Pay-per-click (PPC) may sound like a great option, but do you know what it really costs and is it really worth it? Each campaign is different, depending upon the bid amounts, number of actual click through, and the generated Return on Investment (ROI).

This article intends to support you to make the best choices by offering free, totally unbiased reviews of PPC search engines and the tools designed to be used in conjunction with the PPC process - both to help you with understanding the process and to evaluate its usefulness to you as a marketing tool.

The first step in putting together a PPC campaign is to decide on your budget and what level of risk you are willing to take - as both will affect which PPC search engine you ultimately choose. As one would expect, the larger PPC service providers are less risky, since they already have excellent market coverage and tend to offer a lot of assistance to their users. But on the other hand they are the most expensive, in terms of the amount of money you must spend to acquire a top ranking, based on a specific keyword or group of keywords.
There are plenty of free, independent tools available to help you in your research of keywords which will tell you the current bid price for certain words or phrases on the different PPC search engines.

Once you have decided upon which PPC search engine you are going to use, you have to put together your ad and decide on the keywords you wish to have your ad appear to, register with the search engine, fill out the necessary information to open an account, and then begin the bidding process for the keywords you have decided upon.
When you first register your keywords with the search engine you have chosen, you will also specify the maximum amount you are willing to bid for those keywords.

Once you've mastered the basics of PPC and have learned more about the options, tools, and search engines that offer this form of marketing, you will be in a position to fine tune your campaigns and perhaps try some of the niche-market PPC search engines, which offer lower keyword costs and may be more suited to your product/service. Keep in mind that even companies with experience in online marketing struggle with the intricacies of the techniques needed to judge which PPC search engine to use and how best to play the bidding game.

There is sometimes fierce competition for specific keyword(s) on a given PPC search engine. Most PPC search engines automate the bidding process for you (stopping of course when they reach the maximum bid you have indicated), but personal involvement and the judicious use of third-party tools by the user is advisable to ensure that the tracking mechanisms, built into the search engine's control panel, are in sync with what is actually happening.

The business that bids the highest amount of money for a specific keyword will be ranked first in the PPC results, the second-highest bidder will be ranked second, etc. Typically, PPC search engines limit the number of PPC ads on a results page to less than 10, and research has shown that unless you are in the first 3 or 4 of the PPC ads, you are much less likely to be ‘clicked-on’ by visitors.

Because the competition is so fierce in this market right now, most PPC search engines do not have to invest a minimum amount of money in a campaign - in fact, some will even give you a nominal amount of money to begin your campaign with. Some may require a deposit of a small amount (around $25 to $50), but this money is then applied to your account.
Be sure to check out the fine print in the agreement to be clear on required minimum deposits or about what would happen if you decide to cancel your campaign. Be prepared to spend a fair amount of time monitoring your campaign in the beginning.

Is a Pay-Per-Click Campaign the Right Investment for my Business?

It can be relatively easy and inexpensive to give PPC a try. PPC search engines offer all kind of support and some are easier to use than others, but the opportunity to ensure a placement of your ad without necessarily investing a large amount of your marketing dollar, makes PPC an extremely attractive option and one that business owners should completely ignore as a potential marketing technique.

To help you, a huge amount of tools have been developed to automatically monitor and bid, track your Return on Investment (ROI), craft your PPC ads, and help to choose alternate keywords that may be just as effective but cost much less on the particular PPC search engine. Although there are hundreds of PPC search engines on the Internet, there is a core group of 5 to 10 PPC search engines that because of size, brand name, and reputation are the preferred choices for most PPC ad campaigns. These major companies are now experimenting with many variations on the basic premise, including the ability to use PPC on a local basis, extending it from keywords to context and behavior of users, offering their versions of tools that help make the process easier - especially for the novice, and decreasing the amount of time it takes to see results from your campaign from hours to minutes.

Optimizing your search engine campaign

Often the optimization is an exercise performed by the search engine, other times a firm specializing in search engine marketing does it, but what do they actually do to turn a floundering campaign into a profitable channel?
The pay per placement engine market is a billion dollar industry and is a platform that requires so little set-up and capital investment that a multitude of firms have embraced as a front-line marketing channel. But as more and more companies sign up the click costs have to meet the demand and increase.
And like all other marketing tools this one as well isn’t without pitfalls and obstacles, so you might want to pay attention to the following advices:

  • Understand your objectives - the first is to isolate your website objectives and tailor your traffic to achieve them.
  • Track your clicks - whether you own or adopt an advanced web analytics tool or simply add an affiliate code to the URLs submitted to the engine you must make sure you track click activity against your objectives. This is such an important factor that even engines themselves are starting to offer this service recognizing that accounting for click to conversion is a sure way to measure success.
  • Choose the right search engine(s) - don't be mistaken in thinking that all engines are equal - some are all-rounder, some B2B focused and some B2C focused. Make sure you are aware of which does what to be effective.
  • Choose the right words - make sure you take into account the selection of words and phrases you use.
  • Writing 'killer' creative – Firstly, drive more qualified traffic and secondly, reduce the amount of irrelevant clicks. Make the visitors qualify themselves before they even click the link by adding a call to action - such as buy, visit, compare, search - into your title and/or description which will prompt interest. Qualifying them further with relevant descriptions that include enough information to wet their appetite yet at the same time provide enough information to dissuade a user who is uncertain as to whether they should visit you or not. A good tip is to talk with the search engines and find out what buzz words they recommend for your industry, Google for example often recommends words like 'compare, search, research' for B2B AdWords.
  • Manage your bids and placements - the biggest difference between paid for placement and any other type of search engine optimization is that you have to bid for your position.
  • Learn the search engine distribution partners and where their listings go! The number of options available to you for managing bids is extensive; from doing it manually to buying a service to perform it for you. It is definitely the missing link to many paid for placement campaigns and can mean the difference between success and failure. Try to match conversion with costs and placement - can you get a better ROI from averaging in position 3 rather than position 1?
  • Be aware of seasonality - at peak times in your industry a lot of business can be achieved online, at the same time you can bet that a large number of your competitors will also be aware of this so make sure you watch your bids very carefully. Don't be afraid to change creative, you can make adjustments within a week turn around seasonal trends and demand.
  • Choose the most appropriate landing page - Just ask yourself the question when selecting the page, would you be happy if you'd searched for a product or service and then had to search for it a second time on the destination site?

It is important to use the above information when planning your campaign or use the pointers to fine tune your current campaigns in order to get the most from your marketing dollars. The pay-per-click search engine marketing is definitely a very competitive, efficient, and effective means of Internet marketing. Understanding it gives the ability to turn search into an extremely profitable channel.

By Daniela La Marca