PPC bidding recommendations for beginners

In pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you bid on keywords. Then, when people search for those keywords, your ad or listing appears high up on the results page, based on how much you bid.

The bidding aspect is what throws off many non-marketing people, conjuring up images of a fast-talking auctioneer at a county fair. The process is much different than what you might expect, and fortunately, Google makes developing a PPC bidding strategy a cinch for beginners.

The following plan will get you started with basic bidding on Google Ads. As you gain confidence, you’ll be able to explore more advanced strategies — but even this novice approach can still open new marketing channels for your small business.

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Getting started

If you’ve never used Google Ads before, setting up an account and getting your first campaign going is easy:

  • Follow Google’s instructions to sign up for Google Ads.
  • When you click to start a new campaign, the interface will give you some basic options. Choose “Website Traffic,” and then choose “Search” and continue.
  • The next page is the basic dashboard, and it can look intimidating at first. Name your campaign, and then unclick the boxes in the Networks section — these are advanced options that beginners should avoid.
  • Scroll down and pick your language(s).

The next steps require a little more attention, which we’ll detail soon. You don’t need to worry about ad groups just yet — as you become more accustomed to PPC bidding, you can give this intermediate feature a try.

Clues about PPC keywords

Keywords are essential to any PPC campaign in Google Ads. You can’t simply hope that a random search will produce your ad — keywords stack the odds and your PPC bidding strategy in your favor.

Yet many PPC newcomers find keyword research daunting, seemingly requiring too much work and a cross-your-fingers approach that hopes the keywords you dig up will be effective. This should never be a deterrent to a paid strategy, and Google Ads can do most — if not all — of the legwork for you with its Keyword Planner, which is found under the tools/settings icon (the wrench).

The initial process is simple and geared toward beginners and experts alike: Enter some industry terms and/or your small business’s domain and let the tool return recommended keywords. The tool also provides estimated bid values for keywords, offering a good idea on what’s popular with search engine users and what will cost you more to get those users’ to engage with your ads.

When choosing keywords, consider how narrow or broad you want to be based on what your target audience is looking for.

If a keyword is too specific or you restrict your keyword bids to “Exact Match,” it might not draw enough search traffic. The opposite is just as tricky — for example, a plumbing business that chooses “leak detection” for a broad match might be displayed (and would be charged) for keywords like “roof leak detection” or “engine leak detection” for people looking for ways to fix a leak in their roofs or cars. Phrase match offers a strong middle-of-the-road setting for PPC beginners.

Pro tip: Search some of your keywords on Google to see what results and ads show up and get a clear picture of how your ad would fit in. Consider using long-tail keywords, or three- to four-word phrases, to mirror how your ideal customer may be searching.

Once your ads are live, you will be able to see what phrases people are actually using in their searches that also show your ads. These terms are referred to as search queries and will be in their own “search terms” report in Google Ads.

Pick a goal

Before beginners decide on how much they want to spend with their PPC bidding strategy, they must decide which metric they’ll be paying for. The basic Google Ads menu offers bids focused by:

  • Clicks
  • Conversions
  • Conversion value (how much each conversion is worth)
  • Impression share (how many times your ads are shown versus how many times they could appear)

As a beginner, start with clicks and focus solely on that for a while — until you’ve moved well beyond the novice stage. Bidding on clicks is much easier to understand because it’s such a one-for-one transaction and you get direct results: You spent this much to get x number of clicks, thus informing your future bidding strategy.

Google Ads offers more advanced options, such as maximized clicks and target return on ad spend (ROAS), than the four we’ve listed — trust us, they’re really advanced for the PPC neophyte. Ignore the link to those options and stick with clicks.

Note: If you decide to set your goal for conversions, you will need to take extra steps for more advanced conversion tracking.

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Set a location

Most small businesses cover a relatively small geographic area — any PPC bidding strategy for beginners must account for this reality. You naturally may want to cast as wide a net as possible with your Google Ads strategy, but you don’t want to be paying for clicks from so far away that customers won’t travel to you or you to them.

