A Crash Course in PPC Advertising

If you’re running an online membership site, there will come a time when you want to start investing some time, energy, and money into attracting new members. Last year we gave you a quick rundown of 5 critical marketing strategies to start thinking about, and today we’d like to delve a little deeper into PPC advertising.

PPC, or Pay-Per-Click, advertising is a great focused marketing tool that allows you to control your budget and target niche audiences. When used correctly, it can bring heaps of fresh traffic to your website and help secure new customers who you may not have found through your extended networks.

In this crash course we’ll quickly go through how PPC works, some of the amazing benefits of it, and a few pitfalls to be wary of. Ready? Let’s go!

How does it work?

PPC ads are those listings that pop up in the sidebar of your Google or Bing searches. If you’ve ever taken a minute to look at them, you have probably noticed that the displayed listings are directly related to the keyword or phrase that you just searched. That, my friends, is no coincidence.

PPC ad space is sold on an auction system. Advertisers set up profiles using a service like Google AdWords and place ‘bids’ on keywords or phrases. The higher the bid, the higher the likelihood of the ad showing up alongside search results and the better its placement among the displayed listings. Although every keyword and phrase has a maximum bid determined by the search engine to try and prevent bidding wars and keep the peace, some of the most popular keywords can get very competitive. For that reason, it’s best to use PPC advertising to target hyper-specific keywords in a niche sphere. But more on that later.

Once a bid has been placed, the advertiser creates his/her campaign (usually consisting of a graphic, copy, and a link) and sets their campaign budget. Why set a budget? Because PPC by definition means that the advertiser only pays for the number of clicks they get on their ad. It’s an amazing control that is unique to PPC advertising in the sense that it allows the advertiser to spend however much they can afford on tactics that actually bring traffic to their website.

For example, if a site owner was to go with a more traditional form of advertising such as placing an ad on a media outlet’s website, they would have to pay a flat fee up front with no idea or guarantee of it bringing traffic to their website. With PPC advertising, they can set up a campaign for a keyword that relates to their business, with a maximum bid of $0.10, and a budget of $20. If 0 people click the ad, he/she won’t be charged anything. If 100 people click the ad, he/she would only be charged $10. If 200 people click the ad, he/she would be charged the full $20 and the ad would stop appearing in search results to prevent going over budget. As the budget nears depletion, a notification is often sent to the campaign creator asking if they would like to increase the budget to keep the ad running longer. If the ad is doing well, it’s incredibly easy to pop in some more money and extended the listing dates to keep the ball rolling.


So let’s delve a little deeper into some of the incredible benefits of PPC advertising:

  1. It's fast. PPC allows you to start seeing results within hours of creating a campaign. If your bids and budget are high enough and you’ve generated a good ad, potential customers will see you first and click directly to your site. No more waiting around to hear back from a salesperson in the advertising department or waiting for a publication to go live to see your ad in print.
  2. It's pliable. Most PPC outlets give you real time results to track your click rates from the moment your ad goes live. Additionally, most outlets allow you to split test ads. A split test means that you can upload multiple versions of your ad graphics/copy within the same campaign and see which version draws more eyes and clicks. With all this information at your fingertips and complete control over your campaign, tweaking ads while your campaign is still running has never been easier.
  3. It's cheap. When used correctly, PPC advertising can be an incredibly cheap way to direct traffic to your site. Just be careful to avoid bidding wars on top tier keywords and remember to use this form of advertising for more targeted, niche audiences. A great way to do this is to set up campaigns for landing pages within your website for specific products, services, or topics of concern. More specific content means more niche keywords means lower max bids.


As wonderful as PPC advertising is, there are some common (and costly) pitfalls to be wary of:

  1. Sending visitors to your home page. This is one of the biggest mistakes that campaign creators make. If you want to generate an ad for your overall site/business, I’d strongly advise against it. As a general rule, you want to create campaigns for very specific parts of your site/business. Ads that do best direct to a landing page for a particular service or product. This allows you to pick niche keywords, spend less money, and really focus on exactly who you want to be targeting with that time, effort, and money. Worse yet is when you generate an ad for a specific service or product and then link to your home page anyways. This means that the user you just spent all the energy targeting with carefully selected keywords, imagery, and copy will now have to search through your entire site for the product/service advertised. And as a consumer, how many of you have been thrilled about a task like that? Yeah, me neither. Cut out the work and lead people to exactly where they want to be. A happy customer is a loyal customer.
  2. Pushing ad copy to the back burner. Although your ad may only have a sentence or two of copy, it’s important to really spend some time on making sure that the space is well used. Be aware of any red flag rules for copy that your search engine has provided (such as a ban on using “the best” or all caps), always proofread, and make sure that information that is most intriguing to your ideal customer is prominently featured (for example, if you offer free shipping that should definitely be included in your ad copy).
  3. Opting out of split testing. Why people choose to opt out of this feature is one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries to me. It’s free, takes just a few extra minutes, and provides invaluable insight into the minds of your consumers. Do your ideal customers prefer a graphic with red text or blue? Does the word “lavish” draw more clicks, or does the word “rich”? Split testing allows you to make minor changes within your campaign to see what brings the best clickthrough rate. This information can be used on ALL of your advertising efforts going forward.
  4. Failing to use negative keywords. Negative keywords are words or phrases that could be related to the keywords you’ve bid on, but have nothing to do with your business or brand. If you want to avoid wasting money on clicks from these kinds of searches, be sure to include a list of negative keywords for which your ad will NOT be displayed. Most PPC outlets include a provision for this list.
  5. Forgetting to check in from time-to-time. Just like with any digital marketing strategy, PPC is not something that you should just create and forget. You should absolutely be checking back in to see if search patterns have changed, if someone has outbid you, or if someone else’s top bid has dropped out. At the same time, pop in to see how your stats are looking and how your budget is holding up. Make adjustments as you see fit and take advantage of the full control you have over your campaign!

Well, that should be plenty to get your brain juices flowing. By no means is this a comprehensive guide to PPC advertising – this is very much a crash course in some of the basic concepts. There are many other technicalities to consider and a ton of resources online to help you navigate uncertain waters. But we hope that this article has helped answer some initial questions you may have had.

If you’d like to learn more about PPC advertising or if you’ve got some additional helpful tips, please drop a comment below. We always love hearing from you guys. See you next week!

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Categories: Advice Business Marketing
About Nicole Pamani

Nicole is a freelance digital strategist and copywriter. She helps solopreneurs and small businesses work smarter, launch better, sell harder, and run smoother. To find out more about Nicole you can visit her website, npamani.com, or say hi on Twitter, @npamani.