The Ultimate Guide To Paid Search On Google Ads For Managed Service Providers

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    Generating leads for your MSP can be a challenge. You spend so much time managing employees, making sure customer support tickets are answered, procuring hardware, and defending against cyber threats, there’s hardly time to worry about networking and doing things like posting on social media. However, you’d like to grow faster, and due to some success with existing clients, a few extra dollars of budget are available to help acquire some new customers. Digital advertising accounts for around 60% of advertising budgets in today’s world and is trending towards a 75% share as digital-only grows in importance. Ad spend is concentrated pretty heavily around a few select platforms. The largest driver of that spend is Google, accounting for 28% of digital ad spend, with Facebook close behind at 25%, and Amazon lagging far behind at 10%, the remaining share is divided amongst various platforms. For managed service providers, the 3 platforms you need to be advertising on are Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Google is the most intent-driven platform of the 3 and the one your MSP needs to master first before expanding into more brand-oriented spending to build your top of funnel on social media. In this post, we’ll guide you on how to leverage paid search on Google Ads for your MSP.

    Before We Get Started

    Running paid search campaigns on Google Ads is an extremely deep topic with many complexities and circumstantial settings. For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume you are running a small starter budget campaign targeting people in your local city. This article will provide generic advice and settings for that scenario. For more personalized advice check out our Google Ads Management service description.

    digital ad spend by platform pie chart
    Source: Statista

    How To Use Paid Search For MSP Lead Generation

    Paid search is best used for MSP lead generation by focusing on bottom-of-funnel intent-driven keywords. These keywords are going to be highly contested nationwide, and for most MSPs, infeasible to rank for via SEO out of the gate. When customers are searching for terms like “IT Support Company” you want to be as close to the top as possible! The best way to get there for smaller MSPs is to buy your way to the top of the search results via running paid search campaigns on Google Ads.

    google ad for a local information technology company
    Paid Search Ad For a Local MSP

    Running paid search campaigns is not as easy as just selecting a few keywords and entering your credit card information though. In fact, this is a pretty easy way to spend a lot of money in a hurry, with 0 results. I’ve audited many ad accounts for MSPs and other B2B tech companies where an inexperienced agency, or an in-house person without paid search experience set up campaigns that were destined to fail from the onset.

    If you’re like a lot of MSP owners, you’re a member of some sort of peer group, or at the very least have a few other MSP owners and techs at other companies you chit chat with and have heard that AdWords is a big driver of success for their company. You’ve probably also seen people bad-mouthing Google Ads on the internet, possibly on r/MSP. The truth is, they are both right. Google Ads can be a very powerful channel when mastered, but it’s a lot easier to do it wrong than do it right.

    Reasons Paid Search Campaigns Fail

    There are several reasons paid search campaigns fail that I see over and over again. Running paid search campaigns on Google Ads is a very powerful way to generate a sustainable source of leads that can kick the growth of an MSP into overdrive, but throwing money at the channel before you’re ready will lead to disappointment. You’ve got to check a few boxes before beginning your advertising campaigns. The top reasons I see paid search campaigns fail are:

    • Poor market positioning
    • Poor digital presence
    • Poor website quality
    • Poor landing page quality
    • Poor ad account quality

    You’ll notice that poor ad account quality is the last factor on the list and that’s with good reason. A lot of the time paid search campaigns fail for reasons that aren’t even related to the ad account in question. MSPs just started advertising way too soon and had poor marketing foundations to begin with. Google Ads is competitive, and people will comparison shop, not everyone will, but the desirable clients that are quality leads will, and if you want to connect with those types of companies then you have to be competitive in the marketplace.

    Market Positioning And Paid Search Strategy

    As an MSP it can be tempting to just take on any business that comes your way, as you grow you may put minimum head counts such as “greater than 10 pcs”. This might work for smaller MSPs, but as you grow and the complexity of operations increases you almost have to raise your prices to continue that growth and start to move upmarket. The key to this is developing positioning that allows you to charge a premium. You’ve got to evolve your MSP into thinking about the types of customers you can best serve and use those customers as a spearhead for growth. Geoffrey Moore stressed the importance of this concept in his now influential book, Crossing the Chasm.

