It’s one of the best digital marketing tools that agencies have: good pay-per-click advertising can ensure a company shows up at the top of relevant online searches and potentially get immediate results. Smart marketers know that pay-per-click, also called PPC or paid search, is one of the most effective ways to mitigate SEO complexities and start seeing results fast.

Successful companies in Lancaster County and beyond often find that PPC is a powerful tool that can reliably boost awareness, drive website traffic, get the phone ringing, and even find actionable leads. By investing in paid search, and making the websites relevant to those search terms, these firms work to ensure that they show up at the top of the page against the search terms that matter the most.

While there are several search engines out there, one dominates the market. Google accounts for 90% of all desktop search traffic, and 61% of all mobile searches happened on Google. In this article, many of our discussions will center on Google activity.

Because Google commands so much of the search market, being ranked first on Google can really move the needle for many businesses. According to a recent SISTRIX survey, the first organic result in Google Search has an average click-through rate of 28.5%, but click-through rates fall quickly after that. The second and third positions having a 15% and 11% click-through rate, respectively, while the tenth position has a mere 2.5% click-through rate at best.

On mobile devices, which account for more than half of all internet use, 21% of users click on the first search result. In mobile marketing, it is 1.5 times more valuable to rank first vs. second.

The research clearly shows that most users don’t often look beyond the first or second listing when it comes to Google searches. And, that can be a real problem for small-to-medium sized business in Lancaster County and all across the globe.

Top Google listings do more than attract new users; they can also distract otherwise loyal customers looking for specific businesses. Even when online users are searching for a company by name, they may click on the first listing on Google, or a competitor’s listing, instead of locating the business they were initially searching for.

With so much compelling evidence in favor of higher search engine rankings, it may seem like all companies should be working to improve their search rankings. So why isn’t every business clamoring to be first on search engines? Why don’t all Lancaster County companies have strong search engine optimization efforts in place?

One big reason is the difficulty. It is challenging to optimize a website in ways that meet Google’s requirements for the top search position. Additionally, search engines rank different web pages against a wide range of keywords. A site may rank high for some important keywords and very low for others.

Achieving high search engine rankings takes time. Even with a robust organic search engine optimization (SEO) program in place, it can take 3-6 months for the search engines to fully index a website, identify changes, and begin to give it the ranking it deserves.

Finally, the competition is fighting to rank for the same top keywords. Because so many companies are vying for top search positions, it is even more challenging to create a website that will consistently rank in the top positions for their most important keywords.

Some businesses give up. But smart, successful organizations often find that paid listings (PPC ads) are a reliable and effective way to ensure their company name is listed at the top of the page.

What, Exactly, is PPC?

Any company that has spent time working with digital experts can become overwhelmed with the acronyms and special terms developed to describe various aspects of online advertising. Digital marketing is full of new words and confusing acronyms such as PPC, SEO, SE, SEM, SERP, and CPC*,  so it’s easy to get lost if they don’t understand the language. To make things more complicated, there are often several terms to describe one type of marketing. PPC falls into this camp.

PPC is an acronym for pay-per-click ads. They are also called paid search advertising and search engine marketing (also called SEM). All of these terms are used to describe the paid advertisements that appear at the top of a search engine results page. PPC ads can appear above and below organic search results and are clearly marked as “sponsored” or as an “ad.” Paid search ads can be all text, but they may also include images. Some PPC ads are “click-to-call” ads, in which the clickable phone number is prominent.

Advertisers who invest in PPC ads are trying to rank first on a page or get first placement in a search result. However, while well-funded paid search ads sometimes appear at the top of the page, they may also appear as the second or third ad listed. Because many companies run similar PPC campaigns and bid on the same keywords, Google, Bing, and Yahoo often rotate the order of appearance of ads that have identical bids or spends in place, depending on some other criteria as well.

When done correctly, a PPC campaign can be one of the fastest and most effective ways to drive qualified traffic to a website. Even if you cannot consistently achieve top ad positions, earning top of the page placement periodically can have a real, measurable impact on a company’s bottom line. Paid search campaigns are a hard-working building block of any good search engine marketing effort.

