Every digital marketing strategy has strengths and weaknesses. Search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, link building, and social media marketing are all advantageous in complementing each other’s effects and generating long-term results that snowball your return on investment (ROI) over time. But they have a critical weakness; they take a long time to start seeing results.
This makes pay-per-click (PPC) advertising a perfect complement, and the ideal addition to any suite of digital marketing strategies. As the name suggests, you’ll place ads and pay for each click you get to your site or landing page. In other words, you’ll start seeing traffic (and results) almost immediately after you turn the strategy on.
To the outsider, PPC management may seem intimidating. There are multiple platforms you can use, technical complexities to consider, and of course, a high-level strategy that demands innovative, competitive thinking. Google even has an official education and certification program for people interested in mastering the art.
But while it does take months to years of practice to become a true master of PPC advertising, in the course of this guide, we hope to teach you the fundamentals, and equip you with all the knowledge you’ll need to start a campaign of your own.
Before we dig into the mechanics of PPC advertising, let’s establish a foundation. PPC advertising networks connect advertisers to major online networks, like search engines or social media platforms, giving them a chance to guarantee advertising visibility to their target audiences. Advertisers then pay per click (hence the name), rather than paying per impression, like in typical advertising campaigns.
Oftentimes, PPC ads are purchased in an auction-like manner, ensuring that the price for different types of ads reflects current demand and market conditions. The cost per click is often abbreviated CPC, with a cost per thousand impressions (or times your ad is seen) abbreviated CPM. In auction-style formats, you can typically set your maximum cost per click, or Max CPC, and allow automated bidding to bid for a position on your behalf.
You’ll have the ability to completely customize your ad copy, images and videos associated with your ad, and of course, where the ad leads (i.e., designing a landing page).
PPC advertisers spend time researching exactly the right people to target, the right copy and images to use, the right keywords to bid for, and how much to pay for placement. Over time, they gather metrics to determine the effectiveness of their campaigns, and make tweaks to improve their return on investment (ROI). Ideally, you’ll earn more from the incoming visitors you receive than you pay to have your ads placed. This also requires you to pay attention to factors like conversion optimization, so you can increase your revenue from the strategy.
Because PPC advertising relies on search engines, it’s often conflated with search engine optimization (SEO). However, search engines treat organic search results as separate from paid search engine listings; SEO requires an entirely different set of strategies, focused on onsite optimization, content development, and link building. Your SEO strategies will have no bearing on your PPC listings, and your PPC strategy will not affect your organic search rankings directly.
However, it’s worth noting that both PPC ads on search engines and SEO can be considered as belonging to the broader category of search engine marketing (SEM).
So why would you consider a PPC advertising campaign?
PPC ads offer a handful of unique advantages over other forms of search engine marketing, and other advertising strategies:
Many different platforms offer their own PPC advertising services. Most of them work similarly, with some differences in terms of how you bid, the variables you can control, ad placement rules, and of course, the total number of people you can reach.
These are some of the most popular PPC platforms to consider:
The rest of this guide will make the most sense in the context of Google Ads, but most PPC platforms will adhere to the same rules, follow the same high-level processes, and benefit from the same approaches.
Before you start a PPC advertising campaign, you need to decide what your goals are going to be. These are some of the targets you could choose:
You can choose more than one priority, but make sure you treat them hierarchically; you need to know what’s important for your campaign if you’re going to find success with it. Alternatively, you can create a separate campaign for each of these goals.
When creating a sequence of PPC ads, you’ll organize your ads on several different levels. At the highest level, you’ll have “campaigns,” which each focus on an overall message, theme, or goal for your brand. You can have one campaign active at any given time, or you may have several, depending on the size of your organization, your budget, and the number of distinct goals you’re trying to achieve.
Under each campaign, you’ll have several ad groups, collections of ads that fit together because they rely on similar keywords. For example, you might have an ad group focused on “patio furniture.” You’ll be able to place different CPC maximums for each of your ad groups.
You’ll have several types of ads to choose from:
One of the most important variables for the success of your PPC campaign is how you choose to target your ads. PPC gives you control over how and where your ads appear; obviously, the content of your messaging will have a major impact on its success, but you’ll also need to make sure your ads reach the right people in the right ways.
In Google Ads and most other PPC platforms, you’ll have the ability to restrict how, where, and when your ads appear. You will also have the ability to modify your bids based on certain parameters, such as lowering your bid by 50 percent when advertising on mobile devices. This is one of the most important considerations for your campaign; its success is going to depend not only on how people respond to the ad, but also how much you pay for it. Accordingly, you’ll need to raise or lower your bid amount based on which targeting options are most important to you.
These are some of the most common targeting parameters to consider:
Of course, the majority of your ads will be dependent on user searches, which means the most important targeting variable is likely going to be your keyword selection. However, this is a more complex variable than any of the others on this list, so we’re going to cover it in its own section.