    We have an MSP here in the Jacksonville area called DPC technology. They now serve customers in a variety of verticals and have grown like a weed, but to cross the chasm of initial growth, they focused on managing IT for dentists. In fact, they used to be called Dental PC, but re-branded to DPC technology after they secured a stranglehold on the dental market and decided to diversify from there.

    Looking at your business, the market you want to target, your competitors, and developing a market positioning is one of the critical success factors we see for paid search campaigns. This allows you to focus your advertising on budgets on more specific keywords, create landing pages that support that positioning, and increase your conversion rates.

    Paid Search And MSP Digital Presence

    I recently spoke to an MSP out in Texas about doing some SEO for them and one of the first things I pointed out to them is they didn’t have any social media pages! I get it, social media has no shortage of drawbacks and risks, and MSP owners in particular often have a particular distaste for social media due to privacy concerns. Potential MSP customers however, often don’t feel the same way. Millennials, who are social media power users, are increasingly moving into positions of purchasing authority, or at the very least initial procurement research, and they will absolutely check a companies social media presence and use it as a trust factor for determining the legitimacy of a business. Boomers are much more likely to rely on and trust digital reviews on Google, Yelp, or other review sites. These aren’t limited to generations either. See this article on how generations shop for more insights. MSPs need to make sure they have at least minimally active social media profiles with quality on-brand graphics and a handful of reviews on Google, or other review sites, before getting started on paid search.

    msp with branded social media helps with paid search campaigns

    Paid Search And MSP Website Quality

    Smaller MSPs significantly undervalue their website and its impact on digital marketing success. You can see from this poll we conducted of website spend by MSPs on Reddit and the IT Pool Party slack group that most MSPs spend under $2,000 on their MSP websites. This poll might be a touch biased on the low end, but you can also see that at least 10% of MSPs spent $25,000 or more on their websites.

    If you’d like to contribute to the poll you can respond here:
    How much did you spend on your MSPs website?

    msp website cost survey results

    Qualitatively I can tell you that the majority of MSPs don’t generate any leads from their website and it’s not surprising to see that the majority of them invest almost nothing in it. You get what you pay for, and as someone who has looked at a lot of MSP websites, I can say for certain there is a direct correlation between website quality and the number of employees an MSP has according to their company LinkedIn profile.

    A quality website will have thought put towards branding, site structure, copywriting, photography, and be optimized for lead generation. This post isn’t about websites, but suffice it to say that having a quality website is a key prerequisite for success in paid search.

    In many cases you’ll send someone to a PPC dedicated landing page as part of your campaigns, however, visitors will often do one of two things as part of their conversion journey.

    1. Open up a new browser tab and google the company name and look at the website while they are on the PPC dedicated landing page.
    2. Close the browser, write down the name of the company, continue to do research and then visit the website directly later.

    In both cases, the website can have an impact on a paid search campaign.

    Paid Search Campaigns And Landing Page Quality

    The next significant factor, and probably the most important one of them all, is the landing page that you are sending your paid search traffic to. There are a lot of factors that go into a quality landing page that are beyond the scope of this post. Some factors are:

    • A desirable offer that matches searcher intent
    • Social proof via testimonials
    • An easy way to convert
    • The information that the user needs to make a decision
    • Visual appeal
    • Clear layout
    • Persuasive copy

    Check out these 30 post-click landing pages examples for lead generation.

    Also, check out our PRESTO landing page copywriting framework.

    Landing page development and design is one of our core service offerings and we’ve helped companies generate over 35,000 conversions ranging from calls, to contact form fills, to newsletter subs, to demo requests, and more. These conversions have helped companies generate millions in new revenue for their businesses.

    Paid Search And Google Ad Account Quality

    Most of the time when someone contacts us about their Google Ads paid search campaign performance the issue is one of the upstream issues described above. That said there are almost always ways their ad account can be improved as well. Google makes it very easy for people without any paid search experience to create campaigns in just a few steps by casting an extremely wide net and leaning heavily on machine learning and automation to help the ad account find conversions.

    By default ad accounts are created in express mode or smart mode, which basically gives license to Google to treat your ad account like a shotgun. They will advertise blindly at everything remotely related to the targeting settings and let you pray for conversions. For MSPs, this can result in a ton of calls from people looking to connect with cable companies, mobile phone carriers, and a range of other tech support/it support-related queries for consumers. Yes, that means you’re getting “leads” but they’re mostly junk.

