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Pay-Per-Click Marketing: Your Guide to Getting Started With Paid Search

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Pay-per-click marketing can be a powerful tool in your promotional arsenal. If your goals are to grow your online visibility, drive traffic, generate leads, and increase sales, pay-per-click (PPC) can help you accomplish all of those things.

But before you can reap these benefits, you need to have a full understanding of how pay-per-click marketing works and how to best optimize your ads to fully utilize your budget and attract your ideal audience.

The rest of this post will help you grow your knowledge about pay-per-click marketing so you can set up high-performing PPC campaigns. This post will look at:

Download the complete pay-per-click marketing guide now.

What is Pay-Per-Click Advertising?

Pay-per-click advertising, also known as PPC or search engine marketing (SEM), is a tactic where a brand places an ad online and pays each time a user clicks on it. There is no cost to place the ad. The cost is only incurred when users engage with the ad.

Pay-per-click marketing can be broken down into two categories:

  • Search advertising: Ads that appear as search results on search engine results pages (SERPs)
  • Display advertising: Ads that appear as graphics, videos, or paid posts typically found on social media feeds and other third-party websites

This post will mostly talk about search advertising PPC campaigns.

The Most Popular PPC Platforms

While there are multiple platforms for pay-per-click marketing, most marketers use Google Ads for their PPC search ad campaigns.

Google Ads, formerly Google AdWords, is the most popular PPC search advertising provider.

Because most people use Google for search, it’s the ideal place for placing paid search ads. These ad results show up on SERPs and include an “Ad” designation that shows they are paid, not organic, listings.

Because most people use Google for search, it’s the ideal place to set up paid search ads. Click To Tweet
pay-per-click marketing search results

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.

Other popular pay-per-click marketing providers include other search engines and also social media sites such as:

  • Bing Ads
  • Facebook Ads
  • Twitter Ads
  • Promoted Pinterest Pins
  • LinkedIn Ads
  • Quora Ads

Many of the social networks use a form of display PPC. This is an example of how a display PPC ad would appear on Facebook:

But again, this guide is about PPC search ads and will primarily focus on ads that appear as search results on SERPs.

How Does Pay-Per-Click Work?

As its name implies, PPC is an advertising method where a brand sets up an ad and pays each time a user clicks on that ad. A simple explanation of this process looks like this:

  1. Through keyword discovery, a brand identifies relevant, popular terms that its audience regularly searches for.
  2. A brand creates a search result ad that will be visible to users when they search for the target keywords.
  3. A user searches for one of the keywords, sees the ad on a SERP, and clicks on it.
  4. The brand is charged for the user clicking on the ad.

Here’s a more specific pay-per-click marketing example:

  1. Dropbox sees that its target audience regularly searches for “cloud storage.”
  2. The company creates a PPC search ad to show when users search for “cloud storage.” Dropbox pays nothing to set up the ad campaign through Google Ads.
  3. A user searches for “cloud storage,” sees the Dropbox paid search result, and clicks on it.
  4. Dropbox is charged.
dropbox pay-per-click marketing example

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.

This breakdown explains how the ad process works. Now, let’s dive deeper into how to set up pay-per-click marketing campaigns on Google Ads.

Free Download: Your Guide to Getting Started with Pay-Per-Click Marketing

If your goal for PPC is to show paid search results to users, Google Ads is your best bet. It is the most popular search engine with the most users.

Understanding Your Google Ads Account

Before we look at how to set up your pay-per-click marketing campaign, familiarize yourself with some Google Ads terminology and tools.

Campaigns are the top-level organizational structure of your account within Google Ads. They are usually organized to reflect a specific theme related to your business. You can have one or more campaigns within your Google account. Guidelines you set within a campaign include budget, language, location, distribution for the Google Network, and more. Within a campaign, you can have one or more ad group.

A shoe store may have campaigns for men’s shoes, women’s shoes, and children’s shoes.

Ad groups are the next level of organization within your plan. You can have more than one ad group within a campaign. At this point, you can get more specific about a theme of your business. Each ad group contains one or more ads.

Within its women’s shoes campaigns, the shoe store may have ad groups for heels, flats, and sandals.

