What Exactly Is PPC?

Paid Advertising
By Janet Lee | January 24, 2022 | 19 min read

What if we told you there was a direct way to get in front of your target audience in a matter of minutes? What if we also told you there was a way to further bolster your SEO efforts? 

Those aren’t just empty words. PPC can make them a reality. 

Behind this three-letter acronym lies lucrative opportunities that can help your business reach new customers. In fact, PPC ads can boost brand awareness by 80% and produce an average ROI of 200%

PPC can be a bit confusing for those just getting started, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide. While there are several benefits to PPC, there are also drawbacks to watch out for to ensure you set up your business for success. 

As shown in the table of contents below, we discuss what PPC is, why it matters, how it works, and much, much more. If you have any questions as you’re reading this, don’t hesitate to contact the PPC experts at Big Leap

Table of contents: 

What Is PPC?

PPC stands for pay-per-click. It’s a form of advertising where you pay each time a user clicks on your ad. 


  • Uses a precise, targeted approach, aiming for specific audiences who type in certain keywords or visit a specific site or landing page
  • Gives you access to real-time data (via PPC platforms) that help your team measure the success of your campaigns and make necessary adjustments 

Quick Examples

Here are just a few quick examples of PPC ads you’ve likely come across as an online user. Keep these in mind, as we’ll dive deeper into them in just a bit: 

  • Search results at the very top of the search engine results page (SERP) that have “Ad” noted next to them 
  • Sponsored ads you see while scrolling through your social media feeds
  • An ad that appears from an online shop you recently visited, even though you’re now browsing another site 

In a Nutshell…

PPC is a way of buying visits to your website rather than trying to earn those visits organically via SEO. It provides guaranteed reach, which allows you to get your brand directly in front of those who matter most to your business. 

The 5 Main Types of PPC Ads

A good way to further explain and understand PPC is by delving into the five main types of PPC ads: search, display, retargeting, social, eCommerce, and retargeting. 

1. Search

The next time you look something up on Google, take a good look at the very top and bottom of the search engine results page (SERP). You’ll find listings with an “Ad” marked beside them. These ads are search PPC ads powered by Google Ads

2. Display

Display ads are image- or video-based ads placed on websites where your target users browse through. Google’s Display Network helps you reach numerous sites, apps, and Google-owned properties to post your ads on. 

Check out this banner display ad at the top of the Forbes homepage: 

3. Social

Paid social ads are ads on social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. You pay to have your ads show up on a user’s social feed, profiles pages, and more. 

Here’s a sponsored paid social ad on LinkedIn: 

4. Shopping/eCommerce

If you’re a business that sells products online, eCommerce ads is probably the most profitable area to explore. These are carousel ads you’ll find at the very top of the SERP when you type in keywords relevant to sales (e.g. “women’s shoes for sale”). Shopping ads generally include an image, price, and a short product description.

5. Retargeting

Retargeting allows you to show your ad to users who have visited your site. Maybe they didn’t complete a purchase, or maybe they were only browsing a specific product or service. You can create personalized display ads relevant to these past actions and show those ads on other sites your users browse through. 

So yeah, that time you felt like a brand was following you around the web was very likely due to remarketing efforts. Here’s a brand and product I was looking at yesterday and encountered again later while scrolling through my Facebook feed: 

What Are the Main PPC Platforms?

So you know how PPC works, but where exactly can you get started? There are 5 main platforms/networks where you can host and grow your PPC strategies: Google Ads, Microsoft Bing, Facebook, LinkedIn, and AdRoll. 

Google Ads

Google is the almighty search engine that has nearly 93% of the search engine market. So it makes sense their display campaigns via Google Ads reach over 90% of global internet users. 

Formerly known as AdWords, Google Ads is Google’s online ad platform that shows ads across the Google Search Network—a network of sites and apps where your ads can appear. 

This network entails two groups

  • Search Network: A collection of websites, like Google SERPs, Maps, and Shopping, and other partner search sites that promote search ads. 
  • Display Network: A collection of Google-partner apps and sites, like Google Finance, Blogger, Gmail, and YouTube, that show display ads. 

By default, new ad campaigns are shown across both networks to give your ads the most visibility. Depending on how your ads perform, you do have the flexibility to exclude a network or specific sites. 

