By Scott Fulmer
mar·ket·ing /ˈmär-kə-tiŋ/ – the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service (Merriam-Webster)
When I became a private investigator in Texas in the 1990s, the Yellow Pages was the primary method for companies to promote their services. I laugh when I think about that now. How simple and democratic it all was: an alphabetical listing of businesses in the area, by category. If you wanted to boost your visibility, you could buy a cute little rectangular Yellow Pages ad.
In the early days of the Internet, the idea of moving all that paper online sounded … so convenient. So reasonable. But simple and democratic? Well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way, did it? Boosting your company’s visibility online became a problem of algorithms, and SEO necromancers were happy to sell you the solution. To many of us old-school folks, it seemed mysterious and overwhelming. But it’s time we caught up.
It’s not simple, exactly, but getting started is easier than you think.
To master the dark art of Internet marketing, you must first understand search engines. The top search engine in the world is Google. According to ReliableSoft.net, a digital marketing firm, as of late 2019, Google had a worldwide market share of over 80% — including the majority of all mobile traffic. Google is the leading search engine in all countries and on all devices. It’s so popular we even use the word “Google” as a verb.
Bing is number two, with about 5%, and Yahoo is third, with about 2%. They exist, but you never hear anyone say, “Bing it” or “Yahoo it.” For now, in the search engine space, Google is king.
How It Works
At a fundamental level, advertising with Google and Microsoft is nothing more than creating a targeted marketing message and then using the Internet to find the right customer. If you’re not taking advantage of this type of advertising, you’re losing a substantial market share.
*A caveat about Google Ads: If you have no experience setting up an advertising campaign, you may want to begin with Google’s simpler “starter” product called Smart Campaigns (formerly AdWords Express.) You answer a few questions, and your first ad can be active in minutes. Unfortunately, Smart Campaigns takes most of the maneuverability out of the process. There’s little opportunity to adjust settings to your liking. In fact, the more you learn about Smart Campaigns, the more you’ll prefer Google Ads. For the purposes of clarity, I will refer to them as either Google or Microsoft for the remainder of this article.
Let’s look at how this works: John, a private investigator in Atlanta, offers infidelity investigations. He creates an ad on Google using keywords. His ad states: Is Your Husband Cheating? Need to Hire a Private Investigator?
Meanwhile, a woman named Ann, who lives in Atlanta, believes her husband is cheating. She wants to hire a private investigator. Ann opens Google and types hire private investigator for cheating husband. Without realizing it, Ann has used the same keywords in her query that appear in John’s ad. This triggers the ad to appear in Ann’s search results. This is all based on keywords and Google’s algorithms. Ann clicks the ad and, a short time later, calls John and ends up hiring him.
It’s as simple as that. If your ads are optimized properly, they can be a veritable goldmine. However, setting up a campaign can be both simple and, at the same time, complicated. To begin with, it’s easy to create ads and start making money. But the more you learn about the amazing capabilities of Google and Microsoft, the more complex and overwhelming they may seem.
The good news is: it’s easy to get started. Setting up an account with either Google or Microsoft is free. You pay nothing until potential customers begin clicking on your ads. Once you reach a specific threshold, Google and Microsoft begin to charge you. Google begins with a $350.00 or thirty-day threshold, whichever comes first. Microsoft begins with a $50.00 or thirty-day threshold. You decide how much you’re willing to spend. It can be as little as $10.00 a day.
Both offer free customer service. Google is primarily located in California; however, they also have service centers in India and Thailand. Accordingly, you may end up speaking with someone whose very thick accent makes communication difficult. However, in terms of job knowledge, they can answer all your questions.
Google customer service is available by telephone, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EST. They also have an email and chat option, but I’ve found their availability very limited.
In terms of customer service, Microsoft has a definite edge over Google. First, it’s staffed by native English speakers. Like Google, their phone service is only available during regular business hours. But their chat feature is open 24/7.
The processes for creating ads on Google and Microsoft are similar. In fact, if you set up ads in Google first, you can then import those ads and settings directly into Microsoft with a simple click. Unfortunately, this only works one way. You can’t import from Microsoft to Google.
After setting up your accounts, the next step is to create a campaign. A campaign is set of ad groups, keywords, and other settings. A campaign may have one or more ad groups. Ad groups are comprised of specific types of ads and their requisite settings. For example, you may have an infidelity ad group or a missing persons ad group with multiple keywords in each group.
Of course, the main aspect of ad groups are the ads. Each ad group should have at least two distinct ads. This is referred to as A/B Testing. The goal is to determine which ad appeals more to your customers.
Another key point is the different types of ads — the most common being Pay-Per-Click or PPC. With PPC ads, you pay every time a potential customer clicks your ad. You decide what your Cost-per-Click or CPC will be. You may be willing to pay a $1.25 CPC when potential customers click on your ad based on the keyword Cheating Husband. The position of your ad in Google and Microsoft is based on how your bid compares to your competitor’s bids. For instance, if you bid $1.25 CPC on the keyword How to Catch Him Cheating, your ad will probably be on the third page of Google. You’d have to bid $4.03 CPC to get your ad on the first page.
Upon clicking your ad, the potential customer is taken to your website or landing page. A landing page is a webpage separate from your website and focused specifically on your marketing campaign.
Equally important are Call-Only ads. This type of ad only appears on mobile devices capable of making phone calls. When a potential customer clicks your ad it automatically phones your business number. Microsoft does not currently offer Call-Only ads; however, they plan to in the near future.
Another important element of creating your ad campaign is choosing keywords. Let’s consider John the private investigator’s ad: “Is Your Husband Cheating? Need to Hire a Private Investigator?” The keywords in the ad include cheating, husband cheating, private investigator, and hire a private investigator. Your ad should contain keywords that potential customers use when searching Google or Microsoft for your services. With this in mind, you might have more than a hundred keywords in a single ad group. For instance, infidelity, unfaithful, adultery, cheating husband, cheating wife, etc.
If this all sounds complicated that’s only because it is. And I haven’t even brought up ad extensions, remarketing, dynamic ads, etc. But don’t let that dissuade you from taking advantage of advertising on Google and Microsoft, regardless of the categories of investigative services you provide or the clients you serve. In the final analysis, strategic advertising on Google and Microsoft allows even a one-person private investigations firm to compete with the larger firms and reach the right customers for them.
About the author:
Utah private investigator Scott Fulmer is the principal and lead investigator at Intermountain PI, the premiere private investigation firm throughout Utah and the Intermountain West. He is host of the popular industry podcast, The Intermountain PI. Additionally, he is author of the critically acclaimed true crime memoir, Confessions of a Private Eye, available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. Scott is a decorated combat veteran of the 1990/1991 Gulf War, where he served with the famous 2nd Armored Division (Hell on Wheels). After leaving the service, he earned a degree in criminal justice and security management from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Scott has worked as a private investigator for 30 years in both the public and private sectors. In 1998, he was granted a top-secret security clearance and conducted sensitive national security background investigations for the U.S. Government. Afterwards, as a Paralegal Investigator for the State of Missouri, Scott worked criminal defense investigations for the public defender at the appellate level. In 2006 he founded his own investigation firm. He currently provides investigative services throughout Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada.