February 24, 2021 by Jason Pittock | 9 min reading time

PPC marketing has a lot of value for your business when you understand exactly what it is and what it isn't. Before you get too invested in paid marketing ads, it’s to your benefit to get a specific answer to the question, “What is PPC?” 

PPC essentials

It's actually kind of amazing how much goes into a three-letter acronym like PPC. When it comes to any type of paid ad campaign, there's much to learn beyond the basics. For example: 

  • Keywords
  • Bidding
  • Ad creation
  • Ad rank
  • Ad budgets
  • Target audience
  • Conversions
  • Click fraud

As you begin your journey in PPC marketing, we're offering a detailed look at how paid search marketing works and how you can get your ad campaigns off to a great start. 

So, What Is PPC?

If you’re like most people, you’ve caught yourself viewing a website, and you’ve gotten sidetracked by a paid search ad that caught your attention. You may have even clicked on the ad if it enticed you enough to check out the item. PPC, or pay-per-click advertising, is an advertising model that generates a payoff to the platform host whenever a visitor clicks on an ad that an advertiser placed on the site. 

In a practical sense, the owner of the site you visited when you clicked on that ad got a little chunk of change as you left their site to get more information on that particular item. The company placing the ad gets the benefit of chalking up a qualified lead that could quickly result in a bonafide sale. What’s more, you’ll probably remember that the original site you visited has some pretty tight connections with stuff you like!

A lot goes on behind the scenes with paid search marketing. Search engines let paid search advertisers display ads that are most likely to be seen by people that are looking for them. A couple of the most popular pay-per-click advertising services are Google Ads and Microsoft Ads. Both services function on a real-time bidding (RTB) model where they sell ad inventory privately using automation and real-time data. 

Top 10 PPC Basics You Need to Know Before You Start

1. The Low-Down on How Paid Search Campaigns Work

Your competitors are likely using the same keywords you use to capture their corner of the internet-based market. Obviously, search engines can’t give all companies top billing at the same time. The lower the search engine ranks your ad, the more likely it'll appear “below the fold”, which means that users will have to scroll down to see your ad at all. 

The answer to this problem lies in keyword bidding. The process works much like any online auction where you set an initial bid price and a max bid price. The great thing about it is that you don’t have to be present at the auction or keep upping the ante when you get outbid. The risk is that you lose the deal when a competitor tops your max bid price. On the plus side, you get to decide where and when you want your ads to appear. 

The ad platform determines the winner based on several factors including the quality of the ad and the bid amount. Of course, the winner gets top billing on the search engine results page. 

2. What Impact Do Keywords Have on Pay-Per-Click Advertising?

As you get better acquainted with PPC marketing, it's helpful to gain familiarity with a couple of common digital marketing definitions:

  • Queries-the words internet users type into the search box to pull up results.
  • Keywords-the words that marketers use to effectively connect search queries and advertisers. 

When you consider the definition of a keyword, it encompasses more than the actual word (or words). Let’s face it — not everyone’s a candidate for the national spelling bee! Search engines recognize keywords in ad campaigns, as well as words that are similar on the off chance that the user hit the wrong keys in haste, or they legitimately stink at spelling. You could think of it as a form of search engine spell-check. 

Overall, keywords play a major role in paid search marketing campaigns (which is precisely why you shouldn’t “treat” them lightly). 

3. Creating Effective Paid Search Ads 

When you win an auction, your ad immediately gets published on websites, you’ll want to be sure your ad is eye-catching. Be sure that your ad includes the following three things:

  1. A headline
  2. A few description lines
  3. A URL

Another term that you need to be familiar with is “ad groups”, a collection of ads that share sets of target keywords that are arranged by common themes. 

To give you an even greater leg up, Google Ads and Microsoft Ads offer ad extensions that will enhance the appearance of your ads. There are two types of extensions:

  1. Sitelink extensions-Populates ads with more links to different pages on a site.
  2. Call extensions-Add a phone number to the ad during business hours. 

