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SEO for Plumbers: The Complete Guide



SEO for Plumbers: The Complete Guide

Everyone searches for plumbers on Google. Nobody uses the Yellow Pages anymore.

This means that if you want to attract more customers to your plumbing business, the first page of Google is where you need to be. 

This guide teaches you how to get there from start to finish. 

Chapter 1. Plumber SEO basics

Let’s kick things off by answering a few basic (but important) questions. 

Why is SEO important for plumbers?

SEO is important for plumbers because hundreds of thousands of people search Google for local plumbers every month. 

Estimated monthly search volume for "plumbers near me" in the U.S.

Many people search for specific types of plumbers too, like emergency plumbers and gas plumbers:

People search for local plumbers in many ways

If you don’t show up in Google when people in your area search for what you do, you’re missing out on business.

Here are a couple of stats further highlighting the importance of SEO for plumbers: 

  • Every month, there are over 700,000 searches for “plumbers near me” globally.
  • Every month, there are hundreds of thousands of searches for other plumbing services like “emergency plumber near me” and “gas plumber near me.” 

Can I do SEO for my plumbing business myself?

Yes. The basics of SEO are simple. You may need some help with more complex things like link building and fixing technical issues. But you can improve your visibility online even if you don’t have a technical bone in your body.

Chapter 2. Google Business Profile optimization

Google shows two types of results for local queries (e.g., “plumber near me”): 

  1. Map pack results
  2. Regular organic results
Google's two types of results for local queries: regular and map pack

You can rank in both of them. But to rank in the map pack, you need to claim and optimize a free Google Business Profile. 

Let’s explore how to do that.

1. Claim and optimize your Google Business Profile

A Google Business Profile is a free local listing from Google. It allows a business to rank in the map pack.

Here’s how to claim and optimize your profile:

A. Add or claim your business

This is done through Google Maps. Google explains how to do this on any device here

B. Set your business category

This is straightforward enough for most plumbers as, unsurprisingly, the best category is usually “Plumber.”  However, you should be as specific as possible when choosing a category, so there are a few others to consider if you specialize in a particular area. Examples include:

  • Gas installation service
  • Drainage service
  • Heating contractor

C. Set your service area

This lets customers know whether you serve their area. You can list up to 20. Just ensure that the boundaries of your overall service area don’t extend farther than about two hours of driving time from where your business is based, as per Google’s guidelines.

D. Add other basic information

This helps customers understand if you’re the right solution for them. Essential details include your opening hours, phone number, and website. Add photos of plumbing jobs completed if possible too. The more complete your profile, the better.

E. Add services

This helps potential customers understand whether you can help with their issues. Filling these in accurately may also help prevent phone calls from folks asking for things you don’t offer. That’s useful if you specialize in a specific area like bathroom installation.

Make sure to add the services you offer to your Business Profile


You’ll need an optimized Business Profile for each office if you serve multiple cities or states with multiple offices. Repeat the steps above to do that. 

2. Get listed in directories

Most business directories list your business name, address, and phone number. In the SEO world, these are called NAP citations. According to BrightLocal’s survey, 7% of SEOs think they’re the most important ranking factor for map pack rankings.

7% of SEOs think citations are the most important ranking factor for the map pack

Follow these two simple steps to get NAP citations for your business.

A. Get listed with big data aggregators

Data aggregators feed information about your plumbing business to many directories. Get listed with them, and you could end up with hundreds of citations.

Here are the big data aggregators in the U.S.:

You’ll also want to submit your business to other big players. In the U.S., these include:

  • Apple Maps
  • Yelp
  • Yellow Pages
  • Bing Places
  • Facebook
  • TomTom
  • Dunn & Bradstreet

B. Get listed in industry and city-specific directories

Plumbing and city-specific directories are your next target. You can use the Link Intersect report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to find them. This shows you websites linking to multiple competitors, but not you. For local businesses, many of these will be directories. 

Here’s the process:

  1. Paste your website into Site Explorer
  2. Go to the Link Intersect tool
  3. Enter the homepage URLs of 5–10 competitors
  4. Hit “Show link opportunities” 
  5. Eyeball the results for relevant directories
Link Intersect in Ahrefs' Site Explorer
Link Intersect finds many directories linking to plumbers' homepages

As you can see, many of the linking sites are directories for plumbers or local businesses.

3. Get more reviews

Reviews are important for ranking in the map pack. In fact, according to BrightLocal’s survey, 17% of SEOs think they’re the most important ranking factor. 

17% of SEOs think reviews are the most important ranking factor for the map pack

Here’s how to get more reviews for your plumbing business:

  • Use Google’s Business Profile Manager to create a review link and send it to happy customers
  • Turn your review link into a QR code and print it on your business card
  • Give previous customers a call and ask them to leave a review
  • Put the review link on your website

Chapter 3. Keyword research

People don’t always click map pack results. They also click the regular organic results. This means you can’t just rely on your Google Business Profile to attract business. You also need to optimize your website to rank for relevant keywords.

If you build a reputation and a few good backlinks (more on that later), your homepage will hopefully rank for obvious terms like “plumber near me.” But not everyone who needs a plumber searches this way.

Some people will search for more specific services like “emergency plumber” or “drain unblocking.” 

Many people search for individual plumbing services every month

For this reason, you should create additional pages on your website to attract more customers from relevant searches. To do that, you need to know what potential customers are searching for. 

Here’s how to do that in three simple steps.

1. Find service and industry keywords

Put your thinking cap on and list the services you offer. 

