What is Paid Search (PPC) & Why Do I Need It in 2018?

Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising has been a staple of retail and B2B marketing for nearly 20 years now, and there’s still a fair amount of confusion about PPC in 2018 and its role in advertising. In this article, we’ll define the key differences between search marketing, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and pay per click advertising. We’ll tell you why it makes sense to use PPC in 2018, what’s new in PPC in 2018, what to do before your first (or next) campaign, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Definitions & Differences: SM, SEO, SEM, PPC

Let’s first make sure we all have a clear definition of PPC and the key differences between PPC, SM, SEM, and SEO.

Search Marketing (SM)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Pay Per Click (PPC)

Why PPC in 2018 Makes Sense For Your Business

PPC puts your ads in front of customers searching for the products and services you deliver. Unlike traditional media where ads show up to a large audience who may or may not be in the market for what you are selling, PPC ads show up right when consumers want information. When customers initiate a search, it’s no longer an advertisement, it’s information they need to make a decision. It’s a whole lot more effective than general market advertising.

PPC Can “Google-Proof” Your Marketing

Everybody wants to be the #1 result on Google. While SEO strategies can help your rankings in search engines, it’s always a moving target. Google is constantly tweaking its search engine algorithms. In fact, every year it makes changes to the algorithm more than 500 times! Some are major changes and get lots of press, and some are minor changes. Every one of them has an impact on your search engine rankings.

What is not affected by an algorithm change to organic search listings? PPC. Pay Per Click is an effective safeguard in “Google-Proofing” your marketing. It also provides a lift by supplementing your SEO efforts.

Highly Targeted Marketing

“Half the money I spend in advertising is wasted,” said marketing pioneer John Wanamaker way back in the 1900’s. “The trouble is I don’t know which half.”

It’s even truer today – you simply can’t afford to waste half your precious marketing dollars. PPC in 2018 allows you to target with a laser-like focus on your target customers. You can go way beyond demographic targeting by targeting specific categories, including lookalike audiences. Traditional advertising may target a wide range of individuals – women age 25-54, for example. PPC allows campaigns to target wildly specific niches making your ad spend more efficient such as: moms who own a home, attend church regularly and have elementary-age kids.

By understanding your target customer and building a profile, you can show ads to those most likely to buy. Through optimization techniques, you can serve the right ads to the right people at the right time – the key to effective advertising.

Retargeting Your Visitors

You can also retarget ads to people who have previously clicked through to your website. You can define which ads to show them based on what actions they’ve taken when they visited. For example, someone who spent time on your website looking at men’s shoes may see a different ad than someone looking at women’s shoes.

Reporting and Data Analysis: Immediate, Trackable Results

Reporting on PPC is near real-time, which means you can go in at any point and see exactly how your campaigns are performing. By setting up the right parameters, you can measure how many times your ad has been seen, how many times it’s been clicked, and how many times it led to a successful result on your website.

One important measurement is the Click Through Rate (CTR). This is calculated by comparing the number of people who viewed your advertisement versus the number of people who took action by clicking on your ad. Conversion Rates (CR) allow you to track what the visitor does once they click on your ad. Do they take the action you desire – calling, filling out a form, buying a product?

Flexibility To Test and Pivot

Because you can see the results immediately, it makes it easier to optimize your campaigns by analyzing what keywords and strategies lead to the biggest returns. You can test multiple versions of your ads and see which performs better. By constantly analyzing the results, you can eliminate spend on keywords and continue refining ad copy for the best results. This optimizes your campaign for the best results and most effective spend.

At Valve+Meter, we’re huge fans of tests. It speaks to our performance marketing model. We believe in testing small and scaling big. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of performance marketing agencies, it means building compensation agreements on goals such as lead generation or conversions rather than billing for activities performed or products created.

CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) allows for similar strategies. By tracking which campaigns have the best conversion rate (CR), you can optimize the ad serving, or impressions, to use the ads leading to the most conversions.

PPC Automation

While you can take the “set it and forget it” approach to your PPC in 2018, it’s best to monitor the results. Automation allows you to test all sorts of variables and let the software automatically optimize the campaign – serving the best performing ads. Setting down automated rules at the beginning of the campaign allows you to focus on the important aspects and avoid drowning in the deluge of data from Google AdWords.

