Mobile PPC: An Absurdly Easy-to-follow Guide to Get it Right
Ryan Moothart May 8 2018
Part 1 – Introduction to Mobile PPC & Why This Guide Matters
Google searches on mobile devices outnumber those made on laptop or desktop computers and that gap continues to grow. This means that you’re likely losing money if you’re not advertising to mobile traffic in your PPC accounts. However, you need to do it right or you’re likely leaving money on the table.
Users searching on a mobile phone often have different behaviors than users searching on a computer. For instance, users reference their phone to ask a question or do some quick research more often than on their laptop out of convenience.
These differing behaviors mean you shouldn’t target a paid SEM campaign to mobile users the same way you would with computer users. There are several factors and features you should take advantage of to target mobile users more effectively. If you don’t, you increase your chances of losing out to your competitors and wasting money.
This guide is meant to serve one purpose: to give you the insights you need so you can successfully execute a mobile PPC strategy. In this guide, you’ll learn about:
- Mobile bid modifiers and how to use them
- Mobile URLs in ads
- Mobile-preferred ad extensions
- Advanced strategies including mobile-only campaigns
Important: If you’re just building your paid search accounts for the first time and would like to start from the very beginning with PPC account and network settings, this additional resource will help you build a solid foundation from the first step.
And if you need more of a primer or a basic introduction to PPC, we’ve got a great overview for newcomers as well.
Part 2 – When Should I Take the Time to Create a Mobile-Specific Strategy?
If you’re a beginner at PPC, or if you have limited resources, making a bunch of changes in your account to optimize for mobile traffic can seem daunting. Do not be fooled; optimizing your account for mobile is worthwhile and will reap rewards. How can you tell?
Take a look at your analytics. When you segment for mobile traffic, do you see a graph like this?
If you do, then your mobile traffic is consistently growing and this should signal that you need to take advantage of that.
Still not enough? Alright, take a look at your search query reports.
Do you see a lot of search terms which indicate somebody is aware of a problem or solution that your business covers? For example, you run a landscaping business and you see terms such as “lawn care businesses near me” or “how much does a landscaper cost”. Broadly, do you see any search terms that indicate someone is asking a question (i.e. how, why, what, where, can I, should I)?
These types of searches indicate a user is in their interest or desire phase; they’re past the point of basic awareness of your business or what you offer, but they’re not ready to convert. In marketing terms, we call this type of user “mid funnel”, which alludes to the basic marketing funnel metaphor.
These types of mid funnel users are more like to search on their mobile devices versus a low funnel user ready to buy from you.
Think about it: queries which involve the terms “what”, “where”, and “how” tend to show up more often from mobile traffic versus computer traffic. Not only is this indicative of voice search (thanks, Siri), it’s indicative of a high or mid funnel user who’s not ready to convert.
If you see these trends in analyzing your data, you need to optimize your AdWords and Bing accounts for mobile PPC.
Part 3 – The Importance of Having a Mobile-Optimized Site
Before we go into any specifics about features or tactics in a PPC platform like Google AdWords, there is a vitally important factor we need to address first: a mobile-optimized website.
Have you ever tried to navigate a traditional webpage on your mobile browser? It doesn’t always respond well to your finger’s touch on the screen. You usually have to zoom way in to read small text. Scrolling from left to right over and over again just to read a paragraph gets cumbersome and annoying. Essentially, it’s an all-around terrible experience from a user’s standpoint.
This type of user experience tends to cause on-site usage metrics (i.e. bounce rate) to worsen. Furthermore, having a website not optimized for mobile use can harm its ability to show up organically in search results (yes, Google takes mobile experience into account for SEO). If you’re worried your website is not optimized for mobile, you can check it with Google’s mobile-friendly test.
Bottom line: if your website is not mobile-optimized (if you’re seeing a failing grade here), don’t bother spending money in Google AdWords to go after mobile traffic; you might as well take that cash and throw it out the window for all the good it will do.
If you’re going to invest time and money into paid mobile traffic, you need a mobile site. Preferably, that means your website is responsive and any webpage can adapt to any size screen. However, if you have a separate mobile site (i.e. m.example.com or www.example.com/m/), that should work too.