Here’s what that may look like:

  • Drain unblocking
  • Boiler repair
  • Boiler installation
  • Boiler servicing
  • Radiator installation
  • Burst pipe repair
  • Drain cleaning
  • Toilet installation
  • Tap repair


Check the services listed on your Google Business Profile to speed up this process. 

Next, paste the list into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, select your country from the dropdown, check the Matching terms report, then add the phrase “near me” to the “Include” filter. 

Filtering for "near me" searches in Keywords Explorer

This will show you other local services people search for that include the terms on your list. 

For example, if we paste the list above into Keywords Explorer, we see terms like:

  • sewer drain cleaning near me
  • storm drain cleaning near me
  • gas boiler repair near me
  • commercial boiler repair near me
  • radiator installation near me

Eyeball the results and add any missed services you offer to your list. 

2. Check relative popularity

You’ll probably want to create pages for all the services you offer. But it makes sense to prioritize the ones people are searching for the most. 

To do this, repeat the previous step with your completed list of services. As reports in Keywords Explorer are sorted by monthly search by default, it should tell you roughly which services get the most searches.

"Near me" searches for plumbing services in Keywords Explorer

Of course, this is national search popularity (not local). But what happens in one city is likely to be similar in the next, so it doesn’t really matter. 

3. Assign keywords to pages

Most service keywords deserve their own pages. But it may be best to group similar ones together if Google ranks near-identical results.

For example, the results for “drain cleaning near me,” “drain unblocking near me,” and “drain clearance near me” are virtually indistinguishable. This is because all of these searches mean roughly the same thing.

In cases like these, there’s no need to create multiple pages for each service. Just create one.


If you’re unsure whether to create one or multiple pages for similar keywords, consider whether having multiple pages will be useful for visitors. If the answer’s no, one page is usually the best bet. 

Learn more: How to Do Local Keyword Research

Chapter 4. Content creation

Knowing what keywords to target is useful. But unless you actually create pages to target them, there’s not much point in doing keyword research. There are also a few other pages you should create. Let’s go through them all.

1. Create service pages

Each of the main services you offer should have its own page. 

There are many ways to create these, so it’s impossible to say what will work best for you. But if you’re looking for a good starting point, here’s a rough template:

Service page template for plumbers

Here are the four areas to focus on:

  1. Clarity – Help visitors understand whether this service is right for them by tying it to the problems they may be facing
  2. Catchment – Help visitors understand whether you serve them with a map and locations
  3. Confidence Help visitors understand why they should choose your business; reviews, accreditations, and unique selling points are the name of the game here
  4. Contact – Tell visitors how to get in touch 

None of this is rocket science. Even better, the only bit you need to change between pages is clarification of the service offered. You can reuse catchment, confidence, and contact information across them all. 

2. Create an “about” page

Most plumbers have an “about” page even if they’re not invested in SEO. And although these pages rarely pop up in search results, they’re a useful place to demonstrate E-A-T.

E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. It’s not a Google ranking factor, but ranking factors do map to these qualities. 

Here are a few ideas for demonstrating E-A-T on your “about” page:

  • Explain how the business started
  • Explain how long you’ve been in business and/or been a plumber
  • Talk about your certifications and accreditations
  • Explain how you’re insured and licensed
  • Feature reviews and testimonials from happy customers

Learn more: What Is E-A-T? Why It’s Important for SEO

3. Create a location page

This isn’t necessary if you’re a one-person band operating in one area. But if you have multiple bases and service areas dotted around the country, you need to list these on a location page.

Here’s an example from TDIndustries:

Example of a plumber's "locations" page

You can also create individual pages for each location like Mr. Rooter:

Example of a plumber's "locations" page for an individual location

There can be SEO benefits to having a page for each location. But generally speaking, having one page listing them all will suffice for most plumbers. 

Having pages for services people search for is a large part of the battle won. But there are a few extra on-page optimizations you can make to get the most juice out of them. 

A. Write compelling title tags and meta descriptions 

Title tags and meta descriptions are important because they often appear in search results.

Example of the title tag and meta description in Google's search results

You can’t get too creative when writing these for service and location pages (which are the important ones). Still, they do need to be as accurate and compelling as possible. 

Title tags

Simplicity is the name of the game here. Your service and business name in title case divided by a pipe will usually suffice.

Drain Unblocking | [Business Name]

For location pages, use your main service and add “in [location]”:

Plumber in Atlanta | [Business Name]

Meta descriptions

No need to reinvent the wheel here either. Just give a few more details about the service and your business.

Here’s a good example:

Things not draining properly? Josh’s Plumbing Company can unblock and repair any and all drainage problems. We’re here to help 24/7.

Keep these within around 120 characters, or they may truncate. (A free tool like SERPSim can help keep you in range.)

B. Use short, descriptive URL slugs

A URL slug is the last part of the URL that describes the content on the page. 

Example of a URL slug

Descriptive URL slugs are important because they help searchers understand the content and context of the page before clicking. They’ll get cut off in the search results if they’re too long, so it also pays to keep them short and sweet. 

Here’s a simple format for service page URL slugs: 




It’s that simple. Just the service name with dashes between words. No need to shoehorn locations or additional keywords in there.

For location pages, write the location name instead.

Having pages optimized for search engines is all well and good. But unless Google can find and index those pages, it’s all a waste of time because only known and indexed pages can appear in search results. This is where technical SEO comes in.

Technical SEO may sound scary, but the basics are pretty straightforward. 

This section explores setting your site up for technical success and monitoring its technical health over time. 

A. Plan your site structure

Site structure is how your website is organized. It’s important because it helps: 

  1. Visitors navigate your website.
  2. Google to find all your pages.

Here’s a good starting point for your site structure:

How to structure a plumbing website for SEO

Each of the connectors is an internal link.


