Pay Per Click Advertising Pitfalls and Solutions

Should you run pay-per-click ads on search engines? Paying by the click for ads on Google and Bing can be both effective and affordable, but only if you avoid these not-so-obvious pitfalls.

Are you wondering if you should buy pay-per-click ads on search engines? Or have you tried pay-per-click ads and been disappointed with the results? Pay Per Click (PPC) search engine advertising does bring targeted and profitable traffic to many businesses and storefronts. Unlike traditional banner ads, where advertisers pay by the number of times an ad is viewed (usually expressed as cost per thousand, or CPM), advertisers using pay per click ads pay only when a user actually clicks on their ad. But there are some pitfalls you need to be aware of and some related strategies to make your PPC advertising campaigns successful.

The biggest problem with PPC advertising is that you can burn through your advertising budget very quickly if you’re not careful. That’s because the way you buy PPC advertising involves bidding on keywords. There are various factors the search engines use to determine where your paid ad shows up in relation to other paid search ads, but the amount you bid (offer to pay for each click) has a lot to do with getting top positions.  

Since most advertisers want their ads to show near the top of search results pages, they bid up the cost of keywords for popular terms, driving the cost of advertising up. If you pay $3.00 per click for a keyword and 100 people click on the ad per day, you’ll spend $300 per day or $9000 per month for those clicks. If you bid too low on a popular keyword, your ads will never show up.

Still, many small businesses (and major companies, too), do buy PPC ads on the search engines and do profit from them. How do they do it? Here are some of their “secrets.”

1. Start with a specific goal for your PPC ad

For most businesses, that goal is much the same as your goal for direct mail or any other type of advertising is. That’s to attract ready-to-buy prospects to your doorstep for a specific product or service. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s not the sheer number of people who click through to your site that matters. Nor is it any ranking on Google or Alexa or other measurement systems. What matters are these factors:

  • How many serious, ready-to-buy-now prospects click through to your site
  • How effective your web site is engaging the visitor and getting them to make a purchase or converting visitors into qualified leads
  • How much profit you make from PPC search engine visitors after accounting for the PPC costs and other normal costs of doing business.

The bottom line for PPC advertising, is, after all, your bottom line, not the total number of people who hit your web site.

2. Choose link pages carefully

It’s tempting to link PPC search results to your home page. After all, that’s the main page on your site, and you want visitors to see all you have to offer. But the home page can be the worst place to link PPC advertisements. The reason: most sites don’t actually sell anything directly on their home page. They use the home page much like the cover of a brochure, to display a pretty “face” to prospects and customers.

RELATED: Do PPC Ads Work for Small Business?

Even if the site is well-designed with a navigational structure that will lead the prospect inside the site, that pretty face isn’t necessarily what the visitor wants to see. If they’ve clicked on your PPC ad for “pearl earrings,” they’ll expect to see a page with images of pearl earrings you sell. They probably aren’t looking for information on how oysters make pearls, and probably don’t want to see (at this point) a picture of your storefront and staff.   If they don’t see pearl earrings at the top of the page they land on when they click your ad, there’s a good chance they’ll return immediately to the search engine results page and click a different link. In that case, you’ve wasted the click fee, and the customer has moved on to your competitor.

Even if you sell directly from your home page, it’s probably not the right place to send a shopper. That customer who wants pearl earrings might like pearl necklaces and bracelets, but what they’re in the market for right now is pearl earrings. So if they have to scroll down the page or change pages to find your pearl earrings, they may leave before they ever see what you have to offer.

To solve the problem, link to the specific page that sells the product you’re advertising (called a landing page, because it’s where the people “land” once they click through your ad.). Be sure the sales copy is clear and the order button easy to find.

3. Look for low cost, high probability and high click-through keywords related to your product or service

Although that sounds like an oxymoron, it’s not. If you carefully evaluate what you sell and what customers may be looking for, you can often find keywords that get a response but aren’t priced at top dollar. Bing and Google both have free keyword search tools that show you the volume of search terms and what an estimate of what bid prices are to get into the top spot for individual keywords and phrases.  

4. Learn to use negative keywords

A negative keyword is a keyword that prevents your ad from showing up for a particular word or term.  For instance, if you are selling safety training programs, you may want to make “free” a negative keyword so your ad doesn’t show up (and get clicked on) by people searching for “free safety training program.” Similarly, if you sell handmade soaps, you may want to make “recipes” a negative keyword, since you probably don’t want to pay for clicks from people looking for handmade soap recipes. Filtering out such negative keywords will help keep your total PPC charges down. 

5. Make sure your web hosting is reliable and your links work

This isn’t as obvious a suggestion as it sounds. From time to time I’ll click on links people include with messages they post in mailing lists or send me in email. And more than a few times, I’ve gotten Page Not Found errors when I clicked on links. Either the whole site was down, or the individual link in the message was broken. Now, those clicks from mailing lists didn’t cost the site owner anything (other than loss of interest on my part), but if they were using the same links in PPC engines, they were probably losing money. Although the major PPC search engines review your listings when you first place them and won’t release your listing if the link leads to a Page Not Found error, it may be a long time before any human from the PPC company reviews your link again. If you change something on your site that breaks the link, or if your site is down, you could wind up paying for clicks on broken links. 

6. Analyze performance

Learn to use the tracking, conversion, demographics and analysis tools the major search engines provide so you can monitor progress and make changes where necessary.  You’ll want to pay attention to what keyword are resulting in sales, and which aren’t; what sources of traffic are converting (and which aren’t), and even the text of your ads. You or someone on your staff should take time to read through all the training materials available from the search engines, and if that isn’t enough help, then invest in a couple of books. Just make sure the books are current since search engines are always making updates to their interfaces.

7. Monitor Any Changes Closely

If you make any changes to keywords or accept suggestions offered either free of charge by the search engine team, or changes that a paid agency suggests, monitor your spending very carefully each day (and particularly the first few hours after the change.) Adding keywords, or allowing different features to kick in can greatly increase your costs in a very short time. 

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