Many people may have heard the phrase pay per click (PPC) advertising, but what is it exactly and how can we use it?

At the most basic level, pay per click advertising is where you pay only when someone clicks on an ad and not when someone simply sees an ad. Traditionally, in most publications, when you buy space, you buy on a ‘per impression’ basis, so you pay when people see the ad.

By contrast, with pay per click, you pay when somebody actually clicks on the ad. In reality it’s not quite as simple as that, because there are various other models you can use that are all included within that pay per click. So, you can actually measure conversions and pay for conversions, for example.

Typically, you see pay per click in areas such as Google search, or Bing search. You see it on social media platforms as well as with retargeting and a bit on display, where you’re not targeting a particular publication but rather you’re perhaps targeting an audience across a range of publications.

The major benefit of a pay per click campaign is you’re only paying when somebody takes an action – when somebody clicks on your ad. In theory, that should mean that you’re actually paying for valuable traffic to your website, rather than just paying to show the ad to people who may or may not be relevant.

But again, it’s not quite that simple – start actually running pay per click campaigns, and you’ll very quickly find that a lot of people click on ads that they have no interest in, and there’s a lot of spam clicks happening. Also, you’ll find that there is value in actually showing the ad and changing people’s perception. So, it’s not quite as simple as just saying, you pay for results, rather than paying for actually showing the ad.

What’s your approach?

The success you can achieve does depend on the approach – if you are buying displays in a certain publication, all you’re doing is buying their traffic. Essentially, what you are doing is showing ads to people who read this sort of content and that can be very effective. We know that advertising in industrial publications works well, so there are benefits there.

However, you might also end up advertising to quite a broad audience when what you really want to do is target a very focused one.

For example, looking at a classic industrial title that appeals to a very broad range of people. Typically, if you’re running ads on this type of publication, you might be reaching a lot of people who are never going to be customers. And, because you’re paying by impressions, you’re paying for people who see your ad even though they won’t be a customer.

Pay per click is very different because then you’re paying for people to interact, so the quality of contact is much higher.

There are some really important things to remember about pay per click. The first is that almost all pay per click is done on a bidding basis on a real-time auction. And literally every time the ad is shown, there’s an auction to decide which ad is shown.

Companies like Google are looking to optimise the revenue they get, so they’ll look at your bid to see how much you’re prepared to spend on the ad. But they’ll also look at your click-through rate and the ad performance. Essentially, the value of your ad to Google is your click-through rate times your bid per click, which gives them an idea of how much money they’ll make.

This may sound very good – you’re advertising to a wide audience, and only paying for the clicks. The danger is, you’ll pay more for the clicks. So, there are lots of subtle differences – is it better to pay for clicks, is it better to pay for impressions? Actually, it’s better to have a really good campaign that targets the audience you want to reach really well.

If you look at the platforms that run pay per click, that’s possibly the biggest reason for choosing the method. Google talks a lot about intent, so if somebody searches for a motor drive, then the chances are, they’re actually looking to buy that product. So, you’re actually reaching someone with an ad at the point when they’re considering that particular product. The intent has huge value, more value than pay per click compared to pay per impression.

Equally, if you look at some of the social platforms, you can be very precise in who you target. For example, with LinkedIn, you can target down to specific companies, specific job titles, specific countries, and be really accurate with who you’re trying to reach. Again, that very detailed demographic for your targeting can actually be worth more than the factor of doing pay per click rather than pay per impression.

Design your campaign

When it comes to designing a pay per click campaign, our Napier four step process works very well. This process starts with the determine phase, where we analyse the situation. We’re also trying to work out how to outsmart the competition.

The next phase is focus, which is about the audience, the message and the channels. With pay per click, this is where we would decide to run a pay per click campaign, and which channels we choose to use.

Next is the deliver stage, which is about getting results. And lastly, we have the enhance stage.

The enhance stage is very important in pay per click, because the method is so suited to experimentation, particularly as you’re running these campaigns on a self-service platform – because you can deliver the ads you want, you can change them to test and experiment.

Working through a pay per click campaign, you start with the determine phase to look at what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you’re trying to achieve newsletter signups or datasheet downloads, you’d recognise that this is what you’re trying to do. And you want to identify what you’re trying to affect, whether it’s trying to find people who are looking to develop designs or just finding people who are looking for background information.

As you go through the focus stage, you then look at the audience itself – are you looking for engineers, senior engineers? Are you looking for VPs of engineering? Determine your audience and also look at the message you want to give them – this is where you start building the ad campaign.

For example, we’ve decided that we’re targeting people who are looking to buy motor drives – wherever people are searching for drives, we want to show our ad. And here you start building an understanding of the audience you want to reach, so we would absolutely always build personas, and customer journeys and work out where the search comes in the customer journey, and why that individual might be searching.

Once we know what the intent is, why they’re doing the search and what they want, then we can serve an ad that’s relevant to their needs.

