When I started with Mirage at the beginning of 2017, one area I knew I wanted our company to focus on was digital marketing. A key element of our digital marketing effort was online advertising, specifically supporting our dealers in this area. As I got some exposure and learned a bit about the space I gained an appreciation for what was then called Google AdWords (now branded simply as “Google Ads”).

We started our learning process in the spring/summer of 2017 – we ran regional Google search ads, some in areas we had established dealers and some in areas we were looking to grow. In that first year, we had a “click-through rate” (known as CTR, meaning the percent of viewers that see your ad and actually click on it because they are interested) of 1.4%. Average click-through rates are typically in the 1%-2% range, so we were not stars but at least we were in the game.

The following year, 2018, we felt it was time to get our dealers more involved and invested in online advertising. We came up with our “50/50” program, whereby we would do a one-time match of the dealer’s Google Ads investment of $100-$250 in order to expose them to the benefits of this medium, and also enable Mirage’s marketing dollars to reach and benefit more dealers. Our hope was that once a dealer saw Google Ads increase their number of leads they would then continue their campaign without Mirage’s subsidy.

The first year of the 50/50 program was a modest success – we managed to have ten dealers trust us to do a Google Ads campaign for them. The good news for them was that on average these campaigns had a 3.1% CTR, so 50% better than what is considered the top end of normal. The cost per click (or “CPC”, which is the campaign cost divided by the number of clicks) for these campaigns was $2.13.

In 2019 we amped up our efforts. Although just ten dealers participated in the 50/50 program, we really believed in it – we felt that once a dealer saw the increased leads generated they would be encouraged to continue it using their own marketing funds. Our instincts proved to be correct, as in 2019 we had thirty-five dealers participate in the 50/50 program. They were likely happy they did too because these programs had a 5.4% CTR, over three times what was considered normal!

This high CTR is worth talking about in some further detail. When you decide to spend on advertising of any kind, one of the great discomforts is wondering whether you are sending your ad dollars out to the right segment of the population – one that is actually interested in buying your product. With marketing mediums like print media and trade shows, this fear is well-founded. What if the magazine you advertise in does not get in front of the people that want to actually buy? Or worse, what if those people have moved on from print media and now buy online? What if you buy a booth at a trade show and it turns out to be poorly attended due to weather (too good or too bad), poor promotion, or other factors?

I am not saying that Google Ads is the only way to go and that other forms of advertising are not worth doing. The point I am trying to make is one of risk management. With “buy-in” type of advertising like print ads and trade shows, you put your money in up-front and hope for the best results. With Google Ads it is strictly pay-as-you-go. If you don’t like the results you are getting you can change elements of the campaign to hopefully improve its results, or stop the campaign that day. I feel this is what makes it so great for small businesses with limited funds where incorrect moves are more costly, a category many of our dealers fit into.

Once we got the high CTR of 5.2% in 2019 I knew we were onto a good thing for our dealers. Now the work we were doing for them was putting their marketing dollars in a place that was clearly hitting the right audience, so the risk to their spending was greatly reduced. The CPC that year was $2.60 (the average for home goods is $2.94), so we felt we were providing decent value per click on that front, but at the same time felt we could drive down the CPC.

After the improvement in 2019 and heading into the 2020 spring/summer season, we had high hopes for increasing the success of our Google Ads programs we run for our dealers, and the dealers came through with amazing support for the program. We ran eighty-seven campaigns (both the 50/50 type and by now many dealers were fully funding their campaigns) and the results were:

  • Average CTR = 6.1%
  • Total impressions (times an ad was served) = 418,000
  • Average CPC = $1.84

The figures were starting to get impressive – almost half a million pairs of eyeballs saw our dealers’ ads, three times more than “normal” showed interest by clicking, and the cost to dealers per click was just 63% of our industry average. We had come a long way in just four seasons.

A question you may be asking is how did we have such success? The short answer to that is the specialization of labor. Mirage hired their first digital marketer in 2017 to replace an outside digital marketing firm we had contracted to help us. I feel there is a place for digital marketing firms – they are a great help to many companies and bring a lot of expertise to the table. However, they do have many clients to serve, and diving into the online search nuances (and associated campaign analysis and maintenance) of each of their clients’ industries is a big ask (incidentally, this is an even bigger ask for a Mirage dealer, which is the reason we started the Google Ads program in the first place). Mirage has had the good fortune of employing in-house digital marketers doing a great job building our program over time. They have taken our results each year and further refined how we run campaigns so we get the most hits for the least cost.

As we enter the 2021 season, we are in the middle of what has been a huge time of growth for the home improvement market. Our expectation is that the coming spring/summer season will break many sales records for Mirage and the same for our dealers. Part of driving this success will be tied to the ability to capture online leads. Mirage will continue to hone our digital marketing machine and expertise so that our dealers can benefit from online marketing programs that provide them with a low-risk, high-return experience in the world of online advertising.