If you don’t yet have a mobile-optimized website, close this EBook and read the rest of it later. Dedicate your efforts to getting a mobile-optimized website first before spending so much as $0.01 on paid mobile traffic.
Part 4 – Using Mobile Bid Modifiers
Rule number 1 when it comes to targeting mobile traffic in Google AdWords (or any similar platform): do not bid the same maximum cost per click for mobile traffic as you do traffic from computers.
Why? It all comes down to user behavior.
When you pay for search traffic, you (ideally) want your investment to result in a conversion or a purchase. When a user is ready to convert on your site, s/he is considered a “low funnel” user. Enough of your PPC budget should go to these low funnel users so that you make a profit on your investment.
More often than not, these low-funnel users are acquired through computer traffic more so than via mobile. In a lot of cases, this can be driven by the complexity of an anticipated conversion, whether that’s gathering significant final detail on the product, reading the fine print of an agreement, entering a credit card, etc.
Let’s dig into an example. Let’s say you own a website which sells kitchen appliances and you run paid search campaigns in Google AdWords. The keyword “four slot toaster” has 7 conversions in the past month. You spent $300 on 100 clicks for this keyword. That means you have a conversion rate of 7% and an average cost per conversion of $42.86. Now, let’s separate out these metrics by device:
The conversion rate on mobile is less than half what it is for computers. Even with a lower cost per click, mobile performs worse. This means, when it comes to paid search investment, you want to bid down on mobile traffic for this keyword to save on cost. So, how do you do that?
Introducing (or very likely re-introducing): mobile bid modifiers! This wonderful setting allows you to input a percentage for each device type. This percentage, in turn, is multiplied by a keyword’s maximum CPC bid when an auction is triggered.
Let’s re-do this example with a mobile bid modifier. The average cost per conversion for mobile was twice as high as it was on computers. So, let’s say you apply a mobile bid modifier of -50%. This tells Google to cut this keyword’s maximum CPC bid in half when an auction is triggered on a mobile device. Here are the stats for the next 100 clicks:
What do you see as a result of this change?
- You lost out on a little bit of mobile traffic due to lower bids.
- You were able to bring the mobile cost per conversion down by 50%.
- The total end result is the same amount of conversions on this keyword for $23 less than before.
This example is typical for many PPC campaigns. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll always want to bid down on mobile traffic. The desired action you want a user to take–the bottom of your funnel–might not be one optimal for computers, such as a transaction or a form fill. For example, if your conversion is a mobile app download or a phone call, you’ll probably see better conversion metrics on mobile devices. In such cases, you may want to bid up on mobile or, alternatively, bid only on mobile traffic.
Part 5 – Using Mobile URLs to Optimize PPC Performance
If your website uses responsive design and all of your webpages adapt to mobile devices without needing to adjust their URLs, then you can ignore this section and move onto the next.
If you have separate URLs on your site specifically for mobile-optimized pages (m.website.com or www.website.com/m/), keep reading because mobile URLs are essential for your text ads.
When you create a text ad for any of your ad groups, you’re required to use a Final URL; this is the URL of the webpage you want to send a user to. Final Mobile URLs work the same exact way as a Final URL; they replace the designated Final URL when an ad is displayed on a mobile device.
Let’s say one of your text ads sends people to: www.example.com/store
But, the address for this page on your mobile-optimized site is: m.example.com/store
If you input your Final URL using the standard www address and leave the Final Mobile URL blank, then that ad will take a user to that www address regardless of what device that ad displays on.
So if that page is not optimized for mobile and a mobile user clicks on that ad, s/he will be taken to a non-optimized webpage and will likely have a poor user experience. As such, this user will likely bounce right off your site and continue searching for another.
However, if you use your Final Mobile URL option with the m sub-domain address (your mobile-optimized page), then a user clicking this ad on a mobile device will be taken to a mobile-optimized page while other users on non-mobile devices will be taken to the standard www address. This will help ensure users get the best experience possible regardless of what device they’re searching on.
Part 6 – Using Mobile-preferred Ad Extensions
A general best practice for PPC is to make sure you’re taking advantage of as many ad extensions as you possibly can. However, there are a handful of ad extensions you should make sure you’re using for mobile traffic specifically. “Why is that,” you ask? These extensions are designed to do one of two things:
- Make it easier for a user to contact you directly from the search engine results page (SERP), thereby eliminating the need for a user to click through to your site in order to do so.
