16-MINUTE READ · By Tina Arnoldi
In this article we’ll explore all things PPC marketing to help digital marketers improve the performance of their paid campaigns and boost results.
- What is PPC marketing?
- PPC marketing acronyms
- The pros of PPC marketing
- The cons of PPC marketing
- Types of PPC marketing
- How to create a PPC plan
- Landing pages for PPC campaigns
- Targeting & keyword research
- Creating ads
- Maintaining your PPC campaigns
- PPC reporting
- Turning insights into action
- Links to further reading
What is PPC marketing?
PPC or pay-per-click marketing is a targeted advertising method used to reach a specific audience with a marketing message. Advertisers pay every time a user interacts with the ad, which may include a click. While PPC is commonly associated with advertising on Google, it is also available for other channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Bing, and more.
PPC marketing acronyms
Before we get into too many details about PPC marketing, it’s important to start with the acronyms that you’ll frequently hear.
Search Engine Marketing is the strategy of gaining website traffic by buying ads on a search engine such as Google.
Cost-per-click is the average cost for every click on your ad. This is a common metric tracked to manage budget
Click-through-rate Is the number of clicks on an ad divided by the number of times the ad was seen, which are impressions. A higher percentage indicates that your ad is relevant to what people search.
Cost-per-acquisition goes beyond just getting people to the website or a click. Acquisition may be a lead generation form filled out.
Return-on-ad-spend gets more specific than the CPA because it measures how many dollars you receive for every dollar you put into your ads.
For people new to PPC marketing, I recommend focusing on the CPC and CTR initially. You want to see your CTR percentage increase and your CPC decrease.
The pros of PPC marketing
PPC marketing can be expensive but clearly there are benefits considering how many people that this marketing tactic.
It’s measurement friendly. As noted above with those different terms, you can see the metrics available to analyze performance. If you have a .03% CTR, you know that your ads are not performing great. Or if you sell a low dollar item and you’re paying $50 per click, you know very quickly that improvements are needed.
All PPC campaigns should have a goal associated with them. If you’re in a new business, it may be as simple as getting people to your website. If you’re in a service industry, it could be to have people fill out a form signing up for services. When your goals are recorded on your website with a tool such as Google Analytics, you can track in detail how your campaign is performing.
If you opened your doors for business yesterday and have a very niche product, you need to get your name out there quickly. Other strategies such as SEO (search engine optimization), take some time to build up. With PPC, you have the potential to be seen immediately, depending in part on the competitiveness of your industry.
Speed results in increased visibility. Ads are often approved by platforms the same day they’re created so you can be seen with an image ad on Instagram, a text ad on Google Search, and a video ad on YouTube ad. Exposing your brand in different formats on multiple channels increases visibility.
Is it your goal to reach women in their late 30s who live in New York City and have an income level in the top 10%? You can do that with Google ads. On social media channels such as Instagram, you also have the option to target by demographics, interests, or behaviors.
With PPC, it is very easy to run experiments. For example, if you cannot decide on the best CTA for your ad, you can run two different ads and test two different CTAs to get data on which one performs best. You do not need to guess what works best, whether it’s a CTA, landing page, or ad headlines.
The cons of PPC marketing
PPC is something everyone can try because there are no long-term commitments. With print advertising, you may need to commit to a year with ads in a magazine, whereas with PPC you can try it for a couple of weeks. If it’s not working, pause it and regroup. There are some cases where it may not be the best tactic for your business.
Some industries such as insurance, legal, or software can be very expensive in terms of how much each keyword cost. It varies but can be well over $30 a click. For businesses with multimillion-dollar budgets, that’s not a problem but for a small start-up, it can be cost-prohibitive. Although it could be doable with a very tightly focused campaign, it is something to consider and the reason you have to watch your costs very carefully.
