Newbie Growth Hacker Series: Ads that Convert [Part 1 of 3]

by Chelsea Baldwin

Last updated on September 19th, 2017

Expert growth hackers set up lean, scalable online sales funnels that get loads of quality traffic and convert prospects into paying customers.

It’s no wonder companies are dying to get their hands on these people: They can scale their product sales online at previously unheard of rates, and keep the ROI steady.

But this quality traffic has to come from somewhere, and when there’s no pre-existing stream of visits coming to a landing page, growth hackers use ads.

But what if you’re not an expert growth hacker?

It’s nothing to worry about: growth hacking ad techniques are easy enough to implement once you understand the mentality behind them.

The first thing we’re going to talk about in this growth hacking series for newbies is ads. They’re the top of any online sales funnel and have the power to separate high-intent traffic from casual browsers, making a true impact on your bottom line.

Once you get your ads in place, we’ll publish parts two and three of this series to help you optimize your landing pages and CTA forms with growth-hacking expertise.

growth hacker guide to ads

Ads: The Top of the Funnel

According to PewResearch, 91% of people use search engines to answer their questions or shop. And since 83% of those searching use Google, AdWords makes sense as the best place to start running ads.

If you’ve got perfect SEO and are within the first few spots for each of you’re desired search terms, you’re golden and probably won’t have to worry about ads.

But if you’re in the same boat of the vast majority of businesses, you need a little boost, and ads are what can get you there.

First Things First: Get ATTENTION!

Just don’t use all caps an exclamation marks—it looks spammy and is frowned upon by Google.

But you get the idea: There’s so much information out there vying for audience attention, it can be daunting to figure out how to separate yourself from your competitors.

The truth is, anyone can talk about a product’s benefits. That’s the easy part. The internet is flooded with people trying to sell you product A that has functionalities B and C and special feature F that their competition doesn’t include.

This works, but it’s not the most effective way to get your traffic excited about what you have to offer, because, at the end of the day, what you’re saying really isn’t any different from what everyone else is saying.

text ad examples

In my search to buy a new computer, there’s no real winner.

Finding a way to tell a story with your ad text is a true talent, but with dedicated practice anyone can cultivate it.

In fact, one of the best ads ever written is actually a short story by Ernest Hemingway. It’s so direct, many people also refer to it as a six-word novel.

Ernest Hemingway baby shoes ad

It’s succinct and gets the point across in a way the words “Brand new baby shoes for sale” never could.

Though it was written long before the days of Google Ads, it’s both an enticing advertisement and a powerful story.

It’s a somber example, but you can keep your ads upbeat and still tell a good story.

storytelling ad example

Rather than selling me tasty, fast food, the text of this Facebook ad takes a storytelling approach and whisks my mind away to Italy, making their product much more enticing.

Find more tips in these Crazy Egg articles:

Google AdWords – 6 Stealthy Hacks

Now that you’ve got an idea of what kind of ads work the best for attention-getting and quality traffic, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details of the lesser-known hacks in the backend of Google AdWords.

Avoiding easier-to-find advice about good practices like integrating keywords in ads and landing pages together for a higher quality score, adding negative keywords to your campaign lists, and favoring long-tail keywords over short basic ones, we’ll delve straight into the heart of the things experienced growth hackers do to make an instant difference in the ad campaigns they manage.

1. Analyze Search Terms

Check the actual search terms people are using when click on your ads.

You can find this in your AdWords dashboard by going to your campaign, selecting the keywords you want to check, then clicking on Details > Search Terms > Selected.

In setting up a campaign, you can get a fair amount of negative keywords and time and location targeting done using educated guesses, keyword research, and common sense. But you can never fully prepare a perfect campaign without testing it.

Looking over the search terms people use to get to your ads and analyzing the intent behind them will give you a gold mine of information to trim your campaigns, making them even more lean and effective.

You’ll uncover negative keywords you never guessed before, and information about your target audience that even the most well-designed survey couldn’t tell you.

To keep a lean, effective, and growing campaign running, check these terms at least once per week.

2. Treat High Intent Like Gold

When you begin to see which keywords and phrases offer the highest intent, treat them like gold.

For example, “where to buy a good camera” clearly comes from a person with more intent to spend money now than “good cameras.”

Realize the difference between research-based keywords and buy-based keywords. There’s nothing wrong with using researched-based keywords to send people to your blog, free resources or landing pages, but realize that they won’t provide the same ROI as buy-based keywords.

Allocating more of your budget to buy-based keywords over researched-based keywords is essential to growing your bottom line.

3. Location, Location, Location

Localizing your advertising efforts is a quick and easy way to grow trust. It’s a shame more online businesses don’t put effort into creating location-based ad and keyword groups, because doing so provides a significant increase in conversions.

This is especially true for running mobile ads.

According to Search Engine Watch, 50% of people who do a search for a product or service on their mobile device end up acting on the results within 24 hours.

And it’s easy to do.

All you have to do is take a target keyword and add “in [city/state]” or “near [city/state]” or “for [city/state].” You get the drift. Also, adding two or three more words for the location makes the keyword even more long-tail, and most of the time these CPCs are far cheaper.

