PPC Basics: Part 1. How Paid Search Fits into Your Marketing Mix
If you’re new to Internet marketing, it may seem like a little like alphabet soup: PPC, SEO, CPC, CPA…. What does it all mean? In this multi-part series, I’ll be talking about pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, covering the essential elements in running a successful campaign. For starters, let’s talk about what PPC is, and how it fits into the overall marketing mix.
Articles in This Series
- Part 1. How Paid Search Fits into Your Marketing Mix
- Part 2. Keyword Research
- Part 3. Account and Campaign Settings
- Part 4. Keyword Match Types
- Part 5. Ad Copy Development and Testing
- Part 6. Bid Management
- Part 7. Quality Score
- Part 8. Evaluating Data
- Part 9. Dayparting
- Part 10. Geo-Targeting
Background and History of PPC
PPC is an Internet advertising model used on websites, where advertisers pay only when their ad is clicked. While most people think of search engines as the “host” for PPC ads, PPC is not limited to search engines. Many other sites host PPC ads, including blogs, news sites, web-based e-mail, and even social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. This series will focus primarily on search PPC, but it’s important to be aware of the other types as well.
While PPC is a well-known part of online advertising these days, it wasn’t always the case. Early online ads came in the form of banners and pop-ups, and advertisers were charged per impression, not per click. PPC existed in an obscure way in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until Google AdWords launched in 2002 that it became commonplace. As such, PPC is still a mystery to the majority of advertisers.
PPC is a form of performance-based advertising — in other words, the advertiser pays only when results are generated (in this case, a click on the ad). This makes PPC different from most forms of traditional offline marketing, including TV, radio, print, and outdoor. In traditional marketing, the advertiser pays for the ad placement — whether or not the placement gets results. Additionally, traditional media requires a not-insignificant investment in the ad creative. Designers, copywriters, air talent, and broadcast studios are all heavily involved long before a traditional ad hits the marketplace — and that means long lead times, sometimes of several months. Since PPC ads are primarily text-based, one person can create and launch the ads in a very short amount of time, as we’ll see later.
Effective Uses of PPC Advertising
PPC advertising is highly effective because it’s highly measurable. Advertisers can get data at a very detailed level, letting them know exactly what is working and what isn’t. Here are the most common and effective uses of PPC advertising.
Direct marketing is probably the most popular use of PPC, and with good reason. Unlike other forms of online and offline advertising, PPC ads go live almost immediately — enabling advertisers to obtain conversion data the same day the ads start. Since PPC ad copy is almost totally up to the advertiser, it can and should include compelling offers and a strong call to action — a key element of direct marketing. Search PPC also reaches potential customers at just the right moment: when they’re actively searching for a product or service, which is a direct marketer’s dream. While these elements are important to other types of advertising, PPC’s trackability and immediacy makes it a very effective tactic for direct marketers to employ.
Message testing is a major tenet of direct marketing. Direct mail advertisers have been testing for years. But while a direct mail test takes months to get results, PPC tests take only days or weeks. Nearly every element of PPC can be tested, but here are some of the most common tests:
- Keywords. Advertisers can use PPC to discover what keywords or keyphrases their customers are searching for and which of these keyphrases drives the most conversions for their business.
- Ad copy. Which advertising message grabs the most attention? Which message drives the most sales? PPC ad copy testing answers these questions.
- Landing pages. One of the great aspects of PPC is that it’s possible to test multiple landing pages at the same time. Advertisers can learn which pages on their website drive the most sales.
Informing Other Marketing
Because testing is so quick and easy in PPC, the results of keyword, ad copy, and landing page tests can be rolled out to other marketing channels. Many advertisers have successfully developed entire marketing campaign messaging via PPC testing. As a result, it’s advisable to begin marketing campaigns with PPC. Doing so will provide valuable insight into which keyphrases and ad copy points resonate the best with your target audience, and will have a positive impact on the entire campaign, both online and offline.
Benefits of PPC
PPC has several additional benefits:
- Quick implementation. Once you’ve decided on keywords and ad copy, campaigns can be set up and go live in a couple of days. (I’ll cover how to do this in future installments of this series.)
- Controllable cost. You decide how much you’re willing to spend per day, so it’s easy to stay within your budget.
- Inexpensive traffic. You bid what you can afford to pay for each click.
- Trackable results. As mentioned earlier, you’ll find out quickly what works and what doesn’t, and you can edit your campaign accordingly.
- Highly testable. You can test keywords, ad copy, and landing pages to find out what works best, and use this data to inform other channels.
Drawbacks of PPC
- It can be complex. On the surface, PPC sounds easy: just pick your keywords, ad copy, and landing pages and proceed. Yes, compared with traditional marketing, PPC is easy — but there are many features and settings that can trip you up if you’re not careful. I’ll cover best practices in future installments to help you avoid pitfalls.
- It requires constant monitoring. If you don’t set budgets and bids properly, you can blow through money quickly. PPC requires daily oversight to ensure this doesn’t happen.
- It can expose flaws in your website. Issues with functionality, a lack of a call to action, and competitive disadvantages will come to light quickly in a PPC campaign.
- Ad copy has limitations. PPC ads are very brief: you get 25 characters for the ad title and 70 characters for the description. Lengthy explanations and long lists of features won’t work in PPC. Ads are also limited to text — there are no images in search ads.
- Your competitors appear alongside you. This happens in other marketing too — print and the Yellow Pages come to mind. Still, it’s important be aware of this limitation when considering a PPC campaign.
As we’ve learned, PPC is an important element in the overall marketing mix. It’s especially effective for direct marketing, testing, and informing other marketing efforts. While there are some drawbacks, including complexity and brevity, in most cases the benefits outweigh the costs. PPC is quick to implement and provides immediate feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. The costs are controllable, and it’s a highly effective online testing tool.