In the dog-eat-dog world of search engine optimization, getting into the top 10 list on any given Google search can be a challenge.

Fortunately, the free and user-friendly structure of Google Adwords can help even those new to the methodology compete with experienced SEO experts. Setting up a viable Adwords account and understanding some strategy behind it can help you reach important customers with the information, products, services, deals and/or location likely to meet their needs at the right time.

AdWords is considered one of the most effective forms of marketing, largely because its ROI is so easy to determine. In fact, every aspect of such campaigns is measurable right down to the number of clicks, impressions and conversions, as well as cost per click, cost per acquisition, and click-through and conversion rates.

Implementing such strategy can be a huge advantage to any online marketer. Google earned $51.8 million in global net ad revenue last year, representing 30 percent of that worldwide pie. And ads in the first position on Google realize an impressive average click-through rate of 27 percent on mobile and 19 percent on desktop.

Google provides a straightforward four-step process that makes it surprisingly easy to set up your first campaign. Here, we walk you through those steps.

STEP 1: Create an account

If you already have a Google account, you can log in and set up the AdWords function directly. If not, click on this link; getting started just takes a few minutes and is comparable to creating an account on a shopping site. Next, click on this other link to get started on your actual Adwords account. Once you start, Google will verify your identity by contacting you via phone or e-mail.

STEP 2: Craft your campaign(s)

Each of your campaigns should focus on a theme or group of products. For each, you’ll need to let Google know your thoughts about your budget and target audience(s), including geographic location and keywords. Though plenty of information is available online, if you get stuck at any point you can call Google for assistance.

  • Budget: In initial campaigns, consider setting your budget small — perhaps to less than $100 per day. Once you get a feel for how the process works, you can increase your budget at any time. Note that you pay only when someone clicks on your ad, so you may set your budget from $10 per day to $5,000 per day. Bonus: Most users’ cost per click gradually declines over time as they become more proficient with the system.
  • Location: You can go big and merely choose between the U.S., the U.S. and Canada, or worldwide. Or you can go really targeted by including or excluding specific countries, cities, regions or zip codes. Changing your mind is easy, any time.
  • Networks: The primary choices are search and/or display. Many experts recommend starting with search only, then trying display later. What’s the difference? Search ads show up when someone searches for your direct keyword(s). Display ads use your keywords or other targeting criteria to display your ads on other sites with similar text. For example, your search ad might show up if someone Googles your keywords “Oil changes in Kalamazoo, MI,” while your display ad might show up on a web page related to the “Cost of an oil change.”
  • Keywords: Google typically suggests at least 15–20 keywords for you to consider, based on your website content. Before deciding however, you should brainstorm the words most relevant to your specific business. For example, if you own an antiques dealership in Kalamazoo, Michigan, specializing in vintage lighting, you’ll want to consider “antiques Kalamazoo vintage period lighting” rather than just “antiques.” Think about whether it makes sense to mention brands. Note that longer phrases are generally more relevant but drive less traffic, which may be worth the trade-off as users are more likely to be interested in your product. A recent study found the most highly ranked ads are highly populated with hyperlinks, associated with websites that are populated with multiple content and target keywords, and also associated with Google My Business entries that include reviews and photos.

You can, however, combine targeting to narrow your focus without having to limit your keywords:

For example, if you have your Location Targeting set to ONLY show your ads in Kalamazoo, Michigan you can use broader keywords such as Antiques, Antique Shop, Antique Dealer, etc.

The difference between the two:

Location targeting will automatically focus only on people Google believes are located in that area. Location-related keywords target people who are searching for something, no matter where they are.  For example, someone in New York, who is planning a trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan to do some antique shopping would not see your ad based on location targeting, but would see your ad for “Kalamazoo Antique Stores” if your location targeting is set to all of the U.S.

Bringing it together:

Best practice – for those with a limited geographic range, but who do attract visitors/tourists from other areas – is to have both. Use location related keywords in a campaign targeting a larger geographic area, but use location targeting for your more general terms.

  • Bid: This amount represents the maximum cost you’re willing to pay for each person who clicks on your ad. Since that’s highly dependent on your business and product, and since it can be hard for rookies to determine, many experts recommend initially setting this part to “automated” and letting Google figure it out based on the budget you’ve set. Once your campaign kicks off and you can figure your average cost per click, you can tweak your bid accordingly. Note that the ultimate placement of your ad is based on Google’s assessment of its relevancy when ranking multiple factors, including the performance of your previous campaigns and the quality of your website and landing page.
  • Enter your copy: Your ad will consist of a headline; your display URL (i.e., website address); and two lines of copy. Note that the copy doesn’t necessarily appear as two lines, so it must be written in a way that it makes sense either way it is displayed.

Recently, Google has been experimenting with the amount of characters that they will allow in each of these areas, so you need to be prepared for changes in how much text you can display in any given ad.

STEP 3: Pay

You will be automatically charged after your ad runs, either when the balance reaches your set amount or 30 days later.

STEP 4: Review

Before approving your plans, you get another chance to make sure things are the way you want them. But even if you re-think things an hour later, you can pause your campaign and quickly tweak any element at any time.

Once your campaign is ready, there is one more step required in order to track the success of the campaign: add a tracking code to your website’s confirmation or “Thank You” page. You should pause your campaign until the code is launched. If you manage the site yourself, the code is easy to cut and paste. If not, Google provides the information in an easy-to-share format you can send to your website designer; just log into your AdWords account, click on “Tools,” then “Conversions,” and follow the directions.

Once your campaign is live, check it a couple of times each day over the first few days to note which keywords are working and which aren’t. Once you have a good sense of how it’s going, you can reduce the frequency of your check ins.

There isn’t an exact science, but a very rough guideline for reviews based on monthly budget would be as follows:

  • Less than $100: Once a month
  • $500 to $2,499: Once a week
  • $2,500 to $4,999: Daily
  • $5,000 to $9,999: Twice a day
  • $10,000 to $24,999: Frequently each day
  • More than $25,000: At least hourly

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2014 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and relevance.

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