“We’ve got about $15,000 to spend on PPC to grow our Shopify site. Think you can get us results with that?”

That’s what a prospect (now a customer) of ours said to us back in November.

While $15K isn’t a massive media budget, it’s definitely not something to spit on. We were confident that we could help him grow his Shopify store.

And that’s when he hit us with, “but we’ve never run any ads, we need to be live in a week, and our eCommerce website gets little to no traffic.”


ughh
 

Here we go again.

Just when I thought this would be a walk in the park, it just as quickly became a jog through a minefield.

No data to base our decisions on.

No transaction history to see what products were hot (or not).

Nada.

But, being the hard-headed marketers that we are, we decided to dive in and see if we could make it work.

Spoiler: It worked, and the following case study walks you through exactly how we used paid advertising to help someone in the outdoor clothing & equipment industry generate $139,033.42 in revenue over a 21 day period—during the most competitive time of the year.

Here’s exactly how we did it.

Note: No time to read? Click here for a quick visual summary.

Turning $15K into $139,033

Before I dive into the details, I need to be upfront and honest with you about something: our customer was selling high-quality products from trusted brands.

This gave us an edge because visitors didn’t need to be sold on quality. They already knew & trusted the brands he carried.

Don’t expect the same results if you’re selling cheap products no one has ever heard about.

On we go.

The Backstory

Here’s where things get interesting…

Mike (not his real name) is in the outdoor clothing & equipment space.

He has two offline stores (yes, these still exist) and, due to a loyal customer base, his stores do well without him having to dump a load of money into marketing.

The big question mark was growing the eCommerce side of his business.

And to be brutally honest, it was pretty much non-existent at this point.

All he had was a fresh Shopify install, a few odd sales here and there, and a flat-line of traffic that looked something like this:

monthly shopify traffic
Traffic stats for the month of September—apart from a spike on and around September 5th, daily traffic never passed 75 unique visitors.

 

He had tried Facebook ads and a small Google Adwords campaign in the past, but never got any significant results.

This time around, Mike wanted to hand off his paid advertising budget to a team that could manage it for him and generates the kind of results he was looking for.

That’s where we came in.

 

gif source

The challenge?

His $15K ad budget was for Black Friday/Cyber Monday and Boxing Day, the two busiest periods of the year for eCommerce businesses.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. People literally browse the web with their wallet in hand during these crazy sales.

Valid point.

But it also meant advertisers would have their wallets out too. In other words, it was going to cost a whole lot more than usual to get visitors to our client’s website.

More advertisers competing for the same ad space = increased advertising costs.

And here’s the kicker…

We had less than a week to get these campaigns up and running.

The intel

Of all the things we did during this three-week advertising blitz, taking a few hours up front to plan & strategize had by far the biggest impact on results.

Being that this was a new account, we scheduled a meeting with Mike and his team to learn more about the inner workings of his business.

The first thing we did was go through our Facebook Ad Targeting checklist (FAT checklist for short) to better understand their ideal customer:

I know, I know…it looks boring.

But our FAT checklist gives us valuable insight into the minds of our intended audience (you know, the people were going to spend loads of money getting in front of).

Things like:

  • demographics – age, gender, location
  • interests – brand affinities, books & magazines they like, activities they enjoy, etc.
  • behavior – purchase trends, mobile device usage, job role
  • where they spend time online – websites, social networks, groups, forums
  • and more

Once we had a clear understanding of Mike’s ideal customer, we started asking questions that would give us more insight into his business.

We asked questions about Mike’s:

  • best selling products
  • average profit margins
  • average order value
  • lifetime value of a customer
  • customer acquisition cost

and more.

The answers & insights he shared with us were gold, and from there we were able to determine:

  • Budget allocation – both sale periods were equally popular, so we decided to split the budget evenly among both sale periods for their eCommerce store ($7.5K each sale)
  • Hot products – jackets & parkas were popular and profit margins were healthy, so we decided to focus our efforts here
  • Existing email list – we had access to an email list of about 8,000 people, which was a mix of existing customers (from Mike’s physical stores) and newsletter subscribers
  • Existing facebook data – although limited, existing facebook advertising data from an old campaign showed us that carousel ads might be a way for us to get cheap clicks
  • Decent search volume – after quick keyword research, we noticed there was enough search volume around brand & product related keywords to make PPC on Google Adwords a great fit

Everything sounded good, but there was one factor that we all agreed needed to be addressed, and fast…

The elephant in the room

Google Analytics data showed us that Mike’s website conversion rate (visitor to sale %) was just over half a percentage point.

