December 08, 2011
Case Study

PPC Marketing: How one local marketer transitioned from offline advertising and garnered a 300% return-on-ad-spend

SUMMARY: Consumer marketers in established industries have likely found themselves transitioning from heavy use of print advertising and marketing, to a much larger focus on digital channels.

See how a locally owned moving company took an underperforming PPC effort, revamped the process, and utilized a number of different PPC options to improve its key performance indicator -- cost-per-booked move -- by 60%, and achieve a 300% return-on-ad-spend, and increase revenue by 74%.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


When a company in an established industry makes the shift from heavy use of print advertising to digital channels, the transition might require some experimentation before finding a winning combination of marketing pieces.

Continental Van Lines is a moving company based in Washington state and operates out of Washington and Alaska. The company is affiliated with Mayflower Transit for interstate relocations and also offers local moving services.

Brad Fransen, Director of Sales and Marketing, Continental Van Lines, explained that within the last five years, marketing in that industry shifted from "very Yellow Pages-oriented" over to digital channels, including paid search and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics, with a premium on obtaining good results from search engine marketing.

One way his team sought to meet this new marketing challenge was through pay-per-click (PPC) ads, combining their own efforts along with a bundled service from a vendor. These efforts achieved what Fransen described as "modest results," and he added the vendor’s service didn’t significantly outperform his trial-and-error approach.

Through his Web developer, Fransen learned about another PPC vendor and decided to take his paid search marketing in a new direction.

Read on to learn how the revamped PPC campaign took advantage of a wide range of PPC options to achieve a 300% return-on-ad-spend, 118% reduction in cost-per-click, and 76% increase in clickthrough rate.


Although Fransen said he still relies on some traditional marketing methods -- print ads and radio campaigns, for example -- utilizing the website for organic search results and PPC ads for paid search are now major aspects of his marketing plan. He added that Continental Van Lines also receives leads generated by its parent company via a call center.

Making the transition from offline efforts to blending online advertising into the mix produced less than satisfactory results before Fransen put together a team that completely revamped the PPC strategy.

Step #1. Determine the key performance indicator for the effort

Across all marketing channels, Fransen said his most important metric is cost-per-booked move. Another key performance indicator is number of estimates provided to prospective customers.

The effort itself was tracked by return-on-ad-spend, cost-per-click and other standard PPC metrics, but the bottom line for Fransen’s business was cost-per-booked move.

For any marketing effort, including the PPC effort, he wanted to be able to track a number of elements:
  • Where every lead comes from

  • Number of phone calls the ad generates

  • Number of estimates generated from the calls

  • Number of moves that resulted from the ad

All of these elements combined create the cost-per-booked move metric.

"When I consider doing advertising in any medium, whether it’s digital or not, I look at that same factor," Fransen stated.

Step #2. Segment target markets

Segmenting Continental Van Lines’ target markets for the PPC effort was very important because not only does the company serve two distinct geographic markets -- the Puget Sound area and Alaska -- it also serves two different moving markets, local and long distance.

Fransen said one of his big challenges is marketing to the two different moving markets.

"If a company is affiliated with a major van line, they’re perceived as automatically being too expensive for a local move," he stated. "And yet, as an independently-owned company, we are as competitive price-wise on a local move as any local moving company."

He said if his marketing emphasizes the fact the company is a Mayflower agent, they get more interstate moving business. If the marketing emphasizes the family-owned, locally-based aspect of the business, the company gets more local move business.

Because of all these considerations, the team segmented the PPC effort into several separate efforts:
  • National campaign for moving to, and from, Alaska

  • Local campaign for Anchorage, AK, market

  • Local campaign for Seattle, WA, market

  • Local campaign for Tacoma, WA, market

Fransen explained all of these segments have an impact on keyword choice and message for the ads in each campaign.

Step #3. Take advantage of PPC ad options for local search

They based the revamped PPC effort around Google AdWords, and used AdWords Express, an offering designed for small and local businesses, for the local campaigns.