Microsoft/Bing Ads

While Google is the most popular search engine, investing in Bing search ads (in addition to Google) might be worthwhile for your brand:

  • Though an underdog compared to Google, you’ll likely run into less competition, which makes it easier for your ads to stand out. 
  • You can reach users through platforms like Xbox, Windows App store, MSN, and Outlook—this can help you own more spaces on the web. 
  • You can enjoy lower costs-per-click (CPC) rates, which might bring in better ROI. The average CPC is 33.5% lower on Bing when compared with Google. 

Facebook Ad Manager

With Facebook Ad Manager, your team can run PPC ads on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Audience Network. These can be photo, video, or carousel ads that are placed in a variety of spots such as the sidebar, desktop and mobile news feed, and audience network. 

LinkedIn Text Ads

If you’re a B2B company, you might have some interest in advertising on LinkedIn’s Text Ads platform. It lets you select specific professional audiences you want to reach (via company, job title, job function, etc.) and create your own text ad. You establish your own budget and control costs with either a PPC or CPM (cost-per-impression) pricing model. 


AdRoll is a retargeting platform that advertises to users who have already visited your site. While you can set up retargeting ads in Google Ads, the benefit of using AdRoll is that you can display ads on Google and social media sites. So you can kill two birds with one stone. 

How Does PPC Work?

Let’s bridge the gap between the types of PPC ads and the PPC platforms we just discussed. In other words, how does PPC work? 

There are several components to PPC:


PPC works by setting up a daily or monthly budget. Google suggests if you’re a PPC beginner, try an average daily spend of $10 to $50

Your budget will depend on a variety of factors such as:  

  • What can you afford to spend
  • What types of audiences are you looking to target (the broader your audience the more money you’ll need to likely spend)? 
  • How many leads do you want to gain via PPC? 

Also, Google Ads provides helpful tools to help you figure this out. Some of these tools are: 

  • Cost-per-click (CPC) bid: This helps you set the highest amount of money you’re willing to pay for a click (a.k.a. your max. CPC bid). As you launch your campaign, your actual CPC might end up being lower, and this will be shown in your account’s “Avg. CPC” column. 
  • Performance planner: This helps you optimize your budget across existing campaigns. 

Ad Auction

Paid ad networks typically entail an auction system that essentially determines your ad’s worth. 

For example, Google has an ad auction that picks and chooses which ads should be displayed and in which order. The ad auction takes place every time a user searches on Google or visits a site that shows ads. 

Google’s ad auction evaluates three areas: 

  • Your CPC bid: This is your maximum CPC you’re willing to pay, but it might end up actually costing less. Also, you can change your bid at any time. 
  • The quality of your ads or Quality Score: Google looks at the relevance and usefulness of your ad and the site/landing page it links to. You can look at your Quality Score—an estimated score Google provides that conveys the quality of your ad in comparison to other ads. 
  • The expected performance from your extensions and other ad formats: When you create an ad, you’ll have the option to add additional information (e.g. address, phone number, store rating, or additional webpage links). These are ad extensions. Google Ads gives an estimate on how well your ad will perform based on these extensions and the different ad formats you create. 

These three factors above ultimately determine your Ad Rank. The higher your rank value, the better ad ranking position you get. 

So even if a competitor has a greater max bid than yours, you can still win a higher position if you have higher-quality ads (quality always wins!). Here’s a chart from SEM that paints a helpful picture of this: 

Ad Groups

Kicking off a search ad campaign involves creating an ad group. Ad groups contain one or more ads that share similar goals. They’re a way to organize your ads by common theme or keywords. 

For example, if you’re an outdoor company that sells workout apparel, you might have one ad group with “women’s running shoes” and another with “women’s bike shorts.” Then underneath each ad group, you’d create variations of keywords searchers might use in their queries. 


Like SEO, keywords play a pivotal role in PPC search ads. It’s important to map out your keyword themes by your audience’s search intent. 

Match Types

Every keyword needs to be assigned by match type. Match types determine how closely a keyword needs to match with a user’s search query. That way, Google will know which ads to show. 

There are three main match types: 

  1. Exact: Keywords must exactly match the searcher’s query or share the same intent. 
  2. Phrase: Keywords should moderately match the searcher’s query. In other words, the meaning of the keyword can be implied. 
  3. Broad: Keyword can loosely match the searcher’s query. Ads may show searches that relate to your keyword but don’t necessarily contain the exact keyword. Broad match is the default match type keywords are assigned. 

Negative Keywords

Each time a person sees your ad but doesn’t click because it’s irrelevant to them, your CTR (click-through rate) declines. And this CTR dip can negatively impact your Quality Score. Negative keywords can lend a hand with this.

