How small businesses can compete with big brands on PPC

Does it seem like your small business’s big competitors are all over the search engine results? And does that frustrate you to no end?

Small-business owners may see pay-per-click advertising, or PPC, as the exclusive domain of bigger brands. Affordability may be an issue, as well as the perception that you can’t possibly compete with the larger competitors’ resources.

However, PPC offers a tremendous opportunity for small businesses to attract new customers without breaking the bank. And companies such as yours aren’t afraid to give paid search a try — 45% of small businesses invest in PPC, according to a 2018 Clutch report. This channel isn’t just for larger enterprises, and with a proactive, careful strategy, you can beat the big guys at their own marketing game.

The benefits of PPC

Google and other search engines should open your business up to the masses, but the need for SEO proves that small-business owners still need to do the legwork to be visible — and your company’s mere existence doesn’t guarantee you’ll be easily found online. PPC campaigns represent the reality that even great SEO doesn’t ensure exposure and that, sometimes, paying for placement can set your business apart with consumers who rely on internet searches to find what they need.

Moreover, consumers seem to prefer, or at least tolerate, sponsored ads in their searches. Research by Clutch found that 75% of people “say paid search ads make it easier to find the information they are searching for on a website or search engine.”

Larger brands carry a recognition that small businesses often don’t. PPC narrows the gap by telling consumers — rather loudly — that another option exists to meet their needs.

Smarter PPC — not necessarily more

Small-business owners may think that the only way to outperform their bigger rivals is to spend more and try to at least approach their competitors’ saturation. This strategy can become expensive in a hurry yet never dent the stranglehold the bigger brands have with paid search. Investing so much in a failed campaign limits what you can do with other marketing channels — plus, walking away becomes more difficult because you’ve invested so much in the PPC effort already.

Therefore, you shouldn’t attempt to outspend your competitors, but instead, outfox them. A smart strategy must begin with a well-defined, realistic budget that gives you flexibility to proceed with PPC how you want to but doesn’t hamstring you to one marketing channel. How much can you afford to spend on an overall campaign? Will cost-per-click (CPC) deliver enough of an ROI in terms of conversions and sales? At what conversion rate will a PPC campaign be profitable? Answering these questions and building and refining a budget will help ensure that your spend is purposeful and cost-efficient.

Go-to goals

PPC campaigns offer deep metrics, allowing small-business owners to set goals, adjust their strategy, and measure success. Goals are especially important to map out a budget and determine ROI — because if a paid campaign doesn’t achieve what you want it to do, it will get even more lost amid the competition’s PPC presence.

Typical PPC goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) can be tied to:

  • Clicks
  • Cost per click
  • Click-through rate
  • Leads generated
  • Cost per lead
  • Cost per conversion
  • Quality score

Not every goal must be tied to a KPI — for example, if you simply want your brand to build some general exposure on search engines, a PPC campaign could help. That said, the more goals you can measure, the better positioned you’ll be to compete with your bigger rivals.

Look at the competition

Although trying to run step for step with your larger competitors on PPC may not be wise, understanding what they’re doing with their ads and placement provides some insight on what consumers expect from online campaigns. Furthermore, checking in on the competition’s PPC — which can be as easy as searching for popular keywords — shows what kind of promotions and specials they’re advertising and leads you to possibly adjust yours accordingly.

Knowing what your rivals aren’t doing with their PPC — or what they’re doing poorly — can be just as valuable. For example, if a competitor is focusing only on text results, a display ad that pops off the Google page could give you an advantage. Alternatively, a drab ad from a rival presents an opportunity to launch a campaign that shows you’re the more dynamic, consumer-focused choice.

Maximize the message

Paid search doesn’t offer much digital real estate to get your message across to the consumer. As already stated, small-business owners don’t enjoy the brand awareness that their larger counterparts do, so your ad copy itself must effectively sell your product and service — and hopefully inspire people to click.

Some tips for optimizing and maximizing your PPC copy include:

  • Get to the point: Again, you won’t have much time and space to appeal to the user, so be succinct and impactful with every word.
  • Distinguish your brand: Elaborate upon what makes your small business unique — especially compared with the competition.
  • Offer value: Tell readers what your business can do for them and how they will benefit by choosing you over a competitor.
  • Include a CTA: Encourage consumers to take the next step with a brief-yet-direct call to action.

These tips may feel like you’ll end up with a bloated PPC ad that scares off readers, but with some practice, you’ll find the messaging that’s both streamlined and compelling.

Key in on keywords

PPC will be effective only if your ads are popping up when someone searches for a term related to your product. Keyword research and usage are critical to ensuring paid campaigns deliver ROI, fulfill goals, and result in sales.

Long-tail keywords provide a PPC boost with consumers who are asking specific questions on a search engine and hoping for specific answers. The drawback with these more detailed terms is that not every user types more than two words on a search — but if bigger competitors already have the basic keywords under their paid command, you might not be able to break through, anyway.

Long-tail keywords catch a more targeted subset of consumers and, in a benefit to small businesses, are cheaper to bid on than shorter, more obvious terms.

Of course, you can’t totally ignore high-volume keywords that competitors might otherwise dominate. Focusing bids on certain times of day, location on the results page, number of impressions, and other considerations lets you set a strategy that doesn’t attempt to overwhelm bigger brands but, rather, allows you to compete when you can gain an advantage.

PPC isn’t limited to paying for a search result and hoping for a click. People may see your ad and decide to call your business, which isn’t an undesirable outcome but can create reporting, keyword, and bidding challenges. Call tracking software can solve these dilemmas and deliver the data you need to inform your strategy and drive conversions and sales.

Learn more about call tracking in our comprehensive e-book, Call Tracking 101.