Because Continental Van Lines already had an AdWords account, the campaigns were managed through that dashboard. Had the company not been set up with an AdWords account, the AdWords Express campaigns could have been managed through Continental Van Lines’ Google Places listing.

The idea behind utilizing AdWords Express was industry keywords for moving services were very competitive. For example, in the Seattle market, some keywords were as high as $10 to $15. Not the most expensive keywords for PPC overall, but fairly high for a local moving company.

With AdWords Express, the PPC results only appeared in the local market targeted by the ad with a much lower cost-per-click. The ads show up on the search engine results page in the same place as an AdWords ad, but are differentiated by a blue pin on the ad.

The idea behind utilizing AdWords Express was to increase local market visibility at a lower cost.

Step #4. Utilize PPC ad extensions

Along with the specific AdWords Express format, Continental Van Lines’ PPC ads were presented in one of three other ways:

The final two ad options provide some benefit by increasing the ad’s real estate on the SERP, and with Sitelinks providing additional links.

Neither option added any additional cost to the ads, but the PPC team did have to implement the extensions in the campaigns.

Sitelink extension

Within AdWords, the PPC team specified the Sitelink text, such as "free estimate request," and destination URL along with campaigns each Sitelink addition corresponded with.

If the ads were showing in the top three positions, the extra links were possibly included with the displayed ad.

Location extension

Continental Van Lines’ AdWords account was eligible for the location extensions because of its linked Google Places account. The team specified that it would like the Google Place page extension appended to relevant ads.

Both of the PPC ad extensions are added to displayed ads at the discretion of Google.

Step #5. Continue to optimize the process

After the revamped PPC effort was fully implemented and producing satisfactory results, Fransen’s team continued to test and optimize the campaign.

Ongoing ad text testing involved keywords, ad copy and headlines. Two ads would run side-by-side with equal rotation as an A/B split test. The top performing creative was kept and the team would rotate a new ad for testing.

As the campaign became more mature, the aggressiveness of the testing and optimization cycle was reduced, but the team continued to research ad groups and keyword opportunities along with projected traffic. Underperforming keywords were paused.

Optimization is a continuing process at Continental Van Lines with smaller tweaks happening as often as daily, and larger-scale overhauls or campaign additions taking place on a biweekly or monthly time frame.


Fransen’s key performance indicator for any marketing effort at Continental Van Lines is cost-per-booked move. The earlier PPC efforts were outside his acceptable level.

The cost-per-booked move is now well within his benchmark range and the revamped PPC campaign lowered that cost by 60%.

Over the first four months of the revamped effort:
  • Return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) was 300%

  • ROAS increased 76% from month one to month four

  • Revenue increased 74%

  • Cost-per-click for top keywords fell 118% from month one to month four

  • Clickthrough rate increased 76% from month one to month four

Another important metric for Fransen is requests for estimates. That number rose 74% during the campaign.

About the move to the digital marketing channel, Fransen said, "The days of finding a mover by picking up the Yellow Pages are gone. The learning curve is steep and often costly as we experience a continued migration of customers to Web and mobile Web search. This is new territory for our industry."

He added the revamped PPC effort was a successful foray into that new territory through a combination of establishing an effective strategy, partnering with experts and making smart marketing decisions throughout the process.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples:
1. Google AdWords Express ad
2. Regular PPC ad
3. Ad with Sitelinks
4. Ad with location extension

Continental Van Lines

Formic Media -- Continental Van Lines’ PPC vendor

New Chart: How is PPC Perceived at Budget Time?

PPC Campaign: Marketer learns from unsuccessful campaign to deliver 75% increase in sales

Outsourced PPC Campaigns Lead to 400% Increase in Conversion

PPC Marketing: A look at analytic and monitoring tools

Converting PPC Traffic: How clarifying value generated 99.4% more conversions on a PPC landing page

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions