For many businesses, search ads, namely Google AdWords, seem like a panacea for acquiring customers. After all, your potential customers are searching and search advertising seems like the ideal way to connect with them when they’re searching for the product or service you’re offering.

But as powerful a marketing tool as search ads have been for millions of businesses, search ads don’t work for everybody.

One company that learned that was 4m user-strong document synchronization company Dropbox. Drew Houston, who founded Dropbox, says that buying AdWords early on was one of those things that seemed like a no-brainer. But the results for his young startup were “horrific“. VentureBeat explains:

…the company tried to continue that growth through traditional methods, it found
that it was paying something like $400 to acquire each new user, which was far
more than customers paid for the service.

What went wrong? Houston said the problem, particularly with search advertising, was that no one was actually searching for a document syncing product. That’s the danger with trying to solve a problem that may be real, but that people don’t realize they have yet.

So Dropbox turned to the tech media and social media, and the rest is history.

Certainly Dropbox’s experience with AdWords isn’t unique. Many businesses try AdWords only to pull the plug when it fails to deliver the results desired. The truth is that there are products and services for which there isn’t a
whole lot of search activity. In these cases, businesses can’t and shouldn’t rely on search ads to drive significant business.

But I think it’s safe to say that many businesses that give up on search ads give up too soon. Here are some tips that can help businesses struggling to find their way with AdWords and search advertising in general.

  • Don’t make assumptions. Choosing the right keywords can be difficult, but it’s even more difficult when you make assumptions about which keywords your potential customers are most likely to use. An approach that is sometimes very helpful: ask existing customers what terms they would be most likely to use if they were looking for your product or service through Google. The responses just might surprise you.
  • Get creative. Perhaps there genuinely aren’t a whole lot of people searching for keywords related to your product or service. That doesn’t mean that there may not be other ways to reach potential customers via search. A tip: think about keywords related to the problem your product or service solves, not keywords describing your product or service.
  • Take advantage of brand keywords. If you have competitors, you may, in some cases, be able to target searches for their brand. Obviously, what you can do and what you should do are two different things, and the advice of competent counsel is certainly worthwhile here. But tapping into searches related to competitor brands is a technique used by some businesses.
  • Track your conversions. Even if search can’t generate millions of dollars in profit for you, not taking advantage of what it can deliver means that you’re leaving money on the table. By tracking paid search clicks and conversions, you can identify the campaigns that are profitable and keep them running while cutting out the campaigns that are costing you money.

Photo credit: playerx via Flickr.