How do PPC Campaigns Actually Work?

Pay-per-click ads require advertisers to bid on keywords to determine ad placement. Search engines offer companies the chance to bid on certain words or phrases (called keywords) as a way to pay to show up first when those words are typed by users. Companies who submit the highest bids on a keyword or phrase will could appear frequently as the top ranking ad on the first page. Companies with low bids may be pushed to the bottom of the page or show up on subsequent search results pages. However, no matter where a PPC ad appears, the advertiser will not incur a charge unless people click on the ad.

For example, if a dentist wants to spend $1,000 on a PPC campaign and is willing to bid $1 to rank against a particular keyword such as “cavity,” users must click on that the dentist’s ad 1,000 times before the campaign runs out of money. The dentist is charged $1 for every click.

Higher bids tend to rank higher in a competitive set. Lower bids tend to rank lower. For instance, an insurance firm may want customers to see their PPC ad when they search using the keyword “auto insurance.” However, many other businesses want to rank for that same keyword, including some substantial, well-funded companies. The competition for this keyword is very high, so the insurance firm may have to pay a lot to rank highly for that term.

In addition to getting clicks, pay-per-click is also an effective way to gain impressions. Even if people don’t click on a PPC ad, the search ad is seen by hundreds, even of thousands, of people. While clicks are the goal in most paid search campaigns, increased impressions are a nice bonus for creating awareness and taking up digital real-estate.

PPC is also a very measurable ad format. Campaign dashboards and analytics software allows advertisers to see how many times their ad appeared in search results and how they performed; from the number of clicks each ad received to the number of times a person made a phone call inquiry from the ad itself. By setting up some tracking codes in advance, companies can see how many of those clicks resulted in online sales or lead capture conversions such as contact form submissions and phone calls. Almost everything is measurable with PPC, so analytics should be a big part of any paid search program.

With so many things going for it, why isn’t every Lancaster County business spending all their advertising budget on a big pay-per-click campaign? While paid search ads can be effective ways to grow a business, PPC only solves one part of the marketing puzzle.

Like most marketing approaches, pay-per-click campaigns work best when used as part of a digital marketing strategy mix. PPC advertising isn’t a substitute for SEO efforts and organic search results. Instead, businesses should strive to balance digital tools that connect with their target audience, generate traffic, nurture leads, and drive sales.

The Role of Keywords

We’ve already mentioned keywords many times in this article. Let’s spend a moment explaining what, exactly, a keyword is and discuss their role in a successful PPC campaign.

Keywords are also called search terms or queries. When someone uses Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine, they must type words into the search box in order to let the search engine know which kinds of results they’re looking for. Those words are “keywords.”

Advertisers want to appear in front of relevant users. A car repair service may not get any benefit from appearing in a search for bridesmaids’ dresses. A dentist’s listing probably won’t get much attention if someone searches for videos about the Kardashians. That’s why bidding on relevant keywords is so important.

Google and other search engines also want to deliver meaningful search results. Search engines list sites they believe will be most helpful to that user. This isn’t easy to do. Search engines must index millions and millions of websites, combing through the text, images, and videos, and analyzing content word by word. Any listing that shows up in a search result, whether it is an organic (unpaid) or paid advertisement, appears because the search engine believes that that website is a good choice based on the words keyed into the search box.

It all starts with PPC keyword research. Anyone who creates a successful pay-per-click campaign begins by spending time identifying the right keywords. They must understand how to bid on those keywords and how competitors are bidding on those terms as well.

Experienced paid search advertisers often access a range of free and subscription-based keyword research tools and analytics. For example, Google offers a helpful keyword planner that is free for anyone with a Google ads account. SEM Rush provides a paid subscription tool to help marketers identify and evaluate keywords. Ahrefs, Backlinko, and Moz are also leading resources for keyword research and analytics.

The goal of any keyword research effort is to identify the words potential customers use to find the right businesses. While companies want to show up at the top of search engine results, it’s only useful to show up when people are searching for the products or services they sell.

