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Learning Pay-Per-Click Advertising: Topics, Resources, and Certifications

A friend of mine hired a pay-per-click (PPC) firm and invested quite a sum of money over several months, only to have almost no conversions and very few sign-ups on his site. As each month went by and his team pushed for answers, eventually the firm informed him that they were backing out of the engagement. The money he invested was a total loss and he’ll likely have to start over with a new firm to assist.

This isn’t uncommon. We’ve hired a few PPC firms over the years and have yet to realize the potential they sold. As a marketer myself, I’m not oblivious to the difficulty in PPC advertising. It’s honestly why we’ve never hired and staffed to do it ourselves… it’s hard work that requires a ton of expertise, continuous attention to detail, and ongoing testing and optimization.

How PPC Works

This is an older infographic from WordStream, but walks you through how Google Ads works:

how does google ads work ad auction infographic
Source: WordStream

Why Is PPC Different Than Other Marketing Efforts?

PPC advertising is a unique approach to digital marketing that requires a different strategy compared to other marketing methodologies. Several factors contribute to this distinction:

  • Instant results: Unlike organic marketing techniques such as content marketing and SEO, PPC advertising can deliver immediate results. When executed effectively, PPC campaigns can rapidly generate traffic, leads, and conversions.
  • Budget control: PPC allows advertisers to set a specific budget and control costs, which is not the case with some other marketing strategies. Advertisers can define daily or monthly spending limits, helping them manage their marketing expenses more effectively.
  • Bidding and auction system: PPC operates on a bidding system, where advertisers compete for ad placements in search engine results or on websites. This requires ongoing monitoring and adjustments to ensure optimal performance, unlike other marketing methods that might not require such frequent intervention.
  • Targeting options: PPC provides a wide range of targeting options, such as keywords, demographics, location, time of day, and device type, enabling more precise audience targeting. This level of granularity is not always available in other marketing strategies.
  • Measurable and data-driven: PPC advertising is highly measurable, providing detailed data on clicks, impressions, conversions, and other key performance indicators (KPIs). This data-driven approach allows for constant optimization and improvement, whereas other marketing methodologies may not provide such clear and actionable insights.
  • Adaptive nature: PPC campaigns can be quickly adapted to respond to changes in the market or business objectives. This flexibility is not always possible with other marketing strategies that may require more long-term planning and execution.
  • Synergy with other marketing channels: PPC can complement other marketing efforts, such as SEO and content marketing, by driving traffic and conversions in the short term while other strategies build organic visibility and brand recognition over time.

Simply put, PPC is a hands-on marketing strategy… not set it and forget it. Companies lose billions in advertising budgets every year simply because they’re not proficient at PPC advertising.

What Types Of PPC Ad Campaigns Are There?

There are several types of PPC advertising, each with its unique features and targeting options. Some common types include:

  • Search ads: These are text-based ads that appear on search engine results pages (SERPs) when users search for specific keywords. They are usually displayed at the top or bottom of the SERP, and are labeled as ads. Google Ads and Bing Ads are popular platforms for search advertising.
  • Local Ads: These are a type of advertising campaign in Google Ads designed to help businesses promote their physical locations and drive foot traffic to their stores.
  • Display ads: Display ads are typically image or multimedia-based ads that appear on websites, apps, or social media platforms within display ad networks. They are used for promoting brand awareness, retargeting, and reaching a broader audience. Google Display Network (GDN) is one of the largest display ad networks, offering a wide range of targeting options and ad formats.
  • Social media ads: These are ads that appear on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. They can include various formats like image, video, carousel, and more. Social media ads often provide advanced targeting options based on user interests, demographics, and behavior.
  • Video ads: Video ads are short video clips that play before, during, or after video content on platforms like YouTube or within display networks. They can be used for brand awareness, engagement, and direct response objectives.
  • Shopping ads: Also known as product listing ads (PLAs), shopping ads display product information, such as images, prices, and store names, within search results. They are commonly used by e-commerce businesses and appear on platforms like Google Shopping and Bing Shopping.
  • Remarketing/Retargeting ads: These are ads that target users who have previously interacted with a website or app, encouraging them to return and complete a desired action. Remarketing campaigns can be executed using display, search, or social media ads.
  • In-app ads: These are ads that appear within mobile apps, either as banners, interstitials, or native ads. They can be used to promote app downloads, drive website traffic, or encourage specific actions.
  • Native ads: Native ads are designed to blend in with the surrounding content on a website or app, making them less intrusive than traditional ad formats. They often appear as sponsored content, recommended articles, or promoted listings.

Each type of PPC advertising offers distinct advantages and targeting options, making it essential for advertisers to select the most suitable format based on their goals, target audience, and budget.

How Does PPC Advertising Fail?

