Marketers throw around a lot of acronyms. 

For someone new to online marketing, it can be a little overwhelming to parse what people mean when they say PPC, SEM, SEO, CTA or one of many other common marketing acronyms. 

This post will provide a thorough explanation for one of the most common and important acronyms online businesses should know about: PPC

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Breaking Down PPC Marketing

PPC in marketing stands for pay per click, the term used to describe a popular online ad billing model where the advertiser only gets charged for the ad when someone clicks on it. 

This billing model represents a shift in how companies pay for advertising on the web versus what has long been common in other advertising formats such as magazine and TV spots. 

Instead of paying a lump sum to reach a large number of people and hope some of them take an interest in your message, PPC marketing allows brands to pay only when consumers take a direct action. You don’t pay for the million people to view your ad, you pay for the hundred interested enough in your ad to do something about it. 

The Different Types of PPC Marketing

There are two main types of PPC marketing advertisers can take advantage of.

Paid Search Ads

Most of the time when you hear someone talk about PPC ads, they’re talking about paid search ads that show up on the search engine results page (SERP) of Google and the other main search engines. Depending on the search term and how much the advertiser has bid for the spot, these can show up above the list of organic results, to the right of them, or below them. 

example of ppc paid search ads for flowers
examples of google ppc ads for mattress

When you advertise with Google, you also have the option of placing PPC ads across their vast display network, which includes additional Google properties like Gmail and YouTube, as well as over 2 million other websites across the web, including popular media properties like the New York Times and Buzzfeed

example of google display ads on new york times

In other words, Google’s network for PPC search ads covers a significant portion of the web. 

Social Ads

The other main option for PPC advertising is social media. Most of the main social media platforms provide ad options using a similar PPC model to that of search engines. PPC social advertising is possible on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

With each social platform hosting over a million users (more than a billion, in the case of Facebook), many of them visiting the site multiple times a day, social PPC advertising is a strong option for reaching more of your audience. 

PPC Marketing Terms to Know

Before we get into more details of what’s involved in PPC advertising in digital marketing, you need to understand the language commonly used in the PPC world. Here are some terms worth knowing:

  • CPA – This stands for cost per action. It’s a billing model offered on some PPC platforms in which, instead of paying for each click, you pay for a specific desired action, such as an email list signup or a purchase. In some cases, the acronym could also apply to the similar term, cost per acquisition, meaning you pay for every time you gain a customer.
  • CPC – This stands for cost per click. In the PPC bidding model, keywords are assigned a value based on how competitive they are. So if there are a lot of businesses vying for a certain keyword, you can expect to pay more for each click than with a keyword that isn’t as popular to advertisers. Understanding the average CPC for the keywords you target is an important part of keeping your PPC campaigns profitable. 
  • CPM – This stands for cost per impression, or more accurately, cost per a thousand impressions. For ad campaigns where visibility is more important than inspiring direct action, most PPC platforms allow you the option of paying based on the number of times someone sees your ad, instead of paying for each click. 
  • CTA – This stands for call to action. It’s a term commonly used in all types of marketing, and plays an important role in PPC as well. It’s widely considered a best practice to include a clear call to action in every text ad you write. Some examples of common CTAs include “Learn more” or “Click here.”
  • CTR – This stands for click-through rate. It’s a metric calculated by dividing the number of impressions (or times people have seen your ads), by the number of clicks they receive. It’s an important metric for gauging the performance and quality of your ads and campaigns.
  • Long-tail keywords – The cost and success of paid search campaigns is directly related to the keywords and keyword phrases you choose to target. The term long-tail keywords is used to describe search terms that are more specific and therefore less competitive than broad keywords. For example, “flower delivery” is a broad keyword, while “same day flower delivery austin tx” is an example of a long-tail keyword that would cost less to target, but still reach a relevant audience. 
  • Quality score – The placement of PPC ads depends on two main factors: the amount a brand is willing to spend, and their ad quality score. The search engine ad platforms want to deliver ads that are relevant to what people are looking for—they value delivering a good experience, in addition to getting money from advertisers. They assign ads a quality score based on factors like CTR and the bounce rate for people that click. If your ads are high quality, you’ll end up paying less for each click. 
  • Remarketing – Any time you’re browsing the web and see an ad for a product you viewed recently, you’re the target for remarketing, sometimes called retargeting. On Google’s display network, you can target past website visitors with ads based on the pages on your website they viewed. This helps you stay top of mind for past visitors and increase the chances of a conversion.
  • ROI – This stands for return on investment, and is a common business term. You may also encounter the similar acronym ROAS, for return on ad spend. It refers to figuring out how what you’re spending relates to the amount of new revenue you’re bringing in from your ads, so you can determine if your PPC campaigns are paying off.
  • SEM – This stands for search engine marketing, the catch-all term for all digital marketing and advertising efforts focused on getting noticed in the search engines. It includes PPC and SEO, the paid and organic versions of gaining spots in the search engine results.
  • SEO – This stands for search engine optimization. Where PPC ads help you gain spots in the advertising sections of the SERP, SEO is how you gain spots in the organic results. SEO is distinct from PPC, but most companies that do one will benefit from having a strategy for the other as well. 

