Whether you want to test and see if Google Ads would be a good channel for your SaaS business, or want to understand how you can improve results and scale leads from your existing Google Ads, the basic practices that you should follow (discussed at length below) are the same. You need to:

  1. Carefully choose keywords that indicate searchers are looking to buy what you sell.
  2. Structure your ad account properly, ensuring that your ads and landing pages match the keywords they show up for.
  3. Monitor results and manually optimize your ads to double down on what’s working.

These steps may seem obvious. But many times we’ve looked in our clients’ ads accounts and found that they (or the agencies they’ve worked with) have made crucial mistakes within each of the above steps, killing their chances of getting a good return on ad spend (ROAS). 

For example:

  • Mistake #1: Targeting keywords without buying intent. With a lack of buying intent behind keywords, it becomes a guessing game to whether a keyword will actually convert or not, ultimately wasting spend and leading to a higher cost per acquisition (CPA).

  • Mistake #2: Improper account structure. Grouping many different keywords, ads, and landing pages in each ad group is a common practice but leads to users seeing mismatched combinations of keywords, ads, and landing pages, which reduce conversion rates and ROAS.

  • Mistake #3: Too much automation. In our experience, letting Google automate various details of your ad campaigns with features like broad match or Dynamic Search Ads almost always causes budget to be wasted. Automation can fail (and does) in a lot of ways — making it difficult to manage accounts properly and bring in quality leads.

So, in this post we’re going to lay out the mistakes we often see SaaS businesses making with their Google Ads campaigns, and explain what you can do differently in order to avoid these issues and get the best ROAS possible.

Before we get to that, however, we’ll begin with a short discussion of how to know whether or not Google Ads would be a good acquisition channel for your SaaS business.

How to Know If Google Ads Could Be a Good Acquisition Channel for Your SaaS Business

The key question to ask to figure out whether or not Google Ads is even a viable channel for your SaaS business is: are people aware of and actively searching for the SaaS product that you sell?

If you sell a known type of software that has existing search demand — for example, project management software or marketing analytics software — then there’s a good chance that there will be plenty of high buying-intent keywords available and Google Ads will be a worthwhile channel, given that you approach it correctly.

One way to figure this out is to type the category name of your product into Google. If you see other SaaS companies in your category bidding on your category terms, and see them in the organic search results below, it’s a safe bet that there is opportunity there for you as well.

Alternatively, if you’re selling a genuinely new, category-creating product that your target audience is not yet aware of and actively searching for, Google Ads likely is not a good fit for you, and you probably need to focus on outbound sales or other SaaS marketing channels.

But be careful about whether you’re truly category creating or not. We have noticed in particular that B2B SaaS businesses and startups often try to invent a new category to put themselves in for branding purposes, even though they’re basically in an existing category and just have some type of feature differentiation versus the existing products. If you do this, you might determine that there isn’t search demand for your product, and unnecessarily rule out Google Ads as a channel. The alternative is to put your product in the existing category, bid on those terms, and use your differentiators to sell against competitors through your ad copy, landing pages, etc.

The Common Mistakes We See in SaaS Google Ads Accounts

If you’re just starting out with Google Ads, understanding these mistakes can help you avoid them from the beginning. Or if you’re looking to scale or improve ROAS from your existing ads, the following are potential problem areas you can look at first as ways to improve.

Mistake #1: Targeting Keywords without Buying Intent

We’ve covered this extensively for organic search, and it’s just as true for paid search: If the keywords you target don’t have high buying intent, then the likelihood of your ads driving customer acquisition is quite low. Yet we see company after company end up wasting ad spend on search terms without buying intent.