    MSPs need tighter control of their ad accounts to keep their ads focused on business IT support-related queries. To do this you need to switch your ad account to expert mode and put more work into building out your campaigns, maintaining them, and keeping up with the constant stream of changes that Google is making to the platform.

    Read more about smart mode vs expert mode in this support article.

    Hiring An Account Manager To Run Paid Search Campaigns For Your MSP

    Managing a Google Ads account takes a lot of time. Smaller budget accounts often perform much better without using automation. Automation is more effective when a pipeline is already established and there is sufficient conversion volume flowing through the account. In many cases, MSPs are going to be better off using manual bidding strategies. Manual bidding strategies need a lot more maintenance work to ensure that bids are adjusted properly to both deliver the ad campaign and have it bring in leads.

    Running a manual campaign also requires a lot of expertise and practice. Realistically this is just something a lot of MSPs don’t have in-house. A lot of in-house marketing managers are going to be more concerned with planning events, hosting webinars, posting on social media, taking care of more traditional marketing activities, and not focusing on the more technical aspects of managing paid search campaigns.

    Hiring an account manager to tune your accounts is often a far more sensible choice that will save you money and save you time in the long run when compared to attempting a do-it-yourself approach. However, if you want to go with the DIY approach, we’ve put together the following information below to help you work through the process.

    Google Ads Account Setup

    The first step will be to create an account with Google Ads. If you don’t have one yet, you can create one here. Again, by default your account will be created in express mode or smart mode. You’ll want to switch this to expert mode by click the tools icon in the top right and selecting switch to expert mode.

    YouTube video

    The Google Ads UI is changing constantly, and sometimes I haven’t seen this option available and have had to contact support to get them to switch it over to expert mode. If you don’t see the option you may need to do the same. If you’ve successfully switched over your UI should have a lot more features and configuration options and look similar to the below:

    google ads expert mode view

    Securing Your Google Ads Account

    Once you’ve swapped to expert mode, the next step will be to secure your Google Ads account by enabling multi-factor authentication and creating an allowed domains list. Click on the tools and settings icon in the top bar and click on access and security.

    access and security in google ads

    By default, you will be taken to the users tab where you can add any new users you need to your account. I recommend having at least one backup user in case your primary account is compromised or lost. Once you’ve added any new users, be sure to swap over to the security tab and enable 2-factor authentication for your account and create an allowed domains list as shown in the screenshot below. Follow the prompts to complete the multi-factor authentication setup which will periodically require you to use your phone to authenticate in addition to a password. Don’t skip this step as hackers can get access to your account and run campaigns on it and you are liable for any activity that happens on your account!!!

    enabling multi factor authentication in google ads
    Multi-factor authentication in Google Ads

    Configuring Linked Accounts

    If you have other Google Accounts such as Google Analytics, YouTube, and Search Console, now is a good time to link those accounts together to make sure you’re getting quality data flowing across accounts, and better reporting capabilities. Go to tools and settings > linked accounts. Click the details button for each of the accounts you would like to link and follow the on-screen prompts to link each of the accounts. We recommend linking:

    • Google Analytics
    • Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
    • YouTube
    • Google Search Console

    You may need to be signed in with the same Google Account you use across all of those products in order to properly link them.

    Configuring Basic Remarketing Audiences For Your Paid Search Campaigns

    Remarketing audiences are audiences of previous website visitors that you can target with additional advertising. Even if you don’t plan on advertising immediately I highly recommend you set up your remarketing audiences as soon as possible. When you create an audience you can pull website visitors from the previous 30 day period, but audiences of up to 540 days can be collected. That’s over a year’s worth of website visitors that you can keep in your remarketing audience and show additional advertisements to.

    To get started with remarketing audiences you’ll need to install a tag on your website for tracking your website’s visitors with cookies.

    1. Go To Tools and Settings
    2. Click On “Audience Manager”
    3. On the left hand side of the audience manager click “Your Data Sources”
    4. On the data sources tab click on the Google Ads tag details button
    google ads data sources

    On the next screen, you’ll have to find the tag setup accordion and expand it. There will be a few options to install the tag. You can install the tag yourself by placing the snippet manually in the code of your website or using Google Tag Manager. We highly recommend using Google Tag Manager.

    See our Guide To Establishing Web Analytics And Conversion Tracking Fundamentals for more information on Google Tag Manager and why you should use it.

