With digital marketing growing ever more important for small and large businesses alike, marketers are increasingly looking towards utilising online pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, most commonly via Google AdWords. Indeed, the idea of specifically targeting your audience and measuring every click and conversion can be very appealing, particularly in comparison to traditional offline advertising.
However, this abundance of targeting options and data comes at a cost: the amount of knowledge, time, and money required to develop successful PPC campaigns can seem overwhelming, particularly for smaller businesses with less available resource. As such, it can be tempting to dismiss PPC without ever properly exploring it as an opportunity.
In this guide, I’ll aim to help you decide if PPC is worth trying for your business, and give you a few pointers on how to get started.
A Few Assumptions
For the sake of simplicity, in this article I’ll focus on Google AdWords paid search. I’m also going to assume that your primary aim is to generate sales or leads.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that other PPC networks (e.g. Google Display Advertising) could be more suitable for your business and goals, for example if you’re more interested in brand exposure than short-term ROI. Ultimately, you’ll need to make these decisions based on your own goals and performance data.
Is Paid Search Worth It?
Although every business is different, there are a few things you can consider to help you decide if paid search advertising could be a good fit:
- Business Model. If your product is sold at a low price and/or customers have a low lifetime value, you might struggle to generate a positive return. On the other hand, high-value products and services can see great returns, even at higher bids. Of course, if you generate a lot of sales then even a small return on ad spend (ROAS) can be worth pursuing. Finally, it’s worth noting that non-profits can (and should!) take advantage of $10,000 USD to spend on AdWords every month courtesy of Google Ad Grants.
- Number of Products. If you sell hundreds or thousands of different products, creating and targeting ads for every one probably isn’t feasible, and even managing broader product categories could be difficult. In this case, an alternative such as Google Shopping might be a better option.
- Cost Per Click (CPC). AdWords CPCs range from a few pence to hundreds of pounds per click for some of the most competitive keywords. If your industry CPCs are on the higher side, you might struggle to generate a positive return- especially if you’re competing with much larger companies with more resource. On the flip side, if a lot of your competitors haven’t fully embraced digital yet, you might be able to take advantage of some surprisingly cheap clicks.
- Search Volume and Intent. If there isn’t much relevant search traffic for your product/service, it might be difficult to get favourable returns from your paid search campaigns. Bidding on more generic keywords is unlikely to provide the results you want, either, unless you can come up with some particularly creative ad copy or a less obvious targeting strategy. This problem can be even worse in competitive industries, where CPCs are high.
- Your Website. If your website leaves a lot to be desired, then paying for traffic might not be worth it. The quality of your landing pages is an important component of keyword Quality Score (affecting CPC), and a bad site is also less likely to engage with and convert potential customers.
- Organic Search Performance. It’s unlikely that you’re already dominating the organic results for every search term. However, if you’re already ranking highly for certain keywords, it might not be worth paying to bid on them too. On the other hand, paid search ads can generate extra clicks even if you’re already ranking in the top organic position- including for branded terms, too. Paid ads also offer the opportunity for more compelling copy compared to organic results, so can be used as part of a wider marketing campaign.
So, your business is a fantastic/terrible fit for using paid search? Great! Although… remember that the factors above are only rough guidelines. It’s very difficult to predict the efficacy of a campaign based on initial research alone, before until you’ve put it live and analysed the data.
So, unless you’re very confident that PPC won’t be effective, I would almost always recommend trying it anyway. Yes, there’s no guarantee that it will be successful- but equally, you could be missing out if you never try.
Create Your Campaigns
When creating your first campaigns, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to start out small. I often see businesses with large, broadly targeted and poorly optimised accounts- causing wasted spend and underwhelming performance.
Instead, focus your resources on a few key products/services, and only expand to other areas when you’re either happy with performance or want to try something different. Take the time to structure your account effectively using different campaigns and ad groups (and make sure you understand the difference!), which can improve performance and also makes everything easier to manage.
It’s often better to bid on searches with higher intent, rather than every single keyword that might be relevant. Furthermore, keyword matching options can be used to narrow down the range of searches that your ads show for. For example, while broad match keywords (AdWords’ default option) can trigger ads for synonyms, exact match will only trigger an ad for that precise search. With a limited budget, using more specific keyword matching can reduce spend on searches which are less relevant and have lower intent, i.e. less valuable to your business.
Depending on your average CPCs, a budget of as little as £5-10 per day can be enough for you to test and analyse how well your campaigns are working.
Time to Start Testing
You might have set up some ads, but you’re not done yet. Successful PPC campaigns require regular maintenance, and there’s numerous ways to test and optimise your targeting, bidding, and the ads themselves.
A campaign might not (and probably won’t) provide a great ROI straight away. However, by optimising your campaigns you can increase conversion rates and reduce costs. Over a larger timescale, developing well-performing campaigns can be worth the time and financial costs in the beginning.
However, there might be a point where it looks like a given campaign just isn’t going to be effective- whether the clicks are too pricey or people just aren’t converting enough. Ultimately, you should remember that there’s no long-term commitment: if something really isn’t working, just pause it. You can always start it back up again if you want to try out a new approach later on.
If all the targeting options, bidding strategies, and acronyms (marketers love acronyms) seem a bit much, don’t worry. This stuff isn’t supposed to be easy – despite what Google might tell you – and nobody ever learnt it all on the first day.
If you’re interested in trying out PPC, a good first step is to take the AdWords certification. It won’t make you an expert, but you will learn some important best practices and optimisation techniques. From there, make sure to read plenty (there’s numerous good PPC blogs out there) and practice what you’ve learnt.
Alternatively, if you’d rather not delve in yourself or just don’t have the time, there’s plenty of digital marketing agencies which offer PPC services. Although this adds some extra cost, a few well-performing campaigns could still provide you with a positive ROI overall, particularly if you think of it as a long-term investment. For bigger companies with a large ad spend, it could even be worth hiring a permanent staff member to manage your paid campaigns.
While certain factors might affect the viability of paid search for your business, the only way to really find out is by testing campaigns. Remember: just as your business doesn’t operate perfectly from Day 1, PPC accounts can take months or years to develop, along with plenty of experimentation and learning from experience. However, as well as an abundance of resources online, there’s plenty of PPC professionals out there if you need some extra help.
Want any more advice? Just get in touch.