Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 22 , 2019

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are a highly effective tool for getting your business in front of the right people, at the right time.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What PPC marketing is
  • How to properly manage a PPC campaign
  • What makes PPC ads successful
  • The latest PPC stats

Ah, the ever-changing algorithm. Many a marketer wishes they knew the magic words to instantly land them at the top of search engine results, but we all know it’s not nearly that simple.

And that’s too bad, because we also know that approximately three-fourths of users don’t read past the first page of search results. That’s where pay-per-click (PPC) ads come in.

Also referred to as paid search marketing, PPC marketing falls under the category of search engine marketing. PPC ads are the hyperlinked results at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) above the organic, search engine optimized (SEO) results. They look similar to the organic results, except with a little green box denoting “ad” next to it.

The good news: According to a survey by Clutch, 75% of people say paid search ads make it easier to find the info they’re searching for online.

PPC can be a highly effective tool in your digital marketing arsenal, whether your industry is SaaS, financial services, higher education, insurance, or anything in between. It can help connect you with potential clients through eye-catching copy that provides context and a hyperlink taking them straight to a targeted landing page on your site.

HawkSEM - PPC marketing

PPC ads look similar to organic search results, except with a little box denoting “ad” next to it.

What is PPC marketing?

Paid search and PPC are defined as a type of online advertising that allows marketers to have their brand’s display ads show up on in the sponsored results section of a SERP. And because of the pay-per-click nature of these ads, you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad.

Getting the clicks — that’s the tricky part. To create the most effective PPC campaigns, you want your ads to appear in front of the right audience searching for the right keywords that makes sense for your product or service.

From there, you place your bid to say how much you think a click is worth. When your ad shows up and gets clicked on, you’re charged a fee (that can vary greatly depending on industry, competition, keywords, quality score, and more).

PPC vs. paid social ads

Social media advertising is a great way to meet your target audience where they are while also subverting pesky platform algorithms that can keep your content from showing up in feeds.

But unlike PPC ads, you pay a flat rate for the ad space — rates don’t change depending on impressions or engagement. This often translates into social ads being more expensive than PPC.

PPC vs. display ads

Display ads are ads that show up on almost every revenue-generating site across the web. These are the ads you see on the top, side, or bottom of website you visit, a mobile app you use, or a video you watch.

Display ads are known for their high visibility rates. Ads created via the Google Display Network reportedly reach more than 90% of people on the Internet. Because of their prevalence, display ads often don’t have as high of a click-through rate (CTR) as PPC ads.

Most often, these ad types are used for branding, so you stay top of mind after someone visits your site, in conjunction with your PPC efforts.

What are the components of a PPC ad?

Let’s start with Google PPC ads. These can contain:

  • 1-3 headlines
  • A display URL
  • A description up to 90 characters long
  • Ad extensions
HawkSEM - PPC marketing

Google allows up to three headlines in a PPC ad.


Recently, Google upped the ante by allowing up to three headlines in a PPC ad, separated by a “|” or pipe symbol. Your headlines are where you have the opportunity to catch someone’s attention and highlight a product or service while being direct about what you offer.

When brainstorming PPC ad headlines, consider elements like:

  • Including keywords
  • Highlighting a common problem and/or solution
  • Getting as close to character limits as possible
  • Asking questions
  • Using concise, to-the-point language

Display URL

Your display URL can be your site’s homepage or a simple, clean URL that relates to the keywords and ad copy (such as www.chyngsun.com/ppc). This clean display URL is simply what appears to users within your ad.

Ideally, though, the URL links to a targeted landing page on your site. The landing page should closely match with the look, feel, and verbiage of the ad, with a clearly defined CTA so the person knows what action to take next.

For example, if HawkSEM was creating a PPC ad that offered a free PPC audit, the display URL could be something like www.chyngsun.com/free-ppc-audit. This way the offer is clearly matched with the ad itself. The link might then route to a more complex URL like www.chyngsun.com/ppc-audit/?utm_source=ppc&utm_medium=google-ads&utm_campaign=ppc-audit for tracking purposes.


You’ve got a limited number of characters to work with for your PPC ad’s description — make them count! Your description should speak specifically to your target audience, highlight benefits for them (vs. just talking about how great your offering is), and have a strong call to action (CTA).

Descriptions are most effective when they’re tangible, i.e. offering “25% off” instead of simply saying “we’re the best!” Plus, Google now allows for 2 descriptions, doubling your character count to 180.

