Posted on Mar 28, 2018

PPC Advertising for Beginners: What You Need to Know

There are as many ways to get traffic to your website as there are individual visitors themselves. Some of them, you’re likely already familiar with – from SEO, to email marketing, and to video marketing.

The common thread between all these tactics, however, is that they take time to produce results. So what are you supposed to do if you need results faster?

The answer may be pay-per-click, or PPC, advertising. With this form of paid advertising, you’re only billed when a visitor clicks an ad to be redirected to your website. This enables you to ramp up quickly, paying only for those visitors who have the potential to become your customers (versus paid ads based on views).

But while this may sound simple, running an effective PPC advertising campaign comes with a learning curve. In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic steps you’ll need to get your ads up-and-running, as well as a few general cautions on how to avoid blowing your budget on non-performing clicks.

PPC 101: Where to Advertise

The first step to running a PPC advertising campaign is to decide which service you’ll use to place your ads. There are many different networks offering pay-per-click ad services, each with its own pros and cons.

Google Adwords is by far the most popular choice for traditional PPC, though Bing Ads has a respectable following as well. On Adwords, you’ll have the choice between two primary placement types: search ads and display network ads.

Search ads are those listings that appear above the organic results displayed in response to user queries:

Google ads in search results

Display network ads appear embedded on websites, apps and email interfaces that have opted into serving up Google ads through the Adsense program. This ad from the Chicago Tribune shows how display ads (which can be text, image or video-based) can be integrated into website content:

Display ad from Chicago Tribune

In addition to Google and Bing, there are lower-tier PPC engines that offer similar advertising services. There are also specialty PPC websites that offer mobile app ad placements, podcast ad placements or retargeting services. Even social media ads – such as those found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn – can be considered part of the pay-per-click landscape.

In general, the more popular services – specifically, Google Adwords search placements and Facebook Ads – come with higher rates, but a greater audience reach. Other services may offer lower costs-per-click (CPC), but not the same audience access as the more popular services.

Choosing the right PPC network on which to advertise comes down to several questions:

  • What is my budget?
  • What kind of ad do I want to run (text, image, video, podcast, mobile app, retargeting, etc)?
  • Which service is most likely to get me in front of my audience?

If your customers – by and large – aren’t active social media users, advertising on Facebook may not have the same impact as ads run through Google or Bing.

At the same time, consider the relative strength of the targeting features made available by Facebook and other social networks. Because users share so much of their personal information on these platforms, your ability to target specific groups of users is unparalleled.

Running Your First PPC Ad

Once you’ve decided on a PPC network, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with its best practices for creating an ad. And while running through step-by-step tutorials for every network out there is beyond the scope of this article, let’s look at a few examples.

Suppose you’ve chosen to run a text ad on Google’s search network. According to Google, your ad needs three components: a headline, a display URL and a description:

content headline and description for search

Each of these components comes with character limits you’ll need to respect. As of this writing, they are:

  • Headline 1 / Headline 2 – 30 characters each
  • Display URL – 15 “path” characters to follow your base display URL
  • Description – 80 characters

As you can imagine, working within these limitations to create a compelling ad can be challenging. Much has been written about how to integrate copywriting into your PPC ads, so be sure to incorporate these best practices into your ads.

Now, let’s say you want to try a more visual form of PPC ad. In this case, you decide to turn to Facebook Ads. Depending on the specific goal you’ve chosen for your ad, you’ll be given various options for choosing your text, image(s) and video(s):

PPC ad layout options

Again, much has been written about how to choose the right ad type for your business, as well as how to create compelling creatives to increase your odds of PPC success. If Facebook Ads (or its partner Instagram Ads, Audience Network or Messenger Ads programs) seems like it might be the best fit for your company, spend some time digging into these resources before running your first campaign.

What Will I Pay for PPC?

Though it’d be nice to be able to offer standard pricing guides here, the real answer to this question is… it depends.

Most PPC networks price their ads based on an “auction” model. That means, the exact price you pay for individual clicks is controlled, in part, by what others are willing to pay to have their ad appear in the search results for the same specified keyword. With Google Adwords, you have two primary means of controlling your spend:

  • Setting a maximum CPC (that is, the most you’ll pay for a click), or
  • Setting a maximum daily budget.

However, other variables are taken into consideration as well – most notably, your Quality Score. Every ad you create in Google Adwords is given a score on a scale of 1-10, based on how relevant or useful Google believes it will be to search users. If your Quality Score is higher, you’ll earn higher ranking positions and pay lower CPCs for individual keyword placements.

As a result of these complex calculations, it can be difficult to predict what your actual costs will be. Fortunately, research by Wordstream can give you some baseline expectations on what you’ll pay, based on your industry:

Average cost per click for PPC

Other ad networks may offer more transparent pricing; if not, search for similar research on the platform you plan to pursue in order to budget effectively for your first PPC campaign.

Getting Started with PPC Advertising

As you can see, there’s a significant amount of nuance when it comes to PPC advertising, depending on the type of ad you want to run, as well as the network on which you’ll run it.

That said, there are a few general recommendations we can make that’ll help your first campaign run as smoothly as possible – no matter how you decide to move forward.

Start Small

As a new advertiser, it’s unrealistic to expect that your first campaign will be a massive, runaway success. Even the pros find that it takes time to turn a profit on a campaign. In a post on the Vertical Leap blog, Coraline Woods shows an example of a campaign that took several months to reach profitability:

Profit chart

The best way to get your feet wet is to start small. Keep your daily or monthly budget low, and run just a handful of ads and ad sets. Even running a single ad will start giving you meaningful data that you can use to refine your future campaigns.

Plan Your Funnel Ahead of Time

In addition to keeping your first campaigns small, make sure you’ve done everything you can to maximize profitability by planning your funnel ahead of time.

Let’s assume you’re advertising on Google Adwords’ search network, and your CPC is $2.32 – the exact average described by Wordstream in the data above. Remember, that’s just what you’ll pay to get a visitor onto your website. Not every visitor you acquire will go on to become a customer.

Imagine that you pay to get 100 new visitors on your website, for a total spend of $232. If only five of those visitors become customers and spend an average of $25 with your business, you’ve effectively spent $232 to make $125. Reaching profitability requires that you:

  • Convert as many people as possible into customers (perhaps by using highly-targeted landing pages for PPC click-throughs)
  • Maximize the average order size of every PPC customer you acquire
  • Limit your bids so that your average cost to acquire a customer (CAC) falls below your average order size or the average lifetime value (LTV) of your customers

This may sound like a lot, but if you want to use PPC ads effectively, you’ll need to get comfortable with calculations like these.

Use Your Analytics

Where can you get all the data needed to make the calculations above? Some of it will come from your internal resources, but you’ll also want to pay attention to the wealth of information provided by your chosen PPC networks.

Find out what’s available to you, and invest the time needed to understand it. PPC isn’t an “easy way out” when it comes to acquiring customers. However, if you’re willing to put in the work to choose the right network, research its best practices and optimize your campaigns until they’re profitable, it can pay off as a quick, scalable source of new leads.


Are you using PPC to promote your business? If so, what other tips would you add to this list? Leave us a note in the comments below with your suggestions:


Header Image Source: Pixabay