A Crash Course in PPC for Beginners

This article is a quick look at PPC for beginners. You will learn the basic concepts and best practices of PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising to help you get started.

Pay-per-click advertising is a big part of modern business. If you’re a newbie to PPC then you might have a hunch that you need to get on the bandwagon, but are probably wondering “what IS this thing?”

First thing’s first, in theory PPC is simple, but it’s not EASY. There are plenty of myths surrounding it (in part because the game has rapidly changed over the years) and countless articles, blog posts and information on the internet offering solutions and promoting PPC as a miracle cure for all your growth marketing woes.

This information is often contradictory. The definitions and explanations are complex. They are full of acronyms and jargon you may not know. Then there are the horror stories. People you know or stories you have read that tell of bootstrapped new businesses tipping their precious savings into AdWords, only to achieve zero results.

Nevertheless, the fact is that when you get it right PPC can be a powerful form of digital marketing. It allows you to control how much you spend, target new audiences and drive them to your business.

In this article, we are going to break down the essentials of PPC so you can get started. By the end of this post, you should be able to grasp the basics and understand the steps to set up your first campaign. As a beginner, this is by no means the end of your PPC learning journey… but it’s a pretty good start.

Ready? Let’s do this!

What is PPC Advertising?

Pay-per-click advertising—commonly referred to as PPC—is a form of internet marketing. PPC is when advertisers pay a small fee every time an internet user clicks on their ads online. The point is to buy visitors and bring fresh traffic to your website, instead of relying on people just discovering your website organically.

PPC ads appear in many different places online. You may not have noticed them, but chances are they are more familiar to you than you realize.

image of ppc ads in google

PPC ads appear on websites that you visit or even in emails you receive. Next time you use a search engine like Google or Bing, look out for the “ad” content that appears in your search results. If you click on an ad, someone somewhere is paying a little bit of money for your click.

How Does PPC Work?

Search engine advertising or marketing (SEM) is probably the most popular form of PPC. Search engines like Google and Bing offer advertising services to businesses and brands on their search pages. To advertise on Google, you have to have an AdWords account, same thing with Microsoft’s Bing – you need an account. Once you do, you’ll be able create ads. To get your ads shown on search engines you enter into Google or Bing’s auction by bidding on words or phrases that relate to the product or service you wish to promote.

What is Google AdWords?

When it comes to PPC auction services, Google AdWords is the big one. Marketers want to reach new audiences and attract potential customers, so it makes sense to put your ads in front of the largest number of people you can.

Google is the most popular search engine in the world and so it makes sense that their auction service is the most widely used. Google AdWords allows you to bid for a sponsored spot in Google searches that use words relating to your product or service. So, if you search in Google for “best cat food”, you will find that highlighted and prominent, cat food related ads will appear at the top of the list of results.

cat on computer gif

AdWords is powerful, but it can be expensive for small businesses. The most experienced PPC marketers will advise you to budget $500 to $1000 to “learn” what works. In other words, you shouldn’t expect a single sale for the first $500 you drop into AdWords. You are buying insights. This can be a pricey lesson for businesses running on a shoestring budget. However, do-it-for-me PPC tools for small business like Promote are seeking to change that. A travel agent in New York City can get Google advertising on autopilot for $250/month, for example.

What Makes a Good PPC Campaign?

The basic principle of an effective PPC advertising campaign is just a simple numbers game. It goes like this: if you pay $5 when a customer clicks and that customer spends $50 in sales on your website, then you made a $45 profit, so the campaign was a success. In other words, the visit to your website is more valuable than what you invested to get them there.

Search engines (like Google) will favor smart and effective PPC campaigns by rewarding them with cheaper rates per click. Their algorithms learn if customers are finding your ads useful and charge you less per click, meaning you make more money.

To build a successful PPC campaign, you need to open a Google AdWords or Microsoft Bing Ads account if you don’t have one. Then, you need to have the following:

  1. Knowledge of your target audience
  2. Relevant keywords
  3. Catchy graphics, copy and links
  4. Landing pages that convert

If you’re staring at that list blankly, relax. Let’s start from the top.

