PPC has seen it's ups and downs in its long history, but it is surprising (at least to me) how few Web businesses engage in the advertising practice - despite hearing success story after success story.
Perhaps the problem is not in the associated costs (although average bid prices are increasing) or in the complexity (platforms exist that help advertisers more efficiently manage their campaigns) but rather that advertisers are unlikely very familiar with the practice at all. That's an easy fix.
Pay per click (PPC - also called cost per click) is an Internet advertising model that is used by advertisers to direct traffic to their websites. Essentially, advertisers pay the publisher (typically a network serves as the intermediary in this relationship) when the ad is clicked.
PPC advertising opportunities are numerous, but for the purpose of this discussion consider the vendor landscape as one made of up tiers - the first tier consisting of Google (Adwords) and Bing (Bing Ads). It's where a majority of your budget will likely fall, at least initially. There are numerous second-tier networks as well, those which are pure-play PPC ad networks including 7Search and others. Then, there are third-tier networks, which provide some PPC element to their advertising mix - Kayak.com and others serve as good examples.
Regardless of the network tier you choose or the individual PPC vendor, there are numerous benefits of advertising in a PPC model - namely that it is the most measurable of all online marketing channels - but that's not all. Advertisers have more control over campaigns (reach, cost, etc.) and the results - once campaigns are live - are nearly instantaneous. The downside of PPC, however, is that without an aggressive, informed and active presence in the networks chosen, it's easy to waste money.
There are, of course, several basics that Web advertisers must address in relation to their campaign. If you're not abiding by these basics, you'll likely find that your enterprise is wasting more ad dollars than is resulting in a positive return on ad spend:
- Conversion Tracking: Be it a purchase, a sign-up or even viewing a contact form page, conversion tracking is essential to PPC success as it indicates which combination of keyword/campaign and landing page are driving response and which are driving response that results in conversion. Start by identifying what you consider a conversion, and then ensure that the proper tracking mechanism is in place.
- Establish Performance Indicators: Before the user traffic starts arriving, make sure that high-level performance indicators are in place. By tracking interaction from ads on their own website (available only when conversion tracking is in place), ad campaigns will reveal several interesting indicators of performance. For example, set a monthly budget (and if you go over, then you're likely wasting resources), set a conversion target (fall beneath the target and you'll need to optimize the PPC landing page users are being directed to) or a cost per user acquisition.
- Grow & Prune Keyword Lists: Internet retailers are not obligated to use any search term in their campaigns. The reason to track everything related to keywords in your campaign is to find out what's working and what's not. Just like you wouldn't keep an employee around that wasn't working hard enough (or worse, not working at all), any terms or phrases that don't result in some conversion (over time) should be removed without haste.
- Quality Ad Listings: The tier-one networks (namely Google) are well known for the features and attributes they provide to advertisers to help them stand out on the search results pages. From the creative use of copy to the inclusion of additional data layers (e.g. including seller ratings through Adwords), there are numerous opportunities to stand out to prospective buyers.
- Landing Page Paradox: Where users are sent from your ad (the landing page) is of immense important to PPC ad campaigns. Make sure that landing pages are exactly what prospective buyers are looking for, that they tell the story well, and represent the brand being promoted perfectly.