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What Is PPC?

February 1, 2023
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Businesses trying to make their mark today need to have a robust search engine marketing (SEM) program.

In 2021, Google generated results for 3.5 billion searches per day, on average.1 Moreover, 98% of global consumers shop online, and 60% of smartphone users have used search engine results to contact a business directly.2

Search engines are the gateway to researching and making purchases, so businesses need to leverage these platforms as much as possible to increase awareness and conversions. One approach is paid advertising—like pay-per-click (PPC). What is PPC, and how are brands using it to attract website visitors with high purchase intent? Let’s break it down.

Making sense of pay-per-click advertising

Pay-per-click (or PPC) is an advertising pricing model that ad platforms use—brands using PPC pay platforms for every click or impression that an ad generates.3 Accordingly, PPC is sometimes called “cost-per-click,” or CPC.

Anyone responsible for even one of the over 3.5 billion Google searches per day has likely seen a PPC advertisement recently.

In a perfect utopia, where brands generate a click every time someone sees their PPC ad on a search engine, the process looks a little something like this:

  1. A user plugs a relevant keyword into a search engine—like “best hair brushes for fine hair.”
  2. The engine generates a search engine results page (SERP).
  3. At the top of the SERP, the user sees three to four paid ads for hair-related brands.
  4. Since they’re at the top of the search results, the user clicks one of these search ads and purchases a product that meets their needs.

Sounds simple, right?

PPC is pretty straightforward. But there’s a lot going on behind the scenes for the brands publishing (and paying for) the search ads that users see at the top of the SERP. Let’s take a peek behind the curtain.

Paid media agency

PPC terminology to know

We’ve already defined some terms—SEM, PPC, and SERP. But, to really understand PPC, companies should get familiar with a few more:

  • Keywords are the actual words users type into search engines, and there are two types:
  • Short-tail keywords are just that—short. Searches like “hair brush” or “fine hair styling” are two examples.
  • Long-tail keywords are chains of multiple words—they can even be full sentences. “Best hair brushes for fine hair,” our hypothetical search in the previous section, is a good example.
  • A bid is the price that a company pays the PPC platform for each keyword click or impression. These prices vary based on tail length, popularity, and other factors. Businesses will set what budget they’re willing to spend on certain keywords for a PPC campaign.
  • Impression share describes how well a brand’s PPC advertisement is performing—metrics include the number of clicks, impressions, and purchases made.
  • Negative keywords are the searches a brand doesn’t want its ad to appear for. If a business sells hair brushes for humans, for instance, one of its negative keywords may be “horse hair brushes.”

We can use this lingo to better answer this guide’s central question—“What is PPC?”

In PPC advertising, brands pay for their ad to appear at the top of the SERP when users search certain keywords. In order to keep their bid costs down (and their impression share up), businesses choose which long-tail and short-tail keywords they want to appear for—and which negative keywords they want to avoid paying for.

PPC’s place in SEM

It’s hinted at above, but PPC marketing is only one SEM strategy that brands can use to increase brand awareness, generate website visitors or entice searchers to make a purchase.

SEM marketing approaches generally fall into one of two categories:4

  • Organic SEM – Organic SEM tactics don’t require brands to pay ad platforms or search engines, but it can take longer for brands to reap the rewards of their organic SEM efforts. One organic SEM tactic is search engine optimization (SEO)—the process of (gradually) making a business’s brand more visible on the web.
  • Paid SEM – Paid SEM requires businesses to pay search engines, online shopping tools, and other platforms for high-visibility ads. PPC is one example of paid SEM, and brands typically see results much quicker than they would if they only relied upon organic SEM.

An experienced digital marketing agency would likely advise a brand to diversify its tactics—a combination of organic and paid SEM is typically the key to success.

Where PPC shines

Why do businesses invest in PPC? What makes this advertising method so attractive for brands looking to amp their digital presence? Let’s break down some advantages of PPC.

#1 It produces speedy results

PPC works fast, especially in comparison to SEO.

A good SEO strategy has a lot of moving parts. Brands have to do market research to produce impactful content that will rise to the top of the SERP and invest in technical, back-end efforts to create a vast search network of optimized content across multiple platforms.

While PPC isn’t effortless, it’s certainly simpler—and faster-acting. Instead of waiting for quality content to gain traction, brands can write an ad, pay to post it, and watch the impressions rack up right away.

