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Social Media and Paid Online Ads

November 29, 2021

Thanks for sticking around for Part 5 of our Green Industry Marketing series. In this blog, we’ll cover Social Media best practices and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. 

Social Media

There are generally two different questions when it comes to social media marketing. The first is usually “Do I really need to do this?” The answer is, “You should, yes.” 

Where to post?

The immediate follow-up is often “There are so many options. I don’t even know where to start. What social media sites should I post to?” That’s a great question!

Let me start answering that question by saying I’m not a fan of doing something just to do it, or even just because everyone else is doing it. That’s not good for business, it’s not suitable for your schedule, and it’s probably awful for your mental health. 

I will say that your customers do use social media. They’re there anyway. So while posting to your company’s Facebook page or Instagram feed will probably never drive a ton of leads, it’s great branding. And, it does help with your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts. For a deeper dive into SEO, see Part 4 in this series here.

So the answer to “Where should I start?” is something you should have identified before you got this far by going through the “Buyer Persona” exercise we discussed in Part 1 of this series. Once you know where your customers are, you’ll know where to focus your efforts. Here are some statistics to help you with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

How often to post? What time of day should you post?

You should post often enough to help your SEO efforts. That can be as little as once or twice a week. If you’re able to post more often than that, great! That will increase your chances of engagement with your intended audience.

As for the time of day to post, you will get some help here from Social Media itself. Facebook Business Pages have an “Insights” field that lets you see what time of day people are interacting with your posts. That allows you to time your posts for optimal engagement. Ideally, you want to post just before you see the peak on the graph they display for you (when the engagement starts to pick up), so you’ll maximize the chances that people see and interact with your posts. 

Having said that, don’t feel tied to a time of day. If you’re on a job site and want to post something before you forget, doing it is better than not doing it because you got busy. 

Pro-tip: Facebook allows you to schedule posts in advance. You can create the posts, and then it’ll make them live on your page at the date and time you choose. Another option is a social media scheduler (Hootsuite is my favorite, but there are other options like Later, Buffer, Social Sprout, MeetEdgar – you get the idea). These allow you to create posts and schedule them for later. Sitting down for 30 minutes and making a half-dozen posts to get you through the week may be better than trying to remember them when you’re busy. 

What to track? What’s truly important?

Although it’s becoming less common these days, there are digital marketing agencies and social media companies that will try to sell you on the idea that “likes” are an important metric to track. 

They’re not. Full stop.

What is important is the amount of engagement you get on the social media platforms you choose to use. This means comments are far more critical. Starting conversations with people who would buy from your company is far more essential. 

Focus on things like excellent, high-quality photos of your work. Don’t divulge a customer’s name or address (obviously), but a picture of the work and telling your audience the city or town where it’s located is acceptable. (Instagram will let you tag the location, which is helpful.) 

You also want to highlight what makes your company appear “human” – talk about your core values as a company by highlighting times your team has lived them out. Post “employee spotlights” that tell people who work with you about the people that show up to their property or answer their phone calls. 

The idea is to make people feel that they “know” your company. Content that shows the human side of your business speeds the bridge between “know” and “like” very quickly. Once they know and like you, it’s a short leap to “trust.” 

Pro-tip: With permission, tag your employees or coworkers in these posts, particularly the employee spotlight posts. That does a couple of things. First, it tells their friends and family that the company they work for is “bragging” about them. Second, the post will show up in your employee’s social media feeds, meaning the people they know will see your company’s posts. Extra “reach” built-in by doing a solid and giving credit to your high-performing employees on social media! 

Paid Online Advertising

Social media ads and pay-per-click (PPC) ads are effective ways to increase awareness and drive new leads to your business. When done correctly, they’re also very cost-effective. Here are the basics you need to know about advertising on the internet. 

Social Media Advertising

Social media ads are basically another way to get extended brand awareness. You can pay to put your ad in front of people who don’t already know about your company. The best bet is to create ads around a single service you want to grow, similar to your print ads.

You can also pay to put your ads in front of an audience that you choose. Social media ads allow you to target people who meet your existing customer profile and those that fit the ideal customer you identified in your Buyer Persona exercise. If you haven’t done those, check out this blog for context.

You can target people you want to see your ads using lots of demographic variables. You can often select fields like age, gender, job title, physical location, marital status – lots of fields. This takes Social Media ads from being a “digital billboard” to being more like a “digital direct mail” ad. 

Difference between social media platforms

Using the proper social media channels for advertising is essential. You don’t want to waste time or money on channels that will not work for your target audience. Here’s a quick overview of the type of audience on each social media platform. 

Facebook

Most people are on Facebook and have provided it with a lot of information. This fact affords Facebook the ability to offer you lots of demographic targeting options. There’s a wide variety of age ranges, income levels, education levels – you get the picture. Some people will abstain from advertising here on principle (to my knowledge, they’re the only platform with a “data policy” rather than a “privacy policy” – infer what you will from that). It is a highly impactful option for many businesses to gain easy, fast, and relatively cheap brand awareness. 