The most effective PPC efforts often organize keywords into small groups of tightly-related keywords. For example, this keyword group was developed to help a practice of neurosurgeons;

“Neurosurgery, brain doctor, neurosurgeon near me, brain surgery, neuro doctor, neuro physician, top neurosurgeons, brain surgeon, neurologist, lancaster neurosurgeons, local brain surgeon.”

These are not all of the words people use to search for neurological help, but they are the keywords that are used most often for this particular type of client. For this business, the most qualified customers search with intent to get help, not simply research online. For other businesses that may not be the case.

A local hair salon’s most qualified customers are ones that search for information on styles before they search for a place to acquire that look. Additionally, when this salon’s paid search ad appears in search results for their keywords, it is easy for users to see that this salon handles particular types of creative hair requests. Paid ads not only get your business to the top of the search results, but it creates or increases ‘authority’ and ‘trust’ surrounding that business by taking up prime digital real-estate.

Another way to home in on a customer’s needs is to employ the use of negative keywords. Negative keywords are a way of filtering out unwanted clicks. In this way, search engines like Google allow advertisers to specify which searches to avoid. This is an excellent tool to help prevent a business from appearing in irrelevant searches and potentially wasting money. For example, a dog groomer may not want to show up in searches for poodle skirts, so they may specify “skirt” as a negative keyword. An eyeglass shop may wish to appear for “eye frames” but not “picture frames.”

Upfront keyword research is essential, but setting up the campaign is just the first step. Throughout the campaign, the advertiser must perform optimization. As the advertising effort progresses, the business should continually review their keyword performance and adapt keyword selections accordingly. After the launch, the ad manager will find that some keywords perform better than others. Keywords that don’t do well can be paused or eliminated. Throughout the advertising period, the marketer should adapt the campaign to continually select the best performing keywords to get the best results.

Types of Keyword Matches

Understanding keyword match types is helpful when creating a search campaign. When a marketer bids on keywords, they have the option of telling Google and other search engines how restrictive they should be when matching the ads against relevant search queries.

There are four keyword match types. They are, from least restrictive to most restrictive, broad, modified-broad, phrase, and exact match.

Broad Match Keyword Type

When setting up a search campaign, Google chooses “broad match” as the default choice. Broad match keywords reach the widest audience. The PPC search ad can appear whenever a user’s search query includes the words in the campaign’s target key phrases in any order, but also allows for variations, misspellings, additional words, etc. For example, broad matches for “hair salon” might be ‘styling salon’, ‘salon’, ‘hair product’, ‘haircuts’, ‘nail salon’, ‘dog grooming salon’, ‘horsehair’, ‘hair catcher drain’, and ‘hair salon near me’.

Because search engines may also match an ad to queries using synonyms or words that have similar meanings in broad match campaigns. Using the hair salon example, an ad might display when someone searches for “Super Cuts,” “best colorist,” or “beauty parlor,” which don’t include the exact terms in the selected keywords.

Broad match ads are designed to reach the widest possible audience, so the cost-per-click bills can add up quickly with the potential for low ROI. Broad match keywords are a good tactic to use when a business wants to stick with a low cost-per-click, drive lots of traffic, and is okay with occasionally showing up in irrelevant searches.

Modified-Broad Match Keyword Type

A modified-broad match is a compromise between broad match (that attracts lots of clicks) and the more restrictive match types (that may result in fewer but more targeted clicks.) This strategy can be useful when a business wants to reach a wide audience, but still wants some control. A modified-broad match option allows marketers to “lock” individual words in a key phrase using the “+” parameter. Adding the plus sign in front of a term in a keyword phrase lets the search engine know that the advertiser is telling Google that a user’s search query must include that term (or close variations).

As an example, an ad manager enabled a modified-broad match in Google Ads for the keyword “hair gel.” If they include the “+” parameter before the word “hair,” Google must match the ads only to queries that include the word “hair.” If they append the “+” to the word “gel,” all search queries must include the word “gel” before the paid listing appears. However, keep in mind that this is still a broad-net tactic; meaning, Google may match this ad to related search queries that have similar meanings, such as “hair product”.

