The beginner’s guide to PPC

by Meredith Stack

Whether your business is already established or brand-new, pay-per-click (PPC) marketing can help you grow your business and drive sales revenue. But if you’ve never dealt with PPC campaigns before, the process can be daunting: You’ll have to learn about new advertising networks, master the definitions of new terminology, and suffer through the growing pains of optimizing an ad strategy through a process of trial and error.

It sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if you’re a small-business owner with a limited understanding of digital advertising, successful PPC campaigns are well within your reach — and they could soon become a valuable channel for reaching new customers. Here’s a brief beginner’s guide to help you get your feet wet.

Table of Contents

What is PPC marketing?

Pay-per-click marketing goes by many names. You may have heard phrases such as: - Pay-per-click advertising - Click advertising - Search engine marketing (SEM) - Search ads - PPC marketing

Pay-per-click marketing (or pay-per-click advertising) is a type of digital marketing through which you are charged only when your ads are clicked. Instead of purchasing ad space for a set period of time—the way you might rent out a roadside billboard—PPC marketing allows you to pay for ad space based on how many click referrals the ad generates.

Businesses use PPC ads to drive traffic to specific web pages — called landing pages. These can be pages for specific offers, products, or services, or they can go straight to your homepage.

The goal is to place search ads, displays ads, and other PPC campaigns in online ad space where potential customers will see the advertisement, click on the link, and then (hopefully) complete a conversion action. These actions, which can include making a purchase or filling out a lead generation form, typically take place once the user reaches the landing page.

Generally, you will see PPC refer to ads that are served through a search engine using platforms such as Google Ads (formerly AdWords) or Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads). However, you can also set up ads on most major social media networks and other third-party platforms that manage a large ad inventory to use PPC budget settings and optimizations.

Here are some types of ads you should know about when you start with PPC:

  • Search ads: When you search on Google, Bing, or Yahoo and the top results are advertisements shown to you based on the keywords you used in your search, also known as “search terms.” These are typically formatted as text ads.
  • Display ads: When you see graphic ads that are embedded on websites for different products and services and are shown based on your previous website visits using a process called “retargeting.”
  • Social media ads (paid social): When you see sponsored posts embedded into your feed on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and more for pages you may not follow yet.
  • Sponsored product listings: Similar to search results ads but are specifically formatted as click-to-purchase ads in shopping-related searches using platforms such as Google Shopping or Amazon PPC (also known as Sponsored Products).

The cost of these campaigns is determined by two key factors: how many clicks your ads receive and how much competition there is for certain keywords you are targeting. Pay-per-click advertising, which is also sometimes referred to as cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-action (CPA) advertising, differs from another common method such as cost-per-mille (CPM), in which ads pay a flat rate based on the cost of receiving 1,000 impressions for an ad.

While some publishers prefer CPM pricing methods, PPC tends to be the most popular method among both ad publishers and advertising brands, in part because pricing more accurately reflects the value and success of an ad.

Although you can set a budget to control how much you spend on a given campaign, the cost per click for your ads will determine how much traffic a single ad campaign is able to generate.

Getting started with PPC advertising

Once you decide you’re interested in running PPC ads to promote your business, you will need to identify the network and tools you will use to run your PPC campaigns. You won’t be locked into using any of these solutions, but you will need to weigh the pros and cons of various networks and tools to determine what works best for your business.

What network should you use for PPC?

Whether you start out with one PPC platform or decide to test a few different options to compare the results, you’ll need to wade through the various PPC network offerings and decide where to start. Here are some of the top network types to consider:
  • Search-based networks: These include Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising, which are built off the Google and Bing search engines. These networks also manage a large network of display and other types of PPC ads, but search inventory is one of their strongest selling points. Google also has a far larger network than that of any competitor, giving it an unrivaled ability to place your PPC ads in highly relevant spots. But the popularity of Google can also increase its cost. Bing may offer more affordable options for some businesses.
  • Our recommendation: Research the networks your potential customers, or target audience, are using in their searches and start there to get the most bang for your buck.
  • Other third-party networks: AdRoll, Revcontent, and BuySellAds are other popular PPC networks your business might want to try. Each has its own requirements, strengths, and limitations. Do your research on these third-party networks to make sure their offerings align with your business goals.
  • Our recommendation: Start with search-based networks to get comfortable with PPC campaigns, and then look into these third-party networks to expand your reach if you have the budget. These can be great for retargeting campaigns.

What are the best PPC tools?

You also need the support of PPC tools that can help you research, analyze, and optimize your PPC strategy. Here are some popular tools to consider:
  • Google Analytics: Measures the performance of your landing pages once you start your PPC campaigns, especially if you are kicking off campaigns in Google Ads. Because this tool is also part of the Google suite, your data will be clean and integrate with your ads and website performance seamlessly.
  • SEMrush: Analyzes your competitors’ PPC strategies, as well as organic search performance. Use this tool to research keywords, calculate quality scores, and build a successful PPC strategy right from the start.
  • Google Ads Keyword Planner: Estimates the success of certain keywords based on Google Ads performance data. You can use this tool to research the potential PPC bid prices, click rates, and total PPC traffic for campaigns you end up launching on Google Ads.
  • Databox: Offers real-time PPC reporting so you can evaluate PPC campaigns as they take place. Databox also combines performance data from multiple channels, which is ideal when you’re testing out multiple PPC networks at once. You can customize reports to get exactly the insights you want and quickly generate reports to pass campaign results up to your boss.
  • CallRail’s Automation Rules and Call Highlights: CallRail’s tracking tools can help generate valuable data-driven insights if you’re hoping to use PPC campaigns to drive inbound calls. Automation Rules helps monitor inbound phone calls to identify keywords and phrases that might be targeted through PPC campaigns. Call Highlights analyzes the content of those phone calls to identify new keywords that might be used in PPC campaigns. And the CallRail platform as a whole combines its own unique call tracking data with Google Ads call data, providing a comprehensive picture of campaign performance.