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most expensive platform to advertise with on a per-ad basis. A single ad will cost you more on LinkedIn than on other media. 

If you do lots of commercial work, this is likely an excellent place to advertise. You can often use “job title” as one of the options you’ve got for targeting people to whom you would like to serve your advertisements. So, you can make sure your target audience (Municipal Managers, Athletic Directors, City Arborists, etc.) are the only ones seeing your ads. 

I would recommend a different strategy for this platform: have your executive and sales staff simply use the platform regularly. Have them like one another’s posts, network extensively, and post original articles, ideas, and videos. Even resharing someone else’s post and adding your thoughts is a great way to start a conversation. On LinkedIn, I believe this is the best way to raise awareness of your brand.

Instagram

Instagram is the most visual of all the platforms. The whole idea is that people can scroll through pictures (rather than text posts like Facebook), so your images should be as good as your resources will possibly allow if you’re going to use this platform. High-quality photos work best on this platform, as that’s what it was designed to display. 

Instagram is owned by Facebook (now calling the parent company “Meta”), so be aware that you’ll have some of the same demographic options. You will also be sending the money you spend on advertising to the same company, so if you have an issue with their business practices, you want to stay away from Instagram as well. 

Twitter

This is the most transitory and fleeting of the advertising options. Personally, for a Green Industry business, I’d invest in newspaper advertising before investing in Twitter ads. The lifespan of a Tweet is only about 15-20 minutes, meaning you’ll need to spend a LOT of time here.

If this is truly where your ideal customer spends their time, you’ll need a hefty budget for Twitter. It’s not crazy-expensive per ad; you’ll just need to run a ton of them to have an impact. 

Search Ads (also known as Pay-Per-Click or PPC)

Most of these ads are centered around search engines. And this strategy makes sense – put your message in front of people who are actively looking for the services you offer. 

This is why these ads are productive when campaigns are appropriately managed; they’re lead generation right at the pain point for your customer. In terms of the traditional “marketing funnel” many of us are familiar with, these ads are being shown to the customer at the bottom of the funnel – when they’re ready to buy. 

Google Search Ads

Over 90% of all searches on the internet run through Google. So, if you’re looking to cast the widest possible net, this is the place to start. There are two different types of ads you can run here: Search ads and Display ads. 

Search ads are going to be your primary lead generation tool on this platform. Even if you don’t recognize the term, you know what I’m talking about – the ads that show up at the very top of the page before anything else. You generally only pay when someone clicks on the ad, hence the term “pay-per-click.” 

It used to be the case that you could simply buy your way into that first position by being willing to spend more than the next company. You decide which search terms (called “keywords”) you want your ads to show up for and how much you’re willing to spend on a single click. Those days are gone. 

Google is undoubtedly going to get paid for that click – make no mistake. But the quality of the experience for the person searching is becoming increasingly important to Google. They want their customers to have a good experience, which means serving relevant ads that give searchers what they’re looking for. 

Google uses a formula they call “Ad Rank” to determine which ads display on a search and in what order. It’s not just about how much you’re willing to pay but also about the experience for the user. Here are some things to think about: 

  • Ad copy – try to write individual ads that match the keywords you’re bidding on as closely as possible. Google wants to serve ads that are relevant to what the person is looking for.
  • User Experience/Landing Page – a “landing page” is where you send someone once they click on an ad. What page do they go to? Are they getting information that the ad talked about? This congruency between the ad and where they “land” once they click is vital to keeping your ads relevant and showing. More on this below.
  • Mobile v. Desktop – do your ads have a good experience on both mobile and desktop browsers? Basically, will someone have the same high-quality experience on either a phone or a computer?

Of course, you’ll need to also think about the bid amount, the quality of your actual ad, and the competitiveness of the auction (some keywords are highly sought after, making them more expensive to bid on). 

You can read about what factors go into Ad Rank (how Google scores these things) here.

Google Display Ads

Have you ever visited a website shopping for something? And then, for the next few weeks, ads for that item seem to pop up on every other website you visit? That’s called “retargeting,” and it’s basically how Google Display Ads work. 

This works by installing a “cookie” (you’ve probably heard this term before) on the device the shopper uses when visiting a website. A cookie is a small piece of code that lives in your browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.) after visiting a site.

Some cookies are beneficial. They stay there for a specific amount of time, and their function is to help you browse the internet faster – you don’t have to reload ALL the information on a website every time you visit. The cookie “remembers” that you’ve been there, and it speeds up the loading process. 

Marketers use cookies to track who has been to a website. It isn’t about collecting your personal information. It is about being able to say, “Oh, this cell phone has browsed this website” or “This particular laptop has been to our promotions page.” 

With that information, you can use Google Display Ads to show a display ad (like a banner) to people who have been to your website recently. This is far more effective than showing ads to people who have never been to your website. And, if your work is highly visual (design/build, for example), you can have an even more significant impact by retargeting with display ads. 

