What is PPC – Pay-Per-Click marketing?
PPC stands for pay-per-click. PPC is a form of online marketing where advertisers pay each time a user clicks on one of their ads.
The most common form of PPC advertising is through search engines, such as Google Ads, where advertisers bid on keywords and their ads appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) when those keywords are searched for.
PPC advertising can also be done through social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, and through display advertising on websites.
What you’ll learn in this guide:
- The difference between PPC, SEM and SEO
- How PPC works
- Why PPC is important
- PPC strategy and campaign planning
- Top PPC platforms
- Types of PPC ads
- How to learn more about PPC
What’s the difference between PPC, SEM and SEO?
Though these three terms get used interchangeably, there is a difference between PPC, SEM (search engine marketing), and SEO (search engine optimization).
SEM is an umbrella term that encompasses PPC but is not limited to only this form of advertising. It references activity that intends to improve how easy it is to find a website through a search engine. SEM is both paid and unpaid, PPC, or organic traffic (SEO).
PPC is online advertising that works with search engines and other channels such as video ads (YouTube) and image ads (Instagram/Facebook).
Search engine optimization (SEO), is a method of optimizing a website’s content and structure to make it more visible to search engines. This is done by researching and using relevant keywords, optimizing meta data, creating quality content, and earning links from other websites. The goal of SEO is to improve a website’s organic (non-paid) search engine rankings and drive traffic to the website through organic search results.
How does PPC work?
PPC advertising works by allowing advertisers to bid on specific keywords or phrases that they want their ads to appear for in search engine results. When a user searches for one of those keywords or phrases, the advertiser’s ad will appear among the top results. The advertiser is then charged a fee each time a user clicks on their ad.
Advertisers create campaigns that target specific demographics, interests, locations, etc. They will set a maximum bid for the keywords they want to target.
The search engine will then use a complex algorithm to determine which ads to show and in what order. The algorithm takes into account factors such as the:
- Advertiser’s bid amount
- Relevance of the ad to the keyword
- Quality of the ad
- PPC strategy and campaign planning
- Top PPC platforms
- How to learn PPC
This form of advertising can also be done through social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.
Why is PPC important?
PPC should be considered an asset, not a marketing expense.
In 2022, PPC brought in an average of $2 for every $1 spent, with an average cost per click (CPC) of $1.16. And while social media is still a popular place to advertise, 40% of ad spend in 2020 was spent on search (73% of that going to Google).
PPC offers several benefits not found with SEO or social media, including:
- Quick results: PPC advertising can drive traffic to a website almost immediately, whereas SEO can take time to show results. Platforms usually approve ads the same day, providing maximum exposure almost immediately. This could be a text ad via Google search, an image ad through Instagram, or even a video featured on YouTube. Using multiple platforms in different formats can increase your brand’s visibility.
- Reach your targeted audience: PPC advertising allows marketers to target specific demographics, interests, and location, which helps to reach the right audience. You can even target individuals based on their behaviors and interests; social media sites like Facebook can help you get your ad to the group that’s likely to convert into a sale.
- Measurable: PPC advertising provides measurable results. It allows marketers to track conversions, return on investment (ROI), and other key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Cost-effective: PPC advertising can be more cost-effective than traditional advertising methods, such as television or print ads, since marketers only pay when a user clicks on their ad, and they can set a budget for their campaign.
- Branding: PPC advertising can help to increase brand awareness. Even if users don’t click on the ad, they may still see it and remember the brand.
- Complementing SEO: PPC can be used to supplement SEO efforts. While SEO focuses on increasing organic traffic, PPC can be used to drive immediate traffic to a website while SEO efforts are still ongoing.
- Track your goals: Tools such as Google Analytics can help you track your goals. See how your ads are performing in real-time, and decide what needs to get done to reach your goals more efficiently.
- Reputation management: PPC can be used to bid on keywords matching a reputation event and directed to a landing page directly addressing the matter so you can control the narrative, instantly and professionally.
Overall, PPC advertising offers a cost-effective and measurable way to reach a targeted audience, generate leads and sales, and ultimately increase brand awareness.
What is important for PPC strategy and campaign planning?