Phrase Match Keyword Type

Phrase match is similar to modified-broad but with more control. Phrase match requires the search query to include all the words in the quoted phrase (or very close variants), but the words may not appearing in the exact order set. Google may show the ad to queries with the words in a different order. For example, targeting “peanut butter and jelly”, could display the ad for “jelly & peanut butter”. These ads may also trigger for searches with additional words appearing before or after your targeted phrase, such as “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”. This keyword type is a reliable balance of control and variation.

Exact Match Keyword Type

An exact match is the most restrictive type of search parameter and is indicated by the use of brackets. As the name implies, the ad appears when the exact keywords are entered, so a search for a [Luxury Lexus] would only be eligible to show up when a user searched for “luxury Lexus” and potentially “Lexus luxury” (allowing for switched order when the relevance remains intact), while not displaying for “Lexus”, “2020 Lexus,” or “Lexus luxury cars.”

However, in 2018 Google made changes to the exact match type algorithm that relaxes the terms a bit to allow for better search experiences. It still remains the most restrictive search parameter, but the changes allow for the inclusion of prepositions and conjunctions. As an example, when targeting the keyword [Car Repair Lancaster], the ad could potentially serve to someone searching for “car repair in Lancaster” even though the keyword didn’t include the preposition “in.”

The Role of Relevance in Search Marketing

When it comes to PPC marketing, bids and keywords are essential elements. However, search marketing doesn’t end there. Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines are all working on ways to provide users with the best search experience. And their optimizations have always factored in the role of paid search advertisers.

People favor search engines that provide relevant search results. When people find the search engine process unhelpful or confusing, they switch to other search engines. So, it makes sense that every search engine is dedicated to finding ways to provide the most relevant and satisfying search experience.  Search engines want to help people find exactly what they are looking for, and that can be tough. After all, a person searching for “cars” could be looking for a Lexus, a Disney film, or an 80’s band.  People searching for “bears” may want to learn about the animal, the football team, or stuffed toys. “American Pie” may refer to a movie, a song, or a series of cookbooks.

In addition to these examples, many advertisers have employed tactics to deliberately mislead consumers, trying to gain clicks without considering the user experience. Over time, the search engines have addressed these kinds of challenges by creating algorithms that measure relevance through content and syntax. These efforts have implications for PPC campaigns.

Search engine’s relevance algorithms are in place to ensure that the number one rank listings factor in more than money, more than bidding on the right keywords. Companies must link ads to landing pages with relevant content to get consistently high ad rankings at low costs. Websites should deliver the expected experience. Misleading links will not be able to maintain high rankings for long, if at all.

For example, several years back, some big retailers learned how to “game” the pay-per-click system, so when people searched for “expensive French champagne,” Wal-Mart might appear at the top of the page. When searching for “luxury villa in Greece,” Target might show up in the top paid search listing. Because of abuses like these, search engines have worked hard to create better search experiences and put programming in place, making it hard to rank for irrelevant search terms.

Today, search engines favor sites with an organized account structure that is easy for search engines to index. Disorganized, non-working, or deceptive campaigns will eventually be penalized.

Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines tend to favor targeted, compelling ads. For example, a search ad that says “We have everything you want” with very broad search parameters is less likely to rank high than a “Get used parts for 1968 Mustangs in Texas” search ad using keywords targeting vintage auto aficionados and Mustang fans in the Lone Star state.

Using a link to an optimized landing page may also improve ad rankings. Search engines like advertisers to link to relevant landing pages that deliver directly and literally to what the search ad promise. For example, a PPC ad asking “Want to save $50 on your next phone bill?” should link to a page with a $50-off offer on phone service, not to the home page of a carrier’s website.

Yes, paid search works best with a strong bid and a smart keyword strategy, but search marketing doesn’t end there. Site structure, targeted ads, and optimized landing pages also contribute to better results.

