PPC, SEM, paid search, search engine marketing. Whatever you call it, the simple definition of this marketing strategy is “gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.” Though the theory is pretty straightforward, there is a lot of work that goes into making PPC campaigns successful. If this is your first time launching a PPC campaign, continue reading to learn the most important steps to start your campaign off on the right foot.

1. Lay the Foundation

Prior to starting a marketing campaign of any kind, it is crucial to begin with a solid foundation.

What are the essentials of a good foundation for Paid Search?

First, identify your objective – What is the purpose of running these paid ads? Is it to drive a visitor to pick up the phone and dial the number on the screen? Is it to fill out an online form? How about to purchase a product from your eCommerce site? Your ultimate objective will lay the groundwork for the direction you take your campaign.

The second essential for establishing a good foundation for a paid search campaign is determining your target audience. Are you a B2B or B2C? Is your audience technically savvy? Will your audience be using a mobile device to search for your product or service? What types of keywords will they use to search? The more specifically you can define your audience, the more power your campaign will have.

Lastly, it is important to set your budget and understand the level of monetary risk you can take. In other words, how much of your PPC budget can you spend upfront without an immediate ROI (return on investment)? If it is slim, you will want to bid on specific keyword phrases that more directly align with your target.

If you have room to play, you can bid on general terms that you are not sure will convert but want to test how they perform. Generally, the lower the budget and the higher the costs-per-click (CPCs), the fewer risks you can take and the less testing you can do. Conversely, the higher the budget and the lower the CPCs, the more risk you can take.

In that same vein, consider the number of keywords you will be bidding on. For instance, if you have only one service in one location, you will not be bidding on many terms. On the other hand, if you have hundreds of products to advertise, you will likely bid on many terms. These numbers will help you invest your budget in the most relevant and profitable channels.


2. Choose the Most Appropriate Channel

When starting a PPC campaign, it is not a bad idea to begin with Google Adwords regardless of the target audience, the budget, or the depth of keywords. Not only is it the most popular advertising platform with the largest audience, but it is also easy to set up, relatively inexpensive, and can drive some traffic. However, it is not the only option. After the initial phase with Adwords, there are other search platforms to consider.

Aside from top tier search engines like Google Adwords and BingAds, there are second tier search networks. These generally don’t drive the traffic that the top tiers do but they are usually less expensive (lower cost per keyword) and less competitive.

Even so, it’s important to compare cost-per-click on keywords prior to jumping in. Some second tier search networks include 7Search, AdRoll, Facebook, and LinkedIn. If Adwords and/or BingAds are too expensive per click and/or you are not getting the anticipated ROI after the first or second months, take a look into these second tier advertising platforms. Additionally, if you have tapped out the top tier search engines and need additional traffic sources, it’s not a bad idea to try other platforms like these for supplementary traffic.


3. Create Your Keyword List

The next step your campaign is to create your keyword list. These keywords will trigger the ads that show in the search engine result pages (SERPs). It is important to choose the most relevant keywords to avoid wasting money on clicks that don’t perform.

Start your keyword list by writing down keywords you think your target audience would type to find your product or service. Put yourself in their shoes. For example, if I were searching for a plumber in Toronto, Canada, what terms and phrases would I type in the search bar to find the best results? How about “plumber Toronto” or “plumber in Toronto, Canada.”

Remember to consider all of the synonyms and variations for a keyword. For example, “plumber” could also be found under “plumbers” (the plural version), “plumbing service” or “emergency plumbers.” Explore all possible options and include them in your initial keyword list.

If you question rather a keyword is relevant, conduct a few searches yourself and see what results display. If the results appear to be some of your competitors, you’re likely in the right neighborhood. If they are not your competitors, you may want to reconsider that keyword. I found this to be the case with a client I worked with a while ago.

I had recently taken over a PPC account for an audiologist based out of Philadelphia. One of the keywords she was bidding on prior to working with me was “ear doctor Philadelphia.” While that may define who she is (sort of), it wasn’t converting and had a high bounce rate. I decided to double check the validity of this keyword and conducted a search in Google. I quickly found that all of the results were geared toward ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors, not audiologists. So, I paused that keyword and moved on to other more relevant terms.


4. Create Campaigns/Adgroups

When you start creating your PPC campaign within the engine, you will usually need to create campaigns and adgroups. These are essentially folders and subfolders for your ads and keywords. You might start your paid search campaign with a single campaign and a single adgroup. Or, you might start with 20 campaigns and 100 adgroups.

This is largely dependent on the number of varying keywords you plan to bid on. The most important aspect to keep in mind when creating campaigns and adgroups is to keep it organized. When the structure is organized, makes sense, and can be easily tweaked, you will find more success.

Prior to creating campaigns and adgroups, review your keyword list and see if there is an easy way to divide the keywords into groups. Some common ways to divide keywords are by location, product/service type, brand/generic, match type and target audience. Once you get started, you can further divide the campaigns and adgroups by performance and other divisions.

