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

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

Author: Tom Demers
Last Updated: November 18, 2021 | Paid Search Marketing

I have failed to effectively communicate “what PPC is” to people on numerous occasions. Some of that may be that I talk unnecessarily  fast, but I think most of it was a result of my approach. My more recent efforts to explain to people 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 every PPC consultant is likely to face in some capacity or other, I thought it might be useful to talk about what has been (and hasn’t been) effective for me in communicating to non-PPCers on the topic of paid search marketing.

Think About Your Objective

I think that your objective should always be education. Whether you’re selling PPC services, PPC software, or just trying to “sell” PPC internally at your company you want to find ways to help people understand what PPC is and how it works. The balance here is that they don’t need to understand the details of the auction or best practices in an overly granular way to appreciate the value of PPC. What you really want to accomplish here is:

  • Help people understand why pay-per click marketing can be so powerful
  • Help them understand some of the potential pitfalls involved with PPC
  • Give them a general idea of the moving pieces surrounding PPC and how they fit together
  • Help them understand how they can make the PPC campaign better

One important tactic that I’ve found helpful is to answer every single question 100% frankly and as completely as is requested. This causes you to give too much detail at first, but ultimately it trains managers and peers in other departments on what level of detail they can actually make use of, and eventually they’ll stop driving to overly specific questions. I know that some people try to create an air of mystery around PPC campaign management or pretend that there’s some special sauce. This really just sets you up to look like you’re hiding or obfuscating something.

The reality is: paid search campaign management is hard. If you’re doing a good job and are legitimately putting the time and effort you should be into an account, people will be impressed (and often a bit overwhelmed) by the depth of knowledge you have and the amount of skill and effort it takes to get paid search right. Answering all the questions isn’t so much giving the client or your boss a play-book to do things themselves: it’s demonstrating for them your expertise and value.

Consider Your Audience

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

From there, you want to be sure to tailor your explanation based on those biases. We’ll walk through a specific explanation for a persona I’ve found particularly difficult to communicate the value of paid search to in the past: those who are new to pay-per click.

Explaining PPC to Novices

I’ll outline a detailed explanation of what pay-per click search marketing is below, but here are some core things that I think it’s useful to keep in mind:

  • Use Google as Your Main Example – It’s fine to mention other search engines, but for people unfamiliar with search marketing it’s usually best to use Google as your example as you explain PPC, as that’s likely the search engine and company they’re most familiar with.
  • Be consistent with terminology – I’m guilty of using SEM, PPC, pay-per click, AdWords and other terms somewhat sloppily and interchangeably. In many settings this is OK and any fellow PPC Consultant will understand what you mean, but you need to make sure that you’re be consistent and using as few variations of terms as possible so that the person listening to the explanation can focus on the substance of your explanation.
  • Be upfront about Google’s biases, but don’t make them out to be a monster – You want to help the person you’re giving this explanation to understand Google’s motivations, and you want them to see them as a business looking to make money, but you also don’t want to feed unnecessarily into any mis-trust of Google (after all: ultimately your job is to help them efficiently make use of Google’s paid search platform).
  • Come up with and use real examples – This really helps everything hit home – use a term that would be important to their business, and find an irrelevant example as well to help them understand keywords and negatives
  • Give real-life anecdotes where possible – When you’re trying to explain the value of identifying negative keywords, try to find examples in the account in question or use a specific example from a prior account you’ve worked with.

Now I’ll lay out an example of an explanation – this is specifically designed for someone who is new to PPC, and uses the example of someone leasing apartment space in Boston, but hopefully the core components are universally useful.

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

Basically what we’re doing with pay-per click search marketing is buying advertising from search engines like Google. Google and other search engines sell advertising a little differently than a traditional Website. Instead of placing a banner or text ad on a specific Web page or collection of Web pages, you’re able to buy advertising in response to specific things that people type into a search engine. For instance, if I’m trying to get an apartment in Boston rented, I can designate to Google that I want to show up when people search for things like “Boston apartments”. I can actually give them a list of the terms I want to show up for and include other terms like South Boston apartments, luxury Boston apartments, and so on. This can be really powerful because it allows me to answer a specific question (where can I find an apartment in Boston?) in real time (here’s one!). In addition to giving Google this list of keywords (really multiple lists) we can tell Google how much each keyword is worth to us (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 challenge that Google runs into, though, is that it’s near-impossible for us to identify every single keyword a good prospect might type in. What if they search for best luxury apartments in Boston? What if they’re in Boston and just type in “luxury apartments”? What if they type in “high end Boston apartments” or search by number of bedrooms, square footage, or any number of other things. You get the idea: there are basically an infinite number of possible queries people might use to look for an apartment in Boston.

To help with this, Google lets us target not only Boston apartments, but also terms that Google deems similar to Boston apartments. This can be great, because it allows us to generate traffic from relevant search terms we might not otherwise have attracted, but it can also be problematic. Google might decide that since we wanted to bid on the term Boston apartments, we’ll also want to bid on the term cheap Boston apartments. These two seem similar to Google, but what if we sell luxury Boston apartments?

This is a major issue, because as the name suggests: we pay per click. The experience in the example above looks something like this:

  1. You bid on Boston apartments and create an ad for that term
  2. The searcher searches for cheap Boston apartments. Google deems this similar, and shows them your ad.
  3. They click on the ad since it talks about Boston apartments, and get to your landing page.
  4. They see the price of your apartment, realize it’s significantly higher priced than they were looking for, and leave your site.

This one example might only cost a dollar to a few dollars, but similar experiences can pile up and cost you significant amounts of money on searchers who were never really viable prospects for you. 

For this reason, Google lets us give them a second list of words: terms we don’t want to show up for, or negative keywords. So it’s important that we understand not only what a good prospect looks like, but also what a bad prospect looks like.

Finally, we’ll want to take keywords and match them with ad text and landing pages. The trick here is to create compelling ads that stand out from the competition, and only attract the right type of traffic. Then, we want to send people to a compelling landing page that causes them to take the action that we want them to take, quickly and easily. Here it’s important for us to understand what sets you apart from your competitors, what would compel a good prospect to click and convert, and what types of things would qualify a prospect via our ad text.

Note that there are plenty of things I omitted: match types, an overly detailed explanation of bidding, and numerous other nuances. Again it depends on your audience, but I think in general with an audience entirely unfamiliar with paid search marketing you want to keep things very high level, and allow them to direct you deeper with questions if need be. Meanwhile you still want to try to be thorough and explain all of the different components of PPC so that they can understand how things work and where their input and attention can help make their paid search spend more effective.

What about you? What have you found effective in explaining how paid search works and why it’s valuable to clients, management, and other key stake holders?

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Meet The Author

Tom Demers

Tom Demers is Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Measured SEM and Cornerstone Content.


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