Knowledge of Your Target Audience

Any type of marketing is better with an understanding of the target customer and PPC is no different. By knowing where your target audience lives, you can tell AdWords which regions you want your ads to appear in. Meaning if you want to target people in New York City for example, you simply let Google AdWords know that this is your target region and then your ads will only appear to searchers in that area. Cool right? Similarly if you know what your target audience likes, who they are and how they talk you can begin to create ad messages that will speak their language.

Keyword Research for PPC

Your whole PPC campaign is built on keywords so this part is important!

There’s no doubt that researching and selecting the right keywords for PPC can be time consuming, but it’s the foundation to your success with this form of advertising, so it’s worth it. Google processes 5.5 billion search queries per day. That is a lot of words. You need to have a strategy to help cut through the clutter and stand out.

Researching keywords involves discovering the groups of keywords and phrases related to your niche. Then to use tools to check how often these words come up in Google searches.

It’s not enough to trust your instincts with keywords. You may have an idea of what words relate to your product or service that people are searching for, but there are some other things to consider here. For example, keywords can get very competitive. If the keywords you are bidding on are incredibly popular you might find yourself paying way too much for PPC and wasting precious ad dollars. Keyword research will also reveal if your proposed keywords are even being used and allow you to discover new ones.

Step one is to brainstorm a list of keywords that you think potential customers would search if they were looking for a product or service like yours. There are plenty of online tools to help you find relevant related keywords, but the easiest place to start is by putting your words into Google itself and noting down the suggestions.

Google also has Keyword Planner, a tool that will help you research which search terms are trending, what competitors are using, the rank of the quality of your words and more to help you figure out the best keyword selection for you. We recommend that you read Google’s Keyword Planner training before getting started.

PPC Pro Tip: Don’t Forget Negative Keywords!

Negative keywords are words or phrases that might be related to your selected keywords but have nothing to do with the product or brand you are promoting. If you were targeting campaigns around shoes, you might add “shoestring budget” as a negative keyword for example. You can include these in your PPC campaign to avoid wasting money on keywords that will bring in traffic that is not looking for what your website offers.

How to Create PPC Ads

There are three main components to a PPC ad in Google—a headline, a display URL and a description—and there are strict word count limitations (you only have 170 visible characters), so you will need to be clever and creative when you write your ads.

Here’s a basic example of ad components from Blue Corona:

Basics of PPC ad elements and components

Both Google AdWords and Bing Ads allow you to show images in your search ads as well, so if you’re creating these types of ads you’ll need to think about high-quality eye catching visuals too.

Create Landing Pages for Your Ads

The most successful PPC campaigns target very specific needs of customers and drive them straight to a webpage that will deliver what they were searching for. Usually, a website homepage is too general.

By creating specific landing pages tailored to your ad campaigns, you eliminate extra steps (like looking for the “shop” section of your website instead of just taking them straight to it) or roadblocks to website visitors doing what you want them to do. Have a clear call-to-action on these pages to make it as seamless as possible for new visitors to convert into customers. A clear call-to-action (CTA) could be something like “Buy Now,” “Sign Up” or “Find Out More.”

PPC Pro Tip: Set Up Split Testing in Your Campaigns

It will only take you a few extra minutes to set up split testing in your AdWords account, but you will gain valuable insight about what colours, words and images get the best results for your brand. So, spend a little more time and reap the rewards of knowledge!

What You Learned

Setting up and launching your first PPC campaign can be exciting and it can be daunting. Now you can get started on researching your keywords, testing out different visuals and headlines to find the most effective approach, and creating targeted landing pages to convert website visitors into customers.

Unfortunately, there’s no resting on your laurels with digital marketing. Make sure you keep an eye on the competition and continue refining and optimizing for the best results. Good luck!


Image Credits

Feature Image: Unsplash/Sabri Tuzcu

All screenshots by Estelle Pigot. Taken May 2018.

Image 1: via GIPHY

Image 2: Screenshot from Google

Image 3: via GifImage

Image 4: Screenshot from Blue Corona

Estelle Pigot

Estelle Pigot

Estelle Pigot is a content producer who has been in the digital marketing sphere for the last 10 years. She helps businesses big and small expand their presence and grow their online audiences. In real life, she's usually tapping at her keyboard, sipping a green tea. On the web, you can find Estelle on LinkedIn.

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