When starting a business or launching a new service, you’re extra careful where you put your money. The cash hasn’t started coming in yet, but what can you do to get the ball rolling? Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is one of the best — if not the best — ways to see a quick ROI. While building an organic search strategy with SEO is important to your long-term outlook, PPC can help you get traffic right away. More clicks means more leads, and more conversions. Here’s a primer on what you need to know if you’re considering PPC.
What does PPC mean?
Pay-per-click is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — when a web user clicks on your ad, you get charged. The ads show up based on what the user has entered into the search box; that means the ads are relevant to what’s been searched. The most common PPC ads are the text ads that you see one search engine results pages (SERPs) and sometimes in the sidebars of websites. There are also PPC opportunities for other kinds of online advertising as well, including display ads and video.
Though text-only PPC ads used to be clearly demarcated from organic search results, Google has redesigned its SERPs so that there’s very little to visually distinguish paid results on a computer’s web browser, and even less on mobile. While high organic rankings are still important, PPC is one way that you can get your name out in front of potential customers or clients, even if your site is brand new.
How precisely can you target PPC?
PPC campaigns are targeted are through keywords — what users type into the search engine. This gives you considerable latitude in terms of targeting. We’re going to talk about Google here, because it’s the top search engine, and AdWords is the primary platform for PPC. (The Google ad network extends not just to other Google properties, like YouTube, but also to sites from blogs to news aggregators that have opted in to displaying Google ads.)
The default option for keywords is broad match. That means that your ads will be targeted not only at the keyword you’ve bid on, but also with queries that Google decides are similar, synonymous, or otherwise relevant. (How do they decide this? We don’t know. It’s Google, they’ve always got to keep it a little bit mysterious.) Broad match does give you a pretty, well, broad reach, which means that a large number of users will see your ad. However, that breadth means that users seeing your ad aren’t necessarily well qualified leads. That means you could wind up paying for clicks, but not getting conversions.
What’s more specific? Well, there’s exact match. With this option, your ads will only show up when users have searched that exact word or phrase (though Google does allow for plurals and spelling errors). On one hand, yes, you’re only going to get seen by people who are searching for that exact keyword. On the other hand though, if it’s a keyword that doesn’t get much traffic — or isn’t an especially good fit for your ad — you may get too few clicks to be meaningful.
There is a happy medium. Broad match can be modified so that you get users searching for multiple keywords together. For example, say you’re a daycare center in San Marcos. “Daycare” is much too broad a search term (and likely a crazy-expensive one), so it doesn’t make sense. “Daycare +San Marcos”, however, is getting you closer to what you want. Adding “+San Marcos” as a modifier means you’d get people searching for “daycare san marcos” as well as similar searches, like “daycare in san marcos” or “daycare near san marcos.” Unfortunately, what you won’t get is people searching for “san marcos daycare” — that would be a separate bid, since Google considers the order of the words in matching your ads to search keywords, and for setting bids for prices on those keywords.
There’s another important way you can home in on your target audience. Negative keywords are search terms for which you don’t want your ad to appear. That doesn’t mean that the terms themselves are negative (e.g. “bad daycare”). If we continue our example, you’re a daycare center in San Marcos, California. That means you probably don’t need your ad to be seen by people searching for a daycare center in San Marcos, Texas. Adding “-Texas” would ensure that anyone who had entered “daycare san marcos texas” won’t see your ad and click on it (costing you money), only to find out you’re in the wrong city.
If you’re exhausted just reading this, we don’t blame you — it’s a lot to take in. The amount of precision you can get with PPC is one of the reasons businesses can achieve such a strong ROI with it, but it’s also why most firms are better off not going it alone. PPC pros can determine which keywords are worth the investment.
How much does a PPC campaign cost?
The cost of a PPC campaign varies considerably, because rather than having a set price, AdWords employs auction-style pricing for keywords. In other words, advertisers bid on different keywords (what the user types in the search engine). The amount you’re willing to bid determines how much you get charged when a user clicks on your ad. Your bid amount isn’t just a number plucked out of thin air; the amount of dough you have to put out for a viable bid depends on a wide range of factors. One of the most important is how competitive the keyword is. If the keyword gets a lot of search traffic (in other words, it’s something lots of people are searching for) or if lots of other advertisers are bidding on it, that drives up the cost of the bid.
The keywords with the highest traffic tend to be those that are the most generic (e.g., “daycare”). These keywords are generally NOT the most expensive keywords. Yes, they get lots of searchers, but due to their vague nature, they don’t often lead to a sale. Thus, fewer advertisers are willing to lay out top dollar for those keywords. It’s also hard to know what someone searching for a generic keyword is actually looking for, so your ad will have to be more vague — which also makes it less likely to be clicked. Someone just searching “daycare”, for example, might be looking for child care, but could also be looking for a daycare job, information on daycare center licensing, or even doggie daycare.
Crafting those keyword strings with positive or negative terms, or simply looking at “long tail” keywords (those that aren’t in the top 30% of searches) can help you not only spend less on wasted clicks but also get your ad seen by people who are more likely to actually want what you’re selling. A good PPC campaign manager will be able to lay out your options — not only what keywords are relevant for your site or landing page, but what search terms are the most likely to get you results.
All of this means that your daily cost for PPC is constantly in flux. On the other hand though, there’s an extensive amount of control over PPC campaigns — your ads can be started or stopped at the click of a mouse. We most often have clients determine a set monthly budget for PPC that can be allocated among the keywords that have the best potential ROI. Which keywords those are can and does change often. The amount of babysitting PPC campaigns require is one reason why many businesses avoid taking a DIY approach. To get a strong ROI, campaigns require constant tweaking, not only in terms of what keywords you’re bidding on and how much you’re willing to bid, but also the wording of your ads.
If PPC is so complicated, what makes it worth my money?
It’s likely that if you’ve read this far, you’re convinced that PPC is complex and something that you’d rather have someone else manage. What you may not be convinced of yet is that PPC is worth spending money on, so let’s give that one more try.
The biggest advantage of PPC is its immediacy. If you have a new website (or even one that’s recently had a major overhaul), even if it’s perfectly optimized it can take a long time for you to build up organic strength. SEO undoubtedly benefits your site, but if you aren’t getting visitors when your site is in its infancy, it’s going to take you that much longer to build your business. With well-targeted PPC, you can start getting traffic right off the bat.
Whether your site is brand new or well established, PPC can help you determine what’s working and what’s not (this is true for landing pages as well). If you’ve got a PPC campaign that’s bringing you well-qualified leads but your website isn’t getting you conversions, you can do some triage right away. There might be a usability issue, your CTA may need work, it might be a programming issue — it can even be something as subtle as changing the color of a heading or swapping out an image. The point is, you don’t need to wait months to see whether your changes are effective in improving conversions. Without a robust level of PPC-driven traffic, it could take months to get enough data to notice the problem, let alone fix it — and all of those months, you may be missing out on sales.
Still not sure if PPC is worth it for your business? We’re more than happy to talk with you about your specific online business goals and how to reach them. Give Higher Power SEO a call today at 760-881-4736.