Feel free to internally link between pages in other ways too. For example, if you only offer drain cleaning services in half of the areas you serve, you may want to list and link to those areas on the drain cleaning service page. It’s completely fine to do this. 


HTTPS is a secure way for visitors to access webpages. It’s important for SEO because it’s been a lightweight ranking factor since 2014

To check if you’re using HTTPS, visit your website and look at the search bar. If there’s a lock icon before the website address, you’re using HTTPS.

The lock icon means a site is secure

If you’re not using HTTPS yet, ask whoever is in charge of your website to make the switch. 

C. Monitor your SEO health

Your website’s SEO health can impact the site’s rankings or even stop it from appearing on Google. 

For example, here’s a small piece of HTML that SEOs call a “noindex tag”:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />

It may look harmless enough, but this code blocks Google from indexing or returning a webpage in its search results. Even if your page ranked #1, it wouldn’t show up at all with this code.

This is an extreme example, but it highlights the importance of monitoring your SEO health.

You can use all kinds of tools to do this, but Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) is a good starting point. It scans your website for 100+ common SEO issues and advises how to fix them. Best of all, it’s completely free. 

If you’re new to AWT, a good first port of call is to check your Health Score. 

Health Score in Ahrefs' Site Audit

This metric gives you a high-level overview of your site’s technical SEO health. If it doesn’t look great, you can delve into individual reports to better understand what’s wrong and how to fix it. 

Learn more: The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO

Backlinks are one of Google’s strongest ranking factors. In general, the more high-quality backlinks you have, the better your rankings and search traffic.

Unfortunately, link building is one of the more challenging facets of SEO. Getting high-quality backlinks takes time, creativity, and effort.

Here are a few tried and tested tactics for those willing to do the work.

Guest blogging

Guest blogging is where you write a post for another website. This brings all kinds of benefits, including exposure and relationships. But the main SEO benefit is the link back to your website. 

Here’s an example:

Example of a guest post by a plumbing company

This post was written by a plumbing firm in Australia for, a site about home improvement. You can see the link to the firm’s site after the header image.

Here’s how to find guest post opportunities in Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, a searchable database of billions of webpages:

  1. Enter a broad word or phrase related to your niche
  2. Change the search mode to “In title”
  3. Filter for pages on sites with a minimum DR of 30 to remove low-quality sites
  4. Filter for websites with 5,000+ estimated monthly search traffic
  5. Filter for pages published within the last 90 days to remove those that are no longer publishing
  6. Filter for “One page per domain,” as there’s no point pitching to the same site many times

This search will return recently published pages about the topic on sites with search traffic.

For example, if you run the search for “bathroom remodel,” you get 62 results, including this blog post about bathroom remodeling ideas on a site with an estimated 38K monthly search visitors. 

Searching for guest post opportunities in Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Since you know this website has recently published about bathroom remodeling ideas, it may be interested in a guest post about a similar topic like bathroom remodeling mistakes. You just need to find its email address and pitch the post.


People will often request payment for guest posts. If this happens, don’t worry about it. Just say no and pitch to another website. 


HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a free service connecting sources and journalists. Sign up as a source, and you’ll receive regular emails with journalist requests.

Here’s one from Martha Stewart Living about plumbing leaks: 

Example HARO request

Respond to and answer the journalist’s questions if you see a relevant request. They’ll usually credit you with a link if they include your answer in their piece. 

This is exactly what happened on this occasion:

Example HARO backlink

If we check this plumbing company’s backlink profile in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, we see just how well this tactic is working for it. It has 16 links, thanks to quotes from co-founder Max Rose. It probably got all, if not most of these, from journalist requests. 

The many backlinks built using journalist requests for Four Seasons Plumbing

Replicate competitors’ links

You won’t be able to replicate all of your competitors’ links. But chances are, you can replicate some of them. For that reason, it’s worth taking one or two of the top-ranking competitors for “plumber in location” and checking their backlinks. Here’s how:

  1. Paste a competitor’s domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Choose “Exact URL” search mode
  3. Filter for “DoFollow” links only (these usually move the needle most)
Followed links in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Here’s one that may be replicable for this competitor:

Example of a potentially replicable backlink in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

It comes from a website listing NHS discounts and deals for various services. The site gets an estimated 13.5K monthly search visits, according to Ahrefs, and it looks like you can add a discount just by registering.

This backlink is easily replicable


Be careful about the links you try to replicate. You won’t want to replicate them all, only the good ones. Read more about what makes a good and bad link here

Reclaim lost links

Most websites delete or move pages from time to time. You can recover the lost value of any backlinks pointing to them by redirecting them to their new locations.

Here’s the process:

  1. Paste your domain into Site Explorer
  2. Go to the Best by Links report
  3. Filter for “404 not found” pages

For example, Mr. Rooter has 12 broken pages, including one about its emergency plumbing services with backlinks from six referring domains.

Broken pages with backlinks, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

If we click the “Emergency Plumbing” link on the website, we’re taken to a different URL. 

Example of a broken URL because the old URL wasn't redirected

This is probably because it moved the page at some point. To reclaim the old page’s backlinks, it just needs to redirect the old URL to the new one. 

Chapter 8. SEO content marketing

Ranking service and location pages isn’t all you can do to get traffic (and customers) from organic search. You can also create and rank helpful content about things potential customers may be searching for.