Yikes.

This had to be fixed before spending even a dollar on paid ads.

It was time to acknowledge the elephant in the room…

elephant in the room
Traffic to sale conversion rate was the elephant in the room.

 

To put things into perspective, Adobe’s Mobile Retail Report (2016) shows that the average conversion rate for desktop users and smartphone users is 2.8% and 1.0% respectively:

retail conversion rates
With conversion rates between devices ranging from 1% to 3%, we knew the 0.5% conversion rate we were dealing with would hurt our success. – img src

 

To address the problem, we gave Mike’s web gal a laundry list of things to fix on their Shopify site in order to improve the overall shopping experience. Things like:

  • improved product filtering
  • detailed product descriptions
  • better call-to-action text
  • checkout page content

and a few other tweaks we knew would help boost their conversion rate without the need for A/B testing.

We didn’t bother with button colors or minor aesthetic tweaks because we were looking for major improvements to their site wide conversion rate.

Within a day or two, Mike’s web developer had implemented all the changes we had asked for and then some.

I’ve never met her, but I’m 99% sure she’s a unicorn.

Alex's web gal probably looks like this.
Mike’s web gal probably looks like this.

 

With the only red flag out of the way, it was time to put the plan in motion.

The plan

First, we had access to a decent email list which, as you’ll see later, had a huge impact on the results we were able to generate.

Second, we knew Facebook Advertising could be a game-changer if we were able to nail the targeting down and get our ads in front of the right people. If only we had gone through a persona discovery exercise… 😉

Third, the volume of people searching for product & brand-related keywords was large enough for us to make Google Adwords a big part of our strategy. It would be the perfect compliment to Facebook Ads, and the search volume for these terms would inevitably be much higher during Black Friday & Boxing day.

And lastly, we had a decent budget when you consider the timeframe—$15K over 21 days.

The last thing to do before jumping into campaign creation was to set an initial budget. We decided to go with the following budget split:

  • Black Friday/Cyber Monday – $4K on Google Adwords, $4K on Facebook Ads
  • Boxing Day – $4K on Google Adwords, $4K on Facebook Ads

With no account history and no time to mess around, we simply set a budget and pulled the trigger knowing that we could re-align the budgets at any time.

We also agreed that we’d spend more heavily on the actual sale days (Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day) than on the days leading up to and after these sales (for obvious reasons).

Time for specifics…

Targeting our ideal customer with Facebook Ads

For starters, we decided to go with a two-phased approach by targeting both cold and warm traffic on Facebook:

  • Cold traffic – made up of people that had never heard of or visited Mike’s website before
  • Warm traffic – made up of people that had visited Mike’s website at least once in the past little while or was already part of his email list.

Here’s how we set all this up in the Facebook Ads Manager.

Campaign setup

Being that the goal was to drive targeted traffic to Mike’s website, there was only one logical choice when it came to choosing the overall objective for our campaign:

facebook campaign objective

Traffic.

This lets Facebook know to optimize the delivery of our ads so that we’d get the most traffic possible.

We weren’t interested in likes, shares, or generating leads in this case. It was all about targeted traffic to specific product pages.

Side note: Always choose the campaign objective that’s in line with your marketing goals when setting up your Facebook Ad Campaigns. Read through all the options before choosing—not doing so could lead to a huge waste of marketing budget because Facebook will optimize for something you don’t care about!

After telling Facebook we wanted to optimize for traffic, it was time to set up our ad sets.

Ad set strategy

To target cold traffic (people that have never heard of you), you have to put yourself in their shoes.

Luckily for us, we had already done that with the help of our FAT checklist.

First, we discovered brands that Mike’s ideal customer identified with, so we created an interest-based ad set around those:

targeting brands facebook advertising

We knew that if people liked at least one of these brands, there was a good chance they would like Mike’s jackets, parkas, and other gear too.

