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7 min read

The Basics of PPC Advertising

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

PPC stands for pay per click and is the term used to refer to paid advertising on the internet, usually through Google Ads or Bing Ads.

PPC is one part of the wider area of paid search marketing, which today encompasses display advertising, remarketing, Google Shopping and social media advertising, too. PPC is used by both B2B and B2C businesses to drive new leads and generate sales.

The most relevant PPC option for you depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to. A fashion store opening a new branch may want to target young people living in that city via Facebook, using their ‘likes’ to identify potential customers. A plumber operating within a local area will get the best results with a simple paid search. A car dealer might use display advertising to build awareness of their brand until customers are ready to make that big, one-off purchase.

Although each search and social platform is different, a successful campaign will always depend on four things:

  • The overarching strategy, including platforms and budgets
  • The structure and optimisation of the campaign
  • The targeting of the ad and its relevance to the user
  • The quality of an ad and its click-through rate

PPC Options

PPC is an ever-evolving discipline and there are many ways to pay to advertise your business across the web in this way. Here are the main options available to you:

Search Network Adverts

The most used of the PPC techniques, adverts on the search network are normally managed through Google Ad or Bing Ads.

Paid links will appear at the top and in the right-hand sidebar of the search results page and are (subtly) flagged up as ads. Google Ad – by far the most popular advertising network for paid search marketing, gives you just 95 characters to attract those clicks. It’s split over four lines, with an allowance of 25 characters for the headline hyperlink, 35 each for the first and second line of descriptive text, and 35 for the URL.

You’ll pay a set amount very time someone clicks these links. That amount depends on several factors, including the popularity of the keyword you’re targeting, the quality of your ad and how well optimised your campaign is.

In a traditional pay-per-click campaign, competitors will typically bid on a keyword, and an algorithm will then calculate the ranking order of the ads. The ad’s position will typically be calculated using the bid, the quality score and a range of other factors.

Display Network Adverts

The Google Display Network (GDN) makes it possible to advertise on a huge range of relevant websites, reaching over 80% of internet users. The network supports text and image ads, including animated flash.

You may have seen display adverts when you’re browsing the web; they are usually banners using an image or text, and include the ‘AdSense’ logo. You’re seeing these ads because the advertiser has either specified the exact website they want the ads to show on, or the type of site.

Like most things Google do, the GDN is clever. It analyses the content on a page and automatically includes your ad (based on your selected keywords) if relevant. Rather than pay per click, you usually buy placements on a cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis, meaning you pay for every thousand times your ad appears.

Learn more about display advertising here.

Social media advertising

Social media advertising is perhaps the most exciting of the PPC opportunities purely due to the amount of information that social networks hold about their users.

Facebook offers paid advertising opportunities in the form of its sponsored content, which appears in the user’s news feed, boosted posts, which send your existing updates to more people, and plain adverts, which appear alongside the news feed. Facebook tends to work particularly well for B2C businesses, as people are more likely to align themselves with consumer brands on Facebook than they are to ‘like’ more B2B style products.

LinkedIn is known as the ‘business network’ and has well over 10 million users in the UK alone. Advertisers can target their ads to people based on their location, business they work for, job title, skills and lots more, meaning you can be quite specific in the audience you reach. Like Facebook, LinkedIn ads can be plain ads alongside the news feed, or posted in the news feed itself through sponsored content.

Twitter is a fast paced social network where new posts are constantly updated, meaning advertisers have a very short period of time to get people’s attention. Promoted tweets are difficult to get a return on for this reason, but by offering something of value through your ads, you can reach a lot of people.

With YouTube, there’s the choice of showing a video ad before the video the viewer has chosen to watch (known as pre-roll) and TrueView – where the viewer has the option to watch your content, and you only pay when they do. Google’s video ad targeting lets you target certain customer groups across both YouTube and the GDN.

Pinterest is a particularly exciting channel for ecommerce brands, as it allows advertisers to embed product and purchase information into their Pinterest pins (images).

Learn more about social media advertising here.

The pros and cons of paid search marketing


  • It’s great if you need to see results quickly. Unlike organic search results (SEO), which can take several months to make an impact on the SERPs.
  • It’s scaleable – you can increase or reduce campaigns, or toggle them on and off completely, according to need. You have complete control.
  • It makes targeting a breeze. From the location to the age of your target audience, you get to choose exactly who sees your ads.
  • It’s also one of the most measurable digital channels available. You can tell exactly which keywords generate the highest sales or ROI.


  • Once you halt a campaign, the benefits stop straight away. It’s a more short-term solution than SEO.
  • Success comes at a cost. To get top ranking positions for competitive phrases, you have to be prepared to pay for it.
  • Research shows that most people understand the difference between organic and paid search results, and place greater trust in the organic results. It’s estimated that 80% of the available clicks on each search result page are won by SEO.

Best of both: balancing PPC and SEO

For most businesses, the ideal solution will be to use a combination of PPC and SEO. Both have their advantages and their limitations and one will make up for the other’s shortcomings. There’s an extra advantage to using both, in that you can apply your learnings from one campaign to the other. And if you’re doing well organically, you can choose to temporarily turn down your PPC spend.

As we’ve mentioned, organic search results can be perceived as more trustworthy by viewers. But even if you’re dominating the results pages for a keyword query by SEO alone, it’s a mistake to ignore paid search. Research suggests that the two have a closer relationship than you might think, and that the absence of a paid-for link can actually reduce the click-through rate of the organic listing. This might be because people expect the most dominant website to have a paid link as well as an organic one. Seeing your company come up in the results twice reinforces the relevance of your website and means people subconsciously attach more authority to your brand.

Learn more about what PPC can do for your SEO here.

Google Partner and Bing Ads Accreditation

When choosing a PPC management agency to help you with your PPC, it’s worth looking out for accreditations which indicate the agency’s experience and skill.

Google has its own set of exams which PPC managers can take to build their skills and gain qualifications. The Impression team has undertaken these exams, making us Google Ad certified. As an agency, we are also a Google Partner, meaning we keep our accreditations up to date and we have proven our management skills through various criteria set by Google and exemplified through the accounts we already managed.

Bing also offers certifications in the form of the Bing Ads exams.