What Should PPC Cost (To Do Right)?

My previous post “What It Really Takes to Try PPC” was very well received, so I thought I’d delve a bit deeper into the stickiest and most often misunderstood aspect of new PPC efforts – the costs involved. Now, understand this, each and every project has its own parameters and each professional or agency has their own way of pricing their work. But, there are some common elements that businesses should really understand as they are starting to think about integrating paid search into their marketing mix.

How Much Should PPC Management Cost?

The answer to that question is a PPC pro’s favorite refrain, “It depends.” That answer is not meant to stop the conversation, but rather to begin it! I like to explain it like this – there is a certain amount of work that has to be done when taking on a new account that is required, no matter the size of the eventual account. Think of it like printing, there are certain setup costs that are part of any printing job, be it for 10 posters or 100,000 flyers. In order for the printing to occur, files must be prepared, the printer or press must be readied, final pieces trimmed and folded etc. That is why as you print more of any item, the cost per item decreases. The setup costs are spread over more items, but that baseline remains constant. The same is true for PPC.

There is a popular perception out there that PPC is fast and cheap to set up. For more on this, please check out the original post “What It Really Takes to Try PPC“. But to really understand what to expect in pricing, you need to have a better understanding of just what a professional PPC manager is going to do when they engage with you as a client.

What All is Included in a PPC Project?

For businesses thinking about “trying” PPC, here is what you should understand about just what goes into properly setting up, managing and optimizing PPC accounts:


We need to work with you, the end client, to learn as much as we can about your business, products, services, competitors, sales cycles, sales methods, locations, target audiences, target geographic locations, hours of service, time zones served, etc. Sound like a lot? It is. A real PPC professional will care about all of this and want to take the time to establish this baseline of knowledge BEFORE they start to create any strategy or build any campaigns for you.  I will go so far as to say if a provider does not want to discuss these topics with you, you can be pretty sure that you’re getting some version of either a cookie cutter account structure or a one size fits all type of approach. A quality provider wants to understand your specific needs.


Now that we know who you are, what you’re selling and to whom you’re  trying to sell it, we can start to design a strategy for your paid search. Like any smart marketing initiative, your SEM should be all about putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time. A pro will design an account structure that matches these goals and also incorporates actual best practices to help meet your stated PPC goals. Bonus points if we can learn about all of your marketing initiatives, so that we can help your paid search support your entire strategy more effectively.

Account Creation & Build

Once the strategy has been created, it is time to get down to it and start to build the actual campaigns. This includes everything from inputting all of the campaign level settings, like geography, search network(s) and such all the way down to creating individual ads and ad variations, setting up ad extensions, etc. Creation should also include basic tasks like linking your Google Analytics account to the AdWords account, setting up conversion goals – the list goes on and on. If we are creating multiple campaigns for you, this process will be repeated as many times as needed to create all of the campaigns laid out in the strategy.

Ongoing Management – Phase 1

Even the best and most seasoned PPC pros need data to be able to truly create well optimized campaigns for our clients. At the initial build stage, we have input and utilized all of the data available to us to create the best possible strategy we can for you. But, we are missing a very critical element – what happens when actual people interact with our strategy! The first stage of campaign management is typically quite intense. Until the data reaches a critical mass, which can vary wildly in time required, we will be checking in on the account with borderline obsessive frequency. You should expect us to need to be in the account a lot in the beginning as we get the baseline properly calibrated.

Ongoing Management – Phase 2

After that initial period (which can last for months and months) things should settle into a more steady and predictable rhythm for account management and optimization. The size and complexity of the account, along with the general volatility of your industry, will determine how much time is required and which tasks encompass what percentage of that management time. But know this, ALL SUCCESSFUL ACCOUNTS ARE ACTIVELY MANAGED.


You want to know how your account is performing, right? Well, we want you to know that too! Reporting can be a rather simple endeavor – a PDF document with narrative and/or graphic representations of key metrics in your account and how they are performing. It can also be highly complex, including tons of data about performance and conversions and cost per acquisition and return on ad spend and lots of other data points. How involved the reports we create are is largely driven by your needs as a client. Most of us have a baseline report structure that we customize for individual clients based on their specific data needs and overall aesthetic preferences. Some of you like graphs and charts and others prefer text and bullets. We aim to provide reports that are useful to you.

Strategy Refinement

We don’t do reporting for the sake of reporting. We do it because it allows us to show you how we’re doing and to open conversations with you about how we think we can do it even better. It allows us to ask you questions and get your feedback about what is happening as a result of our efforts once the people pass through our piece of their journey with you. Having serious cart abandonment issues? We want to know so we can adjust our strategy. Getting great leads? We want to know so we can try to replicate what is working well in places where it might be less so. PPC is not a “set it and forget it” type of initiative. It’s not a billboard, it is a living entity that needs interaction to thrive.

Quality Costs Money – The PPC Investment

Are you tired yet, reading through all of the things that a quality PPC professional is going to do for you? We do a lot. We do a lot more than just logging in to Google AdWords, clicking a few places, creating a single ad for an entire account and calling it a day. There are plenty of providers out there who will gladly sell you “professional” PPC or SEM services for the low, low price of $250 a month. I know, I get their emails too. I’m not saying that there is not one single low cost provider who does not do a good job, because I don’t personally know them all. BUT, I do know this after being in search for 15+ years – quality absolutely matters when it comes to managing your search marketing. Now more than ever too, with competition increasing on a daily basis for most businesses.

Expect to pay for all of these elements:

  1. Discovery, Research & Strategy
  2. Account Build
  3. Ongoing Active Management
  4. Reporting & Strategy Refinement

Pricing models vary from flat fees for each stage, to tiered packages based on the complexity of your needs to percentage of AdWords spend. What you really need to do is to do some math before you start thinking about trying PPC and figure out what you have to put into it – for both account management AND the actual clicks themselves.

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. If PPC is something that you want or need for your business, do yourself a favor and talk with and get proposals from real PPC pros. Find out what it will really cost for you to give PPC “a try” with a chance for it to actually succeed for you. The price might surprise you, but if you start to think of it as an investment, it comes into perspective. If you don’t have the funds to do it right, wait until you do. We can also often help you to refine the scope of the initial project to better work within your budget (within reason).

So, if you’re ready to invest in paid search – get on out there and talk to some professionals about your needs. Not sure where to look for great PPC pros? You can always find us on Twitter! The #ppcchat hashtag is a great place to start.

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