Another consideration with setting the location for your ads is cost. Bigger cities with more competition require higher bids than those in rural or exurban areas. Google Ads’ setup almost encourages you to go big, but stay local to realize a better ROI.

As you set locations for your paid ads, think about the services you want to offer and the keywords you’re using to sell those services. Our plumber might not mind traveling 50 miles for a big job that is advertised in a PPC ad, but driving that far to fix a loose toilet handle won’t be as cost-efficient. Break your keywords down, pick the most profitable services you want to initially focus on, and set a search area that makes the most sense to your business.

Set a bid

At last, you should be ready to set a bid. Although the number you set here is important, it might be the least consequential step of the process — everything involved with the setup, the keywords, and the location are more critical to the success of your PPC efforts.

According to Google Ads:

“For CPC bidding campaigns, you set a maximum cost-per-click bid - or simply "max. CPC" - that's the highest amount that you're willing to pay for a click on your ad (unless you're setting bid adjustments, or using Enhanced CPC).

Example If you think it's worth US$.25 to have someone visit your website, you can set US$0.25 as your max. CPC. You'll pay a maximum of US$0.25 when a person reads your ad and clicks it, and you pay nothing if they don't click.

Let's say you create a text ad and set a max. CPC bid of US$0.25. If 500 people see the ad, and 23 of them click to learn more, you pay only for those 23 clicks. Your max. CPC bid was US$0.25, so you'll pay no more than 23 clicks x US$0.25, or US$5.75.”

As a beginner, you likely want to let Google Ads automate your bidding, meaning the application will determine if bids are high enough and set the price appropriately. In this way, you won’t need to constantly be adjusting your bid based on what the market or your competitors are doing, or on how keywords are performing. With clicks, Google Ads will automatically adjust your bidding to optimize the number of people who visit your website and/or fill out a form.

However, you still need to set a maximum daily amount you’re willing to spend on the campaign. This will be dictated by your budget and what the Keyword Planner is telling you the keywords are worth. Follow these tips when setting this amount:

  • Break down your monthly PPC budget into a daily figure — so $5,000 a month would be entered as roughly $150 a day.
  • Set a max click cost, which will define the most you want to spend per click and the number you are hoping for each day at full price. For example, $25 will net you six clicks with your $150 daily budget — assuming each will cost the full amount (you may end up with more depending on where the actual cost per click lands).
  • Rely on your keyword research to set a reasonable daily max. You may find that you aren’t budgeting enough — you won’t make any headway if you are setting a $15 limit for keywords that cost $20 per click.

Need help setting your budget and goals? Here’s a handy worksheet that can help you calculate your ad spend.

Returning to our plumbing business, it may be happy to pay more per click and set a slightly higher budget to draw more clicks — and more potential nearby customers — from a busy urban area. Or the business might see an opportunity to advertise with a less common keyword in a geographic area that has less competition. Again, everything you do before defining your bid information will factor into how much you type in for your max amounts.

As you become more comfortable with understanding PPC and interpreting the bids Google Ads is setting for you — as well as the data generated from clicks and impressions — you can begin to manually set bids. Automated bidding provides a great way for beginners to dip their toes in the PPC waters, but ultimately, it benefits Google in the long term because you’ll pay more. Moving beyond the novice stage ultimately will save you money.

Incorporating call tracking

Data is key to the success — or lack thereof — of any modern marketing strategy, including PPC. Google Ads generally delivers the metrics you seek, except for one area: people calling your business. Did they call after seeing your ad on Google? Or did they simply obtain your number from another source? Determining the efficacy of your PPC campaign is difficult if you can’t track anything beyond clicks.

[Call tracking software] solves this problem by generating unique phone numbers to be used with each PPC campaign. That way, if a lead does call your business after clicking on one of your ads, you’ll know precisely which ad they saw from which campaign. This not only nets you a potential new customer, but it also identifies which campaigns were more effective and at what bidding price.

CallRail has pioneered call tracking for PPC campaigns as well as non-digital marketing channels such as print and billboards. Check out our guide, Getting Started with CallRail, to learn more.