Can PPC Work For Any Business? A Thought Process Guide

I too have really been loving the thoughtful conversation and debate over whether or not PPC can work for any business. Matt Umbro‘s piece kicked this whole thing off, we had a PPC chat about it and Mark Kennedy and Melissa Mackey both wrote posts on the topic too (here is Mark’s and here is Melissa’s). Let me add my two cents – but from a different angle – for a small business who is thinking about “trying” PPC.

Why Would A Small Business Want To Run PPC?

This is the most fundamental question and I suppose we all think the answer is obvious to the point of “Duh”, but it might be a little more complex than we think. The obvious and probably first answer from a small business owner would be “to get more business”. Well, don’t we all want to get more business! To really make a sound decision about this and to generate a strategy that is likely to be successful, I think you need to dig a little deeper than just “more business”. Two big questions I would follow up with are:

  1. Why do you want to start PPC?
  2. Why now?

The answers to these questions are always illuminating. For instance, do you want to start using PPC because someone (fill in the blank on who, but generally someone you think is more techy than you are) told you that you should? Do you want to start because you realize that all of your competitors are doing it and you don’t have any visibility along side them? Are you seeing leads or sales from channels that previously were strong continue to diminish (like the Yellow Pages)?

Knowing what the reason is behind wanting to shift marketing resources into PPC and doing it now will help prioritize the types of people you want to target and where they are most likely to be found. With this information, you can decide where you are most likely to get the biggest bang for your bucks.

What Role Does The Internet Play In Your Current Sales & Marketing Strategy?

There is an enormous difference between a business who is already generating leads and business on the internet expanding into paid search and a business who is not currently getting any appreciable leads or sales from the web. If you are in category 1, already getting business from the web, you are already in a stronger position to consider adding some type of paid search into your marketing mix. Chances are your web site is at least halfway decent if you’re getting revenue from it. As Matt pointed out in his piece, the quality of a web site is so important when it comes to the potential success of any paid search endeavor. Even if you don’t use landing pages specifically designed for your PPC campaigns, if you at least have a web site that loads fairly quickly and is easy to navigate with quality information, you have a chance at getting people to do what you’d like them to do from your site.

On the other hand, if you are in category 2, the internet is currently not playing much of a role in your new business acquisition, you probably have more work to do before you’re ready to start spending resources of any kind on PPC. Maybe your site is well designed and functions beautifully, but you just have not really been pursuing people on the internet to become customers. These lucky folks are ready to start a PPC campaign. If your web site is (a) embarrassing, (b) ancient, (c) wickedly out of date, etc. your time and money will be better spent getting that in order first. After all, why on earth would you want to pay to send people to a site that is horrendous and/or broken?

If you don’t have an internet marketing strategy, you will want to address that before you decide on ways to realize it.

Where To Put Your Dollars?

This is kind of a tricky question and should depend on what you have defined as your strategy to prioritize where to start spending your PPC money. When most people think about PPC, they immediate think of AdWords. Understandably so, as Google has dominant marketshare and AdWords is a well-known brand. AdWords probably does have the greatest overall reach of any of the PPC options, but with that reach most often comes a higher cost per click. Many have also argued (and I agree with this position for the most part) that the most successful of AdWords campaigns are managed by someone who has professional-level knowledge of the platform, whether in-house or with a consultant or agency.

AdWords does also offer “account managers” which seem like an attractive option for businesses that don’t have someone on staff to manage PPC and/or don’t have the resources to pay for outside help. I completely get the allure of this for small businesses and organizations – hey, it’s free and they are AdWords so they totally know how their stuff works best and will optimize my campaigns for maximum performance…

Well, the reality is, they sort of do this. Yes, they will completely set up an account for you. And yes, they will work with you on a continual basis (though with ever changing reps) to continue to “optimize” your account’s performance. But, and this is a huge but, as I have said before, AdWords’ interests and advertisers’ interests are not 100% aligned. Ultimately, AdWords wants you to spend more, period. They know that you need to be happy enough with the account’s performance to do so. They also know that if you’ve got them managing it, you don’t have access to expertise that might either contradict their advice and/or make your accounts run even better. So, proceed with some caution here if you’re going it alone or with just AdWords on your team.

Bing Ads, in my experience, can be a great place to dip your toes into the PPC waters. With less overall traffic (impression volume) they also offer less competitive (read – less expensive) clicks, generally. If your beginning budget is small, consider working with Bing Ads to start a campaign. They do have the same “interests not 100% aligned” issue that AdWords has, so be sure to not ignore that factor here either.

It has been suggested that Facebook is the best place for small businesses to start their PPC. The main reasons being that the costs per click are lower than both AdWords and Bing Ads. I think that Facebook advertising has potential for small businesses, but it also has some hurdles. Instead of just thinking about terms related to your business, you have to zero in on demographic characteristics of the people you want to see your ads. I actually think this is a great thing, not just for the advertising targeting it offers, but because it will force you to think about this relative to your business! Also, if you want to utilize any of the visual ad formats, you need to have access to someone who has at least rudimentary Photoshop skills. For small businesses, this can be a major obstacle (not just for advertising, but for images on web sites too).

Facebook also requires a bit of finesse to not create advertising fatigue for your target audience. When running traditional search advertising campaigns (AdWords or Bing Ads) your ads are only shown to people who are actively searching for something that you’ve deemed relevant to what you’re selling and if you’ve set it up properly, only if they are in your targeted geographic area. On Facebook though, your ads are being shown to people who are not actively searching for something you’ve deemed relevant. They are on a social platform doing whatever it is they like to do there. This is an important distinction to understand, as it impacts the potential effectiveness of ads due to the target’s state of mind when your ad is pushed into their space.

This Might Be PPC Blasphemy, But…

If your budget is quite small and you can’t afford professional help and/or you’re not confident in your ability to manage a PPC effort, let me suggest putting some effort in a totally different place as a first step to upping your internet marketing game – local listings. The absolute very first thing any small business should do when you are ready to get serious about using the web as a marketing avenue is to find, claim and optimize ALL of your local listings. It is amazing to me how many organizations I have worked with, of all industries, types and sizes, who have not taken this most basic of steps! You can do it all manually (which is my preferred method) or you can utilize one of the paid services out there that help you identify listings and then claim and standardize them.

I think that PPC *can* work in almost any circumstance. That does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination that it will work. Like any marketing tool or medium, to be successful its strategy and implementation must be well thought out and diligently managed. PPC succeeds and fails at all levels of business size, budget level, experience and sophistication. Put yourself and your business in the best possible position to succeed with it by planning for its success. And if you can afford it, hire a pro to do it for you (or as I like to say, with you).

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