Ad extensions

Ad extensions are no-cost additional lines of text that can help improve your CTR by adding more info and context to your ad (as well as more real estate on the SERP). As Google explains, ad extensions can include:

  • More text
  • Call buttons
  • Location info
  • Additional links to your website
  • Star ratings

Your extensions aren’t guaranteed to show up with your ad, but if your ranking is high enough and the extension is likely to improve performance, it will.

Suspect your PPC program might be broken? We’ve got a guide for that.

What are Microsoft Advertising PPC ads?

HawkSEM - PPC marketing

Microsoft Advertising PPC ads (formerly known as Bing ads) function and look similar to Google Ads.

Microsoft Advertising PPC ads (formerly known as Bing ads) function and look similar to Google Ads. They feature the “ad” box next to the result, and include a headline, URL, and description. As you can see above, some ads include additional links and descriptions as well.

HawkSEM - PPC marketing

Shopping ads are more visual, often leading to a higher CTR than plain-text ads.

What are shopping PPC ads?

For e-commerce brands and those who sell products online, shopping ads can be a great way to get someone to “add to cart.” Shopping ads are more visual, often leading to a higher CTR than plain-text ads.

Shopping ads are automated based on data you send to the search engines. That’s why it’s crucial to fully optimize the product pages on your website. To set up your product to be included in the results feed, you’ve got to format your product information to be compatible with the Shopping feed’s ad platform.

Once you submit your product data to the search engine in the proper format, you’ll be primed to show up on the SERP’s ad section. The approval process can take 24-72 hours. Merchant centers for Google and Bing have their own breakdowns to ensure you’re following the proper steps.

What are some stats on PPC marketing?

  • One-third (33%) of respondents in a Clutch survey said they click on a paid search ad because it directly answers their search query.
  • The first PPC ad spaces were reportedly created in 1996 by Planet Oasis and Google as a research project at Stanford University.
  • Microsoft’s search network Bing attracts 116 million unique desktop searchers a year.
  • Between 40 and 60 billion Google searches take place each month in the U.S.
  • In 2018, Google ad spending grew by 23%.
  • Bing users spend 35% more online when shopping from their desktop computers than average internet searchers.
  • People are most likely to click on text paid search ads (49%) vs. shopping or product listing ads (31%) and video ads (16%).
  • Sponsored ads account for 2 out of 3 clicks on the first page of Google results.

What are the benefits of creating PPC marketing ads?

With PPC marketing ads, you don’t have to fight against the algorithm to show up at the top of a SERP listing. These ads put your business in front of the right people at the right time — when they’re searching for something similar to have you have to offer.

Gone are the days of buying ads and crossing your fingers that they’re seen by enough interested people to be worth their price. By using keyword planner tools to target your audience by preference, region, and more — only paying for the clicks you actually get — you have much greater chances of turning that click into a successful conversion.

HawkSEM - PPC marketing

It’s up to you to determine the amount you’re willing to pay when someone clicks your ad. Essentially, you’re deciding how much each click is worth.

How does bidding work?

You likely know how auctions work — there’s an item (or, in this case, a rank placement), and different people try to outbid each other to be the one who scores.

That’s how PPC bidding works, more or less. When someone enters a query into their chosen search engine, there’s an auction. The built-in algorithm picks what they determine as the most relevant paid and organic search results, and that’s what the user sees.

It’s up to you to determine the amount you’re willing to pay when someone clicks your ad. Essentially, you’re deciding how much each click is worth. What makes this tricky is that, unlike in a public auction, you don’t know how much your competitors are bidding on each keyword compared to yours.

If another advertiser outbids you, their ad is the one that’ll get shown. If you bid too high, you may get more clicks, but you can also go through your budget in a snap. To find the happy medium, it takes time and attention, whether that means you, a team member, or a digital marketing agency.

Keep an eye on your click volume and the types of clicks you’re getting — are they qualified leads or are they junk? These insights will help you modify both your bidding and your ad content accordingly.

What is a quality score?

Along with your bid, your quality score also factors into your ad ranking. Google decides on your overall quality score (on a scale from 1, which is not great, to 10, which is excellent).

This can be viewed in the keywords section of your Google Ads account. The better your quality score, the more you’ll rise through the ranks of results and the better cost-per-click (CPC) rate you’re likely to get.

