When just starting out, I recommend three promotional strategies for your VPN website: organic search, organic search, and (you guessed it) organic search.
Pay-per-click ads (PPC), whether using Google Ads or social media, may seem attractive but are ineffective and potentially costly. Try these strategies after you have a track record and some profits you can draw on.
Some gurus and freelancers will push PPC and social media strategies and campaigns, but resist their siren call. Until you have some success behind you (that may take up to a year) you are better off investing your limited time developing high-quality, fresh, converting content using the techniques on this site.
The risk of jumping into other promotion channels too early is that you can easily spread yourself too thin.
Instead of developing and regularly publishing good content, you find yourself fumbling with various ad platforms such as Google Ads and Facebook and chasing referral backlinks and posting comments on other blogs that may rarely get approved.
Those efforts can be worthwhile but should come later once you have a good thing going.
If you haven’t reached that point yet, go back to Increasing Your Visitors through Organic Search. I’m begging you for your own good.
If you have already reached that point, I offer the following advice regarding other ways to promote your website.
Introduction to Pay-per-Click Advertising (Google Ads)
Right upfront, here's an admission: after running PPC campaigns on- and off- for years in the VPN space, I am still not convinced they represent even fair value for money. It always seems that I never generate as much additional revenue as the ads cost me to run. So, what’s the point?
First, how it works:
- You sign up with an advertising platform, Google Ads being the most popular by far.
- You then draft some ad copy, those pesky ads you see among Google search engine results.
- Then you place “bids” on the keywords for which you want your ads displayed. This means setting a maximum price you are willing to pay for someone to click on your ad when they use certain keywords in a Google search.
I currently spend about 5% of my revenues on ads. Even after 5+ years of running ads (albeit on a very modest budget) I cannot tell you with certainty that they are money well spent!
That’s partly because I have not been able to bridge the gap between whether a visitor that arrived at my site via clicking an ad was the same visitor that clicked on a VPN affiliate link and then also bought my VPN partner’s product generating a commission for me.
I’ve read plenty of articles about how to bridge this gap, but they have all been confusing and I’ve been loath to engage a consultant or outsider on something I know so little about.
Unless you have a great niche idea that no one else has discovered (which is very unlikely) I highly recommend you stay away from Google Ads and other PPC methods until you’ve learned a lot about the industry your site caters to.
You can easily blow a ton of money on Google Ads and gain zilch in return. Believe me. I know from (painful) experience.
Even once you sort of know what you are doing, it’s very difficult to tie ad clicks to individual affiliate transactions, newsletter sign-ups or other successful calls to action. So, at best you only have a sense or a hunch that “the ads are working”.
Plus, it is difficult to outperform the big boys and girls who have lots of expensive analysis and tons of metrics at their disposal. This makes it very difficult to come up with better ads and, more importantly, better “bids” for the keywords you want to display ads for.
In other words, the fix is in and it is often foolish to think you can outperform larger competitors who may have full-time PPC experts on staff.
Fact: For Ads, Your VPN Affiliate Partners are Your Rivals Too
And for VPN affiliate sites like yours and mine, your competitors for ads are often not only just your competitor affiliates, but also the very same VPN companies behind the products you are trying to promote. In other words, your very own VPN partners.
You will be bidding for the same VPN-related keywords as your partners but if you get a sale you only get a percentage of what they do. Therefore, all things being equal, your VPN affiliate partners can place higher bids for the same keywords because for them the click-throughs are more lucrative.
Think about it, even if a VPN partner is willing to pay you a 30% commission, that means they get more than triple the amount of money than you from a sale they generate directly (your 30% versus their 100%).
Given that math, how can you ever expect to outperform them on ads? For every dollar of revenue in this example, they are willing to outbid you more than 3 to 1 for the same ad keywords.
Almost by definition, ads are a losing game for you as an affiliate.
Read that again. It’s a sobering reality check about PPC ads. Almost by definition, ads are a losing game for you as an affiliate.
This means you must somehow equal the playing field, either by writing better ad copy than them or by finding hidden gem keywords that have eluded your competitors.
Both are tall orders, especially in highly competitive markets.