PPC is never a fix-it-and-forget-it-campaign. Especially in the initial stages, you’ll find that you need to monitor the performance to make sure your marketing dollars are used wisely. You may have done all the keyword research in the world yet find that people are not searching in the way you expected. Or your ad copy starts to get stale and people no longer respond to the offer. So if you’re not working with an agency, be sure you have the expertise internally to manage a campaign.
Goals are unclear
While traffic is nice, it doesn’t put money in the bank. Although getting people to the site is a good start, you ultimately want to convert them to customers. Know your goals and have landing pages don’t have a good call to action.
With PPC, you rent other people’s audiences rather than building your own. You rent Google’s search audience, Facebook’s social audience, or LinkedIn’s professional audience. This means you’re at the mercy of these platforms as they can change their ad products, terms, or pricing at any moment. You also need to trust their definitions of each audience and it does not mean every single user that falls into a group will see the ad.
The types of PPC marketing
There are multiple channels for PPC marketing, such as the Display Network and social media channels, as well as different types of ads, such as video and text. Each channel has their own rules for the type of ads they will show on their network.
When you search on Google, at the top of the SERP (search engine results page), you may see several ads, which are ads on the Google Search Network. These are text-based ads.
Display ads let you go beyond text in your advertising message. With display, you can use text but also images and video. If you don’t have graphic design skills but do have good images, you can create a Responsive Display Ad in Google ads.
As individual users, we have our social media channels to share thoughts, ideas, and helpful articles for free. We can also pay to promote posts on social media which are commonly used with businesses. Paying for posts on social media is an opportunity to extend your reach to new audiences and make your content more likely to be seen by a specific group.
Shopping ads are ideal for advertisers who have a product they’re selling and are more common in a B2C industry when there are not multiple decision-makers involved in the purchase.
If you go online to buy a $20 item, you probably buy it without much research or surfing. However, if you are considering a bigger ticket item, you do your research and price comparison. You are less likely to buy right away. If you want to get people back to your site because they had not bought from you yet, you can use retargeting. It’s a technique to invite people back to your site to convert based on their interests.
In-stream video ads are seen on YouTube and other sites that are part of the Google Display Network. It offers targeting options by keywords and audience and gives people the option to watch a video after 5 seconds. Knowing that people may choose to not watch your full clip, get your message out quickly so viewers are at least exposed to your brand even if they decide to not watch the whole video.
How to create a PPC marketing plan – in 3 steps…
Now that you have an understanding of what PPC marketing is, it’s time to create a plan before you jump in with your advertising dollars.
1. Identify business goals
What you want to do with PPC marketing should fit into your overall business goals. In the B2C industry, where there are not multiple decision-makers and you’re selling a product, your goal is to have someone come to your website and make a purchase. If they did not make a purchase on that first visit, you might use a remarketing strategy to bring them back to your site.
For B2B Industries with a longer sales cycle, your goal is to get them into your pipeline. For example, an initial CTA may be to have them come to your website and download a white paper. Now that you have that initial contact, you next invite them to a product demo. After that, the next step could be a conversation with a sales rep and so on. Once you understand the goals of your specific business, you can write targeted ads and have CTAs for each of these appropriate steps.
2. Determine budget
The amount of money to put into your PPC advertising depends on how your other channels are performing. If your SEO is not great or you do not have good performance with your email campaigns, you can use paid ads to supplement what is not working well on those channels.
With lead generation, you determine how much each lead is worth to you. Calculate how often leads convert into customers and the average sale from customers. Another budget consideration is how much you pay for clicks or impressions.
It also helps to see what your competitors are doing. With a tool such a SpyFu, you can enter a competitor’s website and get a view of what they spend on paid ads. This can help you determine a ballpark for your own campaigns.
When you bid on keywords, you want to look at how common they are and how much they cost. There is a big difference in budget needed for a $3 keyword and a $30 keyword. If your keyword is very niche and not commonly searched, it may not cost a lot. When you have some of these estimates, you can then use the CallRail calculator to estimate a PPC budget.