Then, because we had a good idea which activities & hobbies our ideal customers were into, we created an interest-based ad set off of certain books, magazines & groups they might be interested in:

magazine targeting facebook ads

And last but not least, we used Facebook’s Custom Audience feature to upload Mike’s existing customer database, made up of customers from his physical stores and a few newsletter subscribers:

facebook custom audience ad targeting

From there, we were able to leverage Facebook’s Lookalike Audience feature to create an ad set based on people that closely resembled the existing customer database we uploaded:

facebook lookalike audience targeting

225,000 people to be exact. Can you say goldmine?!

In fact, this lookalike audience generated the most revenue overall ($32,413 to be precise), and not leveraging Facebook’s fancy lookalike audience tactic would have been a huge mistake.

We’re able to do this because Facebook collects an insane amount of data on all its users.

facebook is the new big brother
Facebook is the new Big Brother – img src

 

Scary I know, but when it comes to paid advertising, I guess you can say I’m okay with it.

Tip: If you have a decent sized email list for your business, consider uploading it to Facebook in order to create a lookalike audience—it’s one of the best ways to scale a Facebook Advertising Campaign.

With these three different cold traffic segments (and already being in a race against the clock), we were comfortable with our potential audience size.

In the end, our ad set strategy for cold traffic looked a little something like this:

  • Ad set 1 – Brands – Men – Carousel Ad for Men’s Jackets
  • Ad set 2 – Brands – Women – Carousel Ad for women’s Jackets
  • Ad set 3 – Books & Magazines – Men – Carousel Ad for Men’s Jackets
  • Ad set 4 – Books & Magazines – Women – Carousel Ad for Women’s Jackets
  • Ad set 5 – Email Lookalike Audience – Men – Carousel Ad for Men’s Jackets
  • Ad set 6 – Email Lookalike Audience – Women – Carousel Ad for Women’s Jackets

Now, a lot of Facebook marketers like to get uber precise when it comes to targeting on Facebook—especially when it comes to demographics, placement, and device targeting.

But the truth is, you don’t really know who’s going to resonate with your ads until you launch them.

Men on desktops.

Women on tablets.

You just don’t know until you try.

Whenever we’ve tried to be super precise with our targeting, our campaigns have always been mediocre. But when we keep things broad and let the data tell us what’s working, our campaigns have always crushed it.

That’s why we usually leave age, gender, and even placement the way they are by default (aside from audience network, we usually turn that off).

You can always drill down and be more precise once you accumulate data.

Tip: In our case, we set our ad sets to target either men or women because we were selling a different product to each gender. If what you’re promoting is only for a specific age or gender, then it’s okay to be specific. But in most cases, we’ve found it’s best to leave gender set to all and leave the age range as it is (18-65+).

That said, let’s looked at how we set up the actual ads.

Ad creation

If you’re paying attention, you probably noticed from our ad set naming convention that we chose to go with carousel ads for cold traffic.

Wanna know why?

Simple.

Carousel ads allowed us to show off our client’s hottest products in a highly engaging manner and, thanks to cost per click bidding, only pay when someone clicks through to learn more.

In Facebook’s own words, carousel ads can help decrease cost per conversion, lower cost per click, and allow you to send people to different pages on your website:

facebook carousel ad

We created 2 different carousel ads for each of our 6 ad sets, showcasing the different jackets & parkas on sale, but with distinct differences.

Carousel 1 had a long description because we figured people that had never heard of Mike’s online store would need more details before buying:

facebook carousel ad with long description

Carousel 2 had a short description but focused more on the aspects of the sale (ie: discount, free shipping & returns, etc.) to appeal to avid online shoppers and deal hunters:

facebook carousel ad with short description

Luckily our client had great product images, so we simply used the 6 hottest Jackets & Parkas for each gender. Each product image on the carousel linked directly to the specific product on the website, which kept the experience seamless for website visitors

In order to attribute sales & revenue back to specific ads & ad sets, we used Facebook’s Standard Events tracking feature:

facebook standard events

and Facebook’s Google Analytics URL builder:

facebook url builder

That’s all we needed to track every single website visit back to the specific ad that sent them there in the first place.

The one metric that mattered

When it comes to Facebook Ads, click through rate and cost per click is important, but nothing is more important than cost per purchase.

This was our one metric that mattered when it came to deciding whether or not to turn off an ad or ad set.