And even if you gain an advantage, it doesn't take long for competitors or your partners to start emulating your ad copy or to discover what keywords you use, especially if they can afford the premium version of tools such as Alexa, Keysearch, SimilarWeb, SEMRush and SpyFu.
If you still want to take the plunge, here’s the advice I can offer on Google Ads.
Preparing Google Ads
Rather than immediately go to Google Ads and start composing and serving ads, some preparation is in order.
Elements of a Google Ad
First, make sure you understand the “rules”. Not just about what ads are not allowed, but what the elements are that make up an ad and how long the text of each element can be.
Google Ads has tons of good information you can check out for yourself, so let me just give you the bottom line basics you need.
- Final URL – the landing page for your ad. As per Google Ads, “The final URL is the URL that people reach after clicking your ad. It should match what your ad promotes.” This URL isn’t actually displayed in the ad, so it can be long and ugly if needed (for example, if the URL contains tracking codes etc.)
- Headline 1 – this text appears at the top of your ad. It can be up to 30 characters.
- Headline 2 – this text appears after Headline 1 at the top of your ad. It can also be up to 30 characters. For web search, it will be separated from Headline 1 by a dash symbol (-) while on mobile devices it may wrap to the second line of the ad.
- Display path – these elements make up the displayed URL in the ad. This displayed URL can be the same as the Final URL or be substantially different if it is for the same domain (example.com). It can be up to 30 characters, splittable into 2 fields of 15 characters each.
- Description – this text appears below the display path and can be up to 80 characters in total. This is a somewhat like an ad version of your posts’ meta descriptions.
You can see all these elements in the screenshot below of the Google Ads ad composer.
Plan Your Ads Top Down
As mentioned, it is very tempting to start drafting ads immediately in Google Ads.
After all, you can draft an ad in about 2 minutes. Two headlines, a description, a landing page and matching displayed URL and bingo you have an ad.
But chances are you will have an ineffective ad.
Instead, start with the big picture and drill down.
Google Ads is organized as follows and for a reason:
Campaign > Ad Group > Ad > Keywords
First, segment your market. My site covered several topics and an initial mistake I made was to draft a single ad with the same landing page on my website that was trying to cater to all the segments.
Divide your market as much as you can. You are better off having 10 ultra-targeted ads than 1 broad ad even for the same amount of total ad budget.
Google Ads lets you create different Ad Groups in which you can divide ads for different target markets.
This makes sense as you want to be able to organize your ads and keywords around these different segments. This also lets you see how effective each segment is or not.
Brainstorm Away from Google Ads
Next, start brainstorming some ideas offline, away and outside of Google Ads.
Whether in Word, Google Docs or with pen and paper, start writing down some themes and ideas as well as some keywords associated with them.
Think about what the related landing pages on your website would be. These could be existing pages or pages that you plan to draft and publish, perhaps especially tailored for the ad campaign(s).
Then try your hand at some headlines and descriptions, making sure that they match the content of the intended VPN landing pages.
Keep refining your ideas in this way until you think you have some good materials.
Then, using your web browser’s Incognito mode, type some of your keyword ideas into Google Search.
Use the ads you see displayed beside the search results to get further ideas and inspiration. Expand and refine your ideas accordingly.
Rinse and repeat until you are even more satisfied with your ideas.
I would then recommend that you put it all aside for a day or two. After this time has passed, look at your ideas with fresh eyes, repeating steps above as necessary and further refine your ideas.
It is simply too easy to spend money on ineffective Google Ads campaigns. I know you are anxious to start promoting your site, but at every stage when you think you are ready, pause and sleep on it at least one more night. It is better to be deliberate and conscientious.
Only then should you start thinking about actually going into Google Ads and start typing your ideas into the ad composer.
Stop Reading Expert Advice and Just Do It
As with so many things related to your website, it is easy to overdo reading articles on other websites about “tricks and tips” for Google Ads, getting all excited, typing ideas directly into Google Ads and activating your campaigns. This can be counterproductive as there are hundreds of gurus touting their secret formulae and you can get lost just reading about the various techniques.
