AdWords for Beginners – Explaining Pay-Per Click (PPC) to Clients & Novices

On numerous occasions, I have failed to effectively communicate “what PPC is” to people. Some of it could be because I speak too quickly, but I believe the majority was due to my approach. My more recent efforts to explain what PPC is, how it works, and why it’s important to their business have been more successful (from what I can tell and from what I’ve been told), and since this is an issue that every PPC consultant is likely to face in some capacity or another, I thought it might be useful to discuss what has been (and hasn’t been) effective for me in communicating with non-PPCers on the topic of paid search marketing.

Consider Your Objective

Your goal, in my opinion, should always be education. Whether you’re selling PPC services, PPC software, or simply attempting to “sell” PPC internally at your company, you’ll want to find ways to help people understand what PPC is and how it works. To appreciate the value of PPC, they don’t need to understand the details of the auction or best practices in an overly granular way. What you really want to do here is:

Help people understand why pay-per-click marketing is so effective.
Assist them in understanding some of the potential pitfalls associated with PPC.
Give them a general understanding of the various moving parts surrounding PPC and how they fit together. Assist them in understanding how they can improve the PPC campaign.

One important strategy that I’ve found useful is to answer every single question as honestly and completely as possible. This causes you to provide too much detail at first, but it eventually trains managers and peers in other departments on how much detail they can actually use, and they’ll stop driving to overly specific questions. I’m aware that some people try to create an air of mystery around PPC campaign management or pretend that there’s some special sauce involved. This merely sets you up to appear to be concealing or obscuring something.

The truth is that managing paid search campaigns is difficult. People will be impressed (and often a little overwhelmed) by the depth of knowledge you have and the amount of skill and effort it takes to get paid search right if you’re doing a good job and legitimately putting the time and effort you should be putting into an account. Answering all of the questions isn’t so much about giving the client or your boss a playbook to do things themselves as it is about demonstrating your expertise and value to them.

Think About Your Audience

It’s critical to assess your audience’s level of understanding – you could be speaking to someone who has managed pay-per-click campaigns themselves, managed people who have managed them, or the entire process could be new to them. Before you dive into an explanation, you should try to understand their background with pay-per-click: what is their experience with paid search, what were managers doing within the campaigns they’d previously been in contact with, and what types of biases towards pay-per-click do they have (too expensive, paying per click is like a drug, etc.).

From there, you’ll want to make sure that your explanation is tailored to those biases. We’ll go over a specific explanation for a persona that I’ve found particularly difficult to communicate the value of paid search to in the past: those who are new to pay-per-click advertising.

Educating Novices on PPC

I’ll go over a detailed explanation of what pay-per-click search marketing is below, but here are some key points to remember:

Use Google as Your Main Example – It’s fine to mention other search engines, but for people who aren’t familiar with search marketing, it’s usually best to use Google as your main example when explaining PPC, as that’s the search engine and company they’re most familiar with.
Be consistent with terminology – I’m guilty of using terms like SEM, PPC, pay-per-click, AdWords, and others haphazardly and interchangeably. This is acceptable in many situations, and any fellow PPC Consultant will understand what you mean, but you must be consistent and use as few variations of terms as possible so that the person listening to your explanation can focus on the substance of your explanation.

Be honest about Google’s biases, but don’t portray them as a monster – You want to help the person to whom you’re explaining Google’s motivations, and you want them to see them as a business looking to make money, but you also don’t want to foster any mistrust of Google (after all, your job is to help them efficiently use Google’s paid search platform).
Create and use real-world examples – This really makes everything sink in – Use a term that is relevant to their business and an irrelevant example to help them understand keywords and negatives.

Wherever possible, use real-life anecdotes – When attempting to explain the importance of identifying negative keywords, look for examples in the account in question or use a specific example from a previous account you’ve worked with.
Now I’ll lay out an example of an explanation – this is specifically designed for someone new to PPC and uses the example of someone leasing apartment space in Boston, but the core components should be universally applicable.

An Overview of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Marketing:

Essentially, pay-per-click search marketing entails purchasing advertising from search engines such as Google. Google and other search engines sell advertisements in a slightly different manner than a traditional Website. Instead of placing a banner or text ad on a specific Web page or collection of Web pages, you can buy advertising in response to specific search terms entered into a search engine. For example, if I’m trying to rent an apartment in Boston, I can tell Google that I want to appear when people search for terms like “Boston apartments.”I can actually give them a list of terms for which I want to appear, including terms like South Boston apartments, luxury Boston apartments, and so on. This has the potential to be extremely useful because it allows me to respond to a specific question (where can I find an apartment in Boston?) in real-time (here’s one!). We can tell Google how much each keyword is worth to us in addition to giving Google this list of keywords (really multiple lists) (for instance if we have a luxury apartment building, we might be willing to pay twice as much for someone who searches for luxury Boston apartments versus simply typing in Boston apartments, since the first searcher has a higher level of intent).

One issue that Google faces is that it is nearly impossible for us to identify every single keyword that a good prospect might type in. What happens if they look for the best luxury apartments in Boston? What if they’re in Boston and simply search for “luxury apartments”? What if they search for “high-end Boston apartments” or by the number of bedrooms, square footage, or any number of other criteria? You get the idea: there are an almost infinite number of possible queries people could use to find an apartment in Boston.

Google allows us to target not only Boston apartments, but also terms that Google considers similar to Boston apartments. This can be beneficial because it allows us to generate traffic from relevant search terms that we might not have attracted otherwise, but it can also be problematic. Google may decide that because we bid on the term Boston apartments, we should also bid on the term cheap Boston apartments. These two appear to be Google-like, but what if we sell luxury Boston apartments?

This is a significant issue because, as the name implies, we pay per click. In the preceding example, the experience looks like this:

You place a bid on Boston apartments and create a search ad for that term.

The searcher looks for low-cost Boston apartments. Google sees this as similar and displays your ad.

They click on the ad because it mentions Boston apartments and is directed to your landing page.

They see your apartment’s price, realize it’s significantly higher than what they were looking for, and leave your site.

This one example may only cost a few dollars, but similar experiences can add up and cost you a lot of money on searchers who were never really viable prospects for you.

As a result, Google allows us to provide them with a second list of words: terms we don’t want to appear for, also known as negative keywords. As a result, it is critical that we understand not only what a good prospect looks like, but also what a bad prospect looks like.

Finally, we’ll want to match keywords with ad text and landing pages. The key here is to create compelling ads that stand out from the crowd and only attract the right kind of traffic. Then, we want to send people to a compelling landing page that prompts them to take the action we want them to take as quickly and easily as possible. It is critical for us to understand what distinguishes you from your competitors in this situation.

What types of things would compel a good prospect to click and convert, and what types of things would qualify a prospect via our ad text?

There are several things I left out, including match types, an overly detailed explanation of bidding, and numerous other nuances. Again, it depends on your audience, but I believe that with an audience that is completely unfamiliar with paid search marketing, you should keep things at a high level and allow them to direct you deeper with questions if necessary. Meanwhile, try to be thorough in explaining all of the different components of PPC so that they understand how things work and where their input and attention can help make their paid search spend more effective.

So, how about you? What methods have you found to be most effective in explaining how paid search works and why it is beneficial to clients, management, and other key stakeholders?

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