Now you can talk about PPC with your peers like an expert, and dig deeper into resources that explain how to do it well.

4 Reasons to Use PPC Marketing

Businesses have a lot of different marketing tactics to choose from, and limited budget and resources to put toward them all. PPC is far from your only choice, but it’s one of the most popular online marketing tactics for good reason. 

Here are four notable benefits of doing PPC advertising.

1. PPC advertising is targeted.

PPC channels—both search and social—allow you to limit who will see your ads based on factors like demographic categories and online behavior. If your product’s target audience is middle-aged women who are really into sports, you can use your PPC platform’s targeting options to set up a relevant audience for your ads that’s more likely to respond to them. 

2. You can reach a huge audience with PPC ads.

A significant majority of people in the United States now use social media, and an even larger number of people use search engines. The main channels for PPC advertising allow you to reach a massive portion of the people online today—and that’s before you factor in the rest of the Google Display Network, which Google says reaches over 90% of all people on the internet. 

pew research center chart showing majority of adults use facebook and youtube
statista chart showing how many people use google search

PPC advertising allows you to get information about your brand, products, and content in front of just about anyone that uses the internet.

3. PPC produces detailed analytics.

In addition to (hopefully) driving new visits and conversions, PPC campaigns produce another valuable result: rich analytics. 

Every PPC campaign you launch will result in data that helps you better understand who your audience is, what language they’re using, and what kind of messaging they respond to. Those insights not only allow you to continually improve your PPC campaigns, they can also be applied to your other marketing efforts. You can strengthen your SEO strategy, your social media marketing, and content marketing plans based on what you learn from your PPC efforts.  

4.  PPC gets results.

Google estimates that businesses get a return on investment of $2 for every $1 they spend on the platform. Your success rates will depend on the quality of your campaigns, how good of a job you do targeting the right audience and keywords, and how well you monitor and adjust them over time. But if you do PPC well, you can count on gaining new leads and customers from it.

How to Do Pay-Per-Click Marketing Well

Anyone that decides to include PPC as part of a business marketing strategy needs to know a few main things in order to do it effectively. Here are eight PPC best practices to follow. 

1. Perform keyword research.

For paid search marketing, finding the right keywords is crucial for getting the results you want. Keyword research allows you to identify the terms and phrases your target audience is commonly using when they search for products like yours and answers to questions that you cover on your website. 

When you enter a starter list of terms you’ve brainstormed into Google’s Keyword Planner, the tool uses historical data to provide:

  • An estimate of how many times people will see ads that target that term (impressions) in a given period of time
  • An estimate of how many times people will click on those ads
  • The expected click-through rate
  • The average cost per click, as well as the maximum cost per click
google keyword planner data

The Google Keyword Planner will also help you build out a larger list of relevant keywords. You can plug in the list you have now, and the tool will both provide helpful data on your current keywords (average monthly searches, level of competition) and a list of related keywords with the same data provided. 

google keyword planner keyword list ideas

There are also a number of other keyword research tools you can use to supplement the data and suggestions provided in Google’s Keyword Planner. Using what you learn, you can build out a campaign that targets the most relevant keywords your audience is using.