For example, this post from Mr. Rooter explaining why your house may smell like sewage gets an estimated 13.6K monthly search visits:

Estimated monthly organic traffic to one of Mr. Rooter's blog posts

Even if only 0.1% of those visits translate to customers, that’s 13–14 customers per month from one blog post.

You’ll also notice that this post has backlinks from 54 referring domains.

This is another benefit of creating useful informational content. It tends to attract more backlinks—especially if it ranks in organic search.

Let’s take a brief look at how to do this.

A. Find a proven topic

Proven topics answer the questions people are searching for and aren’t too challenging to rank for. You can find topics that fit the bill by doing keyword research. We did this earlier to find services people were searching for. But this time, we’re doing it to find questions. 

Here’s the process:

  1. Enter a few relevant words and phrases into Keywords Explorer (e.g., bathroom, toilet, water pressure)
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Toggle the “Questions” filter
  4. Filter for low-KD keywords, say under 20
Searching for plumbing questions in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Here’s just one of the thousands of topics this search finds: 

Thousands of people search for "how to increase water pressure in shower" every month

To see if this is truly a low-difficulty topic, you need to click the SERP button to check the top-ranking results. What you’re looking for are results that:

  1. Have few or no backlinks Because you don’t want topics where you’re likely to need lots of backlinks to rank. 
  2. Were published by other similarly sized plumbing companies – Because you want to know that businesses of your caliber can rank.
  3. Get search traffic Because you want to confirm you can get traffic by ranking. 

In this case, a page from a small plumbing company in Washington with just six backlinks gets an estimated 1,024 monthly search visits. So this seems to be a low-competition topic that could be well worth pursuing. 

Example of a proven topic

You can also find proven topics by plugging a similarly sized competitor into Site Explorer and checking the Top pages report. This shows the pages on its site that get the most organic search traffic.

Top pages by traffic for Fischer Plumbing

B. Publish an optimized blog post

Ranking for any topic requires content. In this case, a blog post.

Here are the basics of creating an optimized blog post:

  • Match search intent – If people want a list, write a list. If a how-to guide is more appropriate, write that. Take cues from the top-ranking results to infer what people want. 
  • Make it easy to read – Use images, lists, subheadings, and other formatting to make it easy to skim and digest. 
  • Write a compelling title – More people will click a post titled “10 Fast & Easy Ways to Increase Water Pressure in Your Shower” than “10 Ways to Increase Water Pressure in Your Shower.”
  • Use a short, descriptive URL/increase-shower-water-pressure/ is better than /10-fast-and-easy-ways-to-increase-water-pressure-in-your-shower/ because the latter will get cut off in the search results.

C. Get links to it

Blog posts that rank often attract links naturally, but they rarely rank without links. It’s a catch-22.

You can get links to blog posts using the tactics discussed in chapter #7. However, as blog posts are informational and useful, there are a few more link building tactics you can use. 

For example, you can look at the SERP overview for the keyword you’re targeting in Keywords Explorer to find similar content with backlinks. 

The SERP overview in Keywords Explorer showing similar pages with backlinks

If any of these posts have inaccurate or outdated information, you can tell the people linking to them and suggest swapping out the link for your accurate and up-to-date piece. 

Learn more: How to Combine SEO & Content Marketing for Amazing Results

Chapter 9. Tracking SEO progress 

You can track the performance of your Google Business Profile in search. Just search for your business while logged in and click “See profile performance.” 

How to check your Google Business Profile's performance

To track the performance of your website, there’s Google Search Console (GSC). This free tool from Google shows your organic traffic over time, keyword rankings, and so on. 

Unfortunately, GSC has limitations, such as only showing your top 1,000 keyword rankings.

This is where Ahrefs Webmaster Tools comes in handy. Not only can you track the “SEO health” of your website in Site Audit (as discussed in the technical SEO chapter), but you can also see all keyword rankings in the Organic keywords report in Site Explorer.

Organic keyword rankings for Mr. Rooter in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

If you want to track local keyword rankings for your website, use Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.

For example, suppose your business operates out of Miami, Florida. In that case, you may want to track keyword rankings in Miami, Florida, or even a specific ZIP code. You can do this for up to 10,000 keywords. 

Local rank tracking in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

Keep learning

Everything above was pretty exhaustive. It should be enough to get your plumbing business off the ground in the search engines. But if you’re looking to learn even more about SEO, check out these resources:

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10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget




10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget

Many advertisers have a tight budget for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, making it challenging to maximize results.

One of the first questions that often looms large is, “How much should we spend?” It’s a pivotal question, one that sets the stage for the entire PPC strategy.

Read on for tips to get started or further optimize budgets for your PPC program to maximize every dollar spent.

1. Set Expectations For The Account

With a smaller budget, managing expectations for the size and scope of the account will allow you to keep focus.

A very common question is: How much should our company spend on PPC?

To start, you must balance your company’s PPC budget with the cost, volume, and competition of keyword searches in your industry.

You’ll also want to implement a well-balanced PPC strategy with display and video formats to engage consumers.

First, determine your daily budget. For example, if the monthly budget is $2,000, the daily budget would be set at $66 per day for the entire account.

The daily budget will also determine how many campaigns you can run at the same time in the account because that $66 will be divided up among all campaigns.

Be aware that Google Ads and Microsoft Ads may occasionally exceed the daily budget to maximize results. The overall monthly budget, however, should not exceed the Daily x Number of Days in the Month.

Now that we know our daily budget, we can focus on prioritizing our goals.

2. Prioritize Goals

Advertisers often have multiple goals per account. A limited budget will also limit the number of campaigns – and the number of goals – you should focus on.

Some common goals include:

  • Brand awareness.
  • Leads.
  • Sales.
  • Repeat sales.

