If you have a small business and are looking to grow, you may well be looking at digital marketing options to help give you the edge. But it’s a big web out there and knowing whether or not to use the different options available to you can be the difference between a boost in sales and brand exposure, and wasting time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere. So this blog will try to answer your questions on whether PPC is right for you.
What is PPC?
PPC stands for ‘Pay-Per-Click’ and is another term for Search Advertising, the process by which adverts appear on the results pages of queries to search engines. The most obvious of these is Google, which displays the ads to the right and sometimes above the search results in a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Examples of PPC ads in a search on a mobile device
What can it offer my small business?
PPC comes in a few different formats, but the main one to worry about is CPC (cost per click), which means what it says on the tin – you get charged a certain amount every time someone clicks on your ad. Basically every time someone enters a search string into Google, an auction happens backstage to determine who appears where in the ad placements, with Max CPC (the maximum amount you’re prepared to pay per click) having a say in the outcome.
But this isn’t the only factor in determining where ads are placed – which is why PPC might well be an attractive option for small businesses. Where an ad places (or Ad Rank to give it the technical term) is determined by a combination of how much you’re willing to pay and the quality of the ad itself. This means how relevant it is to the search query, the quality of the landing page (where the visitor is taken upon clicking the ad), click-through rate and other factors. This combination of factors is known as Quality Score.
In a nutshell, this means that Ad Rank is not determined simply by the richest or biggest advertiser, but by the one who offers the best package deal. If you can get your quality score up, you can punch way above your weight in the marketplace. But just remember, the bigger advertisers know this too.
“On the scale of 1 to 10 that Google uses, the difference between an ad with a one quality score compared to one with a ten quality score can account for an increase in cost around 600%.” (Baadsgaard, 2014)
So what else does this mean?
When you take a look at all the digital marketing options out there, one thing keeps jumping out; cost. This is either financial cost or cost of resources or simply time, which, in the business context, all boils down to the same thing. Search Engine Optimisation (the process of tweaking your website to appear higher on the SERP) takes months to yield tangible results. Social Media marketing is a labour-intensive process that requires constant diligent management if done correctly. Email and video campaigns can be costly to set-up properly and aren’t exactly bankers either.
PPC on the other hand offers ways to bypass these costs. Is your small business in a highly competitive marketplace with no hope of you getting near page 1 in Google’s SERPs? Get the right ad going and you could be there inside 5 minutes. PPC does require management on a regular basis but nowhere near the time-zapping amounts of Social Media. And the set-up cost is far less than most video campaigns, and with far more measurable results.
PPC is ‘Pull’ advertising. For comparison, billboards, TV & radio spots, and most other traditional means of advertising are examples of ‘Push’ advertising, in that they push their message on to everyone who sees them. The key about ‘Pull’ advertising, and another major benefit of PPC, is that your ads will only be displayed when the search queries you specify are entered, so your ads will be found by people who want to find them. And here comes the clincher, if they don’t click on your ad then your impression (the display of the advertisement) is free. Yes, in other words, you get to advertise to people who are interested in your product, for free.
“PPC gives you the ability to have ads on the top of search results almost immediately after setting up a PPC campaign.” (Long, J., 2014)
Any other benefits?
Absolutely – and another key one for small businesses too. Because you can set location parameters on where your ads display, you won’t have to waste money advertising to people who you can’t deliver to. You can set by city, post or zip-code, county, region, state, nation or any combination of these.You can also set a numerical limit, such as a ten-mile radius of your business. You can also exclude places in the same way, if you had import or licensing issues somewhere, or, you know, you just didn’t like somewhere for whatever reason.
Finally there’s the data. You can get mountains of data on your ads’ performance. You can see click-through-ratio (a very important stat for a variety of reasons), which is pretty much as it sounds: the ratio of clicks to impressions. You can get data on who saw your ad, where they were in the world, what browser they were using, what operating system, what resolution, what they had for breakfast yesterday…
Perhaps not that last one then. But still, Google gives you oodles of numbers to crunch and digest. And with these numbers you can react and improve your ads. You can identify, you can target, you can retarget, you can progress. It’s your small business and you’ll obviously have the best idea of who your target markets are, and with access to this data, now you can prove it. Or perhaps even learn about a market segment you didn’t predict.
“Once you find a formula that works, keep trying to improve on that formula so you can end up with the most optimized results possible.” (Baadsgaard, 2014)
Well, there are downsides to PPC as well that shouldn’t be ignored. Conversion rates for one. You can have the slickest advertising campaign out there with the cleanest, most user-friendly landing pages around, the fact is that if your product doesn’t really lend itself to the online process or isn’t something being searched for frequently then you’re going to struggle. Conversely, if your product is something everyone is looking for online and is therefore in a highly competitive market, your PPC costs are going to be much higher, meaning if you’re not converting, you’re going to struggle.
Similarly there are some set-up costs associated with the format. Building effective landing pages is an example of this, and they are pretty important. Plus if you’re running the ad campaigns yourself and have little experience of the format, there will be some pricey trial-and-error learning curves to overcome.
So for small businesses the question becomes a simple one of cost/effectiveness. Will a PPC campaign help my business to grow? Will it be financially successful? Or will it be just money down the drain that could have been better spent on other digital or traditional marketing means?
So should I use it?
The answer is that unless done professionally and properly, it could well be wasted money. But it needn’t be. Small businesses shouldn’t look at PPC as a long-term strategy for growth. It’s a volatile martketplace at the best of times and the cost-conscious nature of running a small business means you often don’t have the luxury of investing in an often hit-and-miss strategy such as PPC.
However as a short-term option it can be an excellent shot in the arm for a small business. Running a campaign with a set budget over a set period (say, the three months leading up to christmas, or the summer season, depending on your product) can work as a short-term measure for boosting sales, and on making small but important strides in brand awareness and exposure.
Ultimately of course it’s up to you.
Image 2 courtesy econsultancy.com/blog/63793-what-will-google-s-paid-search-ads-look-like-in-2014/
Baadsgaard, J., (2014) http://www.smallbusinesscan.com/the-5-rules-of-small-business-pay-per-click-advertising/