Keywords play an important and complex role in your PPC advertising campaign. Like with SEO, keywords allow you to capitalize on specific search queries made by users, helping you get in front of people with specific desires or intentions. Generally, you’ll choose a high-level keyword “theme” for your ad campaigns, and specific groups of keywords for each of your ad groups. For example, a campaign may be focused on “bicycles,” while ad groups may focus on “road bikes,” “mountain bikes,” and “hybrid bikes.” Ads within those groups can focus on variant keywords and phrases, like “inexpensive mountain bikes,” or “road bikes for competition.”
The keywords you choose will determine when and how your ads are displayed within search engines; they’ll also determine how much you pay, since more competitive keywords and phrases tend to be more expensive. Your goal will be to carefully balance relevance, popularity, and competition, selecting keywords that are both popular and relevant to your brand, but also minimally competitive, so you can get them for a reasonable CPC bid.
All PPC keyword research begins with a bit of brainstorming. You’ll jot down some ideas about what your customers might be searching for, or play around with some searches to see what your competitors are targeting.
Ultimately, keywords tend to fall into one or more broad categories:
Any marketer can tell you that brainstorming and intuition isn’t enough to maximize the chances of your campaign’s success. If you want to rest assured that your keyword targets are going to be valuable, you need to use objective evidence to support your reasoning.
Google offers a free tool, Keyword Planner, to help you do this, but there are also a number of third-party options available for you to research your keyword terms. For now, we’ll focus on Keyword Planner, since it’s one of the best tools available and a direct product of Google itself.
Using Keyword Planner, you can choose to either discover new keywords or get search volume and forecast information on an existing list of keywords. If you want to discover new phrases, you can start with “seed” words and phrases you’ve brainstormed on your own and get suggestions for what to include in your campaign. You can also start with a website, and have Google crawl it to generate suggestions for you. These are good to start with if you’re new to PPC management, but more advanced users will only use this as a good start.
Once you have a list of potentially viable keywords, you can collect more information on them, including search volume information, historical search trends, and of course, the average CPC for the term. This will help you determine the popularity and competition of your chosen terms—determining the relevance is on you.
Every keyword you include in your ad groups will need to be assigned a specific match type. This will dictate when the ad is displayed, when taking the search query into consideration.
These are the match types available:
Most of your keyword research will be focused on positively associated keywords—in other words, targeting keywords that people are searching for. However, you can also select negative keywords, prohibiting your ads from being displayed when certain keyword terms are included.
For example, if you’re focused exclusively on selling new bicycles, you might include negative keywords and phrases related to “repair” or “restoration” when people search for bicycles. If you’re only selling high-quality, luxury goods, you may include negative keywords and phrases like “free,” “cheap,” or “inexpensive.”
You’ll be able to control your PPC budget precisely on most PPC platforms, so make sure you spend time strategizing how to effectively spend your money. If you’re like most businesses, you’ll have a finite budget to spend on PPC ads, like $1,000 a month. How you proportion this spending can make or break your campaign.
First, you’ll be able to set an “average daily budget” for your campaign. If you have a budget of $1,000, this would translate to an average of $33.33 per day. Google will automatically display ads based on your preferences and limitations, up to this amount. Sometimes you’ll spend a little more or a little less, due to the difficulty in hitting an exact dollar amount with ad placement, but once you hit this threshold approximately, your ads will stop for the day. The amount of time it takes to reach this amount will vary depending on whether you choose “standard” or “accelerated” delivery. Google will also adjust your ad placement to reach an average—so if you don’t get many displays on Sunday, you might get a disproportionate number of placements on Monday to make up for it (this is called overdelivery). You can change your daily budget at any time.
From there, you’ll have two main bidding options:
There are other optimization strategies as well, such as “enhanced CPC,” which will automatically raise your max bid if Google believes the incoming click will convert, or “target search page location,” which allows you to prioritize a certain search engine results page (SERP), or position on the first SERP.
There are a few other things to keep in mind. First, remember you can set different bid adjustments, based on a number of different variables. For example, you can choose to set your bids 30 percent higher for ads on mobile devices, or 30 percent lower for ads in a specific location, like Colorado.
You should also know that while maximum CPC is one of the most important variables Google considers when placing an ad, it also takes into consideration something called a Quality Score. If you have a lower bid, but a higher Quality Score, you may end up getting favoritism in placement—and at a lower rate as well.
In Google, you’ll earn and develop a Quality Score, which is a measurement of the quality and relevance of your PPC ads and selected keywords on a scale of 1 to 10. If you add a “Quality Score” column to any report, you’ll be able to review the score in detail. The more relevant and the better your ads are, the higher your Quality Score will be, and with a higher Quality Score, you’ll be able to get your ads to rank higher—and you’ll find it easier to dominate your competitors when bidding.
There are several factors that will influence your Quality Score, including:
As you can see, many of these factors are subjective or difficult to define. For example, what exactly counts as “relevant” text? Unfortunately, this can be hard to discern. You’ll need to make your best subjective assessment, then use your actual Quality Score to determine your performance.
Most, if not all of your PPC ads will depend at least partially on text to get results. You’ll have several goals here, including attracting the right type of people, earning clicks, increasing your Quality Score. If you don’t have an engaging ad, it won’t matter how much money you spend; this is the only way to place effective advertising.