3. Identify channels
Finally, consider the channel where you put your paid ads. With low dollar B2C purchases, you will do well on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest since they have a large diverse audience and are very visual platforms for people who want to see what they buy. If you are selling in the B2B market, you can target decision-makers by job titles on LinkedIn. This channel is more expensive than others, but the B2B industry typically has larger ad budgets and average deal sizes compared to a small e-commerce brand. Google Ads are a good channel for both B2C and B2B.
Keep in mind that ads on a channel like Facebook can be done well with a little budget whereas LinkedIn is more expensive since it is targeted to a business audience. Both channels are valuable, but Facebook is better for people with a lower budget. To manage costs, you can find your warm audience on Facebook and remarket to them on LinkedIn.
How to build landing pages for PPC campaigns
Not every site needs a separate landing page for a campaign, such as e-commerce sites. Well-defined sites may have existing pages with a core message and a clear call-to-action. But for many campaigns, a dedicated landing page is needed and there are several best practices to consider. Unbounce is a great resource for solid landing page examples and to get assistance in creating landing pages.
One core action
Do not confuse people with too many possible actions they can take when they come to your website. Providing too many options can actually paralyze people, known as the paradox of choice. You also cannot present every option in your ad so it does not make sense to have multiple options on your landing page either. As the popular book by Steve Krug says, “Don’t Make Me Think.” Make it obvious for people to know what to do so they don’t have to think about it once they arrive on the page.
Refrain from including extraneous information on your landing page. If an image, video, download, link, etc has nothing to do with your offer, then it should not be included. Remove the standard navigation because you want people to stay on your page until they complete an action.
Ensure your images are quality and related to the page content. This is not the time to use the same stock images that you see everywhere else. It should support the message on the page.
When people are uncertain about a decision, they look to others to help determine their next step. This is where trust signals such as testimonials come into play. Include testimonials on your page from customers who are glad they worked with you.
Targeting your PPC campaigns – it’s not always about keywords
There are a number of targeting methods available for ads. With some platforms, such as Google, Bing and Amazon, you can target based on keywords. With the Google Display Network, you can choose placements. And with Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin you can target specific audiences. Most channels have multiple options. When you decide which channels to use, explore the different targeting methods because you may not always want to use keywords.
When you do keyword research, the right keywords depend on your offer. If your campaign is focused on awareness, then you will have more high volume and low intent words indicating people are in the early stages and just beginning to do their research. When your campaign goal is a conversion, you want people in the later stages. Those keywords will be lower volume but a higher intent indicating people are closer to purchasing
There are similar considerations with audience targeting. When you retarget and reach returning audiences, they are more likely to convert so you can have a lower-funnel CTA. With a B2B offer, you might choose an audience in the beginning stage of the research process with one ad message. Another ad could be geared to users who are the decision-makers, such as executives on LinkedIn.
If you target by placements, look at trends and your data to determine the best solution. On Facebook, I sometimes exclude the right column because it is more expensive for people to convert. With Google Ads, I exclude mobile apps as a placement because I think those are too often hit by accident. Consider trends about performance in different placements, but it’s always worthwhile to test because you may have a different experience based on your industry.
How to create PPC campaigns
Determine the structure
Determining the structure in advance will make your campaigns easier to manage. The campaign is the highest level of your account and each one may be created based on budget and geographic location of your audience. Each campaign has one or more ad groups in it.
For example, in Google Search Ads, each ad group is set to a specific theme with relevant keywords such as men’s shirts or women’s shirts. In this example, you would not promote both product lines in the same group because it’s too broad. Each ad group has one or more ads which is what users see on the relevant channel. Ads are for users. The ad groups and campaigns are behind the scenes and not something users see.
A helpful structure regardless of the channel is to organize your campaign based on the structure of your website. If we return to the idea of a clothing retailer, they might have sections for men, women and kids. It could also be organized by seasonal clothing, clearance items, etc. Looking at the navigation on your website is a good place to start.