Microsoft Ads

For specific customer profiles, you may want to consider Microsoft ads. I’ve seen success with them in a few particular instances: 

  • With an older demographic (over 50 years old)
  • More politically conservative prospects
  • When selling B2B services

Note: I don’t have any hard data I can point to where I can prove what I’m saying here. This is just personal, anecdotal information. But I think I know why: Microsoft often comes as the default browser on many PC laptops and desktop computers. An older demographic may just hook up to the internet and use the default settings. The same goes for some businesses – many people never change the default settings on their work computers.

If over 90% of the searches are done on Google, why bother with these? The cost is pennies on the dollar compared to what you’ll spend on Google, so if your ideal customer fits that description, or you’re selling B2B, it’s worth exploring for a few extra leads each month at a fraction of what you’re spending on Google. 

Bonus – Local Service Ads

Local Service Ads (LSA’s) are a new type of ad offered by Google. They’ve only been around for a few years, but they aren’t available for every industry just yet. For Green Industries, eligible categories include “Lawn Care,” “Landscaping,” and “Tree Services.”

There are some significant differences between traditional Google Ads and LSA’s. First, these are not pay-per-click ads. You do not get charged for a “click,” but only when someone fills out a form for a quote. Did you catch that? You’re not paying for every click; you’re only paying for every lead

Secondly, they are “Google Guaranteed.” This means that Google will put its name behind you. They’re telling the consumer, “We’ve checked these people out, and they’re good people. Google will step in if you’re not completely satisfied.” (More on this below.) 

Lastly, they’re typically much less expensive. Instead of $100+ per lead with Google Ads, you might spend $30-$50 per lead with LSA’s. (Note: that depends on your market. Don’t hold me to those numbers!) This difference means that many businesses can get two-to-three times more leads for the same spend. 

The best part? These appear above the other paid ads. That’s right – you get prime real estate on that search engine results page (SERP), and you only pay for actual leads. It’s a win-win.

The business owner submits information to a third-party background check, and the business needs insurance and license checks to get approved. Once that’s done, and Google gets the green light from them, you’re “Google Guaranteed.” If an irreconcilable difference pops up between you and your customer, Google will reimburse them up to $2,000. The downside is, if it comes to that, you can no longer use LSA’s. 

Best Practices for Paid Ads

There are some things you want to consider when investing in any paid advertising online. Please think about this list, as it’s going maximize the return you get for your ad spending. 

Ad Copy

You want to make sure that the ad copy lines up with the imagery (if it’s a display ad or Facebook ad, for example), the keywords you’re targeting, and the landing page you’re using (more on that later). 

All of this presents the best possible experience for your potential customers and increases the chances that they’ll call you or fill out a quote request form. 

For example, if you ran an ad on Facebook that talked about how your lawn care company provides custom programs, and the accompanying image was a large spot of brown patch or Pythium, that would be incongruent. You get that it means you offer fungicides when many lawn care companies do not. They will only see a nasty-looking lawn. 

Or perhaps you have Google Ads running for your tree care company talking about emergency services. So, someone has a limb fall on their garage in the middle of the night, and they Google “emergency tree services.” But, the landing page was designated incorrectly, and you’re sending them to a page about stump grinding. So, they hit “back” on their browser and find another company where the ad copy and landing page are in agreement. 

Landing Pages

We’ve mentioned these several times during this series. A landing page is a place where you send ad traffic. It’s that simple. 

Ideally, you’ll set up a landing page for each planned campaign you’re running throughout the year. If you’re running paid ads, each service you’re advertising should have a landing page with content (text, videos, etc.) that talks about that service. Just like the example above, you should have the ads match the landing page you’re using. 

A good landing page will have a strong “call to action” (CTA) as well. You want something that prompts them to fill out a form for a quote or make a physical phone call to your business. For our industry, anything else is truly a waste of their time and yours. 

Click here for some good examples of landing pages with information about the business and a strong CTA. Examples like #5, #6, and #15 are what I’m talking about for Green Industry businesses; replicating the styling with image, content, and CTA.

Ad Placement

Ad placement is something you’ll need to think about when it comes to display ads more than social media or search ads (Google Ads or Microsoft Ads).

There are some outstanding examples of what not to do with online display ads here. There are some great examples of where not to place traditional ads on this link, too. But if you scroll down, you’ll see that there were a couple of ads that just ended up in the exact wrong place online. You can be selective with which sites your ads display on by adding “negative keywords” or keywords that, if present, prevent your ad from showing. (Note: you can do this with your search ads, like Google Ads, too.) 

The main point I’m trying to get across is that it’s worth having the conversation with whoever is running your ad campaigns to be aware of this. An ad on the local rental shop’s website for tree service when a buyer is looking for a chainsaw is great. That same ad on the local news channel’s website in an article talking about a homeowner killed doing their own tree pruning will come across as insensitive and probably hurt your company’s image. 

Conclusion

You’ve hung in with us this far! You’ve gotten tons of actionable tips in this article about social media best practices and paid online advertising. 

Go back and read Part 4 – SEO and Email Marketing

Stay tuned for Part 6 – Putting Your Marketing Plan Together: Planning, Measuring, and Tracking.