Negative keywords are words that shouldn’t be targeted. The purpose is to help your ad campaign to better focus on terms that are important to your leads. 

For example, if your target customers are searching for “free lawn chairs”, they aren’t looking to buy anything. By adding “free” as a negative keyword, you’re telling Google Ads not to show your ad for searches containing that word. 

Negative keywords help you: 

  • Protect your ad from irrelevant queries
  • Maximize your visibility to the queries that actually matter to bolster your chances at a click or conversion

Audiences and Segments

Search, display, and retargeting campaigns generally require setting up audiences. Audiences are made up of segments or groups of people with specific interests, goals, and demographic information. 

Under each audience are segments, which are more detailed similarities your audience/users might share. For example, they can be people who have visited specific site pages or apps or people with similar search and purchasing intentions. 

When setting up your PPC ad campaigns, you’ll have to indicate an audience to display specific ads to. This creates a personalized user experience, which is what PPC is all about!

Tracking Codes

When it comes to retargeting ads, tracking codes are central. For example, if you’re using Google Ads, add a cookie ID to your website so your visitors will be added to a remarketing list. Once they’re added to the list, they’ll see your retargeting ads on other sites they visit.

The same concept applies for retargeting emails. Anyone who opens your email with a retargeting HTML code will see your retargeting ad across the web. 

Why Does PPC Matter?

PPC matters, because it can work as a strategic short-term tactic in leveling the playing field between you and your competitors. It can: 

  • Produce fast and profitable results
  • Be cost-effective, since you only pay when visitors click on your link (plus, you have complete control over how much you spend)
  • Help you earn a good ranking, even with low domain ratings (the algorithm changes that come with SEO have little effect on PPC ads)
  • Directly connect you with ideal customers 
  • Give target users more chances to convert
  • Provide easy access for your team to test and control ad campaigns

And the results are pretty impactful. Here are some insightful facts that further illustrate the benefits of PPC your business can enjoy:  

  • For every $1 spent on Google Ads, businesses can earn an average revenue of $2
  • PPC ads can boost brand awareness by 80%.
  • 62% of B2B marketing professionals have used and seen ROI from paid social media efforts.
  • Retargeted display ads are 70% more likely to convert site visitors than regular display banners. 
  • With retargeting ads, 26% of shoppers who abandon their shopping carts are likely to return and complete their purchase. Without retargeting, the chances of completing their transactions decrease to 8%. 
  • Google Ads results that have purchasing keywords (e.g. “buy”, “purchase”, etc.) receive 65% of clicks

What’s the Difference between SEO and PPC?

SEO and PPC are popular and vital growth strategies among marketers. So it’s essential to understand how they both work. 

Here are the three key differences between SEO and PPC

  1. While traffic from SEO is free, traffic from PPC requires a cost. 
  2. SEO is a long-term marketing strategy—it requires consistent time and effort to see results. PPC is a short-term strategy that brings quick results. 
  3. SEO focuses more on providing valuable content (i.e. educational content users can actually apply towards their pain points), and PPC focuses more on crafting content intended to sell. 

Why They Need Each Other

There’s a popular misconception that it’s all about PPC or SEO—that you just need one or the other to keep your business afloat online. 

The truth is, you need both PPC and SEO to truly thrive. One is not inherently better than the other. SEO and PPC each serve different purposes and together, they help amplify the long-term viability of your business. 

Maximizes SERP Coverage

SEO and PPC both share the same ad space—the SERP. So by investing in both, your brand can own a larger portion of the SERP, with some listings in the ad space up at the top and organic listings below. 

Not only can this maximized exposure bring in more traffic and engagement, but it can also boost your credibility. People will be more likely to trust your business when it’s well-represented on the web. 

Keyword Symbiosis

In addition to SERP coverage, keywords play an important role in both SEO and PPC strategies. And by streamlining keywords between both, you can further bolster your visibility and traffic. 

For example, keywords that have proven to be successful in a PPC campaign can be applied to your SEO strategy to optimize your site pages. Conversely, if you’ve been doing SEO for quite some time, you already have keyword data that can guide your PPC strategy. 

Maximizes Brand Awareness and Conversions

Even if a target user clicks on your ad and ultimately decides to ditch your landing page, all is not lost. Sure, it’s disappointing, but they just became aware of your company. When they search for similar products or services in the future, they’ll likely remember your brand and click on one of your organic listings or revisit their cart and complete their purchase. 

In the end, PPC can help generate brand awareness, which can encourage users to engage with your organic listings and convert.