Retargeting Leverages Paid Search Traffic

Once a business has a great PPC campaign in place, what’s next? When a company gets a potential customer to click, is that the end of the transaction? Not necessarily. When a visitor leaves a website without converting, the company loses control of a potential customer. But there are ways that a company can fix this metaphorical “leaky bucket.”

Retargeting extends the customer conversation. While retargeting is technically not a pay-per-click activity, it is closely related. Any business that wants more people to visit its website more often should learn more about retargeted ads. This form of online advertising uses online tracking data to re-engage site visitors.

Retargeting ads are a tool advertisers can use to follow website visitors who don’t convert right away. These types of marketing campaigns can be very effective because they allow companies to send highly relevant ads to site visitors hours or even days after they leave the site. Retargeting is a marketing tool that helps a company build awareness, increase repeat website traffic, and improve on-site and off-site conversion rates.

How important is retargeting? Most websites capture only a small fraction of visitors. Some research reports that only 2% of web traffic converts on the first visit. That means that 98% of potential customers leave without identifying themselves.

However, when using retargeting, companies can continue to send ads to that 98%. Retargeting tracks traffic from paid search ads and shows them highly targeted ads after they leave the site. These retargeted ads can be based on site visits, page visits, or even items viewed. A business now has the opportunity to remind site visitors of their products and services.

Not only are retargeted ads an effective way to encourage repeat web visits, but they are also a smart strategy to encourage site visitors to complete an action, such as signing up or purchasing.

More Ways to use PPC to Increase Business

PPC is a powerful tool that helps all kinds of businesses find customers and drive sales. But it may be difficult for people new to paid search to understand precisely how pay-per-click translates into more sales and increased profits. However, many approaches can lead to more web traffic and sales. We’re explaining seven of those strategies here.

1. Rank in the Top Three Spots to Increase web Traffic

Like it or not, a company’s website is now one of its most powerful marketing tools. It’s a brochure, commercial, catalog, and sales call, all in one location. That’s why having a paid listing that appears on top of search results is one of the most effective ways to increase a company’s sales.

According to an article by Christine Lauenstein for WordStream

“Based on our huge stores of client data, we’ve determined that the average CTR across all industries in Google Ads is 1.91% on the search network and 0.35% on the display network… A good CTR for Google Ads, of course, is better than average, so you should be looking to beat these CTR benchmarks! We’ve found that high click-through rates not only lead to high Quality Scores – they also correlate with higher conversion rates.”

2. Invest in PPC Ads to Attract Qualified Leads to a Site

Many companies attract qualified leads to their sites by using targeted keywords in their PPC campaigns. For example, an appliance retailer might use keyword phrases like “Do I need a new refrigerator?” and “What’s the best refrigerator?” By using keywords and phrases that customers are likely to use at the beginning of their search for new appliances, they increase the likelihood of attracting qualified leads.

MailChimp explains the importance of qualified leads in this article,

“Lead generation can be hugely beneficial for your business, particularly your digital marketing efforts. Some of the biggest benefits of lead generation include:

  • Increased awareness of your brand among customers
  • Contact with qualified customers who are already interested in your business
  • Reduced waste of valuable resources (including time, money, and labor)
  • Positive impact on your business’s bottom line

Many traditional lead generation tactics like word-of-mouth referrals simply aren’t enough to get your business ahead. However, these tactics can be used in conjunction with modern methods, like online advertising, email, and social media marketing to nurture the leads, for the greatest possible impact on your business.”

3. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Brand Awareness

Marketers know that increasing brand awareness helps improve the performance of all marketing efforts. We have already talked about pay-per-click ads’ added benefit of increased brand awareness. But how important is that extra awareness? A recent study from Google reported that,

“…search ads lift top-of-mind awareness by an average 6.6 percentage points. In each of the studies, 800 qualified consumers ran simulated searches for certain category keywords, like “hiking boots” or “small cars” on their desktop or laptop. They were then shown either a Control search engine results page (SERP) or a Test SERP created for the study, which put the test brand in the top search ad position. Consumers were then asked to name which brand first came to mind for the category keyword. An average of 14.8% in the Test group named the test brand, while just 8.2% of the Control group named the same brand. That’s a 6.6 percentage point increase or an average 80% lift in top-of-mind awareness.”