Still, you’ll want someone who knows what they are doing to regularly analyze the data and manually attack the optimization strategies… for now. PPC expert Melissa Mackey has predicted, the utilization of Google’s Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will continue to skyrocket, leading to even better results through automation – IF you have experts who know how to maximize it.

Complete Budget Control

PPC campaigns give you complete control over the budgeting process. You can set your maximum bids and let the auction process take care of bidding for you. You can set maximum spend limits, setting daily or monthly budgets, and even choose how to distribute the spend: Do you want it as fast as possible, or do you want it spread evenly throughout the period?

The best part is you are empowered to make changes to your budget at virtually any time, or even pause your campaign. This allows you to adjust mid-campaign, to accelerate to take advantage of seasonal or weather-related circumstances or temper leads if your operations are struggling to keep up.  

Mobile Ad Features

There’s no question mobile is driving web traffic. 80% of internet users own a smartphone, according to Smart Insights. More than half of all search engine traffic comes from a mobile device (57% according to RetailDive).

PPC allows for mobile optimization through responsive ads designed to recognize the device searchers are using and adjust ad sizes and content to provide the optimal experience based on the specific device. You can also direct your bidding to adjust for mobile.

One of the most significant adoptions by consumers in PPC in 2018 includes Call to Click. Searchers are able to click on your phone number in your search ad and, because they likely have a mobile phone in their hands, call the number without having to type it.

Achieve Brand Recognition

An important part of any successful marketing campaign is brand recognition. Often people don’t know the name of a business until they are in the market for their services. Ideally, it’s best to be a name they know and trust before they start searching.

In the days of the yellow pages, the branding game was to make sure your name had Top of Mind Awareness (TOMA) so when they opened the book to look for a service provider, they recognized your name. I’ll bet you never thought about foundation repair, for example, until you needed it. If you looked at the list and recognized any name, you’re more likely to pick up the phone and call.

PPC can help establish brand awareness. Instead of paying for impression-based advertising (the more people viewing your ad, the more it costs you), you can advertise using PPC or CPC (cost-per-click). Your ads will be served to more people, get greater visibility, and you’ll only be charged when someone clicks on your ad – someone interested in your product or service.

Before You Start Your First (Or Next) PPC Campaign

Before you dive into PPC for the first time, or the next time, you will want to take a moment and do the research you need to launch an effective campaign.

Define Your Results

The first step is to determine what results you want from your PPC campaign. Is it to generate phone calls, fill out an information form, convert to an online sale, or something else? Once you’ve defined the result, confirm all the elements you need are in order. If you want someone to fill out a contact form, design a landing page with a great Call to Action to get the user to fill out the form. If you are looking to sell a specific product, make sure it’s linked directly to the product page and have an easy path to complete the sale.

Competitive Analysis

There’s a pretty good chance your competitors are using PPC advertising in your marketplace. The easiest way to tell is to search for keywords you think someone in the need for your goods or services would use and see which companies pop up. Try various keywords and phrases and take notes. Always remember to step outside of your industry jargon. Regular homeowners, for example, may call the product or service by a less formal or technical name than you. The search term may be inaccurate, perhaps, to a professional like you, just remember you’re trying to think like a prospect, not an industry veteran.

While this will give you a quick idea of who is using PPC, you’ll want to do a deep dive into this area by conducting a gap analysis, which involves comparing your company’s digital assets along with the competitive landscape of your competitors. Click here for a Free Gap Analysis from Valve+Meter Performance Marketing.

Ignoring PPC is, in effect, conceding important advertising and marketing space to your competitors. Think about this: when people go online to search for goods and services in your industry, they are likely great prospects for you or your competitors. If you’re in the HVAC heating and cooling business and someone searches for air conditioner repair in your area, it’s a safe bet they have a problem and need a solution. Ignoring PPC means your competitor may get the first call instead of you. As humans, we tend to go with the path of least resistance. For a homeowner with a broken air conditioner, it’s about solving a problem and solving it fast. The PPC ad at the top of the search page is the epitome of the path of least resistance and if they have Click-to-Call technology, the least amount of work.

Keyword Research

Choosing the right keywords is one of the most critical decisions you will make in crafting an effective campaign for PPC in 2018. It can be time-consuming and choosing the wrong keywords can lead to an expensive mistake. It’s definitely a case where putting effort into the front end of the project will pay off.

Get started by thinking about the reasons people come to your business. List the specific goods and services you provide. Pay attention to the Return on Investment (ROI) of the products or services and decide which items you want to highlight. After all, you can’t afford to spend money advertising everything you offer.