    Click on the install using the Google Tag Manager option and retrieve the conversion ID for your website.

    installing google ads remarketing tag via conversion id

    You’ll need to create a couple of tags in Google Tag Manager for Google Ads, the first is the Google Ads Remarketing Tag which has the configuration settings below. Enter the conversion ID you retrieved from your ad account into the tag here.

    google ads remarketing tag in google tag manager for paid search campaign

    Next, you’ll need to add a conversion linker tag in order to make sure conversions are registered, and now is a good time to do that. Below are the configuration settings for the conversion linker.

    google ads conversion linker tag in google tag manager

    Once you’ve installed both of those tags publish your Google Tag Manager container. You can install the Google Tag assistant within the chrome browser in order to verify that your tag is present on your website. You can download and install the tag assistant here. When you click on the Google Tag assistant while visiting your website you should be able to see the Google Ads remarketing tag within the tag assistant.

    testing google ads remarketing tag with the google tag assistant

    After you’ve installed your remarketing tag it’s time to pop back over to Google Ads and create a few basic remarketing audiences. For managed service providers running paid search campaigns I recommend creating a few audiences:

    • All visitors 30 days
    • All visitors 90 days
    • All visitors 180 days
    • All visitors 365 days

    These remarketing audiences are useful in the future to engage people at different points within their buyer’s journey. You can exclude audiences to create segments such as targeting all visitors within 365 days and excluding all visitors within 180 days to target only previous visitors within the 180-365 day window. It’s not unusual to have a 6-12 month buying cycle for MSPs that have built a true marketing pipeline. People need to be educated on the benefits of moving to a managed services model and that takes time, content, and multiple touchpoints. You may also want to use these audiences to run remarketing campaigns with different keyword targeting and different bids based on the recency of visits to your website. For now, the only action item is to create the audience. They will take at least one year to populate fully, but you will be glad you created them a year from now!

    Configuring Conversion Tracking In Google Ads

    The next step to running effective paid search campaigns on Google Ads is to configure conversion tracking. Conversion tracking, like remarketing audiences, is very website specific, however, most MSPs will need to configure a handful of common conversion events such as:

    • Contact form fills
    • Newsletter subscriptions
    • Phone calls
      • Manually dialed phone calls (requires call forwarding)
      • Mobile clicks to call
      • Ad extension calls (clicked a phone number directly from search results)
    • Inbound email sends

    You might also want to track some softer conversions such as:

    • Full page scans
    • Social page button clicks
    • Social shares
    • Other valuable actions that indicate interest

    Configuring a conversion requires:

    • Creating the conversion in Google Ads
    • Retrieving the conversion ID
    • Setting up the conversion in Google Tag Manager using the conversion ID

    To create the conversion go into your Google Ads account and click tools and settings > conversions. On the conversions page, you can click the new button or the creation conversion action button.

    Select the type of conversion action you’d like to create. For the purposes of an example let’s create a conversion action for contact form fills. Choose website conversions to create the first conversion.

    On the next screen, there are several settings to configure.

    • Start by choosing the goal category for the conversion. In this case submit lead form most closely matches the type of conversion we’re trying to track.
    • Next give your conversion action a name.
    • After that you can select a value for your conversion. Most MSPs I talk to don’t have a firm handle on the value of an individual lead calculated, so I usually select “don’t use a value for the conversion action, but you can always feel free to enter a lead value in to help Google better optimize your bidding.
    • Next select how many conversions to count. For the purposes of lead generation it’s best to select one for this setting.
    • Next select a few conversion attribution window settings. If you have a budget of less than $10,000 month, I recommend extending these attribution windows to the maximum possible. Reason being is that without a solid monthly budget your conversion volume will be lower and because of that, automated bidding systems will have less data to use to optimize your bids. We want to maximize the amount of data we’re feeding to algorithms in this case.
    • Lastly select an attribution model, you can’t go wrong with last click as an MSP running paid search campaigns on Google Ads.

    Once you’ve finished adjusting the settings, finalize the creation of the conversion action. You can come back and tweak some conversion settings later, or create a new conversion. Now that the conversion is created, it’s time to install it. On the next screen choose to install the conversion with Google Tag Manager.

    When you click on that option you’ll be presented with your conversion ID and conversion label. Keep this tab open so you can grab these values in a moment, and then you can pop over to Google Tag Manager to create the conversion.