At that point, we can also decide the channels if it’s a search campaign. Clearly, it will probably be running on Google as the biggest searcher, but there are also a lot of campaigns that run successfully on Bing, so there are ways to also look beyond Google if you feel your persona is less likely to use it.

Obviously, in the enhance stage we would set objectives, so, we might be looking for newsletter signups. Initially, we probably have an idea of how much we value a sign up, so we might be prepared to pay, for example, $40. For a sign up, we can then measure the performance of our campaign against our target, which is cost per sign up. That will allow us to optimise, and we can run testing as well as we enhance the campaign to make it run more effectively.

Homing in

What if we apply this to a more specific scenario? For example, we may be looking to target the top 20 companies in the semiconductor market to offer our services in marketing and PR.

So, if we look at what we’re trying to achieve with our campaign, we’d probably be looking to get some engagement with a certain proportion of those top 20 semiconductor manufacturers – our goal for the campaign or objective might be to get one or two phone calls.

This is important, because that’s not something that’s directly measurable. When running a pay per click campaign, it’s something you need to add in at the end as to whether you’ve got those calls.

We then say, what do we want to do? We want to target these people but who are they? The people we want to target are probably marketing managers, PR managers, VPs of marketing at those companies, so we know their demographics, their job title and we know the company names.

And then once we know who they are, what are we trying to tell them?  Knowing who they are is pointing us towards using LinkedIn as our platform. And through the messaging we’d focus on how Napier can provide a differentiated service compared to some of the other agencies that might be used by these companies.

But, once you’ve got that core campaign, you might decide to add other things. For example, we may know that a particular agency has a very high proportion of those top 20 semiconductor companies, so we could advertise against searches for that agency’s name. So, there may be a way to actually then interject in the search, to interrupt people and get them to think about other agencies.

We’d obviously have our metric of calls and with the enhance part of the campaign, we’d be looking at whether we can walk people through steps towards those calls. And those steps might include registration or a contact form inquiry, it might include engagement with emails, and then the actual call itself. So, there might be several steps after the pay per click measurement that we can look at and measure and then use to improve and enhance the performance.

A fellow traveller with Account Based Marketing

Quite often pay per click is based around account-based marketing, and when doing LinkedIn, it’s almost always some form of ABM, because you’re typically focusing either on a target customer list or on particular markets. There is a huge overlap between pay per click and ABM because of the capabilities of a lot of the platforms. When you’re doing this, it’s important not to think about pay per click as the goal. It’s not that you’re trying to run a pay per click campaign – you’re trying to achieve business goals.

If for example, we were trying to win one of the top 20 semiconductor suppliers as a client for Napier, we would not simply run pay per click that might form a big part of our campaign – we would also be looking at what other tactics might support that ABM approach. That could be anything from direct postal mail at one end through to a platform that lets you target by IP address to actually reach specific companies. So, it’s all about understanding your personas, the people you’re trying to reach and what would be most effective for them? What would make the biggest difference?

Measuring up

When we look at measuring a campaign like this, the first thing most people will do is look at a screen full of numbers or download a spreadsheet about the campaign’s performance on the platform they are using.

It’s really important not to be a slave to all these numbers, because they can be very enticing – you get these percentages with two decimal points after it, but they’re actually not that accurate.

One of the things we’ve done at Napier is build an A/B test calculator, which lets you understand whether differences between ads are due to randomness, or actually likely to be due to a real difference in performance. Very often, we see people looking at the numbers, making assumptions and making decisions that feel good, because they’ve got all these very precise feeling numbers, but which are actually not statistically significant.

The most important thing is, whilst you want to use the numbers as a tool, your goal is the objective you set, when you conducted that determine phase – start with what you want to achieve. It’s all about looking at how you’re moving your prospects towards that end business goal – it’s about understanding that, rather than just trying to get numbers that look good.

Start your search

As another example, what if were looking to launch a search campaign, targeting people who are planning to use thermal imaging cameras? How would we apply our process in this scenario?

We might decide, for example, to target people who search for thermal cameras. That’s an easy thing to do as, probably, people searching for them want to buy them.

But there’s a wide range of thermal cameras. So perhaps you want to target for example, brand names. The market leader is FLIR in this market, so perhaps you want to target FLIR or some of their brand names, or maybe you want to target Fluke, which is number two, and again, target those brands.

You can start looking at specific products, but that might not be the right way to go about it, because, people typically are not buying a thermal camera because they’ve been told a thermal camera is the thing to have, they’re buying a thermal camera to solve a problem.

Quite often we see people, rather than trying to target brands, which can be a little bit late in the process, trying to target a competitor’s brand when someone’s searching for it – they’ve probably made the decision, but you can look at some of the applications.

One example might be people using thermal cameras to detect problems in electrical panels, which can show up as hotspots on thermal cameras. You could look for terms around thermal inspection of panels or thermal inspection of electrical panels and that would be a great way to put your brand top of mind when somebody starts thinking about buying a thermal camera to solve a particular problem.

