Photography Advertising with Google Paid Search – SEM Introduction

Grow your photo business with Google advertisingPhotographers should know what SEM means. You’ve heard of SEO (search engine optimization), those are non-paid organic search results. SEM stands for search engine marketing, or paid search results. Google paid search listings appear at the top and right side of a search results page. This post teaches photography businesses the basics of paid search using Google AdWords. If you’re thinking nobody clicks ads in search, don’t be fooled. The power of paid search results is immense with an estimated 20% clicking on sponsored links.

Search versus Google Content Network

An advertising beginner might assume that your Google sponsored links only appear in Google search results. Not the case. Google has en entire content network of websites who stream sponsored links and split the revenue every time a user clicks the text advertisement.

Google uses keyword matching to decide if the ad should display on a page within the network. For example, you purchase the keyword phrase “Seattle wedding photography” and your ad might appear on non-Google webpages about Seattle, weddings, or photography.

Google SEM includes a wide range of sites, not just Google search.

Ideally your ad displays on a Portland wedding venue website that is running Google Ads, but it may appear on less desirable pages: a Portland food blog, a Los Angeles wedding directory, or a national photography forum. You pay when any of these sites’ users click your link, despite they are not the right audience to gorw your business. If nobody clicks, Google figures out the ad is not relevant and may charge you more.

My explanation of the content network should not discourage you from testing a campaign. I raise the issue so you know what it means, and can make the right choice about whether or not your ad should appear there. Google will tell you how network ads perform compared to search ads, so base any decision on actual results and not assumptions.

Advertising Cost is Driven by Quality

In paid search advertising, you pay each time a user clicks your ad. Number of advertisers (competition) and quality of the ad drive the cost paid per click.

A quality ad costs less per click and appears higher in the list of advertisements.

A quality ad costs less per click and appears higher in the list of advertisements. Why? Relevant ads lead to more clicks. Imagine a Portland bride searches the phrase “hotel wedding photo examples in Seattle” and has the choice of two ads:

Example Photography Google AdWords Advertisement

Example Photography Google AdWords Advertisement

At a glance, both ads have compelling text, but the first one has text about the exact topic the bride searched. Plus it uses a landing page about the same topic, and not a generic catch-all page. In a quality ad:

  • click through rate is higher
  • time on the photographer’s website is higher (a function of quality)
  • the photographer is more likely to get the sale (and advertise more)

Google wants people to trust its ads because more people will click and Google will earn more money, thus favors the most successful ad.

Photographers Need Multiple Campaigns

In the previous example, our successful ad about hotels is the perfect ad when they keywords searched include hotels. The second ad doesn’t work for hotels, but would perform well on a search for “best Portland wedding photographers.” Lower cost and better performance follows a well-planned campaign structure. Our Seattle photographer should have a campaign for hotels, with keywords that include “hotels” as well as names of venues in the area. The keywords in this group should relate to the ad text as well as the landing page. It is easy to come up with campaigns by thinking about categories of your projects. For example:

campaign 1: location
ad group 1: hotels
ad group 2: churches
ad group 3: destinations

campaign 2: time/date
ad group 1:┬áNew Year’s Eve
ad group 2: winter
ad group 3: night

campaign 3: engagements

With one theme and 3+ groups per campaign it becomes easy to associate ad text and a direct landing page with the right keywords. So much better than a single generic ad pointing to your homepage!

Create campaigns around keyword themes for the best quality and lowest cost.

How to Select the Best Paid Keywords

Just because you purchased Seattle wedding photos as a phrase doesn’t mean the user searched only/exactly those words or in that order. Here are the types of keyword matches:

  • Seattle wedding photos – broad match, includes the keywords anywhere in the search. Example: “best wedding photos in seattle”
  • “Seattle wedding photos” – phrase match, includes the keywords in order. Example “best Seattle wedding photos”
  • [Seattle wedding photos] – exact match, includes only those keywords in that order
  • -cheap – negative match, excludes words. In this example, your ad would not appear for searches on “cheap Seattle wedding photos”

As the match type gets more exact, obviously the possibility of someone searching the exact phrase decreases. You’re probably okay using broad match when you use 3-5 keywords in the phrase. I prefer very specific keywords such as “best Seattle hotel wedding photos” because they are cheaper and more profitable. They’re cheaper because fewer competitors are buying these phrases and more profitable because the searcher knows exactly what they want and is ready to hire.

How to Know Advertising is Working

It pains me when photographers dump $100 a month into paid advertising without having a clue if the ads are paying off. First, use the AdWords statistics to compare campaign results.

  • Clicks – how many people clicked the ad
  • Impr – how many people were exposed to the ad (impressions)
  • CTR – click through rate (clicks divided by impressions) tells the percentage of people who clicked your ad. You want above 1% CTR. Decrease campaigns with low click through and increase (add more campaigns or add money) ones with the best click through percentage.
  • Ave CPC – average cost per click tells how much you paid each time a person clicked the ad. Lower CPC means you’re paying less and getting better value. Most photographers will pay 50 cents to $3 per click.
  • Ave Pos – average position tells your paid rank. Up to 11 paid ads are shown per page and you likely want to be in the top 3-5 in order to keep your click through high.

This scenario shows sample results. I’m willing to budget more for my wedding campaigns than Engagements because I earn more per sale (even though an engaged couple might come back to me for the wedding). The second two campaigns have low performance, so I’m likely to discontinue those in favor of the Locations campaign. I can use 0.18% CTR and $0.86 CPC to forecast expected results. I will increase the Locations campaign budget to $3 per day (about $90 per month) and increase the bid to potentially show in the number 1 position.

Sample ad report for photography campaigns

Even with the above data, I could be getting 125 clicks per month and no sales. The best tracking incorporates how many sales came as a result of the campaign. To do this manually will provide difficult. Even if you ask a potential client how they heard about you, their response of “Google” could have been campaign #1, campaign #2, free Google maps, or a non-paid Google result. I recommend integrating Google Analytics with Google AdWords to see what users did on your website after clicking the ad.

Resources from Coach Zach

Grab a copy of the Photography Web Marketing Guide for ideas and tactics on SEO and Facebook that don’t require paid advertising.

Get started with ads at

Download Growing Your Business with AdWords. 36 pages with all the basic tips for succeeding with AdWords in a downloadable guide.


Thousands of Photographers boost business with my tips!

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