There are limitations to the number of campaigns and adgroups in an account, but since you are just starting out, you will likely not hit them. Also, keep in mind that you can make edits to the campaign structure later but it does take some time and may erase historical data. Be careful!


5. Write Effective Ad Copy

It’s time to write the ads for your campaigns. Write them effectively, and you are well on your way to a successful campaign. Let’s take a look at some effective and less than effective ad copy. If you were searching for a dog groomer on Google, which ad would you click on? Why?

Ad A

Pet Grooming
Ratings, Reviews on Pat Groomers.
Pat Grooming Near You.

Ad B

Dog Sweaters
If you need dog sweaters,
You came to the right place.

Ad C

Dog Groomer
Affordable & Stylish Dog Grooming.
Call Our Friendly Groomers Today!

Most would choose Ad C because it’s relevant, has no spelling errors, is informative and has a clear call to action.

Ad copy can make a world of difference. As it encourages users to click on the ad (improving the click-through rate),  your quality score will increase. With a higher quality score, comes a lower cost-per-click and generally a better return on investment (ROI).

You have a limited amount of space for your ad copy so you want to make the most of it. Follow these guidelines and you can’t lose. Ensure the copy:

  • Is informative and engaging
  • Includes a specific call to action
  • Has no misspellings
  • Is relevant
  • Includes the keyword (where possible)
  • Has an active tone (instead of passive)
  • Focuses on value propositions – how will my service or product benefit the customer?

Don’t stress if your ads aren’t perfect the first time around. Perfect doesn’t exist. Throughout the life of your campaign, you will be testing and tweaking your ads to continually improve them.


6. Ensure Landing Pages are Ready to Convert

You could have the most amazing ads with a great click-through rate but have zero conversions. Why? The landing page is not optimized to convert the traffic. Don’t spend a penny until your landing pages are ready.

How do you know when your pages are ready?

They will contain the following:

  • A specific call to action
  • Copy that coincides with the copy in the ad
  • Clear and concise page copy
  • Use of header tags
  • Tracking

Make sure you don’t send all of your traffic to your home page. The home page is rarely set up to convert as well as an interior product/service page that contains a specific call to action and has relevant information for the keyword that was searched.

Follow these six simple steps and you’re off to a great start! However, your job is nowhere near complete. Throughout the life of your PPC campaign, you will be adding and removing keywords, testing ad copy and landing pages, adjusting bids, and maybe even changing the focus of the entire campaign (it happens). Nonetheless, this is just the beginning. Go get ‘em!



Kristine is the Director of Content with Boostability. She brings a decade's worth of communications strategy work to the company. In addition to being a part of the marketing team, Kristine enjoys traveling, sports, and all things nerdy.


  • Becca Watters (Vaughn), March 19, 2015 @ 9:39 am

    I am so glad that you covered all of these steps! The one I love the most is specifying which ad is going to work best! You are absolutely right where ads that are not only less relevant, but have spelling errors are going to see less attention. This is the case with SEO as well, though with PPC you are literally paying for your spelling errors, whereas with SEO you can easily update the meta and all is well!

    Thanks for the informative post!

  • Jamison Michael Furr, March 19, 2015 @ 11:44 am

    Your last step about ensuring the landing pages are ready was right on target. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to have a successful PPC campaign without good landing pages. I would maybe even mix that step in with your very first step because I think many times businesses forget to consider what landing pages they have available (or will need to build) in order to accomplish their objectives.

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  • Jan Eliason, March 24, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

    True. I know many organizations that start with the end in mind – they create the landing pages before the paid campaigns. It’s not a bad strategy. Regardless of when you create the landing pages, it’s important to ensure they are optimized and ready to convert.

  • Jan Eliason, March 24, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

    Thanks Becca. The best ad in this post was a little too obvious. It’s also important to test the ads once they are live. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tested ads and have been surprised, almost shocked, by the winning ad. More to come on ad testing…

  • Caz*, March 24, 2015 @ 8:01 pm

    You always make me think, Jan! Drafting PPC campaigns prior to a Landing Page could be a really helpful way of knowing exactly what messages you want to convey throughout your page and where multiple pages will be needed.

  • Jamison Michael Furr, March 25, 2015 @ 1:15 pm

    Yep – very true. Frequent A/B testing is key. I’ve even seen a couple times where one ad will be the better performing ad in AdWords, and then it will be the opposite in Bing – which is really weird.

  • Jan Eliason, March 25, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

    Good point, Jamison. The platform in which you are running the ads can make a big difference. Adwords, Bing, 7Search and other engines… each has a slightly different audience and a slightly different format for the ads. Your ads will appear differently in each platform (whether it’s a character limit or where the domain appears in the ad). Always good to test in each platform!

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