However, you could go even go further back – there might be people who don’t understand the benefits of thermal cameras when they are trying to check panels or make sure that they’re working correctly. This means we can advertise around for example, just looking at panels and finding problems on panels, rather than somebody specifically looking for thermal cameras.

What you’re then doing is really talking about top of the funnel – they know they’ve got a problem, but they don’t actually know the solution. You can present content that actually provides a solution and obviously presents your solution in the best possible light.

Retargeting can also work

Retargeting is something that would be effective with this as well. For LinkedIn, people can understand the value of retargeting, but in search, the whole point is that it’s all about intent, people are trying to find something at a particular time.

But incredibly, you get a lot of people who don’t convert – if you retarget those people, they will come back, and they will convert on seeing your subsequent ads. So, they’re actually converting at a time when, theoretically, we don’t know they have intent. We know they had intent in the past, but we don’t know they need the product.

This is really down to the fact that most decisions in B2B tech actually take quite a long time to make, so, quite often, the intent phase is where people are actually analysing what products to buy, they’re doing selection. And so, what the retargeting does is keeps you top of mind and keeps you in front of that customer, all the way through from that initial start of selection to the actual purchase. This means that retargeting can have a big effect, and a very surprisingly positive impact on search ads, as well as things like LinkedIn, and other social media platform ads.

Almost all retargeting is run as pay per click, so it’s something that is quite often undervalued.

Don’t make these mistakes

Mistakes cover such a huge range of different areas. At one end, we see people making some fairly basic mistakes, but making them incredibly frequently. For example, we’ll see companies that are targeting ads globally – they might only sell in a couple of countries, but I’ve seen companies where the top 10 countries where they’re spending money are actually 10 countries where they’ve never sold a product. So, understanding the platform and configuring it correctly so you’re not making mistakes like this is really important.

It then comes down to not really being driven by just the platform, but actually putting some thought into it yourself – really trying to think and understand. That’s particularly important when it comes to things like numbers – don’t be a slave to the numbers from the platform, think beyond the platform and the click-through rates, because they’re not always the full story, so try and get a much broader, a much wider picture.

There are lots of other individual mistakes that can be made. One that is surprisingly common actually is breaking the rules – all of these platforms will have rules about what you can and can’t do and quite often, companies will run ads that will break the rules.

For example, we talked about targeting competitors – you can absolutely target competitors and search for example, even if that search is a trademark, but you can’t use the trademark in your ad according to Google’s rules.

We also see issues with what we might call inconsistent interpretation of the rules. There are always situations where people are running ads that should be allowed but Google disallows them or vice versa and, in that margin, there are quite often problems.

To blow our own trumpet, people should come to agencies that know and understand pay per click, because they can help you avoid all the problems that do occur.

Tips for clicks

When it comes to tips on how to deliver a successful pay per click advertising campaign, the first thing you’ve got to do is understand the audience and pick the right channel for the campaign – if you’re offering deeply complex white papers, then maybe Tik Tok is not the right platform to offer it on and perhaps you want to offer it on something more professional like LinkedIn.

But, if you’re offering retargeting and just trying to keep top of mind, then maybe do try Tik Tok or Facebook, and see if that works. Essentially, understand the audience and choose the right channel.

The next thing is, don’t rely on the channels to optimise for you. There are lots of optimizations that can be incredibly helpful, but if you just switch everything to auto, you will end up with a very broad audience and won’t be very focused.

By widening the audience, sometimes you know exactly who you want to target – you want to target those people, not anybody else, or you want to target very specific searches, you don’t want a broad match. This can be extremely dangerous in B2B, because you can go from a term that has only a few searches, but absolutely identifies the audience you want to reach, to a term that has many, many searches from people who are never going to be customers.

Use the tools, but don’t let them create or drive the campaign. We’ve talked about test and optimise. That’s really important. Keep testing, keep optimising. At Napier, we often run an A/B test and have little informal bets about which ad is going to win. And quite often we’re wrong – we’ll see an ad winning for reasons that we never expected.

So, trust the numbers when it comes to testing, and make sure you think about it from the audience’s side, not from your personal opinion.

And I always say use negatives, as excluding companies and LinkedIn campaigns are really important.

For example, if you’re looking for customer acquisition, you want to exclude all the companies that are already customers, because you probably want different messages for companies already customers, but particularly on search as well, negative keywords are incredibly powerful. So, use those negatives to rule out the people who aren’t relevant.

Lastly, track what matters. Make sure that you’re tracking conversions, if you can track things electronically, or if not track it manually with business goals, whether that’s customer acquisition, whether it’s meetings, whether it’s opportunities to quote. Track what matters and try and link that back to what you’re actually doing in the campaign, because the closer you get to the business result, the more impact you’re going to get from your campaign.

To find out more about what B2B marketers should consider when implementing a PPC campaign, watch our ‘The Secrets to a Successful PPC Campaign’ webinar on-demand.