9 Tips for Improving Cost-Per-Lead

By Kayla Kurtz | @one800kayla | Senior Digital Advisor at Hanapin Marketing

When it comes to PPC account management, I feel like most techniques are geared towards growth and forward progress…and for good reason! I mean, who would prefer to only get the yellow part of the cotton candy and miss out on the blue and pink?! If you can have all three – what would that take?

cotton candy

If you can find more conversions for your account – what would THAT take?

However, there does come a time where you must adjust the cost at which those conversions may be coming in and strategize around the dreaded (insert scary dun dun DUNNNN here) CPL decrease.

I always encourage a strong debate when it comes to focusing on decreasing CPL over improving lead volume (with segmented CPLs by margin, of course, more on this later). Once that debate has been had or (perhaps) lead volume has been maximized and decreasing costs is the next logical step, then the following list of 9 tips will help you get started:


1 – Why are you decreasing CPL?

That ‘more on this later’ I dropped a short time ago is here! Hopefully this was a part of the debate I also recommended previously, but before you go finding areas to pull back or edit or audit and so on and so forth…be sure you know what you’re doing. You will more than likely cut out a few leads here and there for the greater good in this process, but do you want to lose those leads completely? Or would you rather segment those kinds of leads out to their own (probably much lower) CPL goal? Make sure you’re certain the leads and costs you’re cutting are 100% worth it before you do so, and that’s all I’m saying.


2 – Drop the dead weight in your account.

Utilizing a method that fits your account, find the keywords that might be getting buried but are driving up costs without contributing to conversions. Certainly keep in mind those that may contribute without being first or final click, but nonetheless – where are there terms spending and not producing? We use something we call the cost/conversion matrix at Hanapin to do this, but there are a lot of ways. Perhaps it’s a group of keywords from an old test that have limped along; or possibly some exact match terms that aren’t getting the job done (have you tried phrase or broad match with some negatives?). The point is to find those small buckets of keywords that, over time, may be adding up to a lot of wasted spend and increased CPLs.


3 – Review account exclusions.

Keywords, placements, all things that can be excluded – when was the last time you audited those? Now typically speaking for the purposes of decreasing CPL, we’ll be wanting to audit those exclusions in the way of adding new ones to further refine your audience reach (i.e. negative keywords). That said, there can be the occasional removal of an exclusion that can help decrease lead costs. For example, a Display placement may not have worked previously and you excluded it, but now that placement has better ad opportunities. So if you bid on it correctly, it can provide some top-level funnel leads that become valuable long term and could be removed from your exclusions list…at least for a test.


4 – Revise your ad copy and/or destination URLs.

Plain and simple – whatever you say in your ad copy, you have to deliver to the searcher once they click. It may sound really simple, but if you tell the searcher they’re about to go to a product- or service-specific page…don’t push them to a category page that requires them to search more themselves. Take a look at where you may have opportunities to more directly place your searchers on pages that are as relevant as possible and adjust where you can. You also have an opportunity to explicitly say to the searcher the kind of page they are headed towards with your ad copy itself so be sure to consistently test the best way to present that message in the character space allotted.


5 – Audit device bid modifiers…or any modifiers, for that matter.

The more layers and segments of modifiers we’re allowed to make as account managers…the more opportunities there are for us to be tempted by set it and forget it management. Even with things as “new” as device-level bid modifiers, don’t let yourself adjust these dials without coming back to see if they require tweaking down the line. For device modifiers specifically, you may upgrade your website to be more mobile (and therefore mobile PPC click) friendly – so do you want to keep bidding down as much as you were before? Same goes with times of day, geographic areas…look for places you may be able to open the funnel and decrease CPL by (GASP!) increasing volume somewhat easily.


6 – Check out post-click opportunities for improvement.

AKA: conversion rate optimization. You can do all the refining you want on the pre-click side, but if you aren’t doing whatever possible to make the conversion process itself easier for your potential customers, you’re just begging your lead costs to creep up. Dive in to your conversion/goal paths and see where customers are bouncing out, look at heat maps of your landing pages to see where attention may be drawn away from the conversion path, etc.


7 – Analyze and optimize metrics that contribute to CPL.

So you’ve pinpointed that improving CPL across your account is a goal, but what are the areas that are a few metrics deeper that you can improve incrementally to make that happen? Making those kinds of adjustments might be able to help you drop that CPL without losing many leads in the process. We talked about the ad copy portion earlier (CTR), but this also applies to average position and CPC, to name just a couple more. What I’m getting at here is don’t always just adjust your bids on those keywords that have the highest CPL – make sure there isn’t something deeper happening (new competition, etc.).


8 – While you’re at it – look at longer-term metrics, too!

Yes, I am talking about Quality Score. But also other long-cycle data points, too; like cost per enrollment for education accounts, for example. The truth is it can be a bit easier to manage to more fluid metrics like CPL, CPC, etc., but in order to maintain long-term viability for most verticals there must be a focus on larger scale metrics when it comes to decreasing CPL. If there’s a particular area of your service offerings that that has somewhat expensive keywords to bid on but you need to get competitive – try building out individual landing pages for those terms to improve Quality Score over time and get better positions/less expensive click costs with time. Maybe you have a campaign that brings in leads in the interface at $50 more expensive than another campaign, but you find out it’s actually got a 5% higher long-term subscription rate with customers once they sign up for free trial. These are specific examples, but you see the kinds of things we’re talking about.


9 – Experiment with bid and average position strategy.

Pennies add up to dollars, and this optimization technique to decreasing CPL can require that level of focus to see the reward. There can be the tendency for your average CPC to stick around a little higher than it truly needs to be to maintain the same position as your surrounding competitors slowly adjust, as well. This means you can, and should, adjust your bids a little at a time to see how delicate the balance is in positions and bids, especially as you work on Quality Scores over time. Further, what happens with your conversion rates if you’re at position 3 versus position 2? What about considering the savings on the minor position drop – is the savings worth more than a couple conversions? Test out these kinds of adjustments to see if you can CPL ground in a sustainable and competitive way a little at a time.


Certainly not an exhaustive list – so what are some of your favorite cost-per-lead decreasing strategies? Share them with us in the comments section below!