Keywords are the terms targeted within your campaign. You select the terms you think your audience will search for. When users search for those terms, they may see your search ad on SERPs.

The women’s shoes, heels campaign may include keywords such as: blue high heels, platform heels, and strappy heels.

Ads are made up of the actual content and copy that users see on SERPs when they search for your target keywords. You have multiple options for how these ads look and what information they contain. Text ads always include two headline sections and a description line. They can be expanded to include sitelink, callout, phone, and location extensions and more. (You can also create rich product listings and image ads.)

pay-per-click marketing ad

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.

Defining Google Ads Campaign Settings

Now that you know the basic structure of a Google Ads account, let’s look closer at the settings you can control within each of your pay-per-click marketing campaigns.

Campaign types are the options you have for where you want your ads to appear. There are multiple campaign types, including display network, shopping campaign, and video campaign. The campaign type that you would use for PPC lead generation is called a search network campaign. Ads created in a search network campaign appear as text ads in SERPs.

Device targeting gives you options for which types of devices will be able to see your ads. You have options to target desktops, tablets, mobile devices, or a custom combination of the three. Depending on your ad types, you may want to focus on one device type. In general, search ads work well on every device.

Location targeting gives you options to target specific geographic areas. You can select this by multiple options, such as city name, zip code, or mile radius. This setting may be used by local businesses that only want to connect with people who live near their business.

Budget is the amount you want to spend on your campaign. You use this to specify how much, on average, you’d like to spend each day. Later in this post, we’ll look closer at how to choose a budget and set bids for your ads.

Setting Up PPC Ads on Google

Now that you have the language and knowledge to navigate your Google Ads account, let’s look at the best ways to set up and optimize your campaigns.

Organize Your Account

When you’re ready to launch a pay-per-click marketing strategy, start by organizing your business into categories. As mentioned earlier, your Google account has a structure of campaigns and sub-groups of ad groups within those campaigns.

Create a structure for how you want to organize that information. For example, the shoe store could have the following structure.

  • Campaign #1: Men’s Shoes
    • Ad Group #1: Sneakers
    • Ad Group #2: Dress Shoes
    • Ad Group #3: Sandals
  • Campaign #2: Women’s Shoes
    • Ad Group #1: Heels
    • Ad Group #2: Flats
    • Ad Group #3: Sandals

It will be easier to set up your account once you have this structure. Planning out your ad campaigns will also help you create more relevant and targeted ads with your Google ad groups.

Perform PPC Keyword Research

Once you have your campaign structure, look for the keywords to use in your ad group. Perform keyword research to identify the top keywords in your industry.

To find the best keywords for your PPC campaign, use Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty Tool. Enter a topic related to your business, brand, or offerings and discover terms to use for your campaign. Look for terms that have a high keyword popularity score, which indicates that users frequently search for these terms.

pay-per-click keyword research

In your keyword research, it helps to know which search terms are popular among users. It also helps to know which search terms are targeted by your competitors.

Knowing which PPC terms your competitors are targeting can help you see which search phrases are performing well and which terms may be too expensive to compete with. You may also find relevant keywords you hadn’t thought of, but your competitors are already getting traffic for.

To get a look at how your competitors are using pay-per-click marketing, use Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix. Enter up to 10 of your competitors to get a look at which terms they are targeting within their own paid campaigns.

pay-per-click competitor keyword research

Once you determine the keywords you want to target, you can then base the rest of your campaign strategy on targeting those terms.

Set Your Pay-Per-Click Marketing Budget

The pay-per-click marketing cost in Google Ads includes two methods for setting your budget: daily budget and bidding.

  • Budget is the total amount you’re willing to spend on a campaign per day.
  • Bid is the total amount you’re willing to spend for a specific keyword (how much you will pay when a user clicks on an ad that showed when they searched for the target keyword).

When you’re starting out, you may want to spread your budget across all of your campaigns. As you start to see results from your campaigns, you can decide to focus your budget on higher-performing keywords and campaigns.

For bids, you should select a budget based on keyword competition. Choose a bid that will give your ad a desirable ranking while still staying within your budget.

