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PPC (Pay Per Click)

Pay Per Click (PPC) is a form of paid search advertising that has been around for years and has expanded to new platforms. When it’s done correctly, PPC advertising can be a highly effective way to quickly drive quality leads to your website even if you don’t have a huge marketing budget.

Ace Elliott

PPC vs Paid Search

PPC may be the best known but one of the least understood types of paid search. So much so, some people use the terms PPC and paid search interchangeably although they are two separate things. It’s a very common misconception that even some online marketers make from time to time.

What makes PPC ads distinct is that you don’t pay to have the ad show up as you would with some other types of paid search. You only pay if a user clicks on the ad. The cost per click (CPC) determines how much a PPC ad campaign will ultimately cost. Today, there are also cost per call pay structures. When someone is searching on a smartphone the advertiser pays if the user clicks the ad to call. 

PPC ads are considered to be a less risky form of paid search because at the very least you’re at least getting traffic and brand awareness. But as we’ve stated before, traffic doesn’t always translate to revenue. If the user isn’t really in need of your product or service you’ll pay for them to either window shop or bounce right back where they came from.

PPC is often used in tandem with other types of paid search across various platforms. In factm the blurring of paid search lines is one of the fastest-growing PPC trends

PPC vs Direct Traffic

Users end up in the same place, but how they reach your website is very different between PPC and direct traffic. With direct traffic a user types in your URL to access the website. They are intentionally trying to get there for a specific reason and are already familiar with your company. Chances are they’ve already been to your website so there’s no need to search for it on Google. 

As you can imagine, direct traffic delivers very highly qualified leads. It’s also how repeat customers get to your website. Of course, it typically takes some form of marketing to build the type of awareness that drives direct traffic.  

PPC vs Organic Results

Organic results are the non-paid links that show up on a search engine results page (SERP) after querying a keyword or phrase. The key difference between PPC and organic results is organic search results don’t cost money for placement. It also isn’t guaranteed like PPC ads. 

If a search engine changes its algorithm or other websites gain more authority you can drop in the organic search rankings and may not show up on the first page. However, if you pay for PPC ads you’re going to show up in select spots on the SERPs. 

PPC vs Display Ads

Display ads are another type of paid search. These ads show up in locations outside of the SERPs and the pay structure can be different. Instead of paying each time someone clicks on a display ad, you may pay per impression or for a number of impressions, which is known as CPM (cost per mille/cost per thousand impressions). Within the Google Display Network, display ads are shown in Gmail, YouTube and partner websites. 

How PPC Ads Appear and Where You See Them

Pay-per-click ads are primarily shown on search engine results pages either at the top or bottom of the page. Within the Google Search Network, PPC ads can also show up on Google Shopping pages (as Product Listing Ads), Maps pages and on the websites of affiliate partners.

PPC ads on SERPs are usually grouped together in a row. The ads can look very similar to organic search results with one exception. A PPC ad will have a small “Ad” icon in front of the URL. However, it should be noted that the browser and device can influence how PPC ads look in the SERPs. 

The screenshot below shows how PPC ads can display differently for the same search query. The four PPC ads at the top of the SERP for “accounting software” are similar yet all look slightly different. The first result stands out because it has Google sitelink sub-listings. The second result has additional links after the snippet without extra descriptions. The last two only have a title, URL and descriptions of varying lengths. 

PPC ads can also show up as a carousel with a linked title, image and rating. The example below shows this type of PPC ad on an iPhone. Notice that at the top of the carousel the word “Ads” shows along with the search term. 

To show up on a SERP you must create a PPC campaign and bid on keywords against others.

Which ad shows up first on a SERP depends on prominence metrics – at least in Google. Getting that top position almost always costs more per click compared to ads further down the page. One factor that can help boost your PPC ad position and ROI is highly relevant ads. Google gives preference to businesses with ads that are relevant to the keyword they’re bidding on and will lower the CPC. All the more reason to select your PPC keywords wisely.

When you enter into a PPC auction Google looks at the maximum CPC bid and your quality score to determine if your ad gets to show up and where it is on the SERP. The quality score is a combination of the relevancy of your ad, your landing page and click-through rate. 

PPC Platforms

PPC advertising isn’t restricted to Google. It may be the biggest playing field, but PPC ads can be used within Bing and other search engines. Most major social media networks also offer their own PPC programs. 

In the coming years, expanding your PPC campaigns will become increasingly important. Amazon and Pinterest are just two platforms that are growing at an extremely fast pace, but it’s not the best PPC strategy for every business. You don’t need to have a presence on every platform, but you will need to go where you’re customers are online. 

Benefits of Using PPC

For many businesses, venturing into PPC can be intimidating. You have to learn the process for various platforms, there’s pressure to choose the right keywords and if it isn’t done right you could end up paying a lot for unqualified traffic. Despite the risks, many businesses find the benefits to be worth the time and effort to create a PPC campaign.

Get seen on the search engines quickly.

Search engine optimization takes time. It can take months for web pages to rank on the first page of the SERPs where they are most likely to be seen. PPC ads can give you top ranking in a matter of days.

It can be very cost-effective.

A unique factor for PPC is that you can set a budget and you’re in control of the maximum bid for keywords.  

It’s highly measurable.

In the past, it was hard to track the effectiveness of advertising. This is still the case for commercials and print advertising. PPC ads are a different story. It’s one of the most measurable forms of marketing.

Automation is making the process easier.

PPC programs are increasingly becoming more automated. This can dramatically lighten the workload and manpower needed to manage PPC campaigns. Less work means a better ROI. 

An effective form of product positioning. 

Product positioning is a marketing strategy that hinges on knowing who your target audience is, what they need and how to reach them. PPC can help with the last part. If you find that your target audience uses a particular social media network or is likely to search for certain keywords you can use PPC ads to get in front of them. 


PPC ads are a popular form of paid search for a reason – it can have a significant ROI and help a company get exposure quickly. But like any marketing effort, PPC advertising requires an informed strategy. You’ll need to understand how to set up campaigns on the platforms you intend to use based on where your target audience is, do in-depth keyword research to find the search terms that are relevant to your offer and craft PPC ads that are equally relevant.

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