In the example below, the advertiser uses a small budget to promote a scholarship program.

They are using a combination of leads (search campaign) and awareness (display campaign) to divide up a daily budget of $82.

Screenshot from author, May 2024

The next several features can help you laser-focus campaigns to allocate your budget to where you need it most.

Remember, these settings will restrict traffic to the campaign. If you aren’t getting enough traffic, loosen up/expand the settings.

3. Location Targeting

Location targeting is a core consideration in reaching the right audience and helps manage a small ad budget.

To maximize a limited budget, you should focus on only the essential target locations where your customers are located.

While that seems obvious, you should also consider how to refine that to direct the limited budget to core locations. For example:

  • You can refine location targeting by states, cities, ZIP codes, or even a radius around your business.
  • Choosing locations to target should be focused on results.
  • The smaller the geographic area, the less traffic you will get, so balance relevance with budget.
  • Consider adding negative locations where you do not do business to prevent irrelevant clicks that use up precious budget.

If the reporting reveals targeted locations where campaigns are ineffective, consider removing targeting to those areas. You can also try a location bid modifier to reduce ad serving in those areas.

managing ppc budget by location interactionScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

4. Ad Scheduling

Ad scheduling also helps to control budget by only running ads on certain days and at certain hours of the day.

With a smaller budget, it can help to limit ads to serve only during hours of business operation. You can choose to expand that a bit to accommodate time zones and for searchers doing research outside of business hours.

If you sell online, you are always open, but review reporting for hourly results over time to determine if there are hours of the day with a negative return on investment (ROI).

Limit running PPC ads if the reporting reveals hours of the day when campaigns are ineffective.

Manage a small ppc budget by hour of dayScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

5. Set Negative Keywords

A well-planned negative keyword list is a golden tactic for controlling budgets.

The purpose is to prevent your ad from showing on keyword searches and websites that are not a good match for your business.

  • Generate negative keywords proactively by brainstorming keyword concepts that may trigger ads erroneously.
  • Review query reports to find irrelevant searches that have already led to clicks.
  • Create lists and apply to the campaign.
  • Repeat on a regular basis because ad trends are always evolving!

6. Smart Bidding

Smart Bidding is a game-changer for efficient ad campaigns. Powered by Google AI, it automatically adjusts bids to serve ads to the right audience within budget.

The AI optimizes the bid for each auction, ideally maximizing conversions while staying within your budget constraints.

Smart bidding strategies available include:

  • Maximize Conversions: Automatically adjust bids to generate as many conversions as possible for the budget.
  • Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): This method predicts the value of potential conversions and adjusts bids in real time to maximize return.
  • Target Cost Per Action (CPA): Advertisers set a target cost-per-action (CPA), and Google optimizes bids to get the most conversions within budget and the desired cost per action.

7. Try Display Only Campaigns

display ads for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

For branding and awareness, a display campaign can expand your reach to a wider audience affordably.

Audience targeting is an art in itself, so review the best options for your budget, including topics, placements, demographics, and more.

Remarketing to your website visitors is a smart targeting strategy to include in your display campaigns to re-engage your audience based on their behavior on your website.

Let your ad performance reporting by placements, audiences, and more guide your optimizations toward the best fit for your business.

audience targeting options for small ppc budgetScreenshot by Lisa Raehsler from Google Ads, May 2024

8. Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max (PMax) campaigns are available in Google Ads and Microsoft Ads.

In short, automation is used to maximize conversion results by serving ads across channels and with automated ad formats.

This campaign type can be useful for limited budgets in that it uses AI to create assets, select channels, and audiences in a single campaign rather than you dividing the budget among multiple campaign types.

Since the success of the PMax campaign depends on the use of conversion data, that data will need to be available and reliable.

9. Target Less Competitive Keywords

Some keywords can have very high cost-per-click (CPC) in a competitive market. Research keywords to compete effectively on a smaller budget.

Use your analytics account to discover organic searches leading to your website, Google autocomplete, and tools like Google Keyword Planner in the Google Ads account to compare and get estimates.

In this example, a keyword such as “business accounting software” potentially has a lower CPC but also lower volume.

Ideally, you would test both keywords to see how they perform in a live campaign scenario.

comparing keywords for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

10. Manage Costly Keywords

High volume and competitive keywords can get expensive and put a real dent in the budget.

In addition to the tip above, if the keyword is a high volume/high cost, consider restructuring these keywords into their own campaign to monitor and possibly set more restrictive targeting and budget.

Levers that can impact costs on this include experimenting with match types and any of the tips in this article. Explore the opportunity to write more relevant ad copy to these costly keywords to improve quality.

Every Click Counts

As you navigate these strategies, you will see that managing a PPC account with a limited budget isn’t just about monetary constraints.

Rocking your small PPC budgets involves strategic campaign management, data-driven decisions, and ongoing optimizations.

In the dynamic landscape of paid search advertising, every click counts, and with the right approach, every click can translate into meaningful results.

More resources: 

Featured Image: bluefish_ds/Shutterstock

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What Are They Really Costing You?




What Are They Really Costing You?

This post was sponsored by Adpulse. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

As managers of paid media, one question drives us all: “How do I improve paid ad performance?”. 

Given that our study found close variant search terms perform poorly, yet more than half of the average budget on Google & Microsoft Ads is being spent on them, managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in ROI. 

“Close variants help you connect with people who are looking for your business, despite slight variations in the way they search.”

Promising idea…but what about the execution?

We analyzed over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions to answer this question: With the rise in close variants (intent matching) search terms, what impact are they having on budgets and account performance? Spoiler alert, the impact is substantial. 