Enabling conversion tracking on your website enables to see if your PPC campaign goals are being met because it shows what happened on your website after someone clicked your ad. A conversion is an action that you define as being important to your business such as a phone call, purchase, or filling out a lead-generation form. View the guidelines for each platform to see what is required to set up conversion tracking, such as with Google Ads or Facebook Ads.
How to create PPC ads
Creating ads is the fun part – for me anyway! This is where your creativity can run wild as you determine which images to use and messages to promote in your ad. Whether your ad is an image or only text, the CTA should be a verb. All ads should be clear on what the user should do once they click on it and the CTA helps guide that. If your ad invites them to a free download, when they click on it and arrive on the landing page, they should immediately see the download option and not have to hunt for it.
Good ads speak to the audience using their language and their needs. It is easy for brands to talk about why they might be better than other companies or what is special about what they offer. While there is a place for that with testimonials on the landing page, these are not things that an audience cares about initially. The audience has a specific problem and wants to know how you would solve it for them.
Leverage the principles of influence
When writing ads, there are psychological principles you can use to influence people to buy from you. The key here is influence, not manipulate. Influence: The psychology of persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini is a book every marketer should read because it helps you understand how people make decisions and why people do what they do.
The reciprocation rule happens when you are offered something for free and then feel that you need to make a purchase. Ads have a free offer because that gets you into the pipeline and once you take that first step, you are more inclined to continue in the funnel.
We are also familiar with the limited-time one where you have an offer that ends at midnight or is only available to the first 50 people. It puts pressure on people to purchase before they miss a deal.
Comparison pricing is another popular one. If you are offered a new piece of technology for $500 it’s hard to know if that’s a good price or bad price. But if that price was previously $1,000 then it does look like a good offer. But this can be manipulative when this is not an actual change in price but just an attempt to look that way. Customers will catch on to this and not be happy. However, if you are legitimately offering a good deal you do want to highlight a significant price decrease so customers do see the value.
The other one I want to mention is social proof. We look around to see if other people think we should do or buy something. The benefits of social proof can be seen on landing pages when advertisers mention awards or testimonials.
Remember – if you manipulate people to buy you might get a customer one time. But not only will they not come back, they will tell all their friends not to visit you either. It never worth compromising to get that one sale.
How to maintain your PPC campaigns
If your PPC campaign is keyword-based, you need to monitor the cost and performance of the keywords in your campaigns. If a keyword is not performing well but is important to your overall strategy, you may not want to remove it from your campaign. Instead, you could put it into its own ad group and create new ad copy to better incorporate that keyword. You could also have a separate landing page is more targeted to that specific keyword. If you’re not sure about the importance of the keyword, you could pause it temporarily so it does not impact your overall ad performance while you decide if you should keep it.
Compare ads in each ad group to each other. If an ad is low-performing, you may want to pause it, duplicate a high-performing ad, and then make minor edits to the duplicate so you can slightly modify the new ad copy. Do not change too many things in your ad copy at the same time because you will not know what it is that people respond to. For example, you might change only the headline of an ad or you might keep the copy exactly the same and change the image. Although you need to give ads time to perform, you don’t want to keep them running if they do not resonate with your audience.
Another tactic for maintaining your campaigns is viewing the performance differences based on where the ad is seen. With Google Ads, you have the Search Network, Display Network and Search Partners. With Facebook, you can see how your ad does in the news feed versus the right hand column. Or compare the Facebook performance to Instagram performance. It is good practice to test multiple networks and placement options because you cannot always predict how your ad is going to perform, but you can learn very quickly which options are best for your account
Also watch how your budget is being used over the course of a month. If you blow through your budget quickly and the campaign is doing well, it’s ideal to add a little bit more to it. If you are underspending and need to spend a specific amount each month, then you can revisit your keyword strategy and find new words. If you have a maximum cost for each click set in your account, you could also raise that to spend your monthly budget. We have several additional tips to avoid under and overspending your budget.