If you’re not proficient at managing PPC campaigns, several issues can arise, leading to poor performance and wasted budget. Some potential problems include:

  • Inefficient budget allocation: Without proper management, you may spend your budget on low-performing keywords or target irrelevant audiences, leading to a lower return on investment (ROI) and a higher cost-per-lead (CPL).
  • Poor ad quality and relevance: If your ad copy and landing pages are not well-crafted and relevant to your target audience, your ads may receive low click-through rates (CTRs) and quality scores, increasing your cost per click (CPC) and reducing your overall campaign effectiveness.
  • Inadequate keyword research: Failing to conduct thorough keyword research may result in targeting irrelevant or overly competitive keywords, leading to low conversion rates and wasted budget.
  • Neglecting negative keywords: Not using negative keywords effectively can cause your ads to be displayed for irrelevant search queries, leading to unnecessary costs and low-quality traffic.
  • Insufficient ad testing and optimization: Without continuously testing and optimizing your ads, you may miss out on opportunities to improve your ad performance, leading to stagnation or decline in campaign results.
  • Poor account structure: A disorganized account structure can make it difficult to analyze performance data and optimize campaigns effectively. It can also negatively impact your quality scores and overall campaign performance.
  • Ineffective bidding strategies: Using the wrong bidding strategy can result in higher costs or missed opportunities for ad placements, which can negatively affect your campaign’s success.
  • Limited use of ad extensions: Failing to utilize ad extensions, such as site links, callouts, and structured snippets, can cause your ads to appear less informative and less competitive, leading to reduced CTRs and conversion rates.
  • Ignoring device and location targeting: If you don’t optimize your campaigns for different devices and locations, you may miss out on potential customers or spend your budget on low-converting segments.
  • Lack of proper tracking and analysis: Not setting up conversion tracking correctly or ignoring essential metrics can lead to inaccurate performance data, making it challenging to identify areas for improvement and optimize your campaigns effectively.
  • Poorly designed conversion paths: If you run ads but your prospects aren’t provided an efficient path to conversion, you’re wasting your budget. I’ve even clicked a few ads in the past and they resulted in a 404 page… oops!

Poor PPC management can lead to wasted budget, ineffective campaigns, and lower ROI. It is crucial to either invest time and effort in learning best practices for PPC or hire a professional and ensure that they are held accountable.

A Day In The Life Of A PPC Marketer

A day in the life of a PPC marketer can vary depending on the organization they work for, the size and scope of their campaigns, and their level of expertise. However, some common tasks and responsibilities typically form part of their daily routine:

  • Monitoring campaign performance: PPC marketers begin their day by reviewing the performance of their campaigns, and analyzing key metrics such as clicks, impressions, click-through rates, conversion rates, and costs.
  • Optimizing campaigns: Based on the performance data, they make adjustments to campaigns, such as updating bids, refining targeting, adding negative keywords, or changing ad copy and landing pages to improve results.
  • Keyword research and expansion: PPC marketers continually research new keywords and opportunities to expand their campaigns and reach more potential customers.
  • Ad copy creation and testing: They develop new ad creatives and test variations to find the most effective messaging and optimize performance.
  • Account management: PPC marketers maintain and organize account structures, including campaigns, ad groups, and keywords, to ensure efficient management and analysis.
  • Budget management: They monitor spend and allocate budgets across campaigns and ad groups to maximize ROI and ensure they stay within the overall marketing budget.
  • Reporting: PPC marketers generate reports on campaign performance, highlighting key metrics, trends, and insights, and share them with stakeholders or clients.
  • Collaborating with team members: They work closely with other team members, such as content creators, designers, and SEO specialists, to align marketing strategies and ensure consistent messaging across channels.
  • Staying up to date: PPC marketers stay informed about industry trends, best practices, and platform updates, which may involve participating in webinars, attending conferences, or reading industry blogs.
  • Client communication: For those working at agencies, communication with clients is a crucial part of their day. They discuss campaign performance, provide updates, and address any questions or concerns clients may have.

While the specific tasks and responsibilities of a PPC marketer can vary, their primary goal is to manage and optimize PPC campaigns effectively, maximize ROI, and contribute to the overall marketing strategy.

What Metrics Should Be Reported By Your PPC Firm?

When an agency is managing a client’s PPC campaigns, it is essential to report key metrics that provide insights into the performance and effectiveness of their advertising efforts. Some of the critical metrics to include in a PPC report are:

  • Clicks: The number of times users clicked on the ads. This metric indicates the level of engagement and interest from the target audience.
  • Impressions: The number of times the ads were displayed. Impressions can help assess the reach and visibility of the campaign.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of impressions that resulted in clicks. CTR is a vital indicator of ad relevance and effectiveness.
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): The average cost of each click on the ads. CPC helps the client understand the efficiency of their ad spend.
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of clicks that resulted in a desired action, such as a purchase, form submission, or phone call. A high conversion rate typically indicates effective targeting and ad messaging.
  • Cost Per Conversion or Lead (CPL): The average cost incurred for each conversion. This metric helps evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the campaign in terms of generating desired outcomes.
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): The revenue generated from the ad campaign divided by the total ad spend. ROAS helps the client understand the ROI of their PPC investment.
  • Quality Score: A Google Ads metric that assesses the quality and relevance of ads, keywords, and landing pages. A high-quality score can lead to lower CPCs and better ad placements.
  • Top-performing keywords, ad groups, campaigns, and offers: A breakdown of the best-performing keywords, ad groups, campaigns and offers that can help identify areas of success and inform future optimizations.
  • Budget utilization: A report on how the allocated budget is being used and whether the spending is on track or needs adjustment.