Manage and Optimize Your PPC Campaigns

Once you set up a pay-per-click marketing campaign, your work is not over.  To get the most out of your campaign, you should continue to monitor and optimize your account in a few ways.

Get the most out of your PPC campaigns by consistently monitoring and optimizing your ads. Click To Tweet

Your goal is to improve your ads so Google gives them priority and you can get the most out of your budget. To accomplish that, you need to consider Quality Score and Keyword Relevance.

  • Quality Score: Google considers factors related to your ads (such as ad content, keywords, and landing pages) to give a Quality Score to your ads. Higher Quality Scores can lead to better ad placement and lower cost-per-clicks.
  • Keyword Relevance: Your keywords should be closely related to the content on the landing page it is driving traffic to. This factor will increase your Quality Score.

Here are some tips for managing and optimizing your PPC campaigns so you can improve your Quality Score, get better ad placements, and pay less per click.

  • Monitor conversion rates. Keep an eye on your campaigns and look for trends that show which settings, keywords, and ads are converting and which are not. Adjust accordingly to get the best results out of your ad spend.
  • Add keywords. Continue to identify and add search terms and phrases to your campaigns that are relevant to your business and regularly used by your target audience. This process helps you find more keywords you may have missed while setting up your campaign.
  • Remove negative keywords. Identify terms in your campaigns that aren’t converting and remove them. This process can improve your Quality Score and help you avoid wasting money.
  • Remove costly keywords. If you’re paying a steep price for specific keywords but not seeing very much return on your investment, remove or turn off those terms.
  • Split up ad groups. Break ad groups into smaller, more relevant groups. By having more targeted ad text and landing pages, you can improve click-through rates and your Quality Score.
  • Improve landing pages. To create a landing page that converts, make sure you continually optimize it using conversion rate optimization best practices. The more your pages remain relevant and match search intent, the more likely they are to convert.

Should You Use Pay-Per-Click Marketing?

Just because you know how to set up a pay-per-click marketing campaign doesn’t mean you should jump into Google Ads right away.

Like all good marketing strategies, you should start by looking at your goals and then choosing the best tactics that will lead to your ideal end results. In this case, you need to review your marketing objectives and decide if paid SEM or organic SEO will help you reach your goals.

We recently put together a post and infographic on understanding the difference between SEM vs. SEO. You can check out the whole post or consider these main factors to help you decide which is right for your brand.

How much competition is there for your target keywords?

  • Consider PPC if there is a lot of competition for your target keywords.
  • Consider SEO if there are a lot of organic content gaps to fill in.

How well do you know your market segment?

  • Consider PPC if you don’t know it well yet and want to test your idea, product, or service.
  • Consider SEO if you already know it has long-term value and demand.

How long are your customers’ average buying cycles?

  • Consider PPC if your customers typically know what they want, search for it, and immediately buy it.
  • Consider SEO if your customers research for days, weeks, or months before buying.

What’s the average cost-per-click in your industry?

  • Consider PPC if your cost-per-click is low and within your budget.
  • Consider SEO if the cost-per-click in your industry is very high.

How old are your business and website?

  • Consider PPC if your business is new and you have little to no online presence.
  • Consider SEO if your business and website are established and already have some online authority.

What’s the current state of your website’s SEO?

  • Consider PPC if your website needs a lot of work to improve its current organic SEO factors.
  • Consider SEO if your website is already fairly optimized and currently performing well in organic search.

These factors will help you determine if pay-per-click marketing or organic SEO will help you reach your goals faster and with better results.

Build a Powerful Pay-Per-Click Marketing Campaign

Pay-per-click marketing is an on-demand way to grow your digital visibility, increase website traffic, collect leads, and drive sales. But to get the best results from PPC, you need to take a strategic approach to setting up your campaigns.

You need to target the right keywords and continually update your strategy to improve your campaigns and get the most out of your budget.

With the information in this post and pay-per-click marketing guide, you’re now better equipped to set up strategic PPC campaigns.

To get even more data and information to drive your strategy, sign up for a free trial of Alexa’s Advanced plan. Our tools can help you research your industry and keywords so you can have the information you need to set up high-performing pay-per-click marketing campaigns.

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Pay-Per-Click Marketing: Your Guide to Getting Started With Paid Search