4. Paid Search Drives Immediate Site Traffic

While organic traffic is extremely important to any business’s long-term success, it’s a lengthy proposition and can take months to gain momentum. Sometimes a business needs traffic to their site immediately. In some cases, web traffic is required for a promotion, a news announcement, or to launch a new site. Because PPC can be set up quickly, and the ads can appear at the top of search engine listings within minutes of turning on the campaign, paid search is often the preferred tool for immediate web traffic.

In their blog, SEM Rush explains,

“Driving traffic to a website is a real challenge: SEO and content marketing rarely generate results overnight, whilst social media marketing can be pegged back by constant algorithmic changes. This can lead some marketers to prioritize paid web traffic (PPC) if they are launching campaigns and seeking quick results.

“However, paid traffic generation certainly doesn’t guarantee quick results, as you’ll face a wide variety of factors from audience behaviors to advertising platforms. Each paid traffic source has its own price policy and requirements for the ads it presents, which means you can end up generating countless versions of ad copy, getting clicks that never convert into leads and sales, and overpaying for customers that don’t offer a good return on your investment. 

“These challenges can be overcome by creating and implementing a calculated and considered paid traffic strategy…”

5. Drive Predictable Traffic

Paid search is also a way to boost site traffic, even during otherwise slow periods. For many Lancaster County businesses, lulls in site traffic can be discouraging. Companies want to see substantial site traffic when new sales are launched, promotions are developed, or new products or services are launched. One of the most reliable ways to ensure company news is seen and recognized is through the use of PPC advertising.

6. PPC Offers Exceptional Analytics

Marketers who are new to digital advertising are often surprised at how detailed reporting can be. Paid search offers exceptional analytics. Advertisers can see which keywords are driving the most traffic, how much time users spend on their site once they click through, how much each click costs, and even correlate paid search traffic with individual conversions.

With the right setup, it’s also possible to measure the Return on Investment (ROI), Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS), Cost per Lead (CPL) and Cost per Sale (CPS) for your paid search campaign.

In fact, there is so much data available it can be a little overwhelming. A good Lancaster County digital marketing agency will help clients sift through the data and highlight the most meaningful or actionable information.

7. Paid Search Allows for Precise ad Delivery

Even within the digital marketing world, some campaigns need days or even weeks to ramp up. Unlike many other types of digital marketing, paid search allows advertisers to select specific days and times of the day and get immediate results. This sort of precise timing feature is extremely helpful for marketers who want to reach consumers only during certain business hours when they are able to respond promptly.

For example, a plumbing company may want to run ads for specific promotions during business hours, so they can immediately follow up with prospects. A late-night restaurant may get a great response from evening ads and nothing from morning ads. Hair salons may want to advertise that they are “accepting walk-ins today” during slow periods and then turn off the ads if their schedules fill up with appointments.

Is Pay-Per-Click Right for You?

PPC is an effective way to get a business at the top of the search page quickly, but it’s not necessarily the right choice for every organization or every budget. A smart Lancaster digital marketing agency can help Pennsylvania companies understand the best ways to use PPC to build their firms. It’s also important to remember that paid search usually works best when combined with other digital marketing tools like SEO, display ads, email marketing, geofencing, social media marketing, video marketing, and more. Consult with an experienced digital marketer to map out the combination that helps you meet your company’s goals.

Each Lancaster County firm has different needs. Contact LNP Media Group, and we’ll help you evaluate your digital marketing options, create a custom plan for your organization, and develop a road map to business success.

*PPC means pay-per-click. SEO means search engine marketing. SE is an abbreviation of search engine. SEM is short for search engine marketing.  SERP is an acronym for search engine results page, and CPC is shorthand for cost-per-click.