A Complete Guide to Pay per Click (PPC) Marketing

CareerFoundry contributor Dr. Anneke Schmidt

You’ve heard of pay per click (PPC) advertising and know it’s an essential digital marketing strategy, but you’re not sure what it entails. Don’t worry. You’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about pay per click marketing, from defining key terms to identifying the best PPC platforms for your campaigns. We’ll also explore how to craft a successful PPC campaign, and consider the best practices you need to follow to optimize your results.

So, if you’re interested in digital marketing as a career and are looking to launch your own PPC campaigns, this article is for you. Use the clickable menu if you want to skip ahead.

  1. What is pay per click (PPC) marketing?
  2. A-Z essential pay per click terms and definitions 
  3. Best pay per click platforms
  4. How to build a pay per click campaign (step-by-step)
  5. Pay per click best practices
  6. Next steps

1. What is pay per click (PPC) marketing?

PPC stands for “pay per click,” which is a type of digital marketing where advertisers pay a fee each time someone clicks on their ad. It’s a way of buying visits to your site rather than trying to “earn” those visits organically.

Search engine marketing (SEM), such as Google Ads and Bing Ads, is one of the most popular forms of PPC. With SEM, advertisers bid on keywords that users of a search engine might enter when looking for certain products or services. If the advertiser’s bid is among the highest for a given keyword, their ad may appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP), and the advertiser will pay a fee each time a user clicks on their ad.

Other forms of PPC marketing include:

  • Display ads—that appear on websites that partner with search engines to display ads
  • Social media ads—that appear in the feeds of users on social media networks
  • Mobile ads—that appear in mobile apps and websites optimized for mobile devices
  • Video ads—that appear before or in the middle of streaming video content.

But before we jump into the best PPC platforms associated with these ad types, let’s cover some basics.

2. A-Z essential pay per click terms and definitions

As you get started with pay per click marketing, it’s helpful to understand the basic concepts, terms, and definitions commonly used in this form of online marketing. To help, here’s an alphabetically-organized list of key PPC terms every digital marketer should know:

Ad group

An ad group is a collection of ad campaigns within a PPC strategy, usually related to the same topic or product. Ad groups consist of ad variations, which include an ad headline, ad text, display URL, and destination URL. This structure allows advertisers to target different audiences and optimize ad performance.

Ad rank

This is a metric determining the position of an ad on the SERP. It is calculated from a combination of an advertiser’s bid, the quality of their ad, and the relevance of the keyword they are bidding on.

Ad text

This is the body copy of an ad, typically limited to a certain number of characters. It should include a call-to-action (CTA) that tells the user what to do, such as “Download Our App Today” or “Get 25% Off Now.”


PPC campaigns are how advertisers group together ads, targeting options, and budgets. The campaign level is where advertisers can set a daily budget, location targeting, device targeting, and more.


Each time an advertiser wants to display an ad, they submit a bid. This determines how much the advertiser will pay for each click on their ad if the search engine or other platform approves it.

Broad match

This is the default matching type for search campaigns, where an advertiser’s ad may show up even if it doesn’t match the exact keyword entered by the user. This allows more flexibility in targeting potential customers.

Conversion rate

Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who take a desired action on your website, such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter. It’s one of the most significant metrics for PPC campaigns.

Cost per click (CPC)

CPC is the cost an advertiser pays each time someone clicks on their ad. It’s calculated by dividing the total cost of a campaign by the number of clicks it received.

Cost per mille (CPM)

Compared to CPC, CPM is the cost per mille (or thousand) impressions of an ad. It’s calculated by dividing the total cost of a campaign by the number of impressions it received.

Click through rate (CTR)

This is the percentage of people who click on an ad after seeing it. If you want to calculate the CTR of an ad, divide the number of clicks an ad received by the number of times it was shown.

Daily budget

The daily budget is the maximum amount an advertiser will spend per day on a PPC campaign. Setting a realistic daily budget is important to ensure the campaign can reach its desired results.

Exact match

This is the most specific keyword match type, where an advertiser’s ad will only show up when a user enters the exact phrase of their keyword. In comparison to broad match, exact match offers more control over which queries trigger an ad.


Geotargeting is the process of targeting ads based on a user’s location. It allows advertisers to reach potential customers physically located near their business.


An impression is a record of an ad being displayed to a user. This metric measures how many times an ad has been seen by potential customers.


These are the words or phrases advertisers bid on to trigger the ad. There are different types of keywords, including negative keywords—words or phrases that advertisers don’t want their ad to show up for.

Landing page

Landing pages or sales pages are the pages on a website to which users are taken after clicking an ad. It’s important that landing pages be relevant and optimized for conversions.

Maximum bid

The maximum bid is the highest amount advertisers are willing to pay for a click on their ad. It’s critical to set a realistic maximum bid that won’t break the budget.