True Match Vs. Close Variants: How Do They Perform?

To understand close variant (CV) performance, we must first define the difference between a true match and a close variant. 


What Is a True Match? 

We still remember the good-old-days where keyword match types gave you control over the search terms they triggered, so for this study we used the literal match types to define ‘close variant’ vs ‘true match’. 

  • Exact match keyword => search term matches the keyword exactly. 
  • Phrase match keyword => search term must contain the keyword (same word order).
  • Broad match keyword => search term must contain every individual word in the keyword, but the word order does not matter (the way modified broad match keywords used to work).   


What Is a Close Variant? 

If you’re not familiar with close variants (intent matching) search terms, think of them as search terms that are ‘fuzzy matched’ to the keywords you are actually bidding on. 

Some of these close variants are highly relevant and represent a real opportunity to expand your keywords in a positive way. 

Some are close-ish, but the conversions are expensive. 

And (no shocks here) some are truly wasteful. 

….Both Google and Microsoft Ads do this, and you can’t opt-out.

To give an example: if you were a music therapist, you might bid on the phrase match keyword “music therapist”. An example of a true match search term would be ‘music therapist near me’ because it contains the keyword in its true form (phrase match in this case) and a CV might be ‘music and art therapy’.

How Do Close Variants Compare to True Match?

Short answer… poorly, on both Google and Microsoft Ads. Interestingly however, Google showed the worst performance on both metrics assessed, CPA and ROAS. 

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Want to see the data – jump to it here…

CVs have been embraced by both platforms with (as earlier stated), on average more than half of your budget being spent on CV variant matches. That’s a lot of expansion to reach searches you’re not directly bidding for, so it’s clearly a major driver of performance in your account and, therefore, deserving of your attention. 

We anticipated a difference in metrics between CVs and true match search terms, since the true match search terms directly align with the keywords you’re bidding on, derived from your intimate knowledge of the business offering. 

True match conversions should therefore be the low-hanging fruit, leaving the rest for the platforms to find via CVs. Depending on the cost and ROI, this isn’t inherently bad, but logically we would assume CVs would perform worse than true matches, which is exactly what we observed. 

How Can You Limit Wastage on Close Variants?

You can’t opt out of them, however, if your goal is to manage their impact on performance, you can use these three steps to move the needle in the right direction. And of course, if you’re relying on CVs to boost volume, you’ll need to take more of a ‘quality-screening’ rather than a hard-line ‘everything-must-go’ approach to your CV clean out!


Step 1: Diagnose Your CV Problem 

We’re a helpful bunch at Adpulse so while we were scoping our in-app solution, we built a simple spreadsheet that you can use to diagnose how healthy your CVs are. Just make a copy, paste in your keyword and search term data then run the analysis for yourself. Then you can start to clean up any wayward CVs identified. Of course, by virtue of technology, it’s both faster and more advanced in the Adpulse Close Variant Manager 😉.


Step 2: Suggested Campaign Structures for Easier CV Management  

Brand Campaigns

If you don’t want competitors or general searches being matched to your brand keywords, this strategy will solve for that. 

Set up one ad group with your exact brand keyword/s, and another ad group with phrase brand keyword/s, then employ the negative keyword strategies in Step 3 below. You might be surprised at how many CVs have nothing to do with your brand, and identifying variants (and adding negative keywords) becomes easy with this structure.

Don’t forget to add your phrase match brand negatives to non-brand campaigns (we love negative lists for this).

Non-Brand Campaigns with Larger Budgets

We suggest a campaign structure with one ad group per match type:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers – Exact
    • General Plumbers – Phrase
    • General Plumbers – Broad
    • Emergency Plumbers – Exact
    • Emergency Plumbers – Phrase
    • Emergency Plumbers – Broad

This allows you to more easily identify variants so you can eliminate them quickly. This also allows you to find new keyword themes based on good quality CVs, and add them easily to the campaign. 

Non-Brand Campaigns with Smaller Budgets

Smaller budgets mean the upside of having more data per ad group outweighs the upside of making it easier to trim unwanted CVs, so go for a simpler theme-based ad group structure:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers
    • Emergency Plumbers


Step 3: Ongoing Actions to Tame Close Variants

Adding great CVs as keywords and poor CVs as negatives on a regular basis is the only way to control their impact.

For exact match ad groups we suggest adding mainly root negative keywords. For example, if you were bidding on [buy mens walking shoes] and a CV appeared for ‘mens joggers’, you could add the single word “joggers” as a phrase/broad match negative keyword, which would prevent all future searches that contain joggers. If you added mens joggers as a negative keyword, other searches that contain the word joggers would still be eligible to trigger. 

In ad groups that contain phrase or broad match keywords you shouldn’t use root negatives unless you’re REALLY sure that the root negative should never appear in any search term. You’ll probably find that you use the whole search term added as an exact match negative much more often than using root negs.

The Proof: What (and Why) We Analyzed

We know CVs are part of the conversations marketers frequently have, and by virtue of the number of conversations we have with agencies each week, we’ve witnessed the increase of CV driven frustration amongst marketers. 

Internally we reached a tipping point and decided to data dive to see if it just felt like a large problem, or if it actually IS a large enough problem that we should devote resources to solving it in-app. First stop…data. 

Our study of CV performance started with thousands of Google and Microsoft Ads accounts, using last 30-day data to May 2024, filtered to exclude:

  • Shopping or DSA campaigns/Ad Groups.
  • Accounts with less than 10 conversions.
  • Accounts with a conversion rate above 50%.
  • For ROAS comparisons, any accounts with a ROAS below 200% or above 2500%.

