A Strategic Guide to Google Search Ads for Growing Advisory Firms

8 min read
May 23, 2019

Consumers search online for financial advisors every. single. day.

In fact, according to Google’s Keyword Planner, more than 112,000 searches occur for either “financial planner” or “fee-only financial planner” during an average month.

So why not pay a few dollars to appear when the right person is searching for you?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, yes, these two industry keywords—financial planner and fee-only financial planner—are broad and incredibly popular and therefore require high bids. Few independent firms want, or have the budget, to spend the $25+ needed to get a single click for these example keywords. Fortunately, there are budget-friendly ways to make a presence in the vast world of online searches. More on this later.

The question remains: Why NOT place an ad so you appear when someone is searching for an advisor like you?

The majority of advisors I meet have not yet tried Google Search Ads. Yet the primary benefit is so obvious; spend a few dollars and you can drive a targeted consumer to your website while they’re actively searching for an advisor that fits your description and, better yet, that they’re looking to hire.

I find the #1 thing keeping independent financial advisors from DIYing their own Google Search Ads is a lack of confidence, or rather, nerves.

Will it work? Will the traffic be good? How do I set it up right? Oops, did I make a mistake? How much should I spend? Will this be a waste of my already-small budget?

I’ll tackle these questions here and assuage your fears so you can start growing your firm with Google Search Ads today.

In this blog post, you'll learn how to develop a solid Google Search Ads strategy by focusing on the following elements:

  • Budget
  • Audience Targeting
  • Keywords
  • Ad Copy

An Advisor with $40 Can Benefit from Google Search Ads

When most people think about paid advertising, they automatically assume they have to pay top dollar to see any results. But guess what? When it comes to Google Search Ads, you don’t need to break the bank.

With Google Search Ads, you are completely in control of the budget you set for each campaign. Want to spend just $10 per week? Set that parameter in your campaign. Ready to allot $500 per month to search ads? You can do that too.

There will come a time during the campaign setup when you’ll be asked to define your budget. Set the budget to an amount you’re comfortable with.

I suggest spending at least $10 per week ($40 per month) because a single click typically costs around $2-$3 each and you obviously want to generate some traffic! Speaking of which, I also advise most firms to set the campaign to charge you per click (CPC) so you pay only when a person actually visits your website.

How can you spend your dollars strategically and avoid spending a fortune? By approaching each ad campaign as an experiment.

Every time I spend budget, I set up an experiment. I define my hypothesis and test it. This way, the ROI of an ad will never be zero.

Even if you don’t get a prospect during the first campaign, you will still learn something meaningful. You will take that lesson and use it in the next round of ads, and/or go on to use any insights gleaned in other marketing efforts.

Alternatively, if you just toss an ad out there and hope for the best, how will you be advancing your firm? You likely won't. Intentionality is key.

The most straightforward experiment is the A/B test. Choose the variable you want to test, run two ads where the only difference between them is that variable, define a success signal, and see which one comes out on top.

For example:

  • Hypothesis: Women who are looking for a financial advisor who specializes in divorce will click on the search result that is the clearest, kindest, and features a woman.
  • Test: I will test the ad copy as my variable. Ad A will be similar to the ads I currently see for this search. Ad B will use language that is kind and clear and will feature a woman.

This campaign will run these two different ads while keeping all other variables the same (keywords, audience targeting, timeframe of campaign, etc.). If Ad B gets the higher click rate, the above hypothesis is supported; we can, and definitely should, use that lesson in our next ad campaign and/or use it in other areas of marketing. If Ad A gets the higher click rate, or there’s a tie between the two, then the hypothesis is not supported.

With every campaign, you’re testing an assumption and learning how it plays out in the real world. Not every hypothesis will be supported, and that’s perfectly fine as long as you learn from your campaign results.

Excited to test an assumption that’s running through your mind? Ready to spend a few dollars to find out? Read on.

A Successful Setup

Beyond budget and testing, the other big items to decide include audience targeting, keywords, and ad copy.

I like to think of these things before logging in to the Google Ads platform. Once you're in the platform, it will be harder to think clearly and strategically. It’s easy to get distracted by all the choices: the buttons, drop-downs, and other countless fancy features. Consequently, it’s easy to lose sight of your individual strategy.

So before signing in, write down your plan for the following:

Audience Targeting

Audience targeting is often the easiest part of ads to DIY. You know who you want to reach,—you simply need to tell Google what that person looks like during the Audience Targeting section of your campaign setup.

I have a few tips for making this strategic decision. First, get honest about the parameters that actually matter for converting an online visitor into a brand follower or prospect. With Google Ads, you’re not at an event shaking hands face-to-face with these people; you’re presenting your website to an individual who’s performing an online search.