Quality score

This is an assessment of how relevant and useful an ad is to a user. It’s determined by an algorithm based on factors such as the ad’s CTR, landing page relevance, and more.


Remarketing allows advertisers to target users who have previously visited a website or even interacted with a particular ad. It’s a powerful way to reach potential customers and keep them engaged with an advertiser’s product or service.

Return on ad spend (ROAS)

ROAS is the ratio of how much an ad campaign has earned compared to how much it has spent. It’s calculated by dividing total earnings by total ad spend.

Search engine marketing (SEM)

SEM is a type of digital marketing that uses search engines to attract potential customers. It includes both PPC and organic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.

Split testing

Split testing is the process of running two or more versions of an ad to determine which performs best. A/B testing is an example of split testing, where two versions of an ad are compared to each other.

3. Best pay per click platforms

Depending on the marketing channel and audience, different PPC platforms may be more beneficial than others. Here are some of the best pay per click platforms to consider:

  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

These platforms offer a range of features, such as display network ad placement, high-quality targeting options, and powerful analytics tools.

The platform you choose depends on the audience you’re targeting, as each platform has unique strengths. For example, Google Ads is ideal for targeting a broad audience, while Instagram Ads is best for targeting a younger demographic.

4. How to build a pay per click campaign (step-by-step)

If you’re new to PPC marketing, you’ll want to follow these steps to create an effective campaign:

Define your advertising goals

Before launching a successful pay per click campaign, you must define the advertising goals you are aiming to achieve. Do you want to generate leads, drive sales, or increase brand awareness? Establishing your goals in advance will help you create effective campaigns and measure their performance.

Research your target audiences

Once you know your advertising goals, you’ll need to identify the target audiences you want to reach with your advertising campaign. Consider factors such as age, gender, location, interests, and job title to refine your audience targeting. This research process can also help you decide which PPC platform to choose.

Research and select your keywords

Keywords are the words or phrases that will trigger your ads, so it’s essential to choose the right ones. To ensure your ads appear in search results relevant to your product or service, you’ll need to research and select keywords with the right search intent. For instance, search terms such as ‘best’ or ‘cheap’ may indicate a search for comparison shopping.

Set performance budgets

Setting performance budgets ensures that you only spend what is necessary on your pay per click campaigns. Start by establishing CPC bids, maximum daily budgets, and overall campaign budgets. You can adjust these as you go to ensure your campaigns stay within budget while also achieving the desired results.

Write compelling ad copy

Your ad copy should be persuasive, informative, and include a call to action. Keep your headlines simple yet attention-grabbing while enclosing relevant keywords in the body of the ad. If you’re stuck for ideas, use competitors’ ad copy as inspiration. Excellent ad copy can make all the difference to your click-through rate.

Create your PPC ads

Once you’ve written your ad copy, it’s time to create the actual PPC ads. This process varies depending on the platform you’re using. For example, Google Ads consist of a headline, two description lines, and a display URL. On Facebook Ads, there are more options, including images, videos, and interactive elements.

Create effective landing pages

Your PPC ads should include a link to a relevant and well-designed landing page. This is where potential customers will be taken when they click your ad, so make sure it’s easy to understand, visually appealing, and persuasive enough to encourage conversions. Again, copywriting skills can come in handy here.

Track and measure ad performance

Finally, you’ll need to track and measure the performance of your PPC campaigns. Most platforms offer detailed analytics tools for this purpose. These will give you insights into your campaigns’ return on investment (ROI) and help you identify areas for improvement.

By following the steps outlined here, you should be able to build an effective pay per click campaign that meets your goals and drives conversions. Just remember to monitor your campaigns regularly and make adjustments as necessary to ensure they remain successful.

5. Pay per click best practices

Looking at the steps outlined in the previous section, you can get a sense of the best practices for setting up an effective PPC campaign. Here are some specific tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure your ads are relevant and include a call to action.
  •  Set realistic limits on the amount of money you are willing to spend per click.
  • Test different ad copy and headlines to identify which ones perform best.
  • Monitor your campaigns regularly and adjust bids, budgets, and targeting as needed.
  • Use negative keywords to avoid showing irrelevant ads.
  • Optimize your landing pages for conversions, not just clicks.
  • Experiment with different ad formats, such as images, videos, and interactive elements.
  • Analyze data regularly to identify areas for improvement.

6. Next steps

As we’ve seen, PPC marketing can be an effective way to reach potential customers, increase visibility, and drive conversions. However, it requires a lot of research and testing to get the desired results.

To start your pay per click journey, internalize the tips discussed in this article and identity the best PPC platforms for your needs. For this, you may want to consider the features, cost, and learning curve associated with each option. The key to success is to stay organized, set realistic budgets, and be prepared to experiment.

And if you’re totally new to digital marketing, consider taking our free, 5-day digital marketing course to get a hands-on introduction to the basics. It’s a cost and commitment-free way to get your feet wet and discover if this is the right career move for you.

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