Paid Advertising & Inbound Marketing - Best Practice Considerations

Written by Alastair Kane

Mar 21 2016

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Inbound marketing activity differs from traditional (outbound) marketing in that it does not interrupt prospects with unwanted messaging (as cold calling or direct mail would).

For a while, paid ad activity fell on the wrong side of ‘interruptive’ so was not considered conducive to Inbound Marketing. But as data-backed targeting and segmentation have progressed, paid advertising can be persona mapped, making paid ad activity a relevant and valuable promotional channel.

Inbound campaigns achieve higher ROI than outbound. This holds true across different company sizes and budgets. - HubSpot State of Inbound 2015

For paid ads to remain inbound-y and not disrupt they must follow a few best practice rules:

  • Always consider personas. All activity, paid or otherwise, must keep target personas front of mind at all times. Publish your ads to the environments your personas are active on, segment according to their demographics and monitor ad messaging to ensure it resonates.
  • Stay consistent with campaign messaging. Paid ads must be planned in context of overall campaign messaging, which in turn must be relevant to solving persona challenges. Paid ad messaging should be decided at the content calendar planning stage when you are defining your content hub focus, and outlining all the content assets the Inbound campaign will need.
  • Promote the right buyer mapped content. Paid promotion won’t offer the lead conversion results you want if you’re promoting the wrong content at the wrong stage. For example, if your prospect is at the Awareness stage of the Buyer’s Journey, gated content offers (eBooks, guides etc) are typically best to promote via paid channels.

Companies are x3 as likely to see higher ROI on Inbound marketing campaigns than outbound. - HubSpot State of Inbound 2015

HubSpot contains a paid ads dashboard to help users manage paid ad campaigns, and align them with Inbound marketing activity. Here is an example of what the HubSpot ads dashboard provides:

HubSpot-ads-dashboard-paid-ads-hubspot-dashboard

Best Practice Considerations For Each Paid Ad Channel

Aside from Inbound considerations, each paid channel has its own best practices to follow. From character restrictions to targeting requirements, these are the considerations campaigns must make to achieve solid paid conversion.

Paid Advertising on LinkedIn: Sponsored Updates

paid advertising inbound marketing

Image: LinkedIn Sponsored Update plan for desktop ads.

LinkedIn sponsored updates are similar to regular company updates, but are sponsored and targeted to reach niche audiences. When creating a LinkedIn Sponsored Update:

  • Use images. Ads with images or video perform better.
  • Monitor character count. On desktop, the ‘introduction’/ message part of your update can be up to 117 characters. The ‘title’ or headline text (the title of the content you are promoting) is limited to c.70 characters. On mobile, these limits change: 50 for the title, and up to 250 for the description before it is truncated.
  • Vary your messaging. Questions, advice and statistics should all be used. Keep it light and persona relevant, without the sales pitch. You’re trying to help, not sell! LinkedIn recommends that updates “be relevant, short, and authentic”.
  • Target your persona. Sponsored updates offer multiple targeting fields. Location, Companies, Job Title, School, Skills, Gender, and Age can all be used. Remember, good targeting results in higher quality conversions.
  • Remember mobile. Ads appear differently on mobile devices. Consider this when creating your copy and imagery during the inbound planning process.
  • Budget and test. Define a budget for either CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) or CPC (cost-per-click). To begin, it’s wise to start with a low budget, and test variations of your ad to see what resonates best.

paid ads Linkedin sponsored updates mobile

Image: LinkedIn Sponsored Update planning for mobile ads.

Paid Advertising on Google: Adwords

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Google AdWords is responsible for the ads you see at the top and side of the page when searching a term in Google. When planning promotion through AdWords:

  • Copy and messaging. AdWords Ad copy consists of three parts:
    • The headline (the blue text). Keep this below 25 characters, and include your hub keyword.
    • The display URL (the green link). Typically this has a limit of 35 characters and should go to the site page you are promoting.
    • The description (the black description text). The description is split into two lines, each with a 35 character limit. Highlight the details of your offer here. Remember your persona messaging, and if possible provide an answer to your persona’s challenge within the description copy (such as a statistic). Give the searcher the information they need to decide to click.
  • Match your ad to your landing page. If people click your ad, but don’t go to a relevant page, they won’t stay on your site or convert.
  • Consider mobile. Mobile is an important channel to consider; ad text and image display will differ on mobile, and can be optimised by location. You should also ensure your linked landing page is mobile optimised.
  • Review and test. All paid ads should be regularly tested to assess which are most effective. For AdWords, Google recommends creating 3-4 ads for each promotion. Whilst these will be automatically rotated it’s wise to regularly review your copy to increase performance.
  • Budget. With AdWords, you only pay when people click your ads. The price is defined by the keywords you use (think about your hub keywords), and how competitive they are.