Reporting PPC marketing performance
When it comes time to report on your PPC campaign results, you need to think back to what your original goals were to determine if your campaigns were successful and ensure you report on the right data. If your goal was to increase awareness, then a metric such as impressions is important. If filling out a form is your key conversion, then you want to know not only how many people filled out the form but also how many people visited the page yet did not fill it out. A significant difference in those numbers could indicate a problem with the design or language of your landing page.
After you run campaigns for a while, you want to include historical data in your reports. This way, you can see if campaign performance is improving or declining which could happen for a number of reasons. One reason for a decline is if more competitors enter the space. When there’s more competition, the budget may no longer get as many results as in the past. Performance can also decline if there is fatigue with your ad. If you approve your ad copy one time and don’t make any changes to it, people see the same ads over and over and they become blind to them. If you’ve been watching your campaigns – managing keywords and making appropriate changes based on performance – then you should see an improvement in your campaigns over time.
Although the recipient of your reports does not need to see every detail, you – as the analyst – should go deeper so you have solid recommendations going forward for the campaign. Beyond the basic metrics, it is useful to know when the campaigns do well. Many B2B campaigns run Monday through Friday which makes sense because that is when most businesses are open. It can still be useful to test weekends for a short period of time. For example, a campaign may do well on Saturday morning as the workweek often extends into off-hours and people are catching up. Or a Monday through Friday campaign may be best, but most clicks happen towards the end of the day. In that case, ad scheduling is a good tactic.
Each channel, such as Facebook or Google Ads, has basic report features built into the platform so it is a good place to start if you want to see the performance on one channel. With Google Ads, you can use a script to pull your ad data into a presentation with the Google Slides API.
PPC reporting templates
While including raw numbers and percentages is useful, especially as you view trends or to back up your analysis, a numbers only report is not easy on the eyes. This is where a visual tool is helpful to create dashboards.
But creating these reports from scratch is a waste of time that could be better spent on strategic work. Supermetrics templates make it easy to report, monitor and analyze marketing campaigns in your tool of choice, whether that’s Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or Data Studio.
Paid Channel Mix Template from Supermetrics
If you’re not already using Supermetrics, why not sign up for a free trial?
Turning insights into action
Now that you have your basic report, you want to present it in the context of how the results aligned with the business goals. Don’t try to hide anything in your report as you make recommendations because it will come up later. Everyone is going to have wins and losses and you need to highlight both. When you present your losses, make sure that you have a recommendation about how to come back from it.
Some of the recommendations will be outside the scope of the PPC campaign itself. One is the landing page. Some campaigns will try to get by without a dedicated landing page and instead use a page from the existing website. These may actually perform fine and can continue being used in the campaign. But the campaign results could indicate a dedicated landing page is needed so you may need to make a case for that.
Results may also indicate that it’s time to do a split test to ensure your campaign is continually improving. As you do your tests, note which elements were tested, how long the test ran, and what you learned from it so you can have an action plan for the next iteration of your campaign.
As you review your data – whether it’s weekly or monthly – make sure your action is truly an action. Reviewing data at a meeting and setting the next meeting is not an action. As a result of reviewing your reports, you should make a decision about whether there is a need for more budget, if you have the right data to make decisions, and the overall impact on your PPC campaign business to date. Whether your budget is big or small, you want every dollar you put into PPC marketing to be worthwhile.
PPC marketing is a complex field, but it is also one where you can start with a low budget and simple ads on only one channel. Once you understand the pros and cons and make the decision that PPC marketing is something that you want to try, start by creating a plan rather than jumping right in and creating ads on different platforms.
Consider your goals and who you want to reach with your ads. You may decide there’s a certain type of demographic you want to reach or an audience using specific search terms to solve a problem. That will help you determine if you want audience focused ads or keyword targeted ads.
Once you create ads, check them regularly, especially in those first few days to see if they perform as expected. After ads run for a while, report on their performance. Highlight metrics that matter to your business and the ones that you are going to take action on. Using a template will make this process much easier.
Links to further reading