When planning a PPC campaign, there are several key steps you should take:
- Define your target audience: Identify the demographics of the people you want to reach with your ads, including their age, gender, location, interests, and more.
- Set clear goals: Determine what you want to achieve with your PPC campaign, such as increasing website traffic, driving online sales, or generating leads.
- Research keywords: Use keyword research tools to identify the terms and phrases your target audience is searching for, and include them in your ad copy and website content.
- Create compelling ad copy: Write attention-grabbing headlines and descriptions for your ads that will entice people to click through to your website.
- Choose the right ad platforms: Decide which platforms you want to advertise on, such as Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, Meta Ads (for Facebook and Instagram), and so on.
- Monitor and optimize your campaign: Track the performance of your ads and make adjustments as needed to optimize your campaign and achieve your goals.
- Test different ad formats and targeting options: Try different ad formats (like text, image and video) and experiment with different targeting options to see what works best for your campaign.
- Set a budget: Decide how much you want to spend on your campaign and make sure you stick to your budget.
What are the top PPC advertising platforms?
Several popular platforms offer PPC advertising solutions. Google, Microsoft Bing and Facebook are among the most popular.
Different types of ad platforms can show various results in the form of search, display, remarketing, and video (on YouTube or Facebook/Instagram Reels).
For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on the two programs that stand out the most and cover all ad types: Google and Facebook.
Google reigns supreme among search engines. Its global popularity is unmatched. That’s why the fees are higher for Google Ads’ paid advertisements.
Advertisers bid to have their ad displayed, their services offered, a product listed, or a video featured on Google. There is an option to display ads on mobile apps, videos, and non-search websites (search partners).
Google Ads is the largest pay-per-click platform. With Google processing 99,000+ search inquiries per second, there’s a great chance that your ad will get seen by your intended audience, resulting in a customer/profit. Google Ads is perfect for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike.
Other helpful resources from Google Ads:
YouTube ads are a form of online advertising that allows businesses and individuals to promote their products or services on the YouTube platform. These ads can take several different forms, including:
- Skippable video ads: These ads can be skipped after a certain amount of time, typically five seconds. They can be up to 60 seconds long.
- Non-skippable video ads: These ads must be watched in full before the main video can be viewed. They can be up to 15 seconds long.
- Bumper ads: These are short, non-skippable ads that are six seconds or shorter in duration.
- Sponsored cards: These are small cards that appear on the video screen during the video and contain extra information about the product or service being advertised.
- Overlay ads: These are semi-transparent ads that appear on the lower portion of the video.
Advertisers can target specific audiences based on factors such as demographics, interests, and behaviors. YouTube ads can be purchased on a cost-per-view (CPV) or cost-per-click (CPC) basis, and the advertiser is charged each time the ad is viewed or clicked on.
Facebook ads allow businesses and organizations to promote their products or services on the Facebook platform. The ads appear in the news feed of Facebook users, the right-hand column of the desktop site and the Stories section on mobile.
Types of Facebook ads include:
- Image and video ads: These ads consist of a single image or video, along with a short headline and a call-to-action button.
- Carousel ads: These ads allow businesses to showcase multiple images or videos in a single ad. Users can scroll through the images or videos to learn more about the products or services being advertised.
- Slideshow ads: These ads allow businesses to create a video-like experience using multiple still images.
- Instant Experience ads: These ads allow businesses to create immersive, full-screen experiences within the Facebook app.
- Collection ads: These ads allow businesses to showcase multiple products within a single ad, with a link to a full-screen view of the products.
Advertisers can create campaigns that target specific demographics, interests, and locations. Facebook’s algorithm uses this information to show the ads to the users who are most likely to be interested in the products or services being advertised.
Instagram Ads allow businesses and individuals to promote their products or services on the Instagram platform. These ads are displayed in the form of sponsored posts, which are seamlessly integrated into users’ newsfeeds and look similar to regular posts.
Instagram offers several different types of ads, including:
- Photo ads: These ads use a single image to promote a product or service.
- Video ads: These ads use a short video to promote a product or service.
- Carousel ads: These ads allow businesses to feature multiple images or videos in a single ad, allowing users to swipe through them.
- Stories ads: These are ads that appear in the Stories section of Instagram and disappear after 24 hours.
