How to Reach and Exceed Your Paid Search ROI Goals with Michelle Mckinley


In her presentation, Michelle shares from her experience some tips and tricks that have allowed her to reach and exceed her paid search ROI goals.


Michelle Mckinley is head of Growth Marketing at WorkRamp, an All-in-One Learning Platform that drives business outcomes. Michelle has over 14 years of experience in digital advertising and demand generation.


“There’s no argument whether or not paid search is an important channel. 46% of b2b companies invest in search engine marketing and it is one of the best ways to see directly attributable ROI, as well as to reach high intent buyers” 

“If you set too low of a cost per lead target for your campaigns, you’re really limiting yourself and what you can generate, and you could be setting yourself short in terms of pipeline and revenue.” 

Key Points

How to ensure that there is growth and awareness while ensuring that campaigns are ROI positive:

  1. Set realistic expectations
  2. Optimize for quality score before launching campaigns
  3. Don’t optimize or cost per lead too soon


Hello, everybody, welcome to B2B search marketing. My name is Michelle McKinley. I’m the head of growth marketing at WorkRamp and today I am going to be talking about how to reach and exceed your paid search ROI goals.

I am a digital marketer with over 14 years of experience in digital advertising and demand generation and today we’re going to be reviewing some strategies to help you hit ROI goals.

So for many of you who run paid search campaigns and other demand gen campaigns, you know, you are probably also responsible for generating brand awareness amplification and top of funnel leads. But inevitably that conversation often circles back to ROI. So how do we ensure that we are seeing growth and generating awareness but also ensuring that our campaigns are ROI positive?

I think there’s no argument whether or not paid search is an important channel. 46% of b2b companies invest in search engine marketing and it is one of the best ways to see directly attributable ROI, as well as to reach high intent buyers. So with that, let’s get right into some tips and strategies.

So one of the most important tips I can share is just to set realistic expectations and to make sure that expectations are aligned with key players in your company. So things that you can do to set realistic expectations is to you know, talk to figure out what your main goals are, your North Star metric is and if it truly is growth and brand amplification and awareness, it’s important to talk about how much ROI you can really expect to see from those type of campaigns versus if ROI is a Northstar metric. Talking about how that can limit what you can do from a brand amplification and display advertising perspective. So it’s just really important to get aligned with your leaders and set realistic expectations so that you can be successful and hit your ROI goals.

So today we’re going to talk about optimizing for quality score. Not focusing on cost per lead too soon, asking questions of your agency and effective agency management. And then we’ll summarize everything at the end.

So tip number one is optimizing for quality score, and how you can control cost per lead this way and meet ROI. So quality score, if you’re not familiar, is a tool within Google ads that measures how your ads compare to other advertisers who are bidding on you’re seeing keywords and that score ranges from one to 10 with 10 being the best score. Now, it’s really important that you optimize for quality score before you launch campaigns. So I know for a lot of marketers, especially if you’re working at a startup or smaller company, you probably have really tight turnaround times and you’re launching campaigns quickly and you might think about optimizing your quality score when you have time. Unfortunately, once you earn a quality score, it’s really difficult to improve or optimize that quality score. These methods that we’ll discuss you can certainly implement after the fact but it’s always easiest to start out strong. Than trying to improve your quality score later. And so some of the things that are tips that I have, in addition to you know, ensuring you optimize before you launch is when you’re creating your ad copy to use the platform to create your ad copy.

Now I know a lot of agencies and a lot of people prefer to use Google Sheets or an Excel doc to create ad copy. But I feel like on the platform you just can access Google tools that will help you get your ad right from the get-go. And when you’re in the platform and you’re creating an ad, you’re able to see what keywords are in your ad group that you can incorporate into your keyword recommendations for your headlines. You’re also getting feedback in real time about things like pinning your headlines and how that’s impacting your score and it just gives you insights that you can’t get by writing your copy in the spreadsheet.

Another recommendation I have is of course always keeping your keywords in mind that goes for when you’re writing ad copy as well as when you’re writing landing page copy. You want to make sure that you’re creating landing pages that are relevant to the ad groups and keywords that you’re going to bid on. Here are your headlines. So you know Google Now is using dynamic ads. And you need to create multiple headlines that are used automatically by Google and your ads. And it’s very important to have those be varied and not just buried by a letter or, or a word, but to really make sure that they’re unique, and that can impact your ad score as well. You also want to create headlines that flow. So Google has started knocking off points for pinning headlines because they’re trying to really move advertisers towards incorporating automated ads as opposed to writing, you know, fixed headlines and descriptions. And so you want to create headlines that are going to flow naturally and make sense without pinning whenever possible.

You also want to make sure that you’re optimizing your landing pages, as I mentioned, you want to make sure that you’re incorporating keywords, but you also want to make sure that you’re offering something to the visitor like one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten for a colleague is that your landing page needs to answer the query that the person is searching. So if they come to your page, and they’re just seeing a form and you’re asking them to complete information, what are they really getting for providing that information? And so you want to make sure that your landing page at least somewhat provides an answer to your current and some useful information. as well to help optimize the quality score.