However, unlike SEO content where the focus is commonly on generating brand awareness and measuring “up funnel” metrics like traffic, most companies don’t set out to target top of the funnel, low converting keywords in their paid campaigns. Bidding on low converting keywords isn’t intentional. Instead, it ends up happening for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Wanting keywords with higher search volume to max out monthly spend
  • Wanting low cost-per-click (CPC) keywords for “better costs”
  • Using a variety of broad match keywords

This isn’t to say that low CPC or high volume keywords shouldn’t be in the account, this just means they shouldn’t be the deciding factor for adding them to the account. The deciding factor should be search intent. Otherwise you may be bidding on keywords that do have a low CPC, for example, but without buying intent, you’re still throwing ad spend away on clicks that won’t convert, even if those clicks are cheap. 

As for broad match keywords, they are actually something Google itself recommends to lower costs, which means many brands and agencies use it, thinking they’ll help.

Smart Bidding Broad Match: Your campaign is using Smart Bidding. Use broad match to get more conversions at a similar or better ROI.

But in our experience, with a broad match keyword, you can have the term be “accounting software” and appear for something like “bookkeeping companies that use quickbooks accounting software in Dallas, TX.” This is obviously not good if you’re trying to sell accounting software.

So, while it can be tempting to use broad match, the lack of search intent behind these keywords and match types often causes higher costs per acquisition of a lead, if they result in leads at all. 

In fact, even if a company is somehow seeing leads come through from broad match campaigns, if you go one step deeper and look at the quality of these leads, there’s a high likelihood — based on our experience — that the leads aren’t a good fit.

The fact that search intent is the most important factor is aligned with what we’ve seen in content and SEO — except the problem is actually worse with paid search because the clicks aren’t free: for every bad search term that your ad is getting clicked on, you’re wasting money.

Mistake #2: Improper Account Structure

Account structure — i.e. the combined campaign set up of ad groups, keywords, ads, and landing pages — is just as important as the keywords you choose. 

If you have a highly relevant keyword that’s bringing in the perfect search queries but your ad isn’t relevant, click-through rates (CTR) are going to be very low — and therefore lead generation from these ads will be minimal or nonexistent. 

Similarly, you can have the keyword and ad messaging match correctly, but if your landing page doesn’t match them, i.e. if you’re appearing for “marketing analytics software” and your user is now on a landing page that’s all about “marketing operations software,” most people are going to bounce and you’re not going to get many leads.

This logic isn’t groundbreaking.

Your high-intent keyword should match the query → the query should match the ad → the ad should match the landing page.

So why do so many accounts fall short here?

They make crucial mistakes with their account structure — many of which they don’t even realize are mistakes — including:

  • Too many keywords per ad group. For example, a business management software with a variety of features may have an ad group titled “project management” that includes the keywords: “time tracking,” “task management,” “file sharing,” “client portal,” etc. All of these keywords may be features they offer. However, they each have different intent, and therefore need different ads and landing pages to be relevant to searchers (which requires them to be broken out into different ad groups). 

  • Search intent not matching ad text and landing page. When people do the above and use too many keywords per ad group, their ad and landing page are only relevant to a small fraction of those keywords. For example, an ad and landing page about project management software would be relevant for the keyword “project management,” but people looking for “time tracking” or “client portal” solutions wouldn’t click on that ad, or would bounce immediately from their landing page.

  • Enabling Google Search Partners. When setting up a new campaign, Google will typically recommend enabling Google Search Partners, a network of websites where your ads can appear. In our experience and testing, while CPCs can be low (which makes this a tempting channel), we’ve seen that Search Partners rarely — if ever — results in high-quality leads. This isn’t surprising because the intent of traffic from Search Partners isn’t the same as when people are searching Google itself.

Mistake #3: Too Much Automation

One common theme you may have noticed above is that letting Google’s automation features control various details of your campaigns can be a problem.

For example, broad match lets Google choose the queries its algorithm thinks relate to your keyword, which often turn out to be a poor match of intent. Search Partners and Google Display Network let Google’s algorithm determine what websites you should appear on, which often lack relevance to what you sell. 

