October 7, 2016 | Sarah Danks

The Key to Pay-per-click Success

Every business has a skill set; the key to success is using it to the best of your abilities. When your clients win, you win.

Here at ThinkSEM, we pride ourselves on partnering with our clients to boost their online lead generation. The majority of our clients are small- to mid-sized professional services companies — including many independent insurance agencies.

In fact, we are a preferred vendor of:


While no online marketing strategy is one-size-fits-all, we focus on 4 main areas to help our clients attract qualified leads:

In this, the last blog post in the series, I’ll be discussing PPC (pay-per-click) marketing for insurance agencies, including a brief overview, how we go about setting up new accounts, custom landing pages, and ongoing management.

(Very Quick) Intro to PPC

We may be a bit biased, but paid search is the most dependable online marketing medium — and instant, unlike SEO or other forms of marketing that need time to “ramp up” in order to start seeing results. Once you do the legwork for a PPC account, you push a button, it’s live and you’ve got traffic.

For those of you who may not know, PPC marketing is a large part of what we do here at ThinkSEM. In a nutshell, pay-per-click is exactly what it sounds like: you pay when someone clicks your ad.

In a bit more detail: you set a monthly budget, you choose keywords, write ads, and then send visitors to a specific page about the service(s) written about in your ads. How easy is that?

That said, the setting up and management of a PPC campaign isn’t that simple…

there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that happens to have a successful strategy — which is where we come in.

And it all starts with the setup of the account.

Building a Solid PPC Account

In a (very general) nutshell, the setup of a new pay-per-click account involves a few key elements:

  1. Client consultation
  2. Structuring the account
  3. Keyword research
  4. Ad creation / landing pages
  5. Tracking

The insurance industry is a high-dollar industry, so when delving into paid search you have to be cognizant of how the PPC account is organized and put together from the start.

The entire point of having a paid search campaign is to bring in qualified traffic that converts — and an account that’s structured well is an account that performs well.

Client Consultation

To kick things off, we meet with our client to determine the goals, budget and timeframe of the campaign.

Knowing the goals is the be-all-end-all of any marketing campaign! Once we know goals, we can work backwards from there to build a strategy to achieve them.

One simple thing that we need to know is when it’s best to serve ads. I.e., for most of our business insurance clients, it’s best to have ads running during business hours. On the other hand, for personal insurance services it’s wise to include weekends and after-hours times.

We have that discussion with each agency to see what they’re looking to get, when they can answer phones, etc.

Of course, knowing the monthly budget is very important, and will dictate the strategy we use…

…but I’d like to clear up a monetary misconception first: many insurance agency clients we’ve talked to have expressed how expensive they think the online insurance space is — they’re worried about the cost-per-click being out of their league. Sometimes this is the sole reason they haven’t added PPC into their marketing toolbox.

While insurance PPC can be expensive, it’s not nearly as costly as people make it out to be! You can be extremely successful, no matter the budget — as long as expectations are set correctly from the beginning.

Our strategies to offset cost in this field are as follows:

  • we set the bid at an optimum amount to generate traffic at a good rate without over-spending for the client
  • the way we structure the account plays a major role in how far marketing dollars can stretch

I mean, our landing pages are “pretty damn good,” and help a lot in obtaining leads, but how we structure our accounts plays a major role in our clients’ success.

Account Structure

Since we’ve been doing PPC for quite a while, and have experience with a lot of professional services types of clients, we typically focus on Google AdWords and Bing Ads. That doesn’t meant we can’t use Facebook or LinkedIn ads for our clients; those would be supplementary to what we’ve found works well for insurance agencies.

We take into account the geographic area the client wants to focus on, and we take advantage of device targeting (i.e., desktop, tablet, phones).

We organize the structure of the account — namely, the ad groups within each campaign — based off the service areas outlined by the client. Of course, the meat-and-potatoes of any account — and therefore the underlying structure — is the keywords. Namely, picking the right ones.

Keyword Research

Oftentimes, our clients think there are around 20 – 50 relevant phrases for their services, but in reality there are thousands of related and highly relevant keywords. For example, one homeowners’ insurance client has 2,300 keywords related to homeowners’ insurance. That’s including ONLY specific keywords; no “overview” or generics!

(Keep in mind, our keywords include all the variations for the different match types.)

Of course, it’s not enough just to find and use all these high-quality keywords; they need to be organized into tightly niched ad groups.