Next tip is don’t optimize for cost per lead too soon. So I’ve seen this before where you know, obviously, if we keep cost per lead down, you would think that that would also keep ROI up and we’d see more of a return on investment, the lower the cost per lead and, and in thought that makes sense, or in theory that makes sense. But if you set too low of a cost per lead target for your campaigns, you’re really limiting yourself and what you can generate, and you could be setting yourself short in terms of pipeline and revenue. And I’ve seen this at companies where we’ve implemented a much lower cost per lead within the platform as a and we had our bidding strategy at Target conversions. And it just really limits us and we went from we actually saw a stark decline in NQLs and pipeline by doing that, and then when we increased our cost per lead target, then we saw again, an increase in leads and pipeline. So you really want to be careful there and not focus your Google ads or paid search campaigns on cost per lead too soon until you understand what that really should be.

So tips you can use to determine what your cost per lead should actually be and and to optimize your campaig:

The first thing I’d say is to integrate a CMS. So Google ads you can integrate with HubSpot, you can integrate with Salesforce, and that will give you insights beyond just knowing how many people are completing a form and off of which keywords are leading to form completions. But you can also you know, figure out which keywords which campaigns are driving actual pipeline and actual revenue. And you know, if you’ve been b2b digital marketing and demand gen, you know that a lot of form fills can be poor quality leads or even just fraud. So, it’s really important to have that additional insight into what’s actually driving pipeline and revenue. And if you can’t set up an integration, you can use your UTMs or unique forms to gather this information as well. But you really want to make your optimizations based off of pipeline and revenue when you can.

You also, you know, while you’re waiting to determine what your target cost per lead should be, you really want to be making sure you’re running a tight ship in terms of your campaigns and adding in negative keywords. You also want to be pausing underperforming keywords, and just making sure that you are spending wisely while you’re determining what your target cost per lead should be. And also on this same note of not wanting to cap yourself and your growth potential. I often recommend not applying target CPA bidding strategies towards brand campaigns. So your brand keywords are often your highest converting terms and your top keywords if you have competitors bidding against your terms, you really want to make sure you have top impression share for those terms. So especially when I’m starting a new company or taking over a new account, I want to make sure that I’m reaching the most top impression share for brand keywords as possible. And, you know, seeing where our cap is before changing campaigns to having a target CPA so at least you have a benchmark to see which converts better for you. And I’ve often been able to keep cost per lead low by setting a bid cap in the top impression share strategy. And once you have all the information and you know what a cost per lead really should be and which keywords are generating pipeline for you. That’s when you can go in and optimize and add your cost per lead into your campaigns. You just dont want to do it too soon so you can hit and capture potential.

Tip number three, your agency doesn’t know at all no this is not at all. A knock on agencies. I ran my own agency for 13 years. But there’s just some types of when managing agencies that are important to to consider and you know often agencies are staffed with really experienced really knowledgeable people and they come across as experts and if you’re newer to digital marketing, you might feel it even if you aren’t new to digital marketing. You might feel intimidated by your agency. And so it can be hard to speak up or to share insights that you have for fear of being wrong. But I’d say it’s really important that you are vocal and that you do share your insights with the agency because they aren’t always right. And the reason for that is that they might have a lot of experience across the different clients and so they’re providing you with strategies that have worked with other people that they have worked with, or things that they have friends, but they don’t work at your company. And so there’s specific insights that you have as an employee at your company, especially if you’ve worked there for years or if you’ve worked in an industry for years that you have that they may not have. And that can include things like keywords that work for your specific company, your products and services.

You know what CPLs are realistic for your specific product and industry versus what blanket averages they might be seeing. They might be coming up with a strategy that’s against your values. For example, they might want to set up a competitor campaign where they will work really hard after competitors. But that’s not your company’s philosophy. That’s not something that you want to do. And or you might just feel like the ad isn’t as optimized as it can be. Whatever it might be. It’s just really important to share the insights that you have and to feel comfortable to speak up and not to feel that by sharing your insights and the information that you have, that you’re going to be you know holding back the agency in any way. They’re going to really value that input as well and it’s going to help them be successful as much as it will help you.

So today we talked about optimizing our ads for quality score, you know if we can optimize that quality score and make it as high as possible, you’re going to pay less per click than your competitors and your dollars are going to go further and you’ll see more ROI. Um, don’t focus on cost per lead right away. If you set a cost per lead that’s too low, then you know, you can just price yourself out and you’re not going to miss out on a lot of pipeline and close revenue. There it’s okay to question your agency if they’re matching a strategy that you’ve already tested that you that you know wouldn’t work or keywords that wouldn’t work. Or you have additional insights about what performs well for your company. Feel free to, to speak up and to vocalize that to your agency to make sure that you can position yourself for a positive ROI and set realistic expectations. So you really want to make sure that everyone is aligned and understands what they can expect from paid search and different paid search strategies.

Thank you. You know I wish you all the best of luck with your paid search campaigns and hoping all hit your ROI goals.