This problem extends beyond just those two features. There are many other ways that Google’s advertising platform can automate your Ads account. Each form of automation comes with its own potential mistakes relating to lack of search intent.

For example:

  • Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs): We often see companies use Dynamic Search Ads, in which you let Google crawl your site, come up with a list of keywords that you cannot see, and then bid on those keywords for you with ad text and a landing page they deem most relevant. In our experience, the majority of the time there are too many areas where these types of ads can fail: between not fully understanding the user’s intent to not understanding small, but important differences between landing pages, and the too general — or too specific — ad text.

  • Automated extensions: When done correctly, adding extensions can help your ads stand out and give your users additional, relevant information. However, Google also attempts to automate these, which can cause irrelevant clicks for services or to locations that shouldn’t be on your ad. This feature can be turned off in your account settings.

  • Smart campaigns: This type of campaign is very similar to Dynamic Search Ads with a few differences: your ad shows in even more places (not just search) and can even show to users outside of your designated search area. You also cannot control aspects of your bidding strategy such as your max bid or CPC. This hands-off approach can cause many problems.

In the next section, we’ll walk through how to avoid each of these mistakes by targeting keywords with buying intent, using more tailored account structure, and reducing automation for better results.

Note: If you notice any of these mistakes being made in your ads account, or feel that performance could be better, learn more about our PPC service here. We typically start with a simple audit of the ads account and point out what we think can be improved and discuss if we think it can be a fit. You can also find a Google Ads case study demonstrating our work here.

Our SaaS Google Ads Strategy That Maximizes ROAS

Step #1: Focus on Targeting Buying Intent Keywords with “Phrase Match” and “Exact Match” Keyword Match Types

We’ve written extensively about how to find and choose keywords with high buying intent. Check out our posts on SaaS keyword research and SEO keyword strategy for in-depth tutorials on how you can approach this. 

While those articles are written in the context of search engine optimization (SEO), the same keyword strategies apply to paid search. However, even high buying intent keywords can become useless if you’re utilizing the wrong match type. 

As of 2023, there are four match types available in paid search: broad match, phrase match, exact match, and negative. These go from least to most restrictive.

As we explained above, with a broad match keyword, you can have the term be “accounting software” and appear for something like “bookkeeping companies that use quickbooks accounting software in Dallas, TX.” This is unlikely to convert well and likely to waste ad spend.

The same term, “accounting software,” with phrase match would show for something like “what is the best affordable accounting software.” A bit better since we don’t know all potential search queries around such a short keyword.

Exact match, on the other hand, would be exactly “accounting software” or something extremely similar such as “accounting programs.”

If you’re using long-tail, high intent keywords, you shouldn’t be using broad match at all. Instead, you can just use phrase and exact match. You should also include a negative keyword strategy in your account if you’re using Phrase match (which we will touch on in another post).

Step #2: Intentionally Structure Each Ad Group Instead of Using Automation

Even with carefully chosen keywords and only using exact or phrase match types, you’ll still need to be very intentional about how you set up each ad group in order to optimize for the highest quality conversions. Specifically, the ad text needs to directly relate to the search term and the landing page needs to directly satisfy the intent behind that search term. 

This three tiered alignment (keyword → ad text → landing page) gives searchers the most cohesive experience and thus maximized conversion potential.

However, we rarely see this level of specificity in Google Ads campaigns.

More often than not, we see general text that’s somewhat related to the search term but doesn’t actually include any part of the search term in the text and landing pages that are even more indirectly related. 

Fixing this issue comes in three parts: 

1. Including at Least Part of the Search Term in the Ad Copy

Ideally, both your ad headline and ad copy should include the search term it’s been created to show up for. 

This ad by NetSuite does a good job of this:

Google SERP for "accounting software for small business"

For the search query “accounting software for small business,” their ad headline clearly matches search intent with the title “NetSuite® Accounting Software – #1 SMB Cloud Accounting.” In addition, the first line of the ad description includes both “accounting software” and “small business,” giving searchers confidence that the ad is relevant to them.