Traditional PPC ads have three main components:
There are other opportunities to include ad copy, but we’ll go over those in the “Ad Extensions” section.
For now, there are a handful of factors you should focus on to make sure your ad copy is both compelling to users and favorable for your Quality Score:
Ad extensions are optional supplements to your core ad, giving you the chance to provide more information to users (or otherwise attract their attention more effectively). Most of them take up more space, giving you more visibility immediately, and they’re factored into your Quality Score, affecting your overall ad quality, position, and cost per click.
These are some of the most common extensions in Google Ads to consider:
Other platforms, particularly social media, provide even more customizability options, allowing you to use images, videos, and other forms of media to advertise your brand.
There are no right or wrong ad extensions to include, though all of them have the potential to improve your results. You’ll need to experiment to figure out what works best for your audience and your brand.
The goal of most PPC ads is to encourage users to click a link—but what happens next? In most cases, your incoming traffic will be directed to a landing page, which you can further optimize to achieve a conversion. Depending on your goals, a “conversion” could mean completing a purchase, filling out a form, or interacting with your page in some way, like watching a video.
In any case, assuming you have a relevant stream of traffic, the effectiveness of your landing page is going to dictate the true value of your PPC campaign. If you can convert your incoming visitors, the money you spent getting them there will be worth it. Plus, remember that your Quality Score is also affected by your conversion rate; the more effective it is, the better your ads will perform in the future.
A good landing page has the following characteristics:
As you’ve undoubtedly been able to tell, there are many variables that play a role in your PPC ad campaign’s success, and they all interact in complex (and occasionally obscure) ways. You can make an on-paper prediction about how your ads are going to perform, but you might be surprised how rarely reality aligns with your best hypotheses.
One of the best tools in your arsenal to check your assumptions and improve the overall effectiveness of your campaign is A/B testing. The premise here is simple: you’ll create an “A” version and a “B” version of a given asset, differing only slightly, and observe how they perform in an identical, preferably live environment. For example, you might display two very similar ads with different headlines to see which headline works better. You’ll keep the better-performing headline, and repeat the experiment, changing some other variable or adding a third headline.
There are many variables you can experiment with in this way, including:
Remarketing is a specific type of PPC ad available on Google Ads and many other platforms. While it has many similarities with conventional text and image-based PPC ads, it requires some additional considerations.
Remarketing ads (also called retargeting ads) are exclusively displayed to people who have already interacted with your website or mobile app. Accordingly, they’re best used as a way to recapture the interest of someone who was already persuaded to visit your site, or as a way to convince someone to reconsider a product page they abandoned.
There are a few types of remarketing ads available in Google Ads:
Few PPC campaigns are successful from the outset. Instead, PPC managers take the time to measure and analyze the results of their efforts, then make tweaks to gradually improve their results.
Google Ads and most other platforms feature ample built-in reporting features, allowing you to track metrics like:
You can dig deep with these metrics, measuring them for each ad, each ad group, and each campaign. You’ll also be able to measure them for multiple different time periods.
If you link your Google Ads account to your Google Analytics account, you’ll be able to gather even more insights, including how users behave once they get to your site.
There are many ways to interpret these data and use them to improve your campaign. The most straightforward way is through experimentation; tinker with different ad variables, and see how your results change. In general, more impressions, lower costs, higher CTRs, more conversions, and higher Quality Scores are a sign you’re doing things right. You may wish to optimize for one of these metrics above the others, depending on your goals; for example, if brand visibility is just as important to you as actual conversions, you may disproportionately consider impressions.
One of the most important measurements for any brand to consider is your overall return on investment, or ROI. This is the amount of money your campaign is generating in excess of your overall expenses.
In PPC management, costs are easy to calculate; you can see exactly how much you’re spending per click, per day, and per month in your campaign. Take this dollar amount for a given time period and set it aside.
Then, calculate the value of your campaign. You’ll first need to calculate the value of a conversion. For some brands, this may mean calculating the average revenue per visitor by analyzing the average purchase. For others, it means calculating the average lifetime customer value and how many visitors eventually become customers.
In any case, you’ll arrive at an estimate of the revenue generated by your campaign in a given time period. Divide this by your revenue plus your expenses, and you’ll get an estimate for your overall ROI. For example, if you generate $10,000 in new sales, and you spent $5,000 on ads, you’d divide $10,000 by $15,000 for an ROI of 66 percent. There are a few variants in how to calculate and consider this figure, but all of them depend on comparing your new revenue to your total expenses.
The higher your ROI is, the more successful your campaign is considered to be. Ultimately, your goals in increasing ROI are twofold:
Accomplishing improvements in both categories can skyrocket your ROI.
Obviously, there’s a lot to learn about PPC management, even if you’ve read this guide from start to finish. Much of your campaign success will depend on your ability to analyze your efforts, learn from your mistakes, and continuously adapt to new information and new circumstances.
If this all seems a bit too much to handle on your own, or if you’re currently running your own PPC campaign and are in need of assistance, you should know SEO.co offers start-to-finish PPC management services. If you’re interested in a quote or a free consultation, contact us today!