    Within the Google Tag Manager interface, navigate over to your site’s Google Tag Manager container and click on the Tags tab and create a new tag.

    Create a new tag and select Google Ads conversion tracking. Enter the conversion ID and the conversion label from the conversion action that you created in your Google Ads account.

    Next, create a trigger for your conversion action. We want to figure out a custom event for contact form submissions as the trigger for this conversion action. Create the new custom event trigger and name it something meaningful like Contact Form Submission.

    Save your new tag and trigger and go back out to the tags view and create one more new tag. We need to create an event handler to fire the custom event when the forms on our website are submitted. This can be done in several ways via JavaScript/JQuery. Below is an example event handler to fire a custom event by attaching to the click event for all of the buttons with the .tnhs-ga-contact-form-submit CSS class. You’ll need to figure out the best CSS selector or method to use to attach the event handler to the buttons on your website.

    Finally, save the tag, and publish the container. You’ll need to repeat similar steps for all the conversion actions on your website. Configuring conversion tracking is an essential step to running successful Google Ad campaigns. Paid search campaigns are much more effective when leveraging automated bidding and automated bidding needs conversion data to optimize against. Having conversion data available will help you measure the ROI of your paid search campaign.

    Creating A Paid Search Prospecting Campaign For Your MSP

    At this point you have the key components of a Google Ads account configured, and you’re ready to create your first campaign. We’ll assume that since you are reading this post, you’re interested in prospecting for new leads for your MSP and want to build a prospecting campaign.

    From the Google Ads home screen click on the all campaigns view on the left-hand side, click campaigns, on the secondary left-hand nav, and then click the blue plus button to create a new campaign.

    create a new campaign in google ads

    From the next screen, you’ll be given an option to choose an objective for your campaign. These objectives are ways to help you find the Google Ads advertising method that’s best for you. There are a lot of options to advertise your MSP on Google, but since this post is about paid search, we’ll go straight to the source. Choose to create a campaign without a goal’s guidance.

    google ads campaign objectives

    Next select search from the available campaign types.

    creating a search campaign in google ads

    Once you’ve selected a search campaign you’ll be given the option to select the appropriate conversion actions for your campaign. Since we’ve already created these in a previous step we can select all the previously created conversion actions to apply as campaign goals.

    Once you’ve applied the appropriate conversion actions as goals to your campaign click the blue continue button and move on to the next step.

    Configuring Paid Search Campaign Settings For Your MSP Prospecting Campaign

    Now it’s time to configure the settings of your MSP prospecting campaign. Plea Start by giving your campaign a name, “MSP Prospecting” for example.

    Disable the search network and the display network settings from your campaign. You can always come back in and add these back later if you want to expand your reach, but starting out it’s better to disable these. You can leave the other settings in this section at their defaults.

    general settings for an msp prospecting campaign on google ads

    Next, you’ll need to configure your location and languages settings. Adjust the targeting setting to your specific location. In the graphic below we’ve shown a campaign targeting the United States, but if you want to target only your city then make the necessary adjustment.

    We recommend changing the targeting setting to Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations. You may miss out on some potential relevant searches from people on vacation, out of town, or other edge cases but in general it’s better to exclude as much potential irrelevant traffic as possible when starting out. The benefit of excluding potential irrelevant traffic outweighs the downside of limiting reach for smaller budget campaigns.

    Change the exclude setting to Presence or Interest: People in, regularly in, or who’ve shown interest in your excluded locations. Again the same wisdom above applies. A lot of overseas spammers will search from U.S.-based IP addresses. However, you have a better chance to exclude them (for instance if you exclude the country of India from your campaigns) because they may potentially be googling India times news or another such indicator of location-based interest. The downside is that you may lose out of legitimate U.S.-based businesses that use outsourcing in their business model and have indicated an interest in an excluded location. Again for smaller budget campaigns, the benefits outweigh the cons.

    best location settings paid search campaign on google ads

    You can skip the audience segments settings for now. These can be a powerful tool for scaling up your Google Ads spend, but for the purposes of this article, we are going to be pickier with our keyword selection and use that as a filter to make sure we are targeting the right people. Adding audience targeting on top of a narrow keyword selection in a single city often makes the campaign too restrictive and limits impressions.