Ad extensions are valuable because they communicate more information, increase engagement, and increase the visibility of your ads. 

4. Setting Budgets and Bids for Paid Search

You’ll have the best results with PPC marketing when you put a little thought into your maximum bid limits at these levels:

  • Campaign level
  • Ad group level
  • Keyword level

Be aware that when you set a budget at the campaign level, it could be exceeded on a daily basis. However, you won't go over the limit on a monthly basis. One of the benefits of ad campaigns is that you can set an overall budget and still have greater control over your ad spend. 

5.  Paid Search Factors that Affect Ad Rank

PPC ad rank factors

While one of your goals is to have the highest bid, you'll do yourself a favor to consider these other factors that affect ad rank:

  • The quality and relevance of your ad
  • Amount of your bid
  • Context of the search-device type, time, location
  • Impact of the format-extensions or enhancements

Don’t forget that the Quality Score has a big impact on ad rank and lowering cost-per-click, so be aware of these factors:

  • Click-through rate
  • Keyword relevance (to the ad and the query)
  • Landing page quality 

      6.  Paid Search Marketing and Targeting Audiences

In addition to using keywords for PPC marketing, you can set other parameters for your PPC ads to target your audience more specifically. 

Look for these targeting options:

  • Devices
  • Location
  • Day/time
  • Demographics

Variations of your ad copy may appeal better to specific demographics of users during different time periods. Ad testing will help you fine-tune the process. 

      7. What Is Paid Search Without Conversions?

It would seem that the more clicks you get, the more sales you’ll make, but that's not always the case. 

Here’s what we mean by conversions:

  • Online sales
  • Request to be added to your newsletter list
  • Phone call
  • Online contact via message or contact form

Google Ads will track conversions for you simply by using code that’s placed into the source code of the conversion page. As you watch your conversion rate skyrocket, you know you’ve got a cash cow of a PPC marketing campaign going!

       8.  Leverage Remarketing for Paid Search

Another great tool that you should know about is the Google Ads remarketing tool. It's a tool that places your ads in front of people who’ve visited your ads in the past. The great thing about remarketing for paid search is that you get to specify the rules and audiences for remarketing purposes. What's even better is that you can exclude past visitors that aren't likely to lead to conversions. 

       9.    Check Out Paid Search Results from Your Competitors

What do you do when your ad campaigns aren't giving you the results you are hoping for? Check out your competition! Chances are pretty good that your competition has already figured out what works, and paid ad campaigns give you valuable insight as to which of your competitors have a leading edge. If their strategies are working, they’ll get you good results as well. 

     10.    Protect Your PPC Ad Campaigns from Click Fraud

In managing your PPC ad campaigns, you also have to be on the lookout for click fraud. Advertising platforms do their best to provide you with accurate data and keep fraudsters at bay, but it's not foolproof! You are your best defense against click fraud. When you catch the fraudsters, advertising platforms may refund some of your money if they agree that some of your clicks were fraudulent. Be sure to monitor your ad campaigns regularly so you rank high and don't blow through your budget too quickly. 

What PPC Is NOT!

Well, now you should probably have a fairly conclusive answer to the question of what is PPC .

What is it not, though? 

Well, PPC isn’t SEO, and it serves a different purpose than SEO. That said, PPC and SEO are both important components of your overall marketing strategy. There are pros and cons to each strategy. At the end of the day, they cohabitate quite profitably together. With a little time and experience using both strategies, you will be able to figure out how to maximize the potential of each one. Just don’t be tempted to substitute one for the other. 

At ClickGUARD, we encourage you to do three things-continually: test your ads, track conversions, and watch out for click fraud. If you’re ready to learn more about PPC and PPC fraud, the ClickGUARD blog stands ready to inform you. If click fraud is getting the best of your ad campaigns, we can help. 

Jason is a passionate data-driven specialist with extensive PPC & SEO experience. When not writing about SEM he can be found surfboarding the wildest ocean waves of the Argentinian coast.