- Take up as much “real estate” and visibility at the top of a SERP as possible, ensuring any competitors show up at the bottom of a user’s screen or below the fold entirely.
Let’s go through the most important ad extensions for mobile traffic one by one:
What are they: extra links which appear below your text ad and give users additional options of content they may want to read on your site.
Requirements: additional pages on your website that do not match your landing page URL.
Best for Advertisers Who: have good quality content on different pages which help a user become more knowledgeable about your products or services.
Pro Tip: use the optional description lines to take up more room on a results page.
Click here to read more about the several benefits of sitelink extensions.
What are they: a call button which appears beneath your text ad and allows a user to call your business directly from the SERP without having to find your phone number manually.
Requirements: a valid phone number which can receive calls.
Best for Advertisers Who: have the resources to field calls from prospective customers who have questions.
Pro Tip: schedule your call extensions to only appear during business hours.
To read more about how to set up Call Extensions for PPC check out the in-depth article.
What are they: a message button which appears beneath your text ad and allows a user to text your business directly from the SERP.
Requirements: a valid phone number which can receive and send text messages.
Best for Advertisers Who: have the resources to field text messages from prospective customers who have questions.
Pro Tip: schedule your message extensions to only appear during business hours.
For more about message extensions, we recommend the Google AdWords help article.
What are they: icons that appear on a map of the area, relevant to a user’s search, which indicates where your business is physically located.
Requirements: your business’ address.
Best for Advertisers Who: have at least one physical location where potential customers can come to buy from you.
Pro Tip: create these extensions automatically by linking your AdWords account to your Google My Business account.
For more about Location Extensions, ThinkWithGoogle has a great article for deeper reading and advanced techniques.
What are they: boxes which appear beneath your text ads that feature the prices of your products or services.
Requirements: accurate prices for your products or services, as well as the corresponding URLs on your site.
Best for Advertisers Who: have competitive prices for their products or services.
Pro Tip: use sale/discounted prices when applicable and schedule these extensions to begin and end automatically during these time periods.
For more information about how to set up Price Extensions, we recommend the Google AdWords help article.
What are they: an option which appears beneath your text ad which takes the user directly to your mobile application’s page on the relevant app store.
Requirements: an approved mobile application available to download in the Google Play store and/or the iTunes store.
Best for Advertisers Who: have a mobile app and regularly update it.
Pro Tip: Refer to Google’s instructions to properly track iOS app downloads in AdWords.
For more on how to set up App Extensions in general, we recommend the instructions from Google.
What are they: a box which appears beneath your text ad and features a promotional offer.
Requirements: a valid promotional offer clearly visible on your website.
Best for Advertisers Who: are running discounts or sales.
Pro Tip: schedule these to begin and end automatically for a given sales period.
Part 7 – Advanced Strategies for Mobile PPC Optimization
If you’ve got the basics down and want to know how you can take your mobile strategy further, here are a few things you can consider trying. Note that these strategies are not always beneficial and may be more hassle than their worth in some cases. Do not feel obligated to pursue these if they don’t align with your business goals.
For example, let’s say one of the suggestions below requires you to completely re-structure your account. You consider your account to be well organized as is and you’re getting desired conversion metrics in most of your campaigns. In this scenario, we’d recommend you forego the advanced mobile strategy as described below and continue with your account as is.
We covered the use of mobile bid modifiers earlier. However, if you want the most control of your PPC budget possible, you could consider creating campaigns targeted only to mobile devices. This is done by setting the computer’s (and possibly tablet’s) device bid modifier to -100% in each campaign’s setting; this will prevent ads from showing up on non-mobile devices in the first place.
You essentially duplicate all your existing search campaigns so you have 2 sets. You set the non-mobile device bid modifiers to -100% in the new set while setting your mobile bid modifiers to -100% in the existing set:
This allows you to have one set of campaigns which will only display ads on non-mobile devices and another set which will only display ads on mobile devices. If you want to create a third set to isolate tablet traffic as well, you can do that too.
This is actually how many advertisers set up their campaigns in Google AdWords prior to the introduction of mobile bid modifiers and enhanced campaigns a few years ago. Now, mobile-only campaigns are a rarity. However, since Google introduced the capability to adjust device bidding for computers and tablets in 2016, this is once again possible for advertisers to do.
