Let’s face it: you aren’t exactly going to buy an ad for next year’s Superbowl. You simply don’t have the budget. But that doesn’t mean your marketing efforts can’t compete for some major clicks, either.

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a simple model: in sponsored advertising for websites like Google and Bing, you simply outbid the other company on a per-click basis. The smarter you handle the PPC, the better chance you have at reaching your target market. You set the budget limit and the system does the rest.

The result? No mammoth, Superbowl-type fees, but plenty of targeted traffic for your small business website. You can win over the big guys even if you don’t have an army of marketers fighting by your side.

That is, if you do it right.

PPC Advertising: The Basics

To win at PPC, you have to know the landscape.

First, you’ll be expected to write a brief advertisement for your company. This typically includes a headline, a caption, and maybe even a URL. You tell the search engine where to send any traffic that clicks on your ad.

Next, you’ll be expected to pay for each click – not each view of your ad – on an auction basis. The better your ad tends to perform, in terms of metrics like click-through rate, the better chance you stand at getting your ad displayed for popular keywords.

As long as you’re selecting the right keywords for your target demographic, your goal is to beat the other companies with 1) a more effective ad, and 2) higher payment for click. Needless to say, you’ll want to constantly tweak #1 so that you can limit #2.

How to Win (Part I): Key Phrase Selection

If this is a battle against other advertisers, then you want to first pick the battlefield most favorable to you. That means picking out a targeted key phrase that your audience is most likely to type in to search engines like Google and Bing.

This can get tricky. As Neil Patel points out, modern search engines have gotten sophisticated enough to know that typing in “Chinese cuisine” after typing in “Gilmore girls” means you’re probably looking for some takeout food – not to study Chinese cuisine.

What does this mean? You have to figure out customer intent. The intent and context behind the search query says a lot about the user’s behavior.

gilmore girls gif

Neil recommends finding longer key phrases with more obvious intent: for example, if someone types in “birthday cake,” they could be thinking about all sorts of things. But “order a birthday cake” is a more obvious opportunity to sell the cakes you ship online.

The key is not to simply generate a list of keywords from an original brainstorm and hope for the best. Instead, put yourself in the position of someone who might need what you’re selling. Try finding those services yourself, and write down which phrases you type – you might be surprised.

How to Win (Part II): Target, Test, and Tweak

The “three T’s” might not guarantee that you’ll win every time – but they’ll certainly help.

Making the Most of Your Clicks

Winning at PPC doesn’t matter if your clicks don’t turn into leads and purchases.

This is marketing, after all, and marketing only yields ROI if you can turn your audience into customers. That means putting yourself in your customers’ shoes once again: how will your website look to someone who’s never seen it before?

Better yet, focus in and think about the following:

A Big Opportunity

PPC might sound tremendously complicated – it might even seem like a long journey all the way from keyword research to customer purchases. But if you put it all together and tackle the process one step at a time, there’s no reason you can’t beat out larger companies with guile and skill alone.

That’s what’s great about the democratization of the web, and it’s what makes PPC an enduring and intriguing option for small businesses.

Have you seen success with PPC? Share your story with us in the comments below.