In contrast, the second ad from QuickBooks lacks the terms “software” and “small business” in both their headline and ad copy. Now, QuickBooks is obviously a massive brand in the accounting software space and can likely get away with this. But, you can imagine that searchers looking specifically for “small business accounting software” would be more likely to click on the ad with these exact words in the headline and ad copy. And particularly if you’re a lesser known brand in your space, including the exact search terms in your ad copy will give you the best chance of getting clicks over your competitors.

2. Choosing a Landing Page That Satisfies the Intent behind the Search Query

For the best results, we recommend choosing a landing page that not only includes the keyword in the title, but directly addresses all of the questions behind that keyword.

Continuing with the example above, QuickBooks’ accounting landing page does a good job of this for the term “accounting software for small business”:

QuickBooks Online landing page for  “accounting software for small business”

As you can see, they use the term “accounting software” in the landing page headline, and “#1 small business accounting software” in the main tagline just below. 

Furthermore, as you scroll down the page, they cover topics such as:

  • Reviews
  • Features
  • Benefits
  • Integrations
  • Pricing plans

You can imagine that these are the exact topics potential customers are interested in when they search for accounting software, and this page is precise in matching search intent and likely converts searchers into leads and new customers at a good rate.

3. Including Fewer Keywords per Ad Group

In order to put your money where it will be the most effective, you need to limit the number of ad groups you have in each campaign. Because your daily budget is set at the campaign level (rather than by ad group or keyword), some of your best performing ad groups may not get the spend they deserve if they have to share the budget with lower performing ad groups. If an ad group is performing particularly well, you may even want to give it its own campaign. 

Then, you’ll also need to limit the number of keywords per ad group.

Google recommends including between 5-30 keywords per ad group, but in our experience, this is too many. 

The problem is that you won’t be able to create ad text that’s relevant to all of these keywords. For example, if someone is searching for accounting software and the ad text says something about invoicing and payments, they are far less likely to click on the ad, much less convert. 

Instead, we recommend limiting the keywords in each ad group to just a few, closely related keywords (and use phrase or exact match types). For example:

Campaign Accounting Software – US – Search
Ad Group Small Business Freelancer Real Estate
Keywords Accounting software for small business
Freelancer accounting software Real estate accounting software
Small business accounting app Freelancer accounting app Realtor accounting software

In this example, we show potential ad groups based on business stage (i.e. “small business”, “freelancer”) as well as industry vertical (i.e. “real estate”). Alternative campaigns might target competitor brands with ad groups categorized by business stage, or different use cases of the product such as invoicing and billing. 

The key is to ensure that the keywords within each ad group have the same intent behind them, so the same, targeted ad copy would be enticing for all of these searchers.  

Step #3: Avoid Using Too Much Automation and Manually Optimize Campaigns to Double Down on Keywords That Are Producing Leads

To reduce the potential for wasted ad spend, make sure you turn off and avoid using the problematic automation options discussed earlier (i.e. Dynamic Search Ads, automated extensions, smart campaigns, etc.).

And finally, to get the most out of your spend, you should continually optimize your paid search campaigns for the search terms and keywords that are driving leads. For example, we’ll commonly see that within one ad group, certain keywords or search terms will result in quality conversions, while others only receive a few clicks. In these cases, you can shift to focus more ad spend and energy on those keywords and terms that are working, and therefore increase your ROAS.

Driving Quality Leads with Paid Ads

Since you have to pay for every click with paid ads, it’s essential that you have full control over where that ad spend is going and that you’re able to optimize your strategy for the metrics that truly matter: total leads, cost per lead (CPL), etc.

That’s why we take a very intentional, highly specialized hands-on approach to paid search campaigns for SaaS — just like we’ve been doing for years with organic search

To work with us, check out Our Paid Search Service page.

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