It’s a yes and no answer.
Ask the average business owner what they know about digital marketing and they’ll probably tell you that someone once tried to sell them “SEO” and that they’ve “done a bit on social media, but it doesn’t really work”.
Well, as with many strategies in life and digital marketing, anything that you only half-commit to, isn’t likely to pay-off.
It’s no different for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, also known as “paid search”, which refers to paying to place ads on popular search engines like Google and Bing. If you only “sort-of” invest in it, you won’t see any value in it and will stop short, foregoing the potential rewards.
Now, let’s be honest: does it work for everyone? Absolutely not. And anyone that tells you differently is wrong.
Paid search will only, ever work for products and services that people actually search for in their moments of need:
Cheap holidays abroad? Mhm.
Holidays to the moon? Hmm...even if Branson has finally cracked it, the multi-billionaire market probably won’t find out about it via a search ad.
The truth is, I’d rather tell a business upfront when I don’t think a particular strategy is the right one for them. That could be as it will never work, or that it will not work until certain other things are in place, like a fully-functioning website or the correct analytics package.
I hope that in doing so, they would be willing to listen to suggested strategies that will work for them and their audience members, or at least that they will come back to me for advice in the future.
So, how do you know if pay-per-click is going to work for you?
The first step is to monitor the opportunities for your brand and business. These come from a variety of areas:
A great place to start is to look at Google Trends for your product, service or industry terms. This report is incredibly useful (admittedly, once you’ve got your head around how the measurements work) as it shows changes in search volumes according to e.g. seasonality that can help you make direct business decisions about where and how to invest your pay-per-click (and other marketing) spend.
Tools like Google Keyword Planner and many more besides offer insights into the most searched terms and how much you might have to pay for your ads to appear to searchers (caveat: known to be inaccurate, use as a guide only).
Tools like SpyFu and others can provide a glimpse into your competitors activities, allowing you to go head-to-head in the battle for search engine visibility (and online reputation).
If you’re already paying for performance on Google Ads (yes, it’s not called AdWords anymore, just to make things extra confusing) or similar, it’s advisable to conduct regular audits of your account to ensure it is always delivering optimal returns for the time and money you spend promoting your marketing messages.
The output of your monitoring is a robust account structure and campaign plan, that will get you set-up for success moving forward. A proper account structure is a granular one, with due diligence paid to the hierarchy of Campaigns, Ad Groups and Ads.
Specific tactics will be the topic of future posts but needless to say, having a robust yet flexible account taxonomy and logical campaign map will allow for the best management and optimisation of the account in the future.
Maximum success can be (cost-efficiently) found by adopting a “start small and grow” approach, which first uses a small advertising budget to “test” for high-performing targeting techniques and ad features, before investing the majority of your paid search budget into “hero” strategies, which only utilise the most successful campaign components.
Finally, you’ll want to measure absolutely everything you do. How else can you be sure your methods are working and that you’re realising the full value of your chosen medium?
Paid search should be viewed in both isolation and combination with other marketing channels. While proprietary metrics like Quality Score (on Google) decide how frequently your ad might be shown and how much you’ll pay when a potential customer clicks on it, PPC also plays a role beyond so-called “last-click” attribution modelling. Frequently, users may first encounter a brand via a pay-per-click advert, do their research and ultimately “convert” (or buy) via another channel...e.g. visiting your website directly, or picking up the phone.
Your analytics package needs to be robust enough to demonstrate the full value of search and other paid advertising methods on the entire journey your customer takes, across your full marketing and sales lifecycle. How else will you know if that customer who just paid over the phone, would have found out about you at all had it not been for the 50p you spent placing that ad.
So...do pay-per-click ads really work? Only if people actually search for what you do and only if they are managed correctly by someone that knows what they’re doing when it comes to spending money on platforms like Google and Bing. You’d be surprised how many of the former there are (and how few of the latter.)
Wishing you the best of luck on your pay-per-click path to enlightenment or at the very least, business growth!