Another important factor when researching keywords is geo-targeting. As it pertains to insurance agencies, geography can play a very specific role. For homeowners’ or auto insurance, for example, our clients want to focus on the areas physically closest to the agency, whereas the geographic area for business/commercial insurance is much wider.

The key: you need to know the audience the client is targeting (and why).

Choosing “Intent” Keywords

Based off our discussion with the client, we choose keywords related to the service areas they want to highlight. Again, our sole purpose is to get qualified leads to contact the client, so we choose keywords with intent to hire.

E.g., we use terms such as “homeowners insurance company / agent /quotes,” etc., versus starting out with broad, overview keywords like “insurance company.”

Focusing our efforts on keywords that show intent saves us time down the road of weeding out all the “cruddy” keywords. Choosing the right keywords from the get-go is important; we don’t just add everything and the kitchen sink. Why not?

Because we don’t want to take the time to add all the negative keywords in to hone down the generalized list. This means there’s less time spent finding those keywords that really convert well.

Basically, we like to weed out the visitors merely looking for information, and focus on the ones that are ready to hire.

Of course, it’s not enough just to find and use all these high-quality keywords; they need to be organized into tightly niched ad groups.

Ad Creation / Landing Pages

In order to know what kinds of ads to create, you’ll have to know where they’ll be displayed in the first place. I.e., Sponsored Search (text ads that show up on Google SERPs) or Display Network (most often “banner” ads that show up across websites within the Google Display Network).

You can always make an argument to each side of a strategy — any type of advertising can work, you just have to put in the effort — but in our experience, with the types of clients we focus on, standard sponsored search advertising, versus display, has worked really well.

Also, historically for our clients, remarketing efforts have been so-so at best.

When writing text ads, we base the wording off of several factors: our consultation with the client (are there any offers or special rates; geographic location, etc.), intent (again, we want visitors who’re ready to hire an agent or sign up for a specific type of insurance), and experience (knowing what kind of verbiage has worked for this client in the past).

At this stage, we identify ad extensions that are relevant to what we are trying to accomplish within the account.


It’s not enough to just pick any ol’ website page for a PPC campaign; we always advise clients to use custom landing pages. This ensures the highest possible conversion rates.

When we focus on what works — sponsored search ads that lead to custom, responsive landing pages — our conversion rates are 12-20% on the average for insurance agency clients.

How do we know we can produce these types of results? By tracking everything, of course.

Setting up Tracking

First and foremost, we set up goals in Analytics. Many clients want to track more than just leads; obviously those are the most important but there are others that often support the main goal (i.e., video plays, events, etc.) We can then import those into AdWords, which is a nice feature.

This leads us to the next step: when tracking PPC campaigns you need to ensure you connect AdWords to Analytics. We make sure those two platforms are “talking.”

For our tracking phone numbers, we use CallRail, a 3rd-party call-tracking platform. Tracking phone numbers can be used in call extensions or on the landing pages themselves.

We also use UTM identifiers on all destination URLs. Browsers don’t “see” them, but they pass along vital information to us.

With UTMs you can analyze identifying characteristics to know exactly where a lead came from on the web. If you don’t use a UTM identifier in Bing Ads, Google Analytics won’t recognize that traffic as paid search; it’ll lump it into direct traffic.

We use UTM identifiers to identify:

  1. correct traffic source (Google, Bing, email blast, etc.)
  2. medium (CPC, social media, etc.)
  3. campaign name


You can add as much or as little information as you want in your UTMs; we stick to the three listed above.

Knowing the information passed along in UTMs allows us to see where and how visitors are converting…

…and with that information we can then begin to test various elements to optimize for better conversions.

While we always use various ads per ad group, the majority of our testing occurs on our custom landing pages.

Custom Landing Pages Boost Conversions

We’ve discussed our feelings before on why our clients get better results with custom landing pages

…but here it is again, in a nutshell.

Landing pages built specifically for PPC campaigns convert far better than website pages. This is because they eliminate distraction and lower the attention ratio — when there are far fewer things competing for visitors’ attention, those visitors are more likely to convert.

Plus, custom landing pages are self-contained testing environments. If you want to test variations of headlines, imagery, etc., on a website page, you have to worry about how those changes will affect SEO, local search, etc.

Many of our clients don’t think they have the budget for custom landing pages, but using non-specific landing pages can actually hurt your campaign by sending highly qualified traffic to a page that falls short of their expectations.

We can dramatically improve conversion rates by using our landing pages, and also using A/B and/or multivariate testing to be able to measure headlines/content/imagery, etc. against each other to determine the best possible combination.