- IGTV ads: These are ads that appear before an IGTV video starts playing.
Advertisers can target specific audiences based on factors such as demographics, interests, and behaviors. Instagram ads can be purchased on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) or cost-per-click (CPC) basis, and the advertiser is charged each time the ad is viewed or clicked on.
Microsoft Advertising, previously known as Bing Ads, is an advertising platform that enables businesses and individuals to create and run ads on the Microsoft Bing search engine and the Microsoft Advertising Network, which is a collection of websites and apps that partner with Microsoft to show ads.
Advertisers can use the platform to create different types of ads such as search ads, product ads, shopping ads, display ads and video ads. These ads are targeted to specific audiences based on demographics, interests, and behaviors and can be purchased on a pay-per-click or pay-per-impression basis. This means that the advertiser pays each time an ad is clicked on or viewed.
TikTok ads allow businesses and individuals to promote their products or services on the TikTok app. These ads are designed to be engaging and creative, and they’re often set to music or include popular TikTok trends and challenges.
TikTok offers several different types of ads, including:
- In-feed ads: These are full-screen ads that appear in the main feed of the app and can be either video or image-based.
- Brand takeover ads: These are full-screen ads that appear when a user opens the app, and they can be either video or image-based.
- Hashtag challenge ads: These ads encourage users to participate in a branded hashtag challenge and submit their own videos using the branded hashtag.
- Branded effects: These are special effects that are created by brands and can be used by users in their own videos.
Advertisers can target specific audiences based on factors such as demographics, interests, and behaviors. TikTok ads can be purchased on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) or cost-per-click (CPC) basis, and the advertiser is charged each time the ad is viewed or clicked on.
Additionally, TikTok offers a self-service platform for small and medium-sized businesses and a managed service for larger businesses to run their campaigns.
LinkedIn ads let businesses and individuals promote their products or services on the LinkedIn platform. These ads are designed to reach a professional audience, and they’re often used to generate leads, build brand awareness and promote job openings.
LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, offers several different types of ads, including:
- Sponsored content: These ads appear in users’ newsfeeds and look similar to regular posts. They can be in the form of text, images, or videos.
- Sponsored InMail: These ads are sent directly to users’ inboxes.
- Sponsored jobs: These ads promote job openings and appear at the top of the jobs section of the platform.
- Display ads: These are banner ads that appear on the right side of the platform and can be targeted to specific audiences.
- Dynamic ads: These are ads that automatically generate personalized content for each user based on their browsing history.
Advertisers can target specific audiences based on factors such as demographics, job title, company size, industry, skills, and behaviors. LinkedIn ads can be purchased on a cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) basis, and the advertiser is charged each time the ad is clicked or viewed.
LinkedIn also offers a self-service platform for small and medium-sized businesses and a managed service for larger businesses to run their campaigns.
Twitter ads allow businesses and individuals to promote their products or services on the Twitter platform. These ads are designed to reach a wide audience and are often used to generate leads, build brand awareness, and increase website traffic.
Twitter offers several different types of ads, including:
- Promoted tweets: These are tweets that are labeled as “promoted” and appear at the top of users’ timelines or search results pages. They can be in the form of text, images, or videos.
- Promoted accounts: These are ads that promote a Twitter account and appear in the “who to follow” section of the platform.
- Promoted trends: These ads promote a specific hashtag and appear at the top of the trending topics list.
- Website cards: These ads promote a website or landing page and include an image, title, and description.
- App install cards: These ads promote mobile apps and include an image, title, and description.
Advertisers can target specific audiences based on factors such as demographics, interests, and behaviors. Twitter ads can be purchased on a cost-per-engagement (CPE) or cost-per-click (CPC) basis, and the advertiser is charged each time the ad is engaged with (like, retweet, reply, etc) or clicked on.
Twitter also offers a self-service platform for small and medium-sized businesses and a managed service for larger businesses to run their campaigns.
What are the types of PPC ads?
Search pay-per-click ads are the most popular type of PPC ads. A search ad appears at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) when a user enters a specific query (keyword or phrase) into a search engine (Google and Microsoft Bing being the most popular). These ads are typically text-based and are designed to be highly relevant to the user’s search.
