal or external to their company, to disseminate information in a way the team can make sense of and use for strategic planning.

However, there’s also a beauty to digital marketing: When the proper systems are in place to effectively track performance and close the loop on the customer journey, it’s a data-driven way to grow your business. Simply follow the data wherever it leads and use it as a beacon to illuminate the best path forward for growing your business through inbound marketing.

While simple in concept, accurately tracking data and creating a closed-loop feedback system isn’t easy. It is, however, more important than ever to get the most out of your online marketing investment.

The past five years have been a wild ride of change in the digital marketing space with the advancement of algorithms, machine learning, and natural language processing. My job as a digital marketing professional has morphed from manually making changes based on the data I see to training the algorithms to optimize the performance of a client’s digital marketing presence.

Training the Google Dragon

One of my kids’ favorite movies is How to Train Your Dragon. In this movie, the Vikings believe dragons to be vicious creatures and make sport of hunting them.

The protagonist of the story is a young Viking named Hiccup, who is the son of the village chief, Stoick the Vast. Unlike the other villagers, Hiccup is not adept at dragon hunting. Hiccup discovers that dragons are not the vicious creatures the Vikings believe them to be. He learns to train a dragon named Toothless and rides him, uncovering the dragon’s unique abilities.

Google’s algorithms can be viewed in much the same way: Perhaps the best way forward is simply a matter of better understanding this dragon, despised by many, and taming it to reveal how to put it to work for you.

Google Ads has made steady advancements toward machine learning in the past year. Many of the elements once left to marketers are now handled by Google’s algorithms, which work to optimize for a specific goal. This dragon essentially needs to be trained by clearly communicating what output you want it to produce. Feed it the wrong output goal, and you’ll see your dollars burn up in one fiery breath.

The first step is to identify your goal. For most people, that means increased sales. However, unless you sell online using an e-commerce site, transactions take place offline, making it necessary to understand all the steps leading up to the sale. When I was in sales for water treatment, we used the LADSI model: lead, appointment, demo, sale, install.

We also know that not every form submission and phone call coming through a website is a hot-to-trot lead. Many existing customers use them to contact a business, and some even click a paid ad to get to a business website.

Most businesses that invest in Google Ads have conversion tracking set up to track how many phone calls and form fills occur after someone clicks a paid ad. This is a great place to start; however, if many of these clicks are from customers or people who are not qualified leads, and your customers are “converting” on your website, then Google’s algorithms will begin to skew for these types of people.

Getting the Right Conversions and Leads

There are multiple types of bid strategies on Google Ads, and we won’t go into them all here. It is safe to say that many marketing agencies are using a maximize conversion bidding strategy for lead-generation clients. This means Google is told which conversions matter and to optimize ad placement to get the most conversions with the budget available.

If you’re tracking all conversions (phone calls and form fills), you may be training the algorithmic dragon to show your ads to more existing customers, as they have a higher likelihood of contacting you. If your goal is to get more qualified leads who have never done business with you, it’s imperative that you identify which calls and form fills fit this criteria and work with your marketing team to ensure this data is being fed back to Google Ads.

Using a bid strategy called maximize conversion value can be helpful once you’ve established that you can segment the conversions into leads and current customers. By assigning a higher dollar value to the leads—let’s say $150, while a regular conversion may be worth $10—you can begin to train the algorithm to optimize for higher-value leads. You can take the strategy further by tracking appointments and sales and having your marketing team push that data back to Google Ads as well, assigning even higher dollar values to these types of conversions.

Customer database systems may provide automation to accomplish this without complex back-end click identification tracking. A third-party integration software can also connect clients’ feedback on website form submissions and calls back to Google Ads.

There are a few key factors that will determine the degree of success you’ll see with Google Ads:

The accuracy of data and conversion tracking.

Communication with your marketing team members and a system in place to allow them to see what is happening with the conversions.

The ability to push data back to Google Ads for closed-loop feedback and maximum optimization.

Google Ads provides a tremendous return on investment, and it can for you, too, when the algorithmic dragon is properly trained. Reach out to your marketing team to ensure the right data is being tracked and that feedback loop is created.

About the author Amanda Crangle and the team at Lamplight Digital Media help residential and commercial water-treatment companies profitably grow their dealerships using digital marketing. They have worked with over 100 water-treatment dealerships spanning North America, managed millions of dollars in ad spend, and performed over 1,000 scientific website split tests. Crangle intimately knows the water industry, having worked in a dealership as a sales rep and as a general manager.


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