If you have not yet sampled this particular brand of digital marketing alphabet soup, PPC stands for “Pay Per Click”, and it’s the paid-for equivalent of a high organic ranking on Google or Bing. In this article, we’ll delve into what a paid search ad campaign looks like, give you some marketing pointers that’ll help your PPC ads, and discuss when NOT to use PPC for your business.

In the world of internet marketing, there are two kinds of PPC: paid search and paid social. Paid search involves search engines like Google and Bing, while paid social contains all the different social media outlets, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. We cover paid social in a different article; here let’s dive deep into paid search.

Okay, so it works like this. . .

To put it simply, paid search works like this: you tell whatever platform you’re working with which keywords you’re willing to pay to be associated with. If the amount you’re willing to spend outbids everybody else, you’ll usually show up first when somebody clicks “search.” There are a few factors that could make you lose, even if you’re willing to pay the most (like quality score, which we’ll delve into a bit later) but this is typically true. If the person browsing clicks on your link, you get charged, which is referred to as cost per click (CPC). Once your budget runs out (meaning a lot of people have clicked your ad) you no longer appear in the search results, until the next day when your budget resets.

The Pillars of Every Single PPC Campaign

It can be useful to think of the pieces of a PPC campaign as pillars. They’re all important, and without one the whole thing can come falling down.

A quick note: We’re going to be referencing things mostly from the perspective of Google Ads since it’s the biggest and most popular paid search service out there, but this cheat-sheet works just the same if you’re using any other paid search service. The exact terms may be different depending on who you’re running the PPC campaign through, but the essence and strategy is identical.


The first pillar is the Ad Campaign itself. Google Ads defines this as: “A set of Ad Groups (ads, keywords, and bids) that share a budget, location targeting, and other settings.” Think of your campaign pillar as where your regional manager would work; it’s where you can take a high-level view of your advertising efforts and make broad changes to things like the overall budget, the physical location targeted by the ads, or the language the ads appear in (parlez-vous français?). Your Ad Campaign could be aimed at beating a particular competitor, capitalizing on a national holiday to boost sales, or increasing visits to your new online store.

Ad Group

Next is the Ad Group, which is sort of like the store manager of your PPC campaign. Not as concerned with the overall regional strategy; instead, focused on maximizing the value for a smaller cross-section of the business. Ad Groups contain the advertising copy for as many ads as you see fit to create, as well as the keywords you want to bid on in the auction, and the budget you’re willing to spend on that given group of ads and keywords.

Ad Groups typically contain one or more ads that share a common theme. If you sell nerdy vinyl car decals, you could have an Ad Group for Marvel car decals, Game of Thrones car decals, and Anime car decals. Within each Ad Group you’d have specific advertisements written to sell each specific product within that category.

The Ad Group is where you have the granular, fine-motor control to tweak and manage the individual advertisements that appear to your customers, and success here is critical to the health of your overall paid search campaign.


Within each ad you have created in an Ad Group is the almighty Keyword; the thing which you’re actually going to bid on. The Campaign and Ad Group are organizational tactics that will help you manage your ads and their goals overall, but the Keywords are where you really get into the nitty gritty of the digital marketing PPC game. While all of the pillars are important, this is probably the central one; if you mess this up, nothing else matters. If the Campaign is the Regional Manager and the Ad Group is the store manager, then the Keywords are the employees who are rubbing elbows with the customers and helping them find the exact product they were hunting for.

Seriously, keywords are (uhh…) the key.

Figuring out which Keywords to bid on and how much to spend is a whole different article, but here’s the summary: bid where you’re likely to win. If you sell accessories for cars, you’re going to be competing with Toyota and GM and Tesla on the keyword “Car Accessories” meaning it will cost you an arm, leg, and your firstborn’s arm and leg to win. However, if you are a car accessory salesperson who specializes in anime themed decals, bidding on the keyword “Anime Car Decal” is going to be way more affordable, and you’ll be much more likely to win. The more narrow or niche the Keyword you’re bidding on is, the lower your CPC is going to be, and a lower CPC means your advertisement will show up more often before your budget runs out for the day, meaning you’ll spend more time beating out the competition.

And the emphasis here is on ‘bid.’ You’re competing for keywords with other businesses who also want to rank, and in order to be the anointed one chosen by the PPC deities, not only do you need to be willing to pay up, you also need to have a high quality score. We’ll get to quality score in a second.