    Next we’ll need to configure the budget and bidding. Google Ads uses a daily budget. If you’d like to convert that to a monthly budget, take the monthly amount you’d like to spend, and divide it by 30.4, which is the average number of days in a month.

    Check out our pay-per-click ROI calculator to run some simulations on what potential ROI may be for a given spend level.

    • $1,000 = $32.89
    • $2,500 = $82.23
    • $5,000 = $164.47
    • $10,000 = $328.95
    setting a paid search budget for an MSP prospecting campaign

    Setting an optimal budget is a somewhat complex topic, but in my experience advertising budgets for MSPs are constrained by company budgets rather than advertiser demand. This is in contrast to something like a venture-funded SaaS company which oftentimes would love to spend more money and acquire more customers but is constrained more so by available impression inventory than the available budget to spend on ads.

    Setting An Ideal Budget For A Paid Search Campaign

    Setting too low of a budget can negatively affect the performance of your campaigns. Let’s say an average top-of-page bid for the keywords your campaign is targeting is in the $25 range. Let’s say you choose to spend $1,000 a month which makes your daily budget is $32.89. Google will spend up to 2x your daily budget on any single day. Let’s say that on a Monday, when conversion likelihood is high and buyer intent is high, there are 15 people that search for “IT support company” and 5 of them click on ads. That means there are 5 clicks available to advertisers for the day and let’s imagine that every click costs the max $25. That means to have potentially been able to capture all the clicks for the day you would have needed to be able to accommodate a $125 max daily spend. However since your daily budget is $32.89 your max daily spend is $65.78, which means after 2 ad clicks your budget would be exhausted and you wouldn’t have anything left in the tank to compete in the auctions for later in the day clicks. Advertisers that get the best results usually have a budget that allows them to at least participate and earn impressions in the majority of available auctions. An advertiser that had allocated a budget of $2,500 per month, or $82.23 per day would have a max daily spend of $164.46. Since that number is above the $125 threshold, that means they would have been able to at least participate in all the auctions that resulted in clicks for the day, even if they don’t win them.

    On the other side of the coin, setting a budget that is too high will result in Google running up your bid prices. There is only a limited amount of ad inventory that Google can deliver based on your campaign’s targeting. Let’s say you had a 10k/month budget in the scenario above ($328.95/day). If you’re using an automated bid strategy, Google will attempt to spend your budget. If the maximum available inventory is 5 clicks at a market rate of $25/click. You will spend that full amount of $125 and then have a budget leftover. However, if there are multiple advertisers using automated bidding strategies on a day like this (a very likely scenario), the price of those same 5 clicks will just skyrocket because advertisers are just placing continually increasing bids for the same fixed pool of clicks.

    A PPC consultant can help you determine an optimum budget for your keyword plan.

    Choosing A Bid Strategy

    Choosing the right bid strategy is again, a complex topic. For a new advertiser on a relatively small budget that is typical of MSPs, a manual CPC bidding strategy is the most cost-effective way to run a Google Ads campaign. However, running a manual CPC campaign has a lot of drawbacks.

    • Hard to maintain
    • Doesn’t scale
    • Very overwhelming for new advertisers
    • Doesn’t take advantage of Google’s internal intent data
    • Easy to mis-manage and not take advantage of the benefits of using manual CPC in the first place

    For these reasons I highly recommend using an automated bid strategy. In that sense, there are really two good options for our use case. Maximize clicks, and maximize conversions. Since we’ll assume that your account/campaigns are not going to have any history of conversion data and that you are starting as a fresh advertiser, I recommend starting out with a maximize clicks bidding strategy and running that for a full quarter to get a feel for what the conversion potential for your account is. If you are getting at least a handful of conversions per month from your advertising efforts then switch your bidding strategy to maximize conversions. If not, it’s time to pause your campaigns and re-think your ad copy, your offer, your landing page, keyword selection, or your advertising strategy.

    Choosing Keywords For Your MSP Prospecting Campaign

    Keyword selection is very market-dependent and specific to your company. An MSP where hurricanes are common might want to bid on keywords related to backups and disaster recovery, or an MSP focused on the healthcare niche may want to bid on keywords related to HIPAA compliance. The best guidance I can give is to focus on keywords that show a strong commercial intent. Bidding on “HIPAA Compliance” is likely relevant, but bidding on “HIPAA compliance consulting company” shows a strong commercial intent. Bidding on “it support” is likely relevant, but bidding on “cost of IT support” shows a strong commercial intent.

