Why bootstrapped startups should use Bing Ads over Adwords

When you’re running a bootstrapped startup, you need to get the best value for every penny you’re spending. If you’re looking to use Google Adwords to gain more customers, you’ll probably find Bing Ads to be a much more cost effective alternative.

What the heck is Bing Ads?

Just as Google Adwords shows the adverts on Google’s search results, and many other places. Bing Ads shows adverts on the Bing.com search results, and also AOL and Yahoo search results, and many other smaller sites. For all intents and purposes, you can see Bing Ads as a ‘fast follow’ version of Adwords, showing ads on similar properties.

Bing? Does anyone really use that?

Bing has 23% market share on desktop and tablet, up from a low of 18%1. Now, you might think it will be better to be with Adwords, as Google’s search has by far the lion’s share of the market, with a practical 70% share on desktop, and over 90% on mobile. However, if you’re watching your costs, Adwords has problems.

Adwords is expensive

Adwords has two problems:

1. Everyone else is using it too – competition is very high

2. Adwords is set up to be costly

The first point should be of no surprise – Google search is massively popular, therefore the way you advertise in the search results is also very popular. As Adwords acts as an auction, the more competition there is, the more you have to pay to be seen in a useful position in the results.

How Adwords has become more costly

Two changes made by Google within Adwords in the last two years have increased costs for advertisers:

1. Removing the adverts from the sidebar, adding pressure to the slots at the top of the page.

As long as you were not trying to gain huge amounts of traffic, bidding to be on the side of the results was a cost effective way of using Adwords, until Google removed them in 2016. This has forced higher bids for the 3-4 slots at the top of the search results, as the slots at the bottom of the page get very poor results.

2. Assigning a minimum cost per click to a great number of searches.

To understand the impact of this, a quick overview of how Adwords works:

You as an advertiser set up a list of ‘keywords’, phrases that match what your business sells. If a potential customer types those words in to Google’s search, Adwords shows your advert in the search results.

How Adwords decides whether to show your advert and at which slot in the results depends on a variety of factors, but the most important is how much you’re willing to pay. The more you pay, the higher up you go.

It used to be that if there was no competition in the results, e.g. for a ‘long tail’ search, you could register a very cheap bid. If you wanted to be found for ‘time tracking software for marmoset vets’, you could bid at 5p a click and your adverts would show, as long as a lot of other time tracking developers were not also trying to target the lucrative marmoset niche.

Currently, Adwords has decided on a minimum cost for every search. So, you might get lucky and hit some searches where you can get your costs down to 15-20p per click. Or, even though you bid on the search and no other adverts are showing, your ads do not show. On some searches, Google would rather have no adverts show, rather than cheap ads. This appears especially true in the medical industry, but affects all sorts of searches.

As an advertiser, this can be very frustrating, and expensive. To bid on a keyword where there is no competition and not have your adverts show? What is the point of this? The point is money. Google have calculated what they believe a business will pay to be shown on that search, and if you’re not willing to go up to that cost, they will attempt to push you to increase bids just to get your adverts to show at all.

Using Bing to avoid these problems

Against these two points, Bing Ads has two advantages:

1. Still has a wide range of slots available where your ad is easily visible, even if you’re not in the most expensive slots.

2. No minimum bids on searches, so you can bid low on longer searches and still get visibility

But… Adwords is still bigger

I’m not saying never use Adwords. I’m saying if you’ve got limited money, Bing Ads is a very good alternative that most bootstrappers and self-funded startups have missed. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than Adwords? Well, it’s a bit clunky to use and has a few less features, but it’s much better value for money than Adwords.

If you’re new to using pay-per-click advertising and you have a tight budget, you can get good results from Bing Ads and learn a lot about how to use these platforms without spending a fortune. Then when you’ve got a higher budget to spend, you can use everything you’ve learnt to get the most out of Adwords when you start using it.

When not to use Bing Ads

If your target market is techies, don’t use Bing Ads. They’re all using Google. And indeed, a lot are using ad blockers as well so targeting them with PPC ads is generally harder. If your target market is people who are not developers, it’s well worth giving a try.

Getting started with Bing Ads

You can sign up for Bing Ads here.

If you’re already using Adwords, they have an import utility which will copy your information in from Adwords. It’s not always perfect, but it does save a lot of time in most cases.

Figures from a presentation by Vikas Arora in April 2017’s Brighton SEO conference. (return)