5 Ways to Cut Waste from Your Digital Advertising Campaigns

Laptop with Facebook ads website on screen


As the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact industries worldwide, businesses from Best Buy to Google are slashing marketing budgets across the board. According to one Gartner survey, 65% of CMOs are expecting budget cuts this year. 

Even if you find yourself in the fortunate 35% of businesses that aren’t planning on reducing spending on marketing in 2020, this year’s precipitous drop in consumer and business spending are likely to make business leaders everywhere consider how investments in channels like display and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can be reevaluated for efficacy and ROI.

Regardless of how your organization is weathering this crisis, it’s important to understand the concrete steps you can take to tighten up your advertising campaigns and increase your return on ad spend.

If your digital advertising program is in need of an audit, use this five-step checklist to find and eliminate waste through smarter targeting. 

1. Increase the specificity of your PPC keywords.

When implementing a PPC campaign in Google Ads, it can be tempting to go after those broad (and often expensive) keywords with tons of search volume first. The problem with bidding solely on 1-2 word keywords, however, is that while you might be achieving a higher volume of impressions and/or traffic, it’s likely that a small percentage of that traffic is relevant

Consider for instance how many different intentions can be attributed to a search for the words “accounting” or “furniture.”  

Although long-tail keywords (search queries that are longer than three words long) have lower search volume, adding them to your SEM approach will increase the likelihood that the user’s search intent will match what you’re offering. Plus, since long-tail keywords are also more specific, it’s more likely that the searcher is closer to making a purchase than someone using broad terms to conduct preliminary research.

Keywords such as “accounting software for restaurants” or “medical office furniture” will drive less traffic than their broad keyword counterparts, but users entering those queries will be much more likely to convert upon landing on your site. 

Another way to cut down on waste is to build a negative keyword list. Negative keywords allow you to list search terms that should be excluded from your campaign, preventing your ad from being served after queries you already know are irrelevant. 

Common negative keywords like “cheap” or “free” can serve as a barrier against traffic that wouldn’t be qualified, and those associated with hiring (like “jobs” and “careers”), and training (like “skills,” and “tutorial”) can reduce your spending on traffic that isn’t ever going to convert.

2. Consider dayparting.

Dayparting, or scheduling ads to run during certain times and days of the week, ensures you’re only serving ads during times that are optimal for conversions.

Are you part of a B2B business that’s spending big money on ads that run over the weekend?

Do you represent a local business serving ads before or after closing time?

Are you promoting entertainment media or lifestyle content during the workday?

In each of these scenarios, it’s possible that some of the ad spend is going to waste. Serving impressions during days and times that your target audience is unlikely to take action can negatively impact both your conversion rate and your return on ad spend.

On the flip side, how can you increase your visibility during peak times for your target audience? Increasing your spend during specific time frames can help you capitalize on the positive shift in purchase behavior.

While some dayparting is more or less intuitive, it’s important to back your decisions in data. Turning off your ads at any point in time could mean missing out on prospective customers searching in off-peak hours. 

That being said, if your cost per click or cost per conversion does fluctuate regularly with certain times or days of the week, it’s worth testing the impact that dayparting could have on your campaign performance. 

3. Segment your audience and tailor the ad creative to each segment.

In today’s customer-first world, segmentation is pretty much critical. Identifying subgroups within your total addressable audience is a critical first step to delivering timely, relevant content to the right audience at the right time.

Are there opportunities in your campaign strategy to improve your segmentation further? For example, say you’ve created a paid media campaign to support an event series that takes place in multiple cities throughout the year. You included each of those cities in your targeting criteria, but are serving the same ad across each geography. 

In this instance, you can increase the relevance of your ad even further by creating a separate campaign for each city and including imagery or copy specific to that location in the ad itself. 

Besides geography, consider how tailoring your creative for segments created by industry, job title, customer stage, or other demographic, psychographic, and behavior-based criteria could improve your campaign performance overall. 

4. Invest in the right channels.

There’s a quote that gets tossed around from time to time that reads, “In the world of branding, being everywhere is gold.” In the world of advertising, however, I’m not sure that’s true.

Watching other businesses (or, in some cases, competitors within your industry) invest in new marketing channels can tempt even the most careful marketer to follow suit. The data-driven marketer, however, understands which channels are the most effective platforms for reaching their target audience with the right message at the right time.

Rather than splitting your ad spend evenly across multiple channels, take a look at your traffic and conversion data to understand where you should be scaling your investment and where you should be scaling down.  

Marketers in organizations of all sizes are working with a finite amount of time and treasure. 

Reducing your investment in non-performant digital advertising channels is an easy way to ensure that your ad spend isn’t being wasted.    

5. Test, learn, and optimize.

While it’s important to invest in the channels that are most performant for your business, that shouldn’t mean that you can’t break new ground. Blazing new trails, however, whether via a new ad format, marketing channel, or audience, should be done in a testing environment. 

To build a testing program that gets measurable results, document components that can be changed to determine their impact on your campaign performance. Use tracking tags like UTM parameters to understand how each iteration is driving traffic and how those users are behaving once they make it to your site.

Then, run multiple versions of your campaign by A/B testing creative to the same audience segment or testing the performance of the same creative across different audience segments. 

At the conclusion of a campaign, set aside time to analyze your results, drawing insights into why something did or did not perform. Finally, test your hypothesis in your next test.

This documented, intentional approach to iteration helps you optimize your campaign strategy over time and spend less time and money on approaches that don’t perform.

In conclusion

Every human and every business is experiencing this crisis differently. That being said, Henry Ford’s words have never been more relevant than they are today: “Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.”

No matter what state your marketing budget is in right now, these strategic approaches to targeting can help you build a strong case for making digital advertising a core part of your growth strategy moving forward.


Interested in tightening up your digital advertising campaigns? Connect with one of our digital marketing specialists today.