HawkSEM - PPC marketing

Your PPC ad’s ranking at the top of a SERP depends on factors like the keywords you’re bidding on, the competition for those keywords, your bid amount, and your quality score.

What affects an ad’s ranking?

Your PPC marketing ad’s ranking at the top of a SERP depends on a few factors. These include which keywords you’re bidding on, the amount of competition for those keywords, the amount of your bid, and your quality score.

The formula looks something like this:

The ad ranked below you
———————————- + $0.01 = actual CPC
Your quality score

The higher your ranking, the greater your chances are of getting a click — pretty simple. If you want to up your ranking without increasing your spending, make sure your ads are compelling, accurate, and in line with the hyper-focused landing pages connected to them.

You also want to be mindful of who you’re targeting, when you’re targeting them, and where you’re targeting (from region to the search engine itself).

What is PPC lead scoring?

Generating leads is one thing — but knowing the value of the leads being generated is another altogether. When you know the true value of the leads coming in through lead scoring,you can better prioritize and iterate your PPC marketing strategies. This helps you drive more of the kind of leads you want in the future.

You can determine your lead value by setting up a lead-scoring system that connects your quality leads to the amount spent on each lead.

ValueTrack parameters can be added to landing page URLs that gather info about who is clicking your ads. From there, you can pull this PPC marketing campaign data into your CRM to connect with lifetime value and lead score. This helps determine which campaigns are driving the best leads and value (and it’s part of ConversionIQ, our smart approach to marketing).

Armed with this info, you can better analyze your PPC campaigns and keywords to maximize your ROI.

How do you calculate PPC marketing ROI?

Put simply, you can calculate revenue per lead using the following formula:

Total Revenue Generated / Total Number of Leads = Average Revenue Per Lead

However, this doesn’t paint the whole picture. There are other factors at play as well, including your average sales cycle length, site traffic, customer relationship management (CRM) data, and lead scoring to determine your high-quality leads.

Ensure you’re properly measuring your PPC ROI by:

  • Setting up lead scoring
  • Tracking your leads and conversions properly
  • Adding in subjective data regarding experiences with the lead
  • Calculating anticipated ROI before anticipated site traffic

How can you optimize your search engine marketing (SEM) plan for PPC success?

You can have the best PPC ads around — but if the rest of your online presence is lackluster, you still risk those clicks turning into dead ends instead of closed deals.

Take another look at your SEM program. Are you leveraging the right keywords? Have you planned out your ROI goals? Is your site fully optimized? Being able to answer “yes” to all of these questions will give you and your team the peace of mind that you’re doing all you can when it comes to search engine marketing.

Plenty of companies make the mistake of letting conversion tracking fall by the wayside. Some set it up improperly, and some aren’t tracking this at all. Conversion tracking is crucial for giving you insight into performance while providing you with insightful data about customer actions.

A step-by-step plan for an ROI-driven PPC campaign

Think you’ve got the ROI-driven PPC thing down? Make sure you’re taking all of these steps when crafting your campaign:

  • Determine your campaign’s goals
  • Identify, prioritize, and categorize the right keywords for your campaign
  • Write out your ad copy
  • Set up your ads within your chosen ad platform
  • Determine the desired CTA
  • Make sure your landing pages are targeted, consistent, and optimized
  • Have tracking set up (properly! More than 70% of our PPC audits turn up incorrect or with improper tracking.)

How to find the right PPC agency for you

Whether you’re not seeing the PPC results you want or just don’t have the time and resources to manage it all, partnering with an agency can be hugely beneficial. (OK, so maybe we’re a little biased.)

When you’re vetting out the agencies you potentially want to work with, it’s a good idea to prepare by:

  • Having a list of goals and objectives
  • Deciding which services you need
  • Having a budget in mind
  • Determine your key performance indicators (KPIs)

Once you decide which agencies you want to actually connect with in-person or via phone, make sure you get an understanding of their fee structure, company culture, and communication style. You also want to make sure the team you’re working with is knowledgeable and experienced. (Think all PPC agencies are the same? Think again.)

The takeaway

PPC ads have proven to be a way to reach your targeted audience and turn search engine users into customers. Not only can paid search ads boost awareness of your brand by 80%, but they can expand your reach, bring you more traffic, and, ultimately, make you more money.

Ready to take your PPC game to the next level? Let’s chat.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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