Ad Copy

Now, anybody can huck a stack of Benjamins at Google so they appear first when a certain term is searched, but the real trick is convincing people to actually click. To ensure you’re not wasting money, you need to have solid ad copy.

In theory you could just fill your ad with keywords your research has shown will get clicks, but that’s not going to be very enticing to the person doing the searching (also this is referred to as keyword stuffing, and you tend to get punished in the Quality Score department for doing it).

This is where having a kickass copywriter comes in. You need a writer who can convince the user who has searched for “Anime Car Decal” that you, and you alone, have the product they need. And you need to convince them in a limited number of characters; your ad text cannot be a 1,000 word essay. Keep it snappy, short, and convincing, with one or two of the keywords you are targeting.

Pro tip: you want your ad text to sound conversational (using normal punctuation and capitalization) and to seem like a natural search result, so people are more likely to click on it. Likely you’ve done this yourself, clicking onto the first result without realizing it’s an advertisement a business paid to show you. And ultimately that’s the goal; to have a customer find your page and make a purchase without realizing that they ever clicked on an ad.

Landing Pages

Congratulations, your ad was clicked on, and you’ve been charged by your PPC provider for that honor. But now what? The ad this prospective customer clicked on will take them somewhere, and if you don’t want to waste the money you just spent, you need to make sure they like what they see when they land. Landing page design is too involved to cover here, but we’ve written up an article about it so you can learn more. In summary though, the page the customer lands on after clicking your ad needs to continue to convince them to do whatever action you created the ad to do.

You want the user to experience a consistent flow from search result to ad click to landing page, which means keeping your keywords consistent throughout. For example, let’s go back to our vinyl car decal company. If a customer is specifically looking for anime decals, then the landing page they arrive on shouldn’t be a general page where they’ll see sports teams and Harry Potter decals, it should be the specific page with the specific product they came here searching for.
It’s vitally important that your landing page be top-notch because it’s where you’ll recoup the money you spent on the keyword in the first place. Imagine paying for a blimp to fly around town advertising a new bike shop, and on every street corner there’s a beautiful man or woman waving a sign saying “Visit the bike shop!” but when you try to find it, the shop is this dilapidated corner store with boarded up windows and the door sticks when you try to open it. It’s not likely the bike store is going to recoup the money it spent on advertising, almost exclusively because of its presentation and location. And your landing page IS your presentation and location.

Quality Scores

We did promise we’d get here! Quality score trips up a lot of advertisers, and can be frustrating if you don’t understand what influences it. There are a lot of factors, but the main three are expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience.

To attain a high quality score, your ad needs to perform the way the search engine thinks it ought to (expected clickthrough rate), be related to the user’s original search (ad relevance), and lead to a fast, easy-to-use website (landing page experience).
If you’re suffering from a low quality score, it means one or more of these things is not happening the way it ought to. And it means your ad won’t always win the bidding war, even if you’re willing to pay oodles.

When PPC is the Wrong Choice

Don’t pay for paid search if your business isn’t ready for it. If your website isn’t set up or if your keyword research isn’t done, stop and assess. Remember our blimp analogy; don’t pay for extravagant ads if your windows are boarded up.

Similarly, you probably shouldn’t pay for paid search if the rewards don’t offset the costs. This isn’t always a 1:1 ratio of amount spent to revenue earned; brand awareness can be just as valuable as an extra sale or two. Figure out what the goal is for your Campaign and keep that in mind when assessing the expected value from paid search.

Finally, don’t use paid search if the math isn’t in your favor. If the keyword you absolutely NEED to bid on is so outrageously expensive you’ll never make money, get scrappy and find another way to attract customers. This might mean going more granular, targeting the people searching for “Pokemon Anime Vinyl Car Decals” instead of just “Car Decals,”.

Shameless Plug

We’re all about educating our readers and clients, but let’s face it – PPC can be complicated,
overwhelming and complex to do on your own. Gravitate partners with companies of all shapes and sizes to take their PPC efforts to new heights. Not only do we manage your ads from soup to nuts, but we help you understand your Campaigns, what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do next. If you’re looking to take your paid marketing to the next level or need feedback on your strategy, drop us a line.



Contributing Author Post: Lucas X. Wiseman is two parts writer, one part dungeon master, with a sprinkle of PNW rainwater, art & woodworking for flavor.

Find him here or on Twitter.