That time is better invested in simply doing. The truth is that you just have to learn through the school of hard knocks.
Do read some of Google Ads’ own materials. And at the start, keep your ad budgets low. If you set a budget of $500 a day, Google Ads will have no trouble accommodating you.
Start slow, learn and be guided by the data. Then tweak your ads and budgets slowly over time.
The Right Landing Pages
It is easy and a mistake to point everyone to your home page. You should have specific landing pages tailored to specific VPN segments unless your site is already ultra-specific or caters only to a single VPN market segment.
People clicking on ads expect to arrive at materials directly related to the ad, not a general “hard sell” page for your entire website.
Top Tip - Google Ads has a Change History feature which displays the last 50 sets of changes you have made to any ads. You can use these to undo any poor decisions you made or to investigate why conversions went up or down.
How to Bid on Keywords
Now that you think you have some good ad copy, here comes the even harder part: developing a list of keywords to bid on and determining how much to bid on them.
Eliminate Bias and Take Yourself out of the Equation
It’s great that you have done some brainstorming. But you know what?
What you think are the best keywords probably aren’t. Let Google make that assessment for you.
If you know or can find out what are the leading websites relevant to each of your market segments, Google can generate the corresponding keywords accordingly.
In Google Ads, choose the wrench icon at upper-right, then under the Planning heading select Keyword Planner Tool.
Among the options presented, choose Get metrics and forecasts for your keywords. Above this, you could select Find new keywords but this option limits you to 3 keywords only.
Enter the keywords you brainstormed and researched, and select Get Started.
Determining the Best Keywords for Your Ads
Once the results are displayed, select the tab Historical Metrics. This will present the list of keywords together with important data about each keyword’s average number of monthly searches, level of competition and estimated “top of page” bid prices.
Sort these results by Avg. monthly searches to see the most popular keywords searched. It will be no surprise that the most popular searches also usually correspond to the highest level of Competition (the next column in the displayed results) and correspondingly high Top of page bid prices.
You can download this data by selecting Download Keywords towards the upper-right and I encourage you to do so. As you may have with many files over time, name the file carefully. Adding the name of your intended landing page is usually a good idea.
I then recommend you sleep on it at least one day (to prevent any stupid gung-ho decisions), go through the downloaded list(s) and highlight or bold the keywords that you think are most relevant.
You are now starting to discover what the best keywords are for your ads.
You may be surprised about the way people search. For example, proper grammar is not alive and well for web search keywords. Therefore, it is important to eliminate yourself (and your biases) from the keyword selection process.
You should be focusing and selecting the keywords that are specific and will hopefully result in good conversion rates. Driving traffic to your site may sound good but if every ad-driven visitor leaves without any engagement (“bounces”), you will have spent money for no lasting benefit.
The process of bidding on keywords is as much art as science. Pick bids based on the data you have gathered and then monitor your campaigns in Google Ads to see how they are doing in terms of ads being clicked.
Adjusting Keyword Bids in Google Ads
From time-to-time, check the data for your ads and adjust your campaigns. Here’s how.
- In Google Analytics (not Google Ads) select Acquisitions > Campaigns > Paid KWs (or Acquisitions > Google Ads > Keywords).
- For a timeframe, you can select All Time or a shorter period but not too short, so choose 90 days or 30 days at a minimum.
- Check various criteria by sorting columns such as Goal Conversion Rate (but ignoring results for very low number of hits) or Time on Page (but ignoring results with very low numbers of hits). Best is a page with high conversions and high conversion rates.
- For the keywords with good numbers, open a new browser tab in Google Ads, go to your Keywords list and use the Search (it looks like a magnifying glass) to isolate the keyword and its variants.
- Adjust bids as necessary: i.e., by bumping them up or down. Do this in small increments, not by doubling bids for example.
The materials you just read will give you a good basis to start, but Google Ads is another world unto itself, just like WordPress, SEO, social media and every aspect of your VPN blogging efforts.
This complexity at every turn is what makes it a tough, lonely existence at times. But I suggest you now know enough to jump in and try some modest ad campaigns.
After you have learned the ropes a bit, you can check out the excellent (but advanced) training materials available at Udemy.