And ultimately, both tactics cost money. While brands wait for their organic content to reach the top of the SERP, it probably behooves them to get their name in front of a potential customer in the meantime.

#2 It meshes seamlessly with other SEM strategies

We compared the speed of SEO and PPC above, but since it generally benefits businesses to gain a foothold in both worlds, let’s explore how these two tactics can work in harmony.

Brands can work on both efforts simultaneously:

  • When conducting research about their target demo’s digital habits, the data they discover about keyword usage, preferred content, and most-visited platforms can inform both SEO and PPC strategies.
  • As businesses build critical landing pages on their websites, these landing pages can become both the final destination for PPC ads and internal links in local SEO blog content.
  • Once PPC ads go live, brands can analyze their impression share and other performance metrics to discover which keywords are the highest-performing. While their ads collect clicks, they can integrate these higher performers into their local SEO content, theoretically reducing the time needed to rise to the top of the SERP organically.

#3 It’s hands-on

Brands have a lot of power over their PPC strategy. The advertising team can control:

  • How much the company spends per day and (to a degree) per keyword.
  • Which keywords they advertise for.
  • Which users see their search ads (e.g., repeat searchers or people in their target demo).
  • The copy (and other content) in their paid ads.

PPC is a control freak’s—err, control enthusiast’s—dream advertising method. It’s highly customizable, and the data gleaned from impression share metrics can be incredibly useful in other advertising efforts.

But this level of customization can get overwhelming for newcomers; businesses can avoid analysis paralysis and breach the steep learning curve by using PPC services.

The points above are only a fraction of the strategic options brands have when they invest in PPC. For a more in-depth run-down, check out our guide to developing a PPC strategy.

Breaking into the world of PPC

Brands ready for the limelight at the top of the SERP should follow the steps below to get started:

  • Choose an ad publisher – Google isn’t the only search engine out there.5 But, if they’re not sure where to start, brands should try a few different platforms and closely analyze the impression share of each to carve a path forward.
  • Flesh out keywords – Some keywords will be straightforward—if a brand sells hair brushes, then “best hair brushes” or, simply, “hair brush” are both obvious choices. But, brands should take time (and do market research) to discover potentially powerful keywords that their target users might also search for. For example, the hypothetical hair brush business may incorporate keywords related to “static electricity hair.”
  • Choose landing pages – Whether every ad directs to the home page or each ad has its own highly-specific landing page, brands should fine-tune where users will end up after clicking.
  • Set a budget – Done right, PPC can be very budget-friendly. One of the best ways to optimize PPC efforts is through working with an expert, like a digital marketing agency.
  • Monitor progress – Data gleaned from PPC efforts can be incredibly useful for both guiding PPC campaign adjustments and shaping other digital marketing campaigns. Learning more about consumers’ keywords, their time online, and even the times of day when they’re most likely to make purchases can change the game for up-and-coming companies.
  • Adjust the strategy – Brands can start using PPC right away, but playing the long game is one of the best ways to gather powerful intel and carve out a niche among consumers.

Harnessing PPC for brand growth

What is PPC? It could be the difference between brand awareness and the depths of obscurity.

And, while PPC is relatively straightforward, nailing it takes experience, tech-savvy, and advertising chops. At Power Digital, we have all three—and so much more.

We’re a growth marketing firm with a long track record of helping clients reach the next level using the digital platforms brands (and their users) know and love—search engines, social media, blogs, and more. Our cutting-edge analytics platform and our sharp marketing minds have the power to transform your digital presence and help you seize opportunities for growth.

Discover what your brand could be. Reach out to Power Digital today.



  1. Forbes. Understanding Generation Data. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/08/02/understanding-generation-data/?sh=3b705f7536b7
  2. Think with Google. Marketing Strategies. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/marketing-strategies/app-and-mobile/global-consumers-search-statistics/
  3. Investopedia. Cost per Click (CPC) Explained, with Formula and Alternatives. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cpc.asp
  4. Forbes. Paid or Organic Marketing: Which Strategy Provides Highest ROI. https://www.forbes.com/sites/celinnedacosta/2021/01/14/paid-or-organic-marketing-which-strategy-provides-highest-roi/?sh=162fbfe05cbc
  5. Business Insider. The top 3 Pay-per-Click Platforms of 2019. https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/the-top-3-pay-per-click-platforms-of-2019-plus-the-top-34-ppc-agencies-according-to-designrush-1028047716

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