The best PPC advertising networks for small businesses

When you are looking to take more direct control over the traffic you are bringing to your small business’s website, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a great option. The next step is choosing the PPC ad network where you’ll launch your first campaign. Although Google Ads is almost always the first ad network that comes to mind, the highest-value PPC for small businesses isn’t always on the global leader for this ad product.

If you want to maximize the return on your PPC spending, you should research your options regarding the various PPC advertising networks on the market, as well as the features of the networks that matter most to your PPC strategy.

If you’re unsure of how to evaluate these options and make the best choice for your business, use the following criteria to help compare PPC networks and choose the solution that best serves your business.

Key features of a PPC ad network

Every PPC ad network is going to share some of the same features. But the exact makeup of these features can differ, and those subtle differences can impact the value the platform offers to your business. As you evaluate different networks, pay close attention to these core features:

Ad format

The ad formats offered can vary widely from one platform to another, so if your business is set on a certain format, this feature could go a long way toward narrowing down your options.

Common ad formats include:

  • Text
  • Image
  • Video
  • Web ads
  • Responsive
  • Native

In addition, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all have their own PPC ad products and networks. And some networks will offer custom PPC ad formats targeted to email and other channels.

Keyword research tools

The role of keywords as a targeting tool can vary from one platform to the next. Although Facebook offers keyword research tools and keyword targeting, this feature is just one part of much more expansive targeting capabilities, so the emphasis on keywords isn’t as strong.

By contrast, platforms such as Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising lean heavily on keyword research, so their tools for conducting keyword research are more robust.

Ad inventory (placements)

Where do you want your PPC ads to display? As a small business, you can buy ad inventory virtually anywhere on the internet, but your choice of ad network will limit your options. Google Ads, for example, offers ad placements through searches conducted on Google.com, which is by far the most heavily trafficked option for ad placements. In addition, Google Ads manages a vast network of third-party websites where your PPC campaigns can be launched beyond Google.com.

Many of these platforms offer their own exclusive PPC network. Microsoft Advertising has the Microsoft Search Network; Facebook has its own social media platform as well as Instagram, Messenger, and its Audience Network; and LinkedIn offers its own LinkedIn Audience Network. Mobile is also an important consideration here: If you’re looking to target mobile placements as part of your PPC strategy, your chosen network needs to offer a large inventory.

PPC pricing structure

The way you pay for PPC ads will differ from one platform to the next. Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, and many other major ad networks offer similar cost-per-click pricing models based on keyword competition and ad quality. They also offer low minimum cost requirements, which can appeal to small businesses working on tight budgets.

Other platforms will require a higher floor for PPC spending — AdRoll, for example, requires a minimum monthly spend of $300, which may represent too great a commitment for small businesses just wading into the PPC waters. You’ll need to evaluate these pricing structures to see what works for your business — and you may need to conduct keyword research across multiple platforms to find out where the best value can be found.

What to look for in a PPC ad network for a small business

Your PPC ad network of choice doesn’t affect only the ad placements and formats available to your company — it also determines what success for your campaigns might look like. Because small businesses are operating with more limited resources than larger organizations, they need to pay close attention to the capabilities of each ad network and how each serves their PPC advertising goals.

Here are some of the criteria to review as you weigh the merits of each ad network:

Potential traffic

Different PPC networks offer different amounts of exposure to businesses based on the traffic they’re able to generate. If you’re a company targeting high-volume, short-tail keywords such as “local plumber” or “auto mechanic near me,” this might not matter as much: Even on smaller PPC ad networks, you’re likely to find a healthy amount of PPC referral traffic no matter where you run your ads.

But specialty businesses and certain long-tail keywords might pose a different challenge. Although a large network such as Google Ads or Facebook offers an expansive inventory that will allow you to reliably target even niche audiences with your ads, smaller networks just might not be large enough to accommodate this specific audience targeting. Keyword research and other platform-specific research tools can help you estimate how much volume you can expect from each network, helping you determine whether that solution is right for your business.

Ad content requirements

Each PPC network and PPC ad type will have certain content requirements that advertisers need to follow. A PPC search ad on Google Ads, for example, will have character maximums for the ad title and description. Other types will have restrictions on image size, video length, or other aspects to ensure they fit into the available ad space.

In some cases, the requirements of this content can affect your decision to use a PPC network. You might decide, for example, that Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising enforce similar content requirements that can easily be accommodated, but a different network, such as Pinterest, might have content requirements that are too niche and specialized to justify your efforts. At some point, launching PPC ads is also about efficiency: As a small business, you have only so much time to accommodate different sets of rules.

Breadth and depth of targeting options

Your ability to locate and reach your target audience has a huge impact on the overall value of a PPC advertising network. In terms of targeting, Facebook might offer the best tools on the market for filtering and reaching a niche audience, combining demographic and location information with huge amounts of behavioral data.

Google Ads, meanwhile, is a close second and has expanded both its demographic targeting and its ability to target certain user actions, such as click-to-call, but it can’t quite match the capabilities Facebook offers. AdRoll specializes in retargeting through its massive display network, and LinkedIn might be a better option if you’re targeting business-to-business buyers rather than everyday consumers.

Cost

Pricing structure determines how you’ll pay for your PPC campaigns, but the total budget for a PPC campaign should consider the amount you can expect to pay every month, the associated costs for creating and managing ad campaigns, and the projected return on investment for those efforts.

In the end, your small business needs to have confidence that no matter what it’s spending to run these campaigns, it can cover those costs and turn a profit through the new business the campaigns generate.

How to choose the right PPC network for your small business

Small businesses need to balance many factors when choosing their desired PPC network. Cost is a common constraint such companies will face, but you also need to spend time researching PPC networks to figure out which platforms offer the best targeting and research tools to help you maximize the value of your PPC spending.

Platform comfort also matters. Whether you’re a professional marketer or someone taking the marketing reins in a small, scrappy operation, you need to feel like an expert when using a PPC platform. If you don’t feel like you can harness all of the capabilities offered, you’re probably going to sacrifice value for your PPC spending. Seek out platform-specific tutorials that can help you learn the ins and outs of these prospective platforms.

Finally, don’t feel like you have to settle on one PPC advertising solution right from the start. If you feel strongly about several different platforms, you can always start out using two or three at a time, and even run similar campaigns to test each platform and determine where the greatest value can be found. Research carries you only so far — eventually, you’ll need to test and revise your campaigns before you can truly understand the long-term value offered by PPC advertising.

Alongside SEO and other digital marketing strategies, PPC advertising can help you generate instant exposure and audience engagement. Through testing, refinement, and paying close attention to both your customers’ needs and the PPC platform’s capabilities, any small business can use PPC to build a lucrative new revenue stream and accelerate organizational growth.