Knowing Mike’s average order value and profit margins on jackets & parkas, we were able to work out how much we could spend to acquire a new customer while still remaining profitable.

Any ad that didn’t make the cut got turned off, like this one:

cost-per-purchase

Tip: You’ll have way more losing ads than winning ads. That’s okay, because you only need a few winners to make Facebook Advertising worthwhile. Don’t give up before you reach the jackpot at the end of the rainbow!

Now, just because we managed to get our ideal customers to see our ad on Facebook and click through to our client’s website, it didn’t mean they were all ready to buy right then and there.

That’s where a solid warm traffic strategy came into play.

Warm Traffic Targeting

We used Facebook’s custom audiences feature to create a pool of people that had visited our client’s website in the last 7 days but hadn’t bought anything.

Instead of showing these people carousel ads, we designed banner ads that reminded people of the current sale, the available discounts, the fact that there was free shipping and that they had to act fast or miss out on the awesome sale.

In other words, we played on people’s FOMO (fear of missing out).

If anyone was in the market for a new jacket and had already been to Mike’s Shopify site, you best believe they were seeing our ads over the next few days, enticing them to take action:

facebook retargeting banner

We didn’t have to spend a whole lot of money here (retargeting on Facebook is cheap), and the results were great (more on that later).

We also targeted people that added products to their cart but didn’t check out:

cart retargeting banner facebook

(Kudos to Molly Pittman from DigitalMarketer.com the “Did life get in the way?” ad copy hack)

Again, we played on FOMO here but with more specific messaging that reminded people their cart was only saved for a limited time. Keep in mind it’s extremely rare that someone buys a product the first time they visit a website, let alone a jacket that can cost hundreds of dollars.

Many people came back several times (as many as 8) before purchasing, and we scooped up many sales that we would’ve lost had we not retargeted past visitors.

Lastly, we served Mike’s customer list the same ads above. Even though they got frequent updates about the sales & promotions via email, we wanted to make sure we stayed top of mind while they were browsing Facebook so that they would remember to revisit the website and purchase.

But we didn’t just rely on Facebook for driving sales…

Using Google Adwords to target high-intent shoppers

Whereas Facebook allowed us to target people based on interests, demographics, and behaviors, pay per click on Google Adwords allowed us to target people actively searching for what Mike sold on his website.

Being that our ad budget was limited, we decided to stick with longer tail product & brand-related keywords in order to save money and pay for qualified traffic only.

We knew search volume for these terms would be lower, but we also knew that the surge in online shopping in and around Black Friday/Cyber Monday and Boxing Day would more than make up for it.

We would’ve loved to run shopping ads because we’ve had great success with those in the past, but due to lack of time and our client’s huge product inventory, we had to settle for regular PPC ads (expanded text ads) with the usual extensions that are available to you:

adwords expanded text ad example

Although you can’t see the entire ad in the screenshot above (for privacy reasons), we used sitelinks like:

  • men’s jackets
  • women’s jackets
  • youth jackets

along with callouts like:

  • free shipping over $99
  • free returns
  • officially licensed gear

and more to improve the clickthrough rates of our ads and take up more real estate on the search engine results page.

We also tested adding scarcity to the ad copy by using a countdown timer:

adwords ad with countdown timer

Let’s just say this one did very well towards the end of each sale, again playing on people’s FOMO.

Overall, we ended up paying a lot more money per click with Adwords than with Facebook ads, but we generated over $25,000 in sales in a 3-week period, which can be attributed to:

  • Ad copy that addressed the benefits of our client’s products rather than the features
  • Using callout extensions effectively to increase click-through rates and improve quality score, ultimately reducing CPCs
  • Running ads overnight when most advertisers stopped in order to get cheaper clicks
  • Creating scarcity with time-sensitive call to actions and countdown timers (ie: 30% ends soon. 3 days left. Shop now)

That was our PPC strategy in a nutshell. Nothing complicated. Just great bid budget management and enticing ads that got people to take action.

The results after spending $15K in 21 days

To put things into perspective, Mike’s website was getting about 500 visitors per week before we started the ad campaigns.

I know, I know…that’s technically not zero traffic. But it might as well be when you’re selling $300+ products.

