Paid Search 101

What Does PPC Stand For?

PPC stands for pay-per-click, and is a form of digital advertising.

Pay-per-click is one of the most common models of internet marketing in which the advertiser pays a fee every time someone clicks on their ad. This essentially allows companies to buy site visits rather than, or in addition to, going after them organically through tactics like search engine optimization (SEO). 

PPC ads are divided into two primary categories based on which channels they use:

  • Search engine advertising allows an advertiser to bid for better ad placement in the sponsored links section of the results page for specific keywords.
  • Display advertising uses networks such as Google Ads or Microsoft Advertising to market products and services through third-party websites with powerful audience targeting capabilities.

With a well-crafted PPC ad campaign, your organization can not only drive traffic and increase brand awareness but also boost sales and revenue.

Why Use PPC Advertising?

Any successful digital marketing strategy uses a combination of both PPC and SEO to boost site rankings on the search engine results page. But too often, marketers rely on the latter simply because it’s cheaper. While optimizing your site’s copy can be free (if you do it yourself), SEO can take a while to produce results. On the other hand, PPC marketing can generate instant traffic for minimal costs.

By leveraging PPC ads in your search engine marketing strategy, you get:

  • A cost-effective lead generation solution for low-funnel, high-intent audiences.
  • Advanced targeting capabilities to layer on multiple data segments based on geolocation and audience types.
  • Seamless integration with CRM data to measure the effectiveness of your Google Ads investment.
  • Incredible customization for relevant keyword levels with no tactic minimums (except CRM).

Simply put, if you don’t have a PPC strategy, you’re likely missing out on valuable traffic and sales opportunities from the estimated 5+ billion Google searches made each day. 

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How to Build a Successful PPC Campaign

To build a seamless PPC sales funnel, you need an integrated marketing approach that combines the benefits of both paid search engine and display advertising strategies. Use display advertising to build awareness and favorability with prospects. Then, you can guide potential customers further down the pipeline by leveraging both ad types at the consideration and intent stages. Once you have them hooked, it’s just a matter of waiting for an inquiry.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can develop an effective PPC campaign that will drive high-quality traffic to your website.

Make Your Keyword Selections

Keywords lie at the center of your paid search strategy, connecting your click ads to user search queries — the actual words that users type into search engines to find results. The right keywords are relevant words or phrases that cover a wide range of search queries specifically related to your content, products or services. You can even use negative keywords to avoid irrelevant traffic by blocking a search ad from appearing when a user types a certain word.

To make the most of each paid ad, you first need to understand the different match types and how they affect your keyword precision.

What is a Keyword Match Type?

A match type assigns parameters for each keyword, dictating how closely it needs to match with the user’s search query for Google to show your ad as a sponsored search result. For instance, you can choose to match keywords exactly or allow for variations in the order, spelling and inclusion of other words. These criteria are covered under the four different keyword match types: exactphrasebroad and negative.

If you select a more precise match type, your search ad will appear to a limited but highly relevant audience. In contrast, search engines show general match types to a broader, much larger audience. However, only a smaller percentage of these users will find your ad relevant. 

To select a negative keyword match type, use the same qualifying symbols around the word or phrase you’d like to exclude (either broadly or exactly) and enter these into your “Negative Keyword Lists” in the Google Ads UI.

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Craft Your Paid Search Ads

In addition to keyword research, you need to prepare the actual PPC advertisement for your campaign. Your paid ad will be nestled together in an ad group that’s organized by common themes and shared keywords, so it’s crucial to make your ad copy stand out. Test different versions of your headlines and descriptions to see what performs the best. 

However, before Google shows your search ad to a potential customer, you’ll first need to win the ad auction.

What is the Ad Auction?

As you might have noticed while using the search engine, Google doesn’t show ads for every query — only those it deems have commercial intent. Whenever a user looks for information about a particular service or product, an auction takes place the moment they hit enter on their search.

Google uses a variety of factors to determine:

  • The eligibility for each advertiser to participate in the auction.
  • The order of ad placement that appears in the search result.
  • The cost-per-click (CPC) you’ll pay for each ad click.

The bid, or how much you’re willing to pay for each click, is the first factor determining your eligibility, ranking and cost. To limit your ad spend, you can set a maximum bid (Max CPC) for each paid ad. You can also set bids at the individual keyword or ad group levels to prioritize relevancy or reach.