Search terms in the study are therefore from keyword-based search campaigns where those accounts appear to have a reliable conversion tracking setup and have enough conversion data to be individually meaningful.

The cleaned data set comprised over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions (over 30 days) across Google and Microsoft Ads; a large enough data set to answer questions about CV performance with confidence.

Interestingly, each platform appears to have a different driver for their lower CV performance. 

CPA Results:

Google Ads was able to maintain its conversion rate, but it chased more expensive clicks to achieve it…in fact, clicks at almost double the average CPC of true match! Result: their CPA of CVs worked out roughly double the CPA of true match.                 

Microsoft Ads only saw slightly poorer CPA performance within CVs; their conversion rate was much lower compared to true match, but their saving grace was that they had significantly lower CPCs, and you can afford to have a lower conversion rate if your click costs are also lower. End outcome? Microsoft Ads CPA on CVs was only slightly more expensive when compared to their CPA on true matches; a pleasant surprise 🙂.

What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

ROAS Results:

Both platforms showed a similar story; CVs delivered roughly half the ROAS of their true match cousins, with Microsoft Ads again being stronger overall. 


1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Underlying Data:

For the data nerds amongst us (at Adpulse we self-identify here !) 

1718772963 88 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024


Close variant search terms consume, on average, more than half an advertiser’s budget whilst in most cases, performing significantly worse than search terms that actually match the keywords. How much worse? Read above for details ^. Enough that managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in account ROI. 

Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Adpulse. Used with permission.

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How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console And How To Fix Them




How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console And How To Fix Them

Google Search Console is an essential tool that offers critical insights into your website’s performance in Google search results.

Occasionally, you might observe a sudden decline in organic traffic, and it’s crucial to understand the potential causes behind this drop. The data stored within Google Search Console (GSC) can be vital in troubleshooting and understanding what has happened to your website.

Before troubleshooting GSC traffic declines, it’s important to understand first what Google says about assessing traffic graphs in GSC and how it reports on different metrics.

Understanding Google Search Console Metrics

Google’s documentation on debugging Search traffic drops is relatively comprehensive (compared to the guidance given in other areas) and can, for the most part, help prevent any immediate or unnecessary panic should there be a change in data.

Despite this, I often find that Search Console data is misunderstood by both clients and those in the first few years of SEO and learning the craft.

Image from Google Search Central, May 2024

Even with these definitions, if your clicks and impressions graphs begin to resemble any of the above graph examples, there can be wider meanings.

Search Central description  It could also be a sign that…
Large drop from an algorithmic update, site-wide security, or spam issue This could also signal a serious technical issue, such as accidentally deploying a noindex onto a URL or returning the incorrect status code – I’ve seen it before where the URL renders content but returns a 410.
Seasonality You will know your seasonality better than anyone, but if this graph looks inverse it could be a sign that during peak search times, Google is rotating the search engine results pages (SERPs) and choosing not to rank your site highly. This could be because, during peak search periods, there is a slight intent shift in the queries’ dominant interpretation.
Technical issues across your site, changing interests This type of graph could also represent seasonality (both as a gradual decline or increase).
Reporting glitch ¯_(ツ)_/¯ This graph can represent intermittent technical issues as well as reporting glitches. Similar to the alternate reasons for graphs like Seasonality, it could represent a short-term shift in the SERPs and what meets the needs of an adjusted dominant interpretation of a query.

Clicks & Impressions

Google filters Click and Impression data in Google Search Console through a combination of technical methods and policies designed to ensure the accuracy, reliability, and integrity of the reported data.

Reasons for this include:

  • Spam and bot filtering.
  • Duplicate data removal.
  • User privacy/protection.
  • Removing “invalid activities.”
  • Data aggregation and sampling.

One of the main reasons I’ve seen GSC change the numbers showing the UI and API is down to the setting of thresholds.

Google may set thresholds for including data in reports to prevent skewed metrics due to very low-frequency queries or impressions. For example, data for queries that result in very few impressions might be excluded from reports to maintain the statistical reliability of the metrics.

Average Position

Google Search Console produces the Average Position metric by calculating the average ranking of a website’s URLs for a specific query or set of queries over a defined period of time.

Each time a URL appears in the search results for a query, its position is recorded. For instance, if a URL appears in the 3rd position for one query and in the 7th position for another query, these positions are logged separately.

As we enter the era of AI Overviews, John Mueller has confirmed via Slack conversations that appearing in a generative snapshot will affect the average position of the query and/or URL in the Search Console UI.

1718702762 996 How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console AndSource: John Mueller via The SEO Community Slack channel

I don’t rely on the average position metric in GSC for rank tracking, but it can be useful in trying to debug whether or not Google is having issues establishing a single dominant page for specific queries.

Understanding how the tool compiles data allows you to better diagnose the reasons as to why, and correlate data with other events such as Google updates or development deployments.

Google Updates

A Google broad core algorithm update is a significant change to Google’s search algorithm intended to improve the relevance and quality of search results.

These updates do not target specific sites or types of content but alter specific systems that make up the “core” to an extent it is noteworthy for Google to announce that an update is happening.

Google makes updates to the various individual systems all the time, so the lack of a Google announcement does not disqualify a Google update from being the cause of a change in traffic.

For example, the website in the below screenshot saw a decline from the March 2023 core update but then recovered in the November 2023 core update.

