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How to get started with PPC advertising. And why you should.

Someone asked me the other day how they can ever get started with PPC marketing when, in her words, “I’m already so far behind the curve.”

It’s a fair question and one that challenges many new marketers. And while a good many tutorials exist on the web – not least of which is the great material available from Google’s AdWords Learning Center – here are a couple of quick things that will help you get started:

  1. Choose your keywords. Customers are always starting their search with a question. If you’ve got a good answer to their question, why not see if your ad can help them? Google offers a free keyword tool that’s a decent place to start. Yes, more powerful tools exist (I’m a big fan – and an affiliate – of Wordtracker). But for getting started, Google’s tool is good enough.
  2. Pick your landing page. Once you know what question you want to answer – and what terms your customers will use – figure out where those terms will land. The ads that work the best are those that have a dedicated landing page to keep a strong sense of scent. And, as we’ve seen, nothing works less well than an ad that drops you off on a completely unrelated page.
  3. Write your ad. Better yet, write two ads. Run the two against one another with the same keywords and same landing page and see which gets the most clicks and the most conversions. Once you pick a winner, retire the underperforming ad and start a new challenger against the current champion. This kind of A/B testing can change incremental improvements into big wins.
  4. Determine your bid levels. While bid management is one of the most powerful steps to improve performance for established campaigns, knowing how to bid most effectively requires data, data you’re not going to have when getting started. For now, set a budget you can live with per day and allocate your bids against that budget. For instance, if you make $10 per sale and convert 3% of your visits to sales, you can bid a maximum of $0.30 per click. Of course, you’ll make no profits on those sales, but it will allow you to get a baseline to optimize against. You can also set a daily budget while you’re learning to ensure your learning doesn’t drive you to the poorhouse.
  5. Pick a search engine and start your PPC campaign. Seriously, if your goal is to learn, there’s no better way to learn than to try it out. And when I say, “pick a search engine,” I don’t think I’m kidding anyone. What you really want to do is sign up for a Google AdWords account. Sure, I hear tell other folks use other paid search services. ;) But, seriously, given Google’s 64% – and growing – market share, you’re best off starting with the GOOG. Later, once you’ve found how your campaigns work best, you can move on to trying out Yahoo, MSN, Ask and others. But for now, Google will do.
  6. Track your results. At each step in the process, you’re trying to improve either impressions, clicks or conversions, with each – ideally – driving improved performance for the next. This pyramid offers one way to think about how PPC works:

    Searches equal the number of Impressions available to you. Impressions (and good ads) lead to Clicks. And Clicks – along with a good offer and a strong landing page – lead to Conversions. While a number of other variables play into how to improve each of these areas (and folks like the Rimm-Kaufman Group can give you much deeper insights into how to do that), the model in this table will certainly get you started on improving your campaigns:

    What do you want to improve? What should you change?
    Impressions Keywords or bid
    Clicks Ad copy
    Conversions Landing page

While this only begins to cover everything that you could learn, it ought to be enough to get you started on the road to PPC advertising success. Remember, the only things you’re guaranteed to fail at are those things you never try. The point isn’t to do it perfectly the first time – no one does. It’s to get started and to improve every day.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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