With any of our insurance clients there can be up to 3 separate conversion events:

  1. Phone number
  2. Online intake form
  3. Real-time insurance quote

Phone Numbers

On our landing pages, we use registered tracking numbers to be able to attribute all activity back to PPC.


Don’t worry about these different phone numbers messing with your consistent NAP — since PPC landing pages don’t get indexed, there’s no need to worry about Google “seeing” a different phone number on a landing page and confusing it with your actual phone number.

Basically, our tracking-specific phone numbers won’t run interference with your local search marketing strategy.

Online Contact Form

For those visitors that don’t want to pick up the phone and call, we always include a contact form.


We set these up to be easy-to-use and simple. No need to ask for blood samples at this stage. Our forms  also spit back a nice confirmation page to the visitor, and they’re of course 100% trackable.

Real-Time Insurance Quotes

Many of our clients use EZLynx, a real-time insurance quote form (this 3rd-party service is only for auto and home insurance quotes):


Instead of filling out the landing page’s contact form, visitors take 3-5 minutes to fill out a quote form, which then spits back quotes from different carriers.

Ongoing Pay-Per-Click Management

We prefer that our clients are involved with their marketing strategy; that way they’ll be familiar with the account, ask questions, etc. It’s a business partnership, after all. Even though we’re in “charge” of our clients’ PPC accounts, we want them to have a voice and be involved in the strategy and ongoing management.

Every one of our clients gets their own PPC dashboard, where they can log in to see all data. All paid search data gets pumped into one dashboard, which makes everything easy to see and understand:


Wecannot stress the importance of ongoing management enough. PPC marketing — like any type of online marketing — isn’t a “set it and forget it” venue. Google wants you to think you can rely on AdWords to run your campaign for you, but we don’t believe in that.

Once data starts coming in, we assess how everything’s working, tweak things to make improvements, etc. We work on refining the process — our goal is to get the highest conversion rate for our clients.

We’ll figure out which hours of the day/week tend to be more productive than others. Once we know the “sweet spot,” we’ll cater our strategy to that, so we’re getting in front of the highest-converting visitors at the time they’re likely to convert.

Even though we choose high-intent keywords, there will always be those keywords that bring in better traffic than others; over time we can identify the keywords that aren’t performing as well. We then add those negative keywords to the account to make it more efficient by eliminating marketing waste — namely, dollars.

This is also where we can perform A/B testing on ad copy and landing page content. There’s an adage in marketing: “always be testing.” If you continually test to find the best-performing keywords, ad copy and landing page elements, over time you’ll hone your campaign to be the best it can be.

Also, managing a PPC account can give us insight into search engine optimization (SEO) strategies for the client’s website. Since Google Analytics has put a damper on organic traffic queries (read: “not provided”), we can’t easily attribute organic conversions to keywords. But we can use our PPC data to see which keywords convert best.

PPC is Always Changing

Like any other type of online marketing, this world is dynamic — and we need to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.

For example, when ad extensions came out, we tried them on for size and have found them to be quite helpful.


And, as soon as Google allowed us to target ads by tablets and mobile, we jumped on that, too!

Something new we’re working on for insurance clients is call-only ads for mobile. PPC in general is a high-dollar industry, and conversion rate can be made or broken by the landing page…

…but if there was a way to convert mobile visitors before even getting them to the landing page, wow. Well, click-to-call mobile ads tend to have a high percentage conversion rate. Introducing call-only ads into our clients’ accounts can drive up conversions while lowering cost.

These aren’t rocket science changes, but keeping up with the PPC landscape — such as advanced device targeting, new expanded text ads and ever-evolving Google Display Network targeting opportunities — ensures our clients are getting the best chance at high-quality conversions.


With PPC, we’re able to track everything down to the penny in terms of our clients’ investment. We can’t drive this home strongly enough: there isn’t a better digital marketing medium to generate high-quality, consistent leads than pay-per-click marketing.

The key to our success as a PPC company is managing our skill set to the fullest. We do this by partnering with our clients — without their input, we wouldn’t be able to deliver the results we do.

We work hard to help our independent insurance agency clients — and all of our other professional services clients, too — achieve high-quality leads by focusing on a few key elements in our pay-per-click strategy:

  • building a solid account from the ground up
  • designing high-converting landing pages
  • providing ongoing, analytical management
  • keeping up with relevant advancements

PPC is a marketing channel that allows us to make adjustments quickly, which results in positive returns for our clients — and that’s important for the bottom line.





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