We only recommend doing this if you’re an experienced PPC advertiser and feel the need for the greatest possible control over your daily spend levels per device type. When you do this, you have the maximum amount of flexibility over where money is spent by campaign and by device type. Otherwise, using mobile bid modifiers as described earlier will work just fine.
Mobile Display Campaigns for Brand Awareness
Brand awareness campaigns on the display network can be tricky enough to optimize for desktop and laptop traffic. Optimizing them for mobile traffic can be a whole different ballgame. When it works, you acquire on-site usage and conversion metrics equitable by device type. When it doesn’t, you tend to spend a lot of money on mobile display traffic with very little results to show for your investment.
If you do want to run a brand awareness display campaign for mobile traffic, do create a mobile-only campaign or a mobile-only ad group. The reason being is that, even when using mobile bid modifiers to bid down in such a display campaign, a majority of your campaign’s budget can go to mobile traffic when you don’t intend it to. Typically, this means content not optimized for a mobile user is consumed by users on their smartphones and your desired results aren’t achieved (i.e. you see higher bounce rates and higher conversion costs).
There are things to remember strictly for mobile display advertising because they almost always only show up on mobile devices. First, there are three common banner ad sizes specifically optimized for mobile traffic:
- 300 pixels x 50 pixels
- 320 pixels x 50 pixels
- 320 pixels x 100 pixels
When a user comes across an ad on a mobile website, these sizes tend to be the least obtrusive and more aesthetically appealing than many other banner ad dimensions (which are geared toward tablets and full-size monitors). Strongly consider having banner ads in these sizes to see better click metrics from mobile traffic.
Second, remember that a large amount of mobile display inventory is on mobile apps and not just websites. Google’s display network has a fair amount of mobile apps it can reach, but there are many other advertising networks and exchanges which deal exclusively with mobile apps. Do your research and explore other vendors outside of Google AdWords if you want to ensure your mobile brand awareness campaign has a maximum reach.
Earlier, we talked about how more traffic from mobile devices tends to fall in the high or mid funnel category when referencing the marketing funnel. This means users on mobile devices typically aren’t as ready for the hard sell versus users on a computer. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a common trend. In other words: device type isn’t a guarantee of a user’s state of mind, but it is guaranteed context.
Keep this in mind when running remarketing campaigns in your account. You may want to consider limiting mobile remarketing campaigns to “soft remarketing,” which offers additional content to users as they move down the marketing funnel instead of a hard sell.
Likewise, you can create an audience of users who hit key pages on your website and segment them out by device type. This allows you to target mobile-optimized content to mobile users more effectively. Using this type of audience in a soft remarketing campaign can also increase your chances of getting such a campaign to achieve its goal and increase its conversion rate.
Limiting mobile remarketing in this manner isn’t always advised. Sometimes, giving users the hard sell on mobile devices is profitable and should not be excluded; using dynamic product ads is a good example of a hard remarketing strategy that can work well on mobile devices. If you do target these campaigns to mobile traffic, pay close attention to your return on ad spend margin to ensure they’re profitable; we want to make sure you’re making money, not losing it.
Part 8 – Conclusion & of course a requisite offer
There you have it! Hopefully, you feel ready to tackle or refine your mobile-specific strategy after reading this guide.
If you want more content like this for a range of different digital marketing strategies, check out the rest of the blog and our training section where you can find a plethora of blog posts and other ebooks.
Also, we provide free PPC audits if you feel like a pair of expert eyes could be beneficial for your PPC account. Simply click that link, take 20 seconds to fill out an interest form, and we’ll get back to you faster than you can say “Mobile Bid Modifier”.
Ryan is a PPC Architect and has been with Portent, Inc. since 2010. He has over seven years of hands-on PPC experience including large-scale e-commerce, international B2B lead gen, and everything in between. Graduating from Willamette University with a BA in Rhetoric and Media Studies, he became a published author in 2016 with the release of his book, Towards Cascadia, which is a non-fiction exploration of Pacific Northwest identity, bioregionalism, and nationhood. He and his husband, Paul, enjoy traveling and are avid followers of Sounders FC, Seattle’s Major League Soccer club. Read More