In contrast, his website averaged 21,000 visitors per week during the 3 weeks we ran the paid advertising campaigns. We paid for that traffic of course, but as you’ll see below it was well worth it.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale Results

During the first sale (7 days), we spent $3,934.11 on Facebook Ads to send 16,608 visitors to the Shopify store.

I’ll save you the math—that comes out to about $0.24 per visitor.

On Google Adwords for the same period, we spent $3027.39 and generated 1594 visitors, which comes out to $1.90 per visitor.

The result?

$70,989.31 in gross sales revenue from $6961.50 in total ad spend!

That comes out to roughly 10X our client’s ad budget during this first sale.

I know what you’re thinking—that $70,989.31 is gross revenue, so it’s not all profit. There a ton of factors that come into play like profit margins, the cost of goods sold, and our management fees (that’s how we keep the lights on!).

But profit margins, cost of goods sold and management fees aside, the Black Friday sale was still highly profitable.

And Boxing Day was very similar…

Boxing Day Sale Results

For Boxing Day, we ran ads for a total of 14 days leading up to and just after December 26th in order to make sure we took advantage of early shoppers and last-minute deal hunters.

Armed with the insight gained from the first sale, we were able to improve our results across the board:

  • On Facebook, we spent $3,711.14 to generate 29,083 visitors which comes out to an average of $0.13 per visitor
  • On Google Adwords, we spent $4267.54 to generate 2,629 visitors which comes out to an average of $1.62 per visitor
  • Click through rates on both channels more than doubled, thanks to knowing what copy & creative worked best with our target audience
  • Our Boxing Day ad budget of $7,979.08 ended up generating $68,044.11 in gross revenue.

So even though important metrics like click-through rate and cost per click improved the second time around, revenue generated was just a bit lower than during the first sale.

We’ve attributed this decrease in revenue to the nature of Boxing Day coming after Black Friday and Christmas. A lot of money had already been spent and we were maxing out both our cold & warm traffic audiences on Facebook.

Next year, we’re going to look at spending more heavily up front and taper off towards Boxing day to maximize ad budget even further.

Overall results

Across both sales, total revenue came in at $139,033.42 with $14,940.18 in ad spend across Facebook & Adwords.

Revenue kept climbing even after the ads were turned off, hitting the $145K mark due to increased brand awareness & recognition.

This is likely a result of the warm traffic retargeting ads we ran on Facebook to let people know they still had items in their cart, coupled with the abandoned cart email series we helped Mike and his team set up on Mailchimp before launching the campaigns.

In terms of where the revenue came from, it was a 70%-30% split from Facebook Ads & Adwords respectively, with just about the same amount of budget spent on each channel.

However, this doesn’t paint a completely accurate picture.

Yes, Adwords was more expensive than Facebook ads.

Yes, Adwords drove less traffic and generated less revenue than Facebook ads.

But many visitors from Adwords ended up coming back a few days later through our warm traffic retargeting ads on Facebook to buy something.

In other words. both channels played their role in the overall success of our campaigns, and discounting Adwords because Facebook ads were cheaper would have been a grave mistake.

Truth is, it takes many touch points with a customer in order to make a sale, and a good mix of PPC and social retargeting worked wonders in this case.

And even though the main focus was sales & revenue, spending $14,940.18 on ads also led to:

  • Over 700 new buyers added to their email list
  • 610 new likes on their Facebook page
  • Ads being shared over 82 times, amplifying their reach and increasing brand awareness
  • Significant growth of Custom Facebook Audiences

Conclusion

The important things to remember when it comes to running PPC campaigns for Shopify or eCommerce sites in general are:

  1. Take the time necessary upfront to understand your ideal customer inside out
  2. Leverage any existing data you have, such as customer databases or email lists
  3. Retarget warm traffic to create several touch points before giving up on a sale

These three things allowed us to acquire new customers at just over $25 for an eCommerce website that had average order values just shy of $200.

Your numbers might not work right out of the gate (ours didn’t) but after a few days, you’ll know for sure if you’re onto a winning campaign.

more traffic leads and sales are just around the corner

visual summary

webrunner-infographic-og-compressor

Ben heads up content marketing at Webrunner Media. He is a full-stack marketer, writer, entrepreneur, and hockey player. Connect with him on Twitter.