Best practices for building your PPC strategy

  • Always start with an end goal. Don’t create a pay-per-click campaign out of a vague sense of curiosity. Every PPC ad should start with a clear goal it’s hoping to achieve, such as attracting new customers, generating new leads for your sales team, or increasing sales among new and existing customers. The strategy and features of each PPC ad will be dictated by the goal it is pursuing.
  • Set budgets based on your keyword research. It’s important to set budgets and operate within your means. But you shouldn’t set firm budgets until you’ve evaluated keywords and are able to estimate the cost per click for the terms on your keyword list.
  • Test plenty of different elements. Even if you have success with a certain ad element, such as the tone of your ad copy or the visual elements of a PPC display ad, it’s important to keep experimenting and testing new elements in successive campaigns. By sticking too closely to what has performed well in the past, you could be stopping yourself from discovering even more successful elements and strategies that would push your ROI higher and higher.
  • Give each ad a clear call to action (CTA). Again, this is determined by your goal: If you want ad viewers to download a free guide you’re offering, tell them to click the ad to download their free guide right away. A lack of clarity or a clear CTA will torpedo ad performance.
  • Don’t be discouraged by poor results. Your first campaign might not be a success — and why would it be? You’ve never done this before. Frame those first campaigns as a starting point to grow from: As you test new approaches and see new results, you can use data-driven insights to evaluate your performance and gradually build toward a better ROI.

Tips for launching your first PPC campaign (for beginners)

Once you’ve settled on a PPC network and rounded up the PPC tools you’re going to try out, it’s time to launch your first campaign. Regardless of which network you use, follow these basic steps:
  1. Define the goal of your ad. It can’t be overstated: Most of the decisions you make when building a PPC campaign are dictated by your end goal.
  2. Integrate your PPC tools. Whether you go with SEMrush, CallRail, or other tools to support your PPC campaigns, integrate them into your PPC campaign manager to start reaping the benefits of these solutions.
  3. Conduct keyword research. Identify target keywords that offer relevance to your audience, enough volume to reach an online user base, and the right price point to maximize your incoming traffic. Consider your keyword’s cost per click in your keyword research to help make the most of your budget and ensure you aren’t paying too much for keywords that aren’t as successful. Also review keywords that are not a good fit; these are called “negative keywords.” Learn more about using negative keywords in this article (issue No. 3).
  4. Craft compelling ad copy and a strong CTA. Select other elements as needed, such as visual imagery for display ads. To increase the performance of your ads, sprinkle your keywords into your ad copy with a clear CTA. Use action phrases such as “learn more” or “start today” to create a sense of urgency for your audience to take action. CTAs have shown to greatly improve the percentage of clicks your ads get per view, also known as your “click-through rate.”
  5. Link the ad to your desired landing page. You should also check your landing page prior to launching the campaign to make sure it’s optimized for your campaign. This includes ensuring that the CTA on your landing page aligns with the CTA in your ad.
  6. Double-check your budget and launch your campaign. Once the ad is ready to go, make sure you’ve chosen the correct budget amount. Then you’re ready to take your campaign live.
  7. Monitor results, draw insights, and optimize. As your campaign is underway, use your PPC tools and campaign manager to track results and identify strengths and weaknesses. Use this feedback to guide optimizations that enhance future PPC ads and improve your performance over time.

PPC campaigns may require an adjustment period as beginners become familiar with these tools, but the platforms are designed to be simple enough for the average small-business owner to use this ad solution to grow their business. With a little patience and attention to detail, PPC ads can become a valuable new channel that grows both your customer base and your company’s revenue.

Your PPC glossary for beginners

  • Impressions: This metric tells you how many times your ad was shown.
  • Click-through rate: This metric tells you how many times your ad was seen divided by how many times it was clicked. You can also see this on the keyword level.
  • Conversions: This metric tells you how many actions were taken as a result of someone seeing your ad. You set the definition of a conversion for your PPC campaigns and can include clicks, form submissions, phone calls, and more.
  • Conversion rate: This metric tells you the number of conversions divided by how many interactions you had on your ad during the same period.
  • Ad group: If you create multiple ads, you can group them based on their topic for better optimizations. This is where you control settings across all ads in that ad group like keyword targeting.
  • Campaign: When you have multiple ad groups, you will want to also organize them on the campaign level, designating settings such as budget and location targeting.
  • Ad extensions: Ad extensions allows you to show additional details about your business, such as your address, phone number, and secondary links to your website.
  • Broad match: This is a keyword setting that shows your ads to people who search for your keyword specifically in a search engine or people who search for a variation of your keyword or a related topic.