    Looking through the keyword data for your website in Google Search Console can be a good way to identify keywords that your site is naturally generating search impressions for, that would make good candidates for bidding on:

    search engine data for an it company showing potential keywords to bid on in google ads
    MSP Keywords In Google Search

    You can also download our MSP Industry Keywords list. This is a shortlist of keywords that have a documented history of converting in some of our client’s paid search campaigns. This can be a great set of starter keywords to bid on.

    Keyword Match Types

    When entering in keywords it might be tempting to just copy-paste in a list of keywords. Don’t do that though. You want to make sure that you’ve chosen an appropriate match type. Keywords are formatted differently for each match type.

    • Exact Match: [keyword]
    • Phrase Match: “keyword”
    • Broad Match: keyword

    Exact match will match on keywords that are the exact search term or close variants of it. It is denoted by putting braces around the keyword. [ ]

    Phrase match will match on keywords that are a match, and also those that are semantically related. For instance, if you bid on “IT Support” you may also match on “Technical Support” or “Managed Service Provider”. Phrase match keywords are denoted by putting quotes around the keyword.

    Broad match is very generous matching. You will match on competitor names, company names, how-to questions, job searchers, and everything in between. These junk terms can convert sometimes and are usually very cheap to bid on, but I do not recommend using broad match on a smaller budget campaign. However broad match is the default setting. There is no special qualifier to create a broad match keyword.

    More information on match types here.

    Start out with exact match keywords for your account. Use excel to take your list of keywords and put braces around them.

    When choosing your keywords you’ll be placing them into Ad Groups. Ad groups are thematic groupings of keywords that are tied to a specific ad. An example account structure might look something like this:

    • Ad Group 1 (IT Support)
      • [IT Support Company]
      • [IT Support Near Me]
      • [Best IT Company]
      • [Small Business IT Support]
    • Ad Group 2 (Managed Service Provider)
      • [Managed IT Company]
      • [Managed Service Provider]
      • [MSP Near Me]
    it company keywords in a paid search campaign

    Grouping the keywords into relevant themes ensures that the ads that are shown for all the search queries in that ad group are relevant and clickable.

    Creating Ads For Your MSP Paid Search Prospecting Campaign

    Once you’ve selected your keywords the next step will be to create ads. As of this writing, the standard for paid search ads is what’s known as Responsive Search Ads. Basically, you supply Google with a bunch of headlines and descriptions for your ads and they will run tests to determine what the optimal combination is and start to deliver the highest performing ads to maximize performance.

    When filling out your responsive search ads make sure to enter in as many headlines and descriptions as possible. You want to feed Google as many potential options for them to test as possible and identify higher click-through ad combinations. High click-throughs = more possible conversions = lower advertising costs. Below is a sample ad for some inspiration.

    responsive search ad headlines for an IT company
    Responsive Search Ad Headlines
    Responsive Search Ad Descriptions

    Adding Extensions To Your Ads

    The next step for configuring your campaign will be to ad any extensions you would like to take advantage of. Ad extensions are additional advertising features that your ad may be eligible to show depending on a number of different factors, such as the device the searcher is using and advertiser competition.

    The most relevant ones to fill out in an MSP lead generation context are:

    • Sitelink Extensions – add some additional links to other pages on your website other than the core landing page for your ad
    • Callout Extensions – highlight some differentiators for your company directly on your ad
    • Call Extensions – allow people to call your phone number directly from your ad
    • Image Extensions – make your ads more clickable by including an image on the SERP next to your ad
    • Structured Snippet Extensions – give more information about your services directly on your ad
    • Lead Form Extensions – These are for more advanced advertisers. I don’t even use these right now, and I don’t recommend them. Embed a lead form directly on your ad and allow people to fill it out. You’ll definitely want to integrate with your CRM for these and have a sales person ready to follow up immediately.
    ad extensions you can configure to enhance ctr
    Ad Extensions

    Follow the prompts to configure the extensions for your campaign. At this point you’ll have configured all the settings you need to through the campaign setup wizard and can proceed to launch your campaign!