Relevance is another key factor in Google’s determination. The search engine wants to show ads that users will actually click on, so it uses a Quality Score to evaluate the relevance of your click ads. Once you’re considered eligible for an auction, Google multiplies your Max CPC by your ad’s Quality Score to calculate the final ranking.

Smart Bidding and Automation

In the early days of online advertising, bidding was pretty simple: You just had to pick up keywords and specify bids based on the likelihood of a conversion. Today, marketers need to account for more signals than ever based on a wide range of attributes, such as device type, time of access, location, demographics and much more. This expanding breadth of information adds significant complexity to PPC marketing campaigns.

Smart bidding takes numerous signals into account, some of which aren’t even visible to advertisers. Using machine learning, it automatically sets appropriate bids for your specific strategy. For example, when you input a target return on ad spend (tROAS) or target cost per acquisition (tCPA), Google automatically optimizes your bids for these figures.

Here’s an overview and comparison of some common smart bidding strategies:

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The Different Types of Paid Search Ads

In today’s PPC advertising landscape, keyword coverage is becoming increasingly complex. Every day, 15% of all Google searches are completely new, and smartphone voice commands are creating search moments in new contexts. Plus, websites are growing larger and more dynamic than ever before.

To overcome these evolving challenges and capture relevant moments more effectively, your PPC marketing strategy should include a mix of dynamic and responsive search ads.

Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs)

DSAs are similar to other CPC advertising tactics, but they differ in 1 significant way: Instead of using keywords to target ads, DSAs use your actual website or product feed to generate a dynamic, tailored ad. After a user makes a search query that’s closely related to your business, the search engine produces PPC ads by using the most relevant results from your website content.

As an added bonus, your content doesn’t have to contain exact keywords — Google Ads just needs to find it relevant to the search query. DSA campaigns will still show up on the search results page, and it’s typically difficult to distinguish them from traditional text ads. These types of paid search ads are an excellent way to show off your business and connect with interested users.

Responsive Search Ads (RSAs)

Introduced in 2018, RSAs are the latest form of paid search ads to come from the Google product team, allowing you to create a single ad with up to 15 headlines and four description lines (30 and 90 characters, respectively). 

Because the Google SERP will only show up to 3 headlines and 2 descriptions for each search ad, these are rotated automatically using machine learning to determine the best-performing combinations. Without the need for A/B testing, your team saves valuable time and resources on your PPC campaign.

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Going beyond search results, paid display ads appear on third-party websites using video, images or text elements to advertise your products or services. These ads come in all shapes and sizes, from banners and boxes to desktop and mobile leaderboards — but they’re generally designed to align with the host website and its audience preferences.

PPC campaigns can run display ads through advertising networks such as Google Ads, which provide advanced audience targeting features and premade formats that you can combine with paid search ads. However, unlike search ads, display ads aren’t restricted to Google’s SERP. Instead, your paid display ads are broadcasted across the Google Display Network.

Why Use Google Display Network (GDN)?

The GDN comprises millions of websites, serving 2+ trillion ad impressions each month to 2.5 billion people. In fact, it has the largest reach of any display network, connecting 90% of global internet users and 94% of U.S. internet users. You also get millions of advanced targeting options to find new customers across the network.

  • Website-based targeting enables you to choose websites based on specific criteria and show display ads to all users on those sites. 
  • User-based targeting allows you to select precise users based on desired attributes and display your ads on all the sites they visit in the GDN.

To maximize precision in user-based targeting, GDN provides you with several powerful tools, including:

  • Remarketing serves ads to previous site visitors to keep your business front of mind.
  • Similar audience targeting allows you to attract new users who have analogous browsing and search behaviors as those in your current remarketing list.
  • In-market audience targeting displays ads to users giving off signals that they may be in the market for a particular product or service.
  • Interest targeting matches ads to users who have recently started viewing sites on a topic related to your business.
  • Affinity targeting matches ads to users who habitually visit sites of the same topic as your business.

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Campaign Structure and Launch Process

While you might be tempted to jump into your next PPC campaign, there’s one last thing we need to go over, and that’s your campaign structure and launch process. This is one of the most crucial pieces of a successful PPC strategy. It starts with understanding your goals and target audience to build out the keyword research. After you create an attractive ad and prepare the relevant landing page, it’s time to schedule your ad campaign and install a conversion tracking code. 

But paid search strategies aren’t a “set it and forget it” type of deal — they’re a cycle. Deploying your campaign is just 1 phase of a repeating process. To monitor performance, identify profitable keywords and refine your ads for optimal results, you’ll need to follow these 5 steps:

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