March 1, 2017 | Sarah Danks

If you’ve been in marketing for any length of time, you’ve heard of pay-per-click (alias PPC). But, what is it, exactly?

Well, I’m here to give you a basic introduction to the world of pay-per-click marketing. I’ll discuss four main areas:

  • What is Pay-per-click?
  • Features and Benefits of PPC
  • How can pay-per-click marketing help your business?
  • Introduction to some PPC platforms

Let’s get started!

1) What is Pay-Per-Click Marketing?

Pay-per-click — or PPC — is a model of online marketing wherein advertisers pay when their ads are clicked in the search engine results pages (SERPs) or on affiliate sites. Essentially you’re buying traffic.

PPC is also known as

  • cost-per-click (CPC) marketing,
  • search engine marketing (SEM)*, or
  • paid search.

It’s an effective way to immediately funnel traffic to a website or landing page.

*Okay, so technically SEM encompasses ALL aspects of online marketing — paid, organic, social, etc. But, it’s often used as a “catchall” term for paid search specifically.

3 Methods to Obtain Paid Traffic

There are basically three methods you can go about buying traffic with PPC marketing: Sponsored Search, the Display Network and/or remarketing.

Sponsored Search

Most noticeably, paid search occurs on search engine results pages (SERPs) such as Google, Yahoo or Bing. Text ads are triggered by keywords visitors type into the search box.


These ads are text-only (no imagery) with a limited amount of characters to write ad copy. This type of PPC is called Sponsored Search.

Display Ads/Banners

PPC advertisers can also opt to create banner (i.e., image-based) ads. Then they can either choose specific websites on which to show said ads or they can rely on the search platform (e.g., Google AdWords) to decide for them based on relevance to your ad topic.


Although advertisers can also opt to show text ads with this type of PPC marketing, most choose to show creative instead. When your banner (or text) ads show up across the web on related websites, you’re opting into the Display Network.


You may have heard the term “remarketing” before, but aren’t quite sure what it means.

Remarketing scenario: You visit the Canon website and navigate your way to the digital camera section, where you longingly gaze at a lens you’d really love to have for your dSLR…

…you close the browser window and head over to Facebook to check the social goings-on when lo and behold:


You see a banner ad for the very lens you were just looking at!

What’s happening?

Well, you’ve just been remarketed to.

Remarketing (also known as retargeting) is a way for advertisers to get back in front of an audience — visitors who didn’t take a desired action on their website — with ads shown across other websites in the Display Network or social media (Facebook).

Most often these are ads that consist of both imagery and ad copy. With this type of marketing, there’s also a delicate balance between retargeting someone and stalking someone. Be sure to learn how to properly show ads so you’re not doing remarketing all wrong!

2) Features / Benefits of PPC

In addition to being an instant-gratification type of marketing, PPC has many other benefits. Namely, there are several ways you can manage your account so as to ensure you’re getting in front of the correct traffic.

The ones I’ll be talking about here are:

  • Geo-targeting
  • Day-parting
  • Device Targeting
  • Keyword Control/Relevancy
  • Demographic Targeting

In today’s world of tracking every click, it’s not enough to market to the masses. You have to be able to market to the correct masses.


Most often, advertisers don’t want their PPC ads to show world- (or even nation)wide.

Geo-targeting allows you to target an audience within a specific geography (whether the state of Minnesota as a whole or just the city of Roseville).

Being able to target traffic by geography ensures you’re not wasting money on visitors clicking from outside of your desired location, plus it’s an efficient use of (tight) budgets for local businesses.


Day-parting is a way for advertisers to run their ads on certain days of the week or even specific hours of the day (or night).

For example, most B2B businesses are better off serving ads during their hours of operation versus on the weekends.

Monitoring your Analytics data can help you determine which days, hours or even seasons are most conducive to your PPC efforts — for the various services / products you sell.

Device Targeting

There are currently two ways to target an online audience by device:

  • Desktop/laptop + tablets
  • Smartphones

Yup, you can serve ads based on the device your visitors are using. Why would you? Well, desktop users tend to act quite differently than smartphone users, for instance.

Ads showing on mobile devices are different — obviously screens are smaller, calling for shorter copy, different placement, etc. Also, people searching via mobile device tend to have shorter attention spans, which can lead to an entirely different type of ad than you’d serve to a desktop user.

Keyword Control & Relevance

How Ads Show

PPC’s entire model is built around keywords. For example, in Sponsored Search, advertisers’ ads only show based on the query typed into the search box.

With the Display Network, keywords still come into play, although it’s not the way the ads are shown, per se. What I mean is, keywords used on the pages of the websites within the Display Network determine relevancy for ads containing same/similar verbiage.

Sponsored Search Account Management

In regards to managing a PPC account for text ads, keywords are organized in niched groups for relevance. Then, ads are written specifically to those keywords.

From there, those ads link directly to landing pages that match the copy’s messaging.

Targeting by Demographics

On the Display Network, you have the option of demographic targeting — you can reach the right audience segment by targeting by age, gender, parental status, job title, household income or even interests.

You might wonder how those demographics are ascertained. Well, by cookies.

When visitors land on sites within the Display Network, the device they’re using receives a cookie that then follows them throughout their travels. It’s important to remember these cookies are “attached” to the computer or phone being used; not the actual person, so it’s not an exact science.

That said, these days the same ads can target you from desktop to mobile, so technology is getting much wiser.

3) How PPC Helps Your Business

By this point and time, you’ve not only heard about search engine optimization (SEO), you’ve invested in it. So why would you need to worry about PPC, too?

