What is PPC? A Guide to the Basics

What is PPC: A Guide to the Basics

It might come as no surprise that today an increasing number of people are spending the majority of their waking hours staring at screens or swiping themselves into a frenzy on their tablets and smartphones. A recent study by market-research group Nielsen revealed that American adults now spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, or simply interacting with media online, up from nine hours and 32 minutes just four years ago. From a marketing and advertising perspective, that is a lot of face time you could be missing out on, and with it, brand awareness and revenue. Consequently, it’s more important than ever that you’re employing pay per click advertising, or PPC, to maximize value, profitability and ROI on your campaigns. So what is PPC?

We’ll break it down.

What is PPC?

So, then, what is PPC? How does it work? And what are the benefits?

While the field has matured and grown increasingly complex in recent years, at its core, PPC is a model of internet marketing by which advertisers pay a fee each time a user clicks on one of their ads that appear online. It is, essentially, a measured method of buying visits to your website rather than deriving them through organic search with the idea that these ads will be of greater value to your advertising goals: more targeted and carrying a higher likelihood of conversion.

There are several types of PPC advertising, but the most popular remains paid search, commonly known as search engine marketing (SEM). This sophisticated, keyword-driven discipline allows industry professionals to place bids for ad placement on a search engine results page (SERP) real-estate when a consumer searches for a keyword that is related to their products or services. When implemented efficiently and funded smartly, PPC campaigns can be the most powerful weapon in a marketing armoury and the return on investment (ROI) can be substantial.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, not quite. A lot of resources go into programming and maintaining the best campaigns. You need to consider first researching and selecting the most appropriate keywords, organizing those keywords into defined campaigns and ad groups, and then creating or adapting landing pages that are fully optimized for those all-important conversions. Throw into the mix that the SEM world is highly competitive, often forcing businesses to constantly alter their strategies, and you can see how it becomes difficult to anticipate and execute the best investments for your campaign strategy.

Here’s the good news, though. If you and Google are metaphorical “best friends,” it gets easier. Google became one of largest companies on the planet because of advertising. In 2016, Google’s advertising revenue reached a massive $79.4 billion, accounting for more than 90% of its total revenue. This means that Google treats its SEM advertisers well, affording them prime space on results pages, which in turn, drives organic traffic further and further down the rankings.  

How does it work?

If you want to start using PPC, it’s imperative that you know how to do it right or you risk wasting a significant amount of your budget. Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) is Google’s very own advertising platform and the most popular system of its kind in the world today, allowing businesses to go to market on its search engine and its affiliate sites. This is where you set up your bids on the keywords you want to trigger an ad display.

Unfortunately it’s not as easy as simply bidding large sums to ensure your ads show more prominently than your competitors. Instead, every time a search is initiated, Google will draw up a pool of ads that then become subject to an Ad Auction, an entirely automated process that determines who will claim the top spots on the SERPs. These “winners” are selected based upon an advertiser’s Ad Rank, a metric calculated by multiplying two key factors – the CPC bid (specifically, the highest amount an advertiser is willing to spend) and the Quality Score (a value out of 10) that summarizes the quality of your ad based on click-through rate (CTR), relevance, and landing page experience. The advertisers with a better Quality Score get access to more ads at lower costs.

So, how do you improve your Quality Score?

For one, establish an effective keyword list. This may be incredibly time-consuming but it’s the foundation of every SEM program. The most profitable advertisers on Google are the ones continuously engaged in a process of growing and refining their keyword portfolio, taking advantage not only of the most frequently searched terms close to the offerings they sell, but also the long-tail and other niche iterations that can often be hugely profitable due to their lower costs.

Secondly, ensure your landing pages are targeted. With an overabundance of information available on the internet, audiences quickly recognize whether they’re interested in a specific webpage or not. To grab their interest and keep it, creating optimized landing pages is a must, so consider everything from attention-getting headers, strong visual elements, clear calls to action (CTA) and focused copywriting.

In Summary

The key to a robust, successful modern-day marketing strategy is learning to effectively utilize a diverse portfolio of channels that can help get your brand before the eyes of potential customers in different ways. Although PPC advertising looks simple on the surface, managing a successful campaign and navigating the intricacies of bidding are anything but. Savvy digital marketers are in a constant process of testing and experimenting with keywords, offers, landing page content, and a myriad of other variables, leveraging data from these campaigns to inform other strategies in their overarching marketing strategy. So think of it this way: email campaign A always promotes offer X, but testing across your PPC activities reveals that offer Y yields 50% more conversions. Ultimately, applying this scenario across all of your marketing efforts makes it clear that companies can uncover hidden opportunities for growth that would remain dormant if PPC wasn’t the secret weapon. Learning to wield it to its full potential makes this great marketing game much less intimidating, while empowering you to drive more profitable and effective results.


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Simon Hall

Simon Hall is a Product Marketing Manager at QuanticMind. He is using his experience in account development to design innovative programs that drive demand and create messaging that resonates with customers and empowers the sales organization to be successful. Simon earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine and Studio Arts from Loughborough University (UK) and a Diploma in International Studies at Hong Kong Design Institute (Hong Kong).