Will you be more successful in a certain location, or is nationwide okay? Do you have high confidence that a specific age group will resonate more with your website than others? Is it important that your audience is going through a certain life event at the moment they see your ad?

Audience targeting should be defined in the context of a search ad, not just generally who you’d like to work with. If you’re unsure about the defined audience that will be most receptive to your ad, make the audience the focus of your hypothesis.

Once you have your ideal audience in mind, take a look at the targeting options Google provides. You’ll also see the options when you create the ad. Often, advisors wish there were more parameters available, but unfortunately, you’re limited to what Google offers. Do your best to map your wish list to reality and trust that the right people will click on your ad. (More on ad copy later.)


“When Kelly opens Google to try to find the right advisor for her, what would she type into the search box?” Your answers to this question are your keywords.

Keywords should be renamed “search phrases” in my opinion. They’re rarely a single word; they’re more commonly a long string of multiple words.

Deciding on your keywords is as simple as drumming up a list of possible searches Kelly would enter into Google to find her ideal advisor. The Google Search Ad dashboard will allow you to define multiple keywords for a single campaign, so let your brainstorming fly.

Before we move on from keywords, there are three things I’d like to point out.

First, I’ve witnessed people search wonky things in my life. Honestly it never ceases to amaze me. People open Google and search full sentences, an entire question, make typos, and include what may seem like irrelevant words.

So when I said let your brainstorming fly, I meant it. Don’t just go for the obvious words or a fully logical search; also add some phrases that are a bit off the beaten path. You never know what people might be searching. Again, this could be an area where you experiment.

1Secondly, please know that popular keywords come at a BIG cost. Why? Clicks are priced on a bidding system. If you go after a really popular search like “financial advisor,” you’ll easily pay $25 for one click. Alternatively, you may pay just $2 per click for a longer phrase that fewer people are bidding for. This is why you commonly hear people speak about “long-tail keywords.”

Third, you can control whether your keyword must appear exactly as entered in order for your ad to appear, or whether the search should just be "close enough." You can control this when setting up your campaign. For now, just make a note about which search terms should be exact matches and which can be broad matches. (You can read about keyword matching options here if you want to know more before diving into setup.)

Ad Copy

Finally you get to the ad itself. It’s amazing how many decisions you need to make before getting here, right?

Actually taking the time to carefully make each of these decisions is the difference between whipping up an ad to see what happens and strategically using your budget to grow your firm in an intentional way.

For the ad copy, it’s time to think, “If Kelly searches these things, what ad will so clearly be the perfect answer for her search?”

This moment may shed light on some keywords (aka search phrases) you want to nix for this campaign. Look at your list of brainstormed keywords. If most of them are very similar and then there are a few oddballs, ditch the outliers. It’s important that the searches performed match the ad you display.

For example:

  • Keywords: financial advisor who specializes in divorce, financial planner for divorced women, good financial advisor for after divorce, etc…
  • Ad copy idea: Meet advisor Carolyn | We care for divorced women 

Writing ad copy is a creative moment. Give yourself some time and be patient. Specifically, I suggest spending ~70% of your campaign planning time on this part. Now is not the time to move quickly or rush to decisions. The words you choose for your ad are critical and should be carefully chosen. 

Think: What should display when someone searches these terms I’m targeting? Does this ad look impressive? Does it say enough to intrigue someone to click it? Does it match the keywords I’m targeting? Does it look trustworthy, or could it potentially come across as spammy?

Write the ad so the right people click. (And please be intentional about your use of capital letters—this is a common pitfall.)

Google Search Ads Are Automated, but...

Automation has many advantages, but in the case of Google Search Ads, the “set it and forget it” mentality quickly becomes dangerous.

Letting an ad run wild is risky business. You might accidentally spend your entire weekly budget on a single click (if you fall into the popular keyword trap mentioned above) or miss out on a good “tip” generated by Google’s ad dashboard robot.

You should monitor your ads every day during the first week, and then at least weekly for the duration of the campaign. Catching mistakes and/or opportunities early can make a big impact on your campaign, so put a reminder in your calendar to log in regularly and make sure things are running smoothly.

Launch Your Strategic Campaign!

Hopefully I've encouraged you to start thinking strategically and have given you enough confidence to give Google Search Ads a shot. I strongly advise you to refer to Google’s extensive support documentation for step-by-step instructions. They’re pretty darn good at helping you navigate the tool itself!

Carolyn Dalle-Molle

About the Author
Carolyn Dalle-Molle is a professional marketer with several years of experience helping small businesses reach their growth goals. Her approach to marketing is both creative and analytical; helping people achieve a creative flow that’s unique and exciting, while using tracking and metrics to learn what actually works for their business. Based in Boston, she's honored to work with XY Planning Network from coast to coast. Outside of work, she enjoys volunteering with elderly, making videos, and traveling with her friends and family.

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