    Launching Your Campaign

    Ok so at this point you will have gone through all the steps in the campaign setup wizard to launch your campaign and will have hit the launch button. Congrats! What happens now? Well, there is one last thing that I like to tweak that isn’t in the setup wizard. After you’ve launched your campaign you’ll be taken out to the home screen of Google Ads.

    google ads home screen with campaign view
    • Click on the all campaigns in the top left
    • Expand settings
    • Click Account Settings
    • Find the Ad Suggestions tab and expand it
    • Change the setting to Don’t automatically apply ad suggestions


    If you skip this step, Google will automatically detect and apply recommended suggestions to your account. These will usually just change all keyword match types to broad, and continually expand your accounts reach in different ways. The result of this for many people will be an enormous amount of wasted advertising spend. These auto-applied suggestions are less destructive on high spend accounts where machine learning can be more impactful, but are very bad for low spend accounts, especially MSPs where there is a lot of potential overlap between irrelevant consumer IT support and B2B IT support.

    disable auto applied ad suggestions

    Once you’ve disabled this you can let your campaign start to run.

    Monitoring Your Campaigns Performance

    As your campaign runs you will start to get performance data for it. It can take up to 48 hours for performance data to roll in on any given day, but in my experience data is usually available within 12 hours. A couple of things to be aware of when looking at a freshly launched campaign.

    • Performance will be very erratic for the first week it’s running. This is part of the machine learning doing it’s job.
    • Your campaign may not deliver any impressions for a few days after launching
    • Once your campaign starts delivering it may spend it’s max daily budget with nothing to show for it in the first few days. This can be aggravating, but do not pause or abandon the campaign at this point! This is part of the machine learning process of testing ad combinations.
    • Once your campaign has been running for at least a week it will typically settle into a more stable pattern of performance and continue to improve over time.
    • Your campaign status will change from eligible(learning) to eligible once the learning process is complete.
    • In order to control for factors like seasonality and fluctuating demand. I recommend letting your campaign run for at least a month, and ideally more like a quarter before putting any weight behind how it’s doing.

    If after a week your campaign isn’t delivering any impressions or very few impressions you can do a few things:

    • Add more keywords to your ad groups
    • Change your match types to phrase match

    Performance reporting and campaign tuning is a deep topic, but one aspect you’ll definitely want to get more familiar with is the search terms report. When viewing your campaign, click on the campaign you want to view, and in the campaign menu expand the keywords settings. Then click on search terms. This report will show you a sampling of the search terms that people actually searched for and what keyword caused that search term to appear. If you see junk terms you can check the checkbox next to the search term and add them as negative keywords to prevent them from matching again in the future.

    search terms report in google ads

    The right set of negative keywords can dramatically improve the performance of your account, but you also don’t want to negative out things that are relevant but might appear too vague. When your campaign is using a maximize conversion bidding strategy and has enough performance data, the quality of search terms will improve dramatically and less manual intervention will be needed.

    Final Thoughts

    There is a lot that goes into putting together successful Google Ads campaigns and even when you have a solid one running, the landscape is always changing and new features are being added, and subtracted all the time. Tuning your campaigns and reacting to the changing landscape can be a lot of work and is an activity that often makes a lot of sense to outsource to a specialized agency. Our goal with this post was to arm the ambitious do it yourselfers with a cursory overview of how to launch a prospecting campaign for an MSP. Paid search is a very powerful customer acquisition channel for MSPs and can fill your pipeline with qualified leads.

    We’ve managed paid search campaigns for numerous MSPs and other B2B tech companies. We have a ton of lessons learned that can fast track your campaign performance and save you a ton of money on advertising expenses.

    YouTube video

    If you decide you’d like to learn more about what we can do, check out our Google Ads Management service description page and book a free consultation. You may qualify for a free account audit.

    Questions? Thoughts? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer.

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    Hunter Nelson

    Hunter is the founder and president of Tortoise and Hare Software, a digital marketing agency for managed service providers. Hunter has more than 10 years’ experience building web applications and crafting digital strategies for companies ranging from scrappy startups to Fortune 50 household names. When not on the clock, you'll find him spending time with his family and pups, relaxing on the beach, or playing competitive online video games. See for more.


    1. Clay Archer on November 1, 2023 at 2:35 pm

      Great Article! Thanks for the info and the backlink!!

      • Hunter Nelson on November 1, 2023 at 2:38 pm

        Thank you, and you’re welcome!

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