Advertisers typically pay each time a user clicks on one of their ads (the cost of each click is known as CPC or cost per click. Search ads are the most popular way for businesses to promote their products or services and drive traffic to their websites.
A display ad is a type of ad that appears on websites, apps, and other digital platforms, typically in the form of a banner or other graphical format. Display ads are designed to be visually appealing and can include a variety of media such as images, videos, and interactive elements.
Display ads are often used to raise brand awareness, promote products or services, or drive traffic to a website. Display ads are typically purchased on a cost-per-impression (CPI) or cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) basis, meaning that the advertiser pays each time the ad is displayed a certain number of times.
A video ad uses video content to promote your product, service, or brand. These ads can appear on various platforms, including social media (reels or posts), streaming services such as YouTube, and websites. Video ads on YouTube can be pre-roll, mid-roll, or post-roll ads, meaning they can appear before, during or after a video. Video ads can be skippable or non-skippable.
Video ads are usually interactive and have clickable elements such as calls-to-action, links or forms. They are usually purchased on a cost-per-view (CPV) or cost-per-click (CPC) basis, where the advertiser pays each time the ad is viewed or clicked on.
Remarketing (or retargeting)
Remarketing is a form of advertising that allows businesses to show ads to users who have previously interacted with their website or mobile app. Remarketing ads are typically shown to users as they browse other websites, or as they use mobile apps, and are designed to remind the user of the business and encourage them to return to the website or app.
Remarketing ads can be delivered in various formats, such as display ads, search ads, video ads, and social media ads. They are usually purchased on a cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) basis.
Remarketing campaigns are highly targeted and effective at driving conversions and sales. They work by tracking users’ behavior on a website or mobile app, then using that data to show them targeted ads as they browse other websites or use other apps. This is done by placing a cookie or pixel on the user’s browser or device, which is then used to identify them and serve them relevant ads.
Other ad types
Additional ad types are covered under one of the above categories, but have different characteristics such as the type of business allowed to use it and set up requirements. These include:
- Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs)
- Performance Max
- Local Search Ads (LSAs)
How can I learn PPC?
Now that you understand more about what PPC is and how it works – how can you learn more?
Search Engine Land’s PPC resources
Search Engine Land has been covering PPC since 2006. In addition to news stories written by our editorial staff, Search Engine Land publishes contributed articles from a diverse group of subject matter experts featuring helpful PPC tips, tactics, trends and analysis.
We’re biased, but we highly suggest you sign up to receive Search Engine Land’s free email newsletter featuring a roundup of the latest PPC news, and insights every weekday.
Search Engine Land also has multiple categories on topics dedicated to specific areas and platforms which you may find helpful:
- Paid social
- Influencer marketing
- Google Ads
- Google Shopping Ads
- Microsoft Ads
- Amazon Advertising
- Apple Search Ads
- Meta Advertising (Facebook & Instagram)
Reading (or, if you prefer, watching or listening to) the latest PPC news, research, best practices and other developments should become one of your regular habits, whether daily, weekly or monthly. You should also invest in attending at least one or two events per year.
Search Engine Land’s Guide To PPC
(Editor’s Note: We are currently updating this guide for 2023, with the goal of having the chapters completely updated before the end of March.)
Search Engine Land’s Guide to PPC can help you develop a solid strategy to drive paid traffic to your website. It walks you through more detailed information on keywords, ad groups, assets, ads, display, automation and more.
- Chapter 1: Where do paid search ads appear in the search results?
- Chapter 2: How the PPC ad auction works
- Chapter 3: What you’ll need before you get started setting up a PPC account and paid search campaign
- Chapter 4: Tracking and measurement for PPC campaigns
- Chapter 5: Setting up your paid search account
- Chapter 6: Introduction to Search campaign structure: Ad groups, keywords, ads and ad extensions
- Chapter 7: Setting up a paid search campaign
- Chapter 8: Beyond keyword targeting in Search: location, device, audience and demographic
- Chapter 9: Bidding and bid adjustments in paid search campaigns
This guide was written by Search Engine Land Editor Nicole Farley. With more than a decade of digital marketing and advertising experience, Farley reports on breaking news and provides analysis and commentary on all things paid media, including paid search, paid social and display advertising.