These metrics provide a comprehensive overview of the PPC campaign’s performance and enable the client to understand how effectively their marketing budget is being utilized. The agency should also provide insights and recommendations for improvement based on these metrics to continually optimize the client’s PPC campaigns. Over time, your agency should be showing you progress on lowering the cost per conversion or lead in order to increase the number of leads each month.

They should also be discussing and advising improvements downstream… pushing you to modify landing pages or offers to improve conversion rates and target the right prospects.

Building Proficiency at Pay-Per-Click

There are multiple dimensions to being a PPC expert, from the ability to analyze and interpret data to designing creative ad copy and a ton in between! Here are 10 specific topics that you should build proficiency in if you hope to succeed at PPC along with courses and certifications:

  1. Understanding PPC fundamentals is essential for anyone looking to excel in pay-per-click advertising. You should learn the basics of PPC, including how it works, the cost structures, and the bidding process. Familiarize yourself with both Google Ads and Bing Ads platforms, as well as their unique features, to make the most out of your campaigns.
  2. Keyword research is a critical aspect of PPC advertising. It involves identifying high-quality, relevant keywords for your campaigns and understanding different keyword match types, such as broad, phrase, exact, and negative.
  3. Crafting compelling ad copy and utilizing ad extensions can greatly enhance your PPC ads. Create ad copy that resonates with your target audience and use ad extensions like site links, callouts, and structured snippets to provide more information and improve click-through rates.
  4. An effective campaign structure and organization are vital for successful PPC campaigns. Learn to organize campaigns and ad groups effectively, and understand different targeting options like location, demographics, and device targeting to reach your desired audience.
  5. Quality Score and Ad Rank play a significant role in the success of your ads. Grasp the importance of Quality Score and its impact on your Ad Rank. Optimize your ads, landing pages, and keywords to improve your Quality Score, which in turn can lower your cost per click and improve ad positioning.
  6. Conversion tracking and analytics are crucial for measuring the effectiveness of your campaigns. Set up conversion tracking and learn to analyze and interpret data using reporting tools from Google Analytics, Google Ads, and Bing Ads. These insights will help you make data-driven decisions to improve your campaigns.
  7. Optimization and A/B testing are essential for the ongoing success of your PPC campaigns. Regularly test and optimize ad copy, keywords, and landing pages to find the most effective combinations. Develop a structured testing and optimization plan to continuously improve your campaigns.
  8. Budget management and bidding strategies are critical for making the most of your PPC budget. Learn about different bidding strategies like manual, automated, and portfolio bidding, and understand how to manage budgets effectively. This will help you make informed decisions and maximize your return on investment.
  9. Remarketing and audience targeting are powerful tools for reaching potential customers who have previously interacted with your business. Familiarize yourself with remarketing strategies, create remarketing lists, and implement dynamic remarketing to re-engage past visitors. Explore audience targeting options such as affinity, in-market, and custom intent audiences to further refine your campaigns.
  10. Advanced strategies and tactics, such as using scripts, automation, and machine learning (ML), can help you stay ahead of the competition. Understand the role of PPC in the broader digital marketing ecosystem and how it interacts with other marketing channels like SEO and content marketing to create a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Online Training For PPC Marketing

Outside of some of the official platform support training and third-party tool training, there are some highly rated courses online that you may wish to take:

  • Digital Marketing Institute – Develop the skills to work in search right now. Learn about search engine optimization, paid search, and digital display advertising, along with the latest platforms including Google Ads, Microsoft Ads (Bing Ads), and Google Analytics 4.
  • Jellyfish – Our courses cover all aspects of paid media from how to create efficient Google Ads and PPC campaigns to getting to grips with Google Shopping, display advertising and the programmatic buying landscape.
  • LinkedIn Learning – Linkedin Learning offers a flat monthly rate where you can take unlimited courses. If you search for PPC, Google Ads, or other channels you’re seeking, there are training videos, courses, and certifications.
  • MarketMotive – With Market Motive’s advanced PPC online course, you will be trained in the field of PPC and Paid Search. You will be able to display compelling campaigns to a target audience based on their interests and demonstrated search history.
  • Reliablesoft – The Ultimate Digital Marketing training is a comprehensive digital marketing course that includes PPC courses. It has over 6,200 students, 5-star reviews, and a 60-day money-back guarantee.
  • Udemy Paid Advertising Courses – Udemy offers an array of paid advertising courses taught by industry professionals that are listed by their rating and popularity.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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