2. Set your budget.

Once you set up your PPC account, the platform will let you set a specific budget for your ad campaigns and provide a daily maximum amount you’re willing to spend. Since PPC uses a bidding model, your ad placements will depend on the budget you set. If you’re hoping to show up for competitive keywords with a high CPC, you need a big enough budget to account for that. 

Figure out what you can afford to commit to PPC advertising and consider how much the keywords you’re targeting cost in order to work out a budget that makes sense for your business.

3. Use negative keywords.

With PPC for search, you have the option to include negative keywords that you explicitly don’t want to show up for. This can help you further refine who will see your ads based on relevance, so you don’t waste money on clicks from people looking for something different than what you offer. 

For example, a florist that sells pre-made rose arrangements doesn’t need to show up for people looking for tips on how to grow their own roses. So they might add terms like “how to grow roses” or “rose pruning” to the negative keyword list. 

4. Create relevant ad groups.

PPC advertising platforms also let you set up specific ad groups so you can tailor your ads based on the specific keywords and audiences they’re most relevant for. That means a florist can use different messaging for a set of keywords related to Mother’s Day flowers than one related to bereavement, and can change the wording of ads targeting middle aged men looking to buy flowers for their wives than those for young couples selecting floral arrangements for an upcoming wedding.

With ad groups, you can make your ads more relevant to the specific people who will see them, increasing the chances of success.

5. Choose your audiences.

Very few businesses need to reach everybody. What you’re selling is most likely to appeal to a specific subset of the population. If you sell business software, then you need to reach professionals from certain types of businesses in specific roles. If you sell skateboards, you want to reach young people with an interest in skateboarding. 

Both search and social PPC options let you choose who will see your ads based on some common categories such as demographics and interests. A click from someone in your target audience is worth much more to you than one from someone unlikely to buy your products. By setting up a specific audience for each of your campaigns, you ensure the clicks you pay for are more worth the cost. 

6. Optimize your landing pages.

Getting someone to see and click on your ad is a big goal, but that’s just the first step in what you ultimately want them to do. For your PPC spend to be worth it, you also need for them to take the next step you want them to, whether that’s clicking through to read more content, signing up for your email list, or making a purchase.

Make sure that the web page those PPC clicks lead to is optimized to match the specific keyword and ad you use. The landing page should always be relevant and designed to achieve your specific campaign goal. Always design a landing page with a clear CTA, and try out different wording and designs to learn what works best. 

7. Analyze your results.

One of the big benefits of PPC is that you end up with a lot of valuable analytics you can learn from. Don’t set your PPC campaigns on auto pilot and hope for the best. Spend time analyzing the data so you can learn what your audience responds to and tweak your campaigns for better results over time. 

In your analysis, make sure you factor in conversions, as well as clicks. In order to properly determine the ROI of specific keywords and campaigns, you need to know how often they drive people to take the specific actions you want them to, beyond earning that initial click. Analyzing your metrics can help you cut out costly keywords that aren’t producing the results you want, and help you put more of your budget toward ads that produce new sales and subscribers. 

8. Use retargeting.

How many times have you visited a website, checked out a product you liked the look of, but decided that you’d better not spend that money right away. It doesn’t mean you’re uninterested in the product, just that the timing wasn’t right. 

Retargeting gives you a way to reach the people who like your products, but for whatever reason just weren’t ready to buy right away. You can re-capture the attention of someone who might otherwise forget about your brand.

Get More Sales with PPC 

A strong PPC strategy can help you gain more visibility with your target audience, and turn that attention into conversions. But it takes work to learn the ropes and do PPC effectively. If you want to give it a try, but aren’t sure how to get started, hiring a team of skilled PPC professionals can take most of the work off your plate, while increasing your chance of getting great results. Contact HostGator to learn more about our PPC services today.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.