It’s not always obvious. It’s important to think about what leads to your most profitable sales. For example, if you’re a plumber, you know most people don’t often call up and ask for a replacement water heater. They say their hot water isn’t working. An opportunity for a repair is the gateway for you to get in the door with a potential customer. Once you’re there, you can provide exceptional service and gain a customer, sell maintenance agreements, or upsell to a replacement system. You’ll also likely get the first call when they realize they are ready for  an upgrade. If you had chosen keywords revolving only around replacement water heaters, you would have missed the biggest source of leads for your business.

Think about how people search for these items and what they typically look for. You can get a good idea by using the free Google Adwords Keyword Planner. Let’s say you’re a dentist. Type Dentist into the search bar and Google will generate more than 575 keywords. It will show you how many searches each keyword gets and give you an idea of how much it costs to bid for each keyword along with what it typically takes to rank at the top.

In our dentist example, “find dentist office near me” could cost between $7.59 and $14.14. “Dentistry for kids” shows a range between $4.03 and $12. “Toothache” comes in between 11 cents and $6 bucks. As you can see, each keyword might attract a different type of customer.

Negative Keywords

It’s also important to know what keywords you don’t want to buy. Traffic to your website or business for products you don’t sell is a waste of your time and the customers, not to mention costing you money for the click you don’t want. If you are a tax preparer targeting high wage earners, you probably don’t want to serve an ad for “Free Online Tax Service,” but you might if you bought the keyword “Tax Service” and did not add in negative keywords. Negative keywords are one of the most underutilized strategies when it comes to PPC in 2018, and one of the most important to avoid wasted spending.


My competitors are not doing any PPC advertising. Do I still need to do it?

What great news – your competitors aren’t being aggressive in PPC! The fewer competitors in the space means you can bid less and still get great placement. It sounds like a great opportunity to get top of page results at a lower cost point.

What about Voice Search?

Voice search is broken down into two categories right now and depend on how voice search is used. Using Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant via your smartphone will still lead you to PPC and search results on your screen. A more recent development is voice search through devices like Amazon Echo (69% market share), Google Home (25% market share), and HomePod, Apple’s recent entry into the field.

You may need to adjust your keywords to reflect how people naturally phrase things compared to just typing them.

When it comes to PPC in 2018, what else impacts my PPC campaign rankings besides my bid?

When it comes to PPC in 2018, it’s not just about how much you’re willing to pay. If, for example, your site isn’t mobile-optimized, it will be penalized by Google. Slow load speeds for your website will hurt both your ranking for organic and paid search campaigns. Your site should load in two seconds or less.

Google wants the searcher to have the best possible experience and get the best search result to keep them coming back for more. Anything producing a  less-than-optimal performance will negatively impact your business.

Quality Scores, derived from your website, will impact your organic and paid search. So the best solution is to have SEO and PPC work together.

Is PPC just Google?

While Google dominates the marketplace, there are other competitors. Google accounts for 87% of all searches, according to Statistica. Microsoft’s Bing has a 5.8% share of the search market and Yahoo has about 3%. Nobody else rises to the 3 percent threshold. The trend for PPC in 2018 will include increased competition for search engines from Amazon and Facebook.

What about Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, and Google Shopping?

Great question! PPC is not just Google. A study by Kenshoo showed 85% of searchers started their product search on Google. However, it’s not just Google where people turn for product information. 72% visit Amazon and 27% visit Facebook to do product research. A growing number of people are now starting their searches for products directly on Amazon. When someone’s checking the price of a product on Amazon, would you want your ad to show up?

Can I do PPC in 2018 myself?

You can, but it’s hard to do well. Doing it poorly wastes money and opportunity. One recent study put the wasted PPC ad spend at 25%. It doesn’t include all the sales you miss so it’s likely a lot more. If all of this sounds intimidating, it can be. We understand. Consider Valve+Meter Performance Marketing for PPC in 2018 and for all of your marketing needs. We have helped multiple businesses navigate the PPC playing field and achieve outstanding results. Click here for a Free Gap Analysis from Valve+Meter.


A Gap Analysis involves the comparison of actual performance against the potential or desired performance. Conducting a high-level analysis of your company’s digital assets and competitive landscape, Valve+Meter will identify actionable opportunities for your business.

Get more return on your marketing spend.