Paid Advertising on Google: Re-marketing Ad Banners

A part of AdWords, re-marketing or retargeting allows you to track people who have visited your site (via a cookie), and re-target related ads to them across the web. It is also possible to upload email lists to AdWords to retarget prospects, rather than track a cookie. When using re-marketing ad banners:

  • Segment audiences and create ads based on their interests. Retargeting gives you the ability to personalise and tailor ads based on specific interests your prospects have shown, and their Buyer’s Journey stage. For example, if someone views a blog on ‘How to promote content on social media’ you know they are at the Awareness stage, and can show them ads for a related guide or ebook. But if they’ve viewed your pricing page, you know they are closer to a Decision - ads for a free trial or consultation may be more appropriate.
    • Use conversion pixels. By tracking actions on your site, a conversion pixel prevents you from wasting ad budget on people who have already converted on your site (purchased or signed up). This allows you to either stop retargeting, or change your messaging appropriately so as not to annoy prospects with something they already know.
  • Adjust ad frequency. To achieve the best click-through-rate, your ad frequency needs to be just right; not too much, not too little. Showing your ad 17-20 times a month is recommended, but testing is crucial to avoid over and underexposure.
  • Test and vary your ads. Regular variation is important to improve performance and avoid ad fatigue. Prospects won’t want to see the same tired messaging all the time.

Paid Advertising on Facebook

Like LinkedIn, Facebook offers another way to promote paid ads to a social audience. If your personas are active on Facebook, this could be a good ad channel for you:

Define your audience. 

  • Set your filters. According to Econsultancy, it’s best to avoid being very specific when targeting Facebook ads: “There is an argument that high-quality traffic is better than sheer numbers, but minimal qualification at the audience level is fine... Facebook doesn't know everything about you - you may miss qualified leads with too many audience filters.” However it is still important to use your persona development to identify the right audience segment. Filtering by age, country, and an interest are good to start with. You may want to create multiple campaigns, each segmenting according to channel (mobile/desktop), then refine each again into location, or interest etc. 
  • Custom Audiences. Alternatively you can retarget, just as with AdWords, using Facebook Custom Audiences. Add the Facebook pixel to your site, and all visitors to your site will be added to your target audience. Again, like AdWords retargeting, you can also create a customer audience from an email list.

Split between mobile and desktop. In Facebook Power Editor, you have the option of creating ad groups for either mobile or desktop. Think about the way your personas use social media to decide how to split your efforts. Note: If you’re using Optimized CPM and monitoring Website Clicks as the ad campaign goal, these typically gain more mobile clicks. As a result, the ad will stop displaying on desktop, and prioritise mobile. Split your campaigns to maintain a presence on both.

Only advertise when your personas are active. In Power Editor, dayparting lets you set your ad campaign to run only when your audience is active.

Budget. You can use optimised CPM to allow Facebook to decide dynamically how much to pay. Tell Facebook your goals, and it will adjust the bidding for that ad space to maximise them.

Paid Advertising on Twitter: Lead Generation Cards

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Depending on your ad goals, Twitter offers a range of paid ad options, from promoted Tweets, to trends and accounts. However for most content promotion, Twitter cards (specifically Lead Generation cards) are an advertiser's best friend. These are a form of expanded Tweet; allowing you to share a CTA, and for potential leads to submit details and access offers without completing a form/leaving Twitter (Twitter auto-completes their details). When creating lead generation cards:

  • Keywords and messaging. Lead generation cards are like Tweets with an added extra. Make sure your Tweet relates to your campaign theme, highlight the benefit of the content you are promoting, and use keywords and hashtags related to your persona content hub.
  • Card design. Make sure your card design, and specifically CTA stands out.
    • The image. Make sure this shows the value/benefit of your offer, and that the message ties to your landing page.
    • The CTA. This is limited to 20 characters. Make the action and benefit of clicking clear: ‘Join the list’ / ‘Download the eBook’
    • Test. Be sure to test and vary your images, CTA design, colour and messaging to generate best traction.
    • Budget. Many Twitter cards are free, but Lead Generation cards are a part of Twitter’s ad program and used within Promoted Tweets. It’s wise to experiment with cost, though a low bid amount/ budget tends to result in poor traction. Bids vary dependant on the campaign and keywords, though typical bids are between $4.50 and $23. Note that Twitter will also only charge the amount needed for you to win the bid, and you can set a maximum bid budget.

Continue to Regularly Test and Review Paid Ads

Regardless of the channel you choose, all paid ad options place value on accurate audience (persona) targeting, the inclusion of mobile as well as desktop, and regular testing and review of your artwork design, copy and budget.

When testing aspects of any ad, it's best practice to change one aspect at a time (again keeping personas in mind), then review the impact rather than testing multiple variables at once. Every campaign is different, but test and review regularly, and you’ll find the right ad balance to suit your marketing strategy.

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