GSC: the website saw a decline from the March 2023 core updateScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

The following screenshot shows another example of a traffic decline correlating with a Google update, and it also shows that recovery doesn’t always occur with future updates.

traffic decline correlating with a Google updateScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

This site is predominantly informational content supporting a handful of marketing landing pages (a traditional SaaS model) and has seen a steady decline correlating with the September 2023 helpful content update.

How To Fix This

Websites negatively impacted by a broad core update can’t fix specific issues to recover.

Webmasters should focus on providing the best possible content and improving overall site quality.

Recovery, however, may occur when the next broad core update is rolled out if the site has improved in quality and relevance or Google adjusts specific systems and signal weightings back in the favour of your site.

In SEO terminology, we also refer to these traffic changes as an algorithmic penalty, which can take time to recover from.

SERP Layout Updates

Given the launch of AI Overviews, I feel many SEO professionals will conduct this type of analysis in the coming months.

In addition to AI Overviews, Google can choose to include a number of different SERP features ranging from:

  • Shopping results.
  • Map Packs.
  • X (Twitter) carousels.
  • People Also Ask accordions.
  • Featured snippets.
  • Video thumbnails.

All of these not only detract and distract users from the traditional organic results, but they also cause pixel shifts.

From our testing of SGE/AI Overviews, we see traditional results being pushed down anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 pixels.

When this happens you’re not likely to see third-party rank tracking tools show a decrease, but you will see clicks decline in GSC.

The impact of SERP features on your traffic depends on two things:

  • The type of feature introduced.
  • Whether your users predominantly use mobile or desktop.

Generally, SERP features are more impactful to mobile traffic as they greatly increase scroll depth, and the user screen is much smaller.

You can establish your dominant traffic source by looking at the device breakdown in Google Search Console:

Device by users: clicks and impressionsImage from author’s website, May 2024

You can then compare the two graphs in the UI, or by exporting data via the API with it broken down by devices.

How To Fix This

When Google introduces new SERP features, you can adjust your content and site to become “more eligible” for them.

Some are driven by structured data, and others are determined by Google systems after processing your content.

If Google has introduced a feature that results in more zero-click searches for a particular query, you need to first quantify the traffic loss and then adjust your strategy to become more visible for similar and associated queries that still feature in your target audience’s overall search journey.

Seasonality Traffic Changes

Seasonality in demand refers to predictable fluctuations in consumer interest and purchasing behavior that occur at specific times of the year, influenced by factors such as holidays, weather changes, and cultural events.

Notably, a lot of ecommerce businesses will see peaks in the run-up to Christmas and Thanksgiving, whilst travel companies will see seasonality peaks at different times of the year depending on the destinations and vacation types they cater to.

The below screenshot is atypical of a business that has a seasonal peak in the run-up to Christmas.

seasonal peaks as measured in GSCScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

You will see these trends in the Performance Report section and likely see users and sessions mirrored in other analytics platforms.

During a seasonal peak, Google may choose to alter the SERPs in terms of which websites are ranked and which SERP features appear. This occurs when the increase in search demand also brings with it a change in user intent, thus changing the dominant interpretation of the query.

In the travel sector, the shift is often from a research objective to a commercial objective. Out-of-season searchers are predominantly researching destinations or looking for deals, and when it is time to book, they’re using the same search queries but looking to book.

As a result, webpages with a value proposition that caters more to the informational intent are either “demoted” in rankings or swapped out in favor of webpages that (in Google’s eyes) better cater to users in satisfying the commercial intent.

How To Fix This

There is no direct fix for traffic increases and decreases caused by seasonality.

However, you can adjust your overall SEO strategy to accommodate this and work to create visibility for the website outside of peak times by creating content to meet the needs and intent of users who may have a more research and information-gathering intent.

Penalties & Manual Actions

A Google penalty is a punitive action taken against a website by Google, reducing its search rankings or removing it from search results, typically due to violations of Google’s guidelines.

As well as receiving a notification in GSC, you’ll typically see a sharp decrease in traffic, akin to the graph below:

Google traffic decline from penaltyScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

Whether or not the penalty is partial or sitewide will depend on how bad the traffic decline is, and also the type (or reason) as to why you received a penalty in the first place will determine what efforts are required and how long it will take to recover.

Changes In PPC Strategies

A common issue I encounter working with organizations is a disconnect in understanding that, sometimes, altering a PPC campaign can affect organic traffic.

An example of this is brand. If you start running a paid search campaign on your brand, you can often expect to see a decrease in branded clicks and CTR. As most organizations have separate vendors for this, it isn’t often communicated that this will be the case.

The Search results performance report in GSC can help you identify whether or not you have cannibalization between your SEO and PPC. From this report, you can correlate branded and non-branded traffic drops with the changelog from those in command of the PPC campaign.

How To Fix This

Ensuring that all stakeholders understand why there have been changes to organic traffic, and that the traffic (and user) isn’t lost, it is now being attributed to Paid.

Understanding if this is the “right decision” or not requires a conversation with those managing the PPC campaigns, and if they are performing and providing a strong ROAS, then the organic traffic loss needs to be acknowledged and accepted.

Recovering Site Traffic

Recovering from Google updates can take time.

Recently, John Mueller has said that sometimes, to recover, you need to wait for another update cycle.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active in trying to improve your website and better align with what Google wants to reward and relying on Google reversing previous signal weighting changes.

It’s critical that you start doing all the right things as soon as possible. The earlier that you identify and begin to solve problems, the earlier that you open up the potential for recovery. The time it takes to recover depends on what caused the drop in the first place, and there might be multiple factors to account for. Building a better website for your audience that provides them with better experiences and better service is always the right thing to do.

More resources: 

Featured Image: Ground Picture/Shutterstock

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