Popular PPC Acronyms & Terms to Know

What can we say, digital marketing is a gift that keeps on giving acronyms and terms. You’ll encounter quite a few of them as you explore the PPC landscape. To preserve some of your mental space (and sanity for that matter), we’ve included explanations of each to make your PPC journey just a little bit easier. 


CPC stands for cost-per-click, or the amount of money you spend when a user clicks on an ad. 

CPC = The total money spent / Total number of clicks

Though related, PPC and CPC aren’t the same thing. PPC refers to a style of paid advertising. You can think of it as the umbrella term that overlooks various campaigns and revenue models—among them CPC—that entail PPC. 

In the PPC world, there are two types of CPC to be aware of: 

  1. Max. CPC: The highest amount you’re willing to pay for a single click. 
  2. Avg. CPC: The actual amount you’re charged for a single click. 


CPM stands for cost-per-mille, or cost-per-thousand. It’s a metric that shows the cost per one thousand impressions (i.e.when someone sees an ad). So instead of paying for clicks, you’d pay for how many times the ad is seen. The CPM pay model is generally offered on paid social and display ad campaigns. 


CTR, or click-through rate is the percentage of impressions that result in a click. 

CTR = Clicks / Impressions

So if your ad gets 1,000 impressions and one click, your CTR is 0.1%. 

A high CTR indicates your ad is relevant and useful. A low CTR indicates the opposite. CTR plays a key role in determining your Quality Score, which affects your Ad Rank. 

Quality Score

Google’s ad auction evaluates your PPC ad and gives it a Quality Score. It taps into three components that help Google score your ad: 

  • Expected click-through rate (CTR): What’s the likelihood that a user will click on your ad? 
  • Ad relevance: How well does your ad align with the user’s search intention? 
  • Quality of landing page: How useful and relevant is the landing page your ad guides users to? 

Ad Rank

Ad Rank determines how the ads that participate in the ad auctions are ranked. The better the Ad Rank, the higher the position. 

Ad Rank is a combination of the the following factors: 

  • Quality Score
  • Max. CPC
  • Expected CTR

Keyword Match

Keyword match indicates how closely your keyword needs to match with the user’s search query. There are three types of keyword matches: exact, phrase, and broad. 

Negative Keyword

A negative keyword is a word or phrase that stops your ad from being shown to users. The purpose of negative keywords help protect your ad from irrelevant queries and help you earn a better CTR—a critical metric that impacts your Quality Score and Ad Rank. 

Is PPC Right for My Business?

Determining whether PPC is right for your business requires examining the pros and cons of PPC. Every business is different. We encourage you to review these with your team to decipher if PPC is right for you and if so, the frequency and scope at which you believe is appropriate for your online campaigns. 

The Pros of PPC

If you’re looking to target a specific audience, PPC can be a positive short-term solution to get your brand right in front of them. 

  • Offers fast results, which makes PPC ideal for short-term objectives and temporary campaigns 
  • Provides guaranteed reach through specific and granular targeting
  • Allows you to discover niche audiences and market to them on a more personal level
  • Offers more chances for your target audience to convert 
  • Provides access to measurable data and results 
  • Entails fairly easy maintenance

The Cons of PPC

Though PPC is a fast and easy way to boost your visibility and conversions, there are elements to it that might be drawbacks for your team and business. Keep these in mind as you map out your options. 

  • You’re required to pay for every click—whether that click turns into a conversion or not.
  • PPC’s “pay to play” tactics are more advantageous to those who have bigger budgets.
  • Once you stop paying, your traffic and lead sources fizzle out. 
  • PPC isn’t a long-term strategy, which might attach you to a quick-fix mentality. 
  • You might receive fewer clicks—70 to 80% of users ignore paid ads.
  • Web browser tools like ad blocker can make it challenging to reach your target audience.

[We can use the pros and cons infographic from this SEO pillar piece]

The Takeaway…

Avoid getting your head buried too deep into PPC. Yes, the results can be fast and profitable, but if you solely rely on PPC to acquire revenue, it can cause you to lose sight of the big picture. 

Because in the end, a holistic marketing strategy that encompasses SEO, content marketing, conversion rate optimization (CRO), and more with your PPC efforts will ultimately safeguard the viability of your business. 

Launch Your PPC Strategy with Big Leap

If you’re looking to expand your online reach this year, complementing your SEO with PPC may just be the concoction you need to drive your business in the right direction. Big Leap can help you map out your PPC options and be a sounding board to your ideas. Get started with a free quote today to see if we’re a good fit for you. 

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