So localizing your ads give you a double whammy: saving money on clicks and getting more qualified leads because the location factor works wonders in increasing trust and loyalty.

location-based ads

Even though CarMax is a nationwide business, they nailed the localization goal by creating location-specific ads to increase their business in Charlotte.

4. Divide and Conquer

Good growth hackers don’t wimp out when it comes to dividing and subdividing their ad campaigns. Even though it takes time, they go full force because they know how well it works.


Grouping a lot of ads and keywords together under generic categories might save you time now, but the time investment pales in comparison to how much it can save your budget and increase your bottom line on your different product offerings.

For example, say you’re selling watches on a jewelry site. Your silver watches are your best sellers in comparison to your gold watches, but your gold watch sales make you a lot more money. Starting your campaign, you categorize both types under “Watches” because it’s easy and it makes sense.

However, Google sees that within that group, your silver watch ads are doing better simply because more people search for them and click on them. When this happens, your silver watch ads get favored over your gold watch ads, and you miss out on potential gold watch sales.

If you separate your ads into their own separate groups with their own separate budget allocations, you don’t have to worry about this happening.

5. Automated Rules

Being a successful growth hacker is busy and hectic, especially when you’re working around the clock to set up a new sales funnel. But even with the most careful planning and attention to detail, unexpected things happen.

One of the worst nightmares of a growth hacker, especially one who is on a tight budget, is to waste precious dollars from the advertising launch because he was busy working on something else and didn’t notice something going amiss.

To combat this from the start, you can set automated rules to correct red-flag behavior within the AdWords dashboard so you can keep working without constantly scouring your dashboard for shady activity.

To set a rule, click on “Automate” from within you Keywords, Ads, Ad Groups, or Campaigns Tab. Select one of the rules you want to set in place and enter the parameter criteria. For example, you can automatically raise bids every time you drop below first page results, or pause ads that aren’t giving any ROI.

6. Ignoring Google’s Success Metrics

Metrics like cost per click provided by Google are decent tools to help you manage and predict your budget and ROI, but they’re more of a reflection of Google’s money-making goals than they are of your success.

Google makes boatloads of money from advertising, so bolster your bottom line by creating a healthy disconnect from how they skew your view to rank ads and quality scores in their favor.

Think about it: CPC really doesn’t have anything to do with your ultimate goals—it’s a direct reflection of how AdWords is structured to cash in every time someone clicks on something.

Growth hackers know saving money on precious clicks and quality traffic is important, so they do what they can to increase the quality score. But that’s not their end-all, be-all goal. Instead, they look more at the CPA (cost per action).

For example, if you’ve got a slightly higher CPC that results in fewer clicks (and less money for Google), but those fewer clicks make you more money in the end, that’s the ad you need to favor, even if it means moving down a few notches in what Google sees as a quality campaign.

More Hacking Tools

Beyond the six hacks above, there are a few tools from Google that come in handy when you’re trying to get traffic and grow your bottom line fast.

Google Trends

While you’re brainstorming, planning and setting up each campaign, use Google Trends to find out what the popular searches are in your niche and if there’s anything people are searching for that you desperately need to take advantage of.

Once the campaign is set up and running, expert growth hackers sign up for alert emails for new or changing information and plan accordingly.

how to use Google Trends

For example, this map shows the cities where the search term “lose weight” is the most popular. If you’re advertising for a new weight loss product or program, this can help you immensely with location targeting.

Impressions Share Report

While a/b testing is a powerful strategy, growth hackers hired to make a product sell now use Impressions Share Report to help them bypass the 60-day mark often required to properly measure which bidding strategy works the best.

This report tells you how many more impressions your ads and keywords would get if you placed higher bids on them. From that projection, you can look at how many impressions a keyword is getting now and their rate of return to calculate whether or not a raise in the bid limit is worth the investment.

Bid Simulator

Many growth hackers get hired to work with existing campaigns rather than starting new ones from scratch. If this is your case, you can take a look back at how your campaign’s budget was managed and think about alternative ways you could have managed it.

After inserting your prospective data for what you would have done differently, Bid Simulator gives you projections on how the campaign would have performed.

Testing, Improving, Moving Forward

Growth hacking an online sales funnel is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of hard work, detailed attention, dedication, and long hours.

Many hacks for creating stellar ad campaigns that get quality traffic and convert well are irreplaceable in getting started, but carrying a successful campaign forward into further success requires repeated, non-stop a/b testing and tweaks.

In your experience with using ads to grow traffic, what are the tactics you’ve found most effective for getting quality traffic and conversions quickly?

Do you have any advice to add for newbie growth hackers, or examples of how you’d improve some of the examples shown above? Or is there anything specific you’d like to know about growth hacking landing pages and CTA forms?

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Chelsea Baldwin.



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Chelsea Baldwin

Chelsea Baldwin is a web marketing consultant and business writer. She specializes in creating strategy-based content and marketing plans for better ROI and more sales. You can get in touch with her at or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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  1. Mark says:
    December 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    What is this absoltue bollocks.
    “Expert growth hacking” are you on smack? Its pay per click account management,
    Its marketing exectuive stuff, its been going on for over 15years.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      December 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Excellent point, Mark. These hacks are nothing new. They’ve worked for 15+ years and they still work.

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