Here’s why:

SEO is a long-term endeavor. It takes a long time to ramp up efforts to where you can see (and maintain) favorable results. And, while many might say it’s “free” because all it takes is your time (if you do it in-house), that time can add up over the long haul to be costing you a lot more than you’d probably bargained for.

That being said, this time-intensive form of marketing can have great pay-off…

…in the future.

The flip-side of SEO is PPC. With PPC you immediately see results. That is to say that once you organize your keywords, write your ad copy and settle on a landing page (whether you choose to send traffic to your website or build custom landing pages), all you have to do is press a button and the campaign is live.

And you can begin receiving traffic minutes after launch.

When you use PPC you have great flexibility in regards to keyword targeting, the volume of traffic — and leads — you receive; plus you can target (demographically, by geography or device) what type of traffic you want.

All this is well and good, but you need to know how to disseminate your ads to the populace.

4) The (Main) PPC Platforms

While there are many options available to manage pay-per-click ads, here I’m going to talk about the Big Four:

    • Google AdWords
    • Bing Ads
    • LinkedIn
    • Facebook

AdWords Logo

1) Google AdWords

AdWords is a keyword-driven platform that serves ads on Google search results and their partner network. This platform has the ability to choose between multiple ad types and delivery methods, such as text ads for Sponsored Search or text and/or banner ads for the Display Network.

It’s also got the majority of the market share at 67%, vs. Bing Ads at 28%.

Bing Logo

2) Bing Ads

Bing Ads serves ads on both Bing’s and Yahoo’s search engines (and AOL in the near future). This is also primarily a keyword-driven platform. As compared to AdWords, Bing Ads offers more flexibility in regards to the way you can structure campaigns and the ad groups within them.

The main difference with this platform is the competition — namely, Bing/Yahoo have less than Google. Less competition means cheaper cost-per-click (CPC). While you might not reach as wide of an audience as with Google AdWords, you pay less so there’s more room for “trial and error,” as it were.

Pros & Cons of AdWords/Bing Ads


  • Laser-focused keyword control (reaching a specific audience)
  • Take back control over Google and Bing/Yahoo

What the latter means is this: with SEO, you never know how people are going to find you or what pages of your website they’re going to land upon…

…whereas with PPC marketing, you denote which keywords you want your ads to show for, you write the specific copy you want people to read, and you determine upon which page they’re going to land. That’s what we mean by “taking control” back from the search engines.


  • Account sizes can become very large and difficult to manage (depending on size of budget/services offered/etc)
  • Can get expensive if not managed properly

With these two types of PPC ad management, you’re choosing between push or pull marketing. I.e., when ads are served up on search engines  (Sponsored Search), people are actively searching for something and then clicking on your ad — they know they’re being sold to — which means you’re “pulling” them in.

With ads showing on the Display Network (relevant sites across the web), you’re dealing with push marketing, meaning visitors to those websites aren’t necessarily looking for services; they’re most likely reading articles or going about their business, so you’re “pushing” your content on them.

It’s up to you to decide which works better for your business.


3) LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a demographic-driven ad platform, so ads are shown based on people’s interests/personal information instead of them searching by keyword and being served ads that way.

Marketing on this site gives you great continuity from audience to ad copy to your landing page — meaning you’ve already gotten in front of a specific audience based on their demographics, so write your ads to THEM and send them to a landing page with messaging specific to THEM.

Ads are a “hybrid” style of 50 pixels by 50 pixels with text and imagery. This platform is business-to-business focused.

FB Logo

4) Facebook

Facebook is another demographic-driven ad platform. Again, we see “hybrid” ad styles — similar to LinkedIn — with a crossover between images and text within each ad.

Instead of being a B2B platform, Facebook is B2C (business-to-consumer). Another main difference here is Facebook is a place wherein you can remarket to previous visitors to your website/landing pages.

Pros & Cons of LinkedIn/Facebook Ads


  • Much cheaper traffic (than AdWords/Bing Ads)
  • Demographic control (age, gender, likes, etc.)


The main negative with these types of ads is they can experience “fatigue” over time. That is, if you don’t vary your ads, then the same audience will see the same ads over and over — obviously this means the ads and messaging will lose efficacy over time.

In order to thwart this aspect of this type of marketing, you need to be prepared with many different creatives in order to avoid “going stale” with your campaign.

PPC: Lead Generation That Makes Sense For Your Business

When it comes to generating leads online with paid traffic, there are many different strategies from which to choose. Some questions you need to answer in order to know the best method are:

  • What makes sense for YOUR business?
  • What’re your highest-profit products/services?
  • What’s your close rate?
  • What type of lead volume can you handle?
  • What’s the average lifetime value of one client?
  • What about branding?

When you can answer these questions, you can begin to lay out a paid search goal. Once you’ve launched your campaign and gathered some data, you can further hone your methods (e.g., A/B testing your landing pages) to be able to make PPC attract the type of leads that will propel your business forward.

Is PPC For You?

PPC marketing is a great digital marketing medium — when done correctly!

You basically have control over your lead volume: if you’re receiving too many you can just pause your campaign so your ads won’t show. If the opposite is true, you can always bolster your budget to receive more traffic or revise your keywords/ad copy, etc.

But, just because we love pay-per-click (we are a PPC management firm, after all) doesn’t mean it works for every business. There are times when the ROI just doesn’t justify the time and effort it takes to create and manage a campaign.

That said, we have a plethora of lead generation focused businesses that do very well with PPC within a few niched markets:

Hopefully you’ve got enough information here to make a decision about whether or not to give PPC marketing a go.




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