Getting Started with Paid Media Advertising

Paid media advertising is a branch of digital marketing that enables brands to promote their products and services on popular online platforms using paid ads.

Platforms and networks charge for each click on a paid ad, which is why the advertising model is also known as pay-per-click (PPC).

PPC is a complex digital marketing technique involving clear goals and strategies, dedicated budgets, segmented audiences, and the like, which is why we’ve put together a short guide to help you understand PPC and its various components.


What is the PPC model?

Online users typically use search engines to investigate purchases before buying. They do this using the world’s most popular search engine platforms: Google (in the West), Baidu (in the East), YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, and Bing. To indicate these platforms’ size and reach, look at Google alone, which enjoys over four billion users of its services, accessing over 100,000,000 GB of indexed data.

Paid media advertising enables Google, Facebook, and these other search engines to monetize their offerings and services (like search) by charging businesses for placements of ads, sponsorships, or branded media on their platforms.


The big goal of PPC is lead generation

Why do brands invest in PPC? The quick answer is to increase awareness, traffic and generate more customers. Today, search engines are key lead generation drivers because the technology underpinning these platforms makes it quicker and easier than ever before for humans to find exactly what they’re looking for online.


PPC in action

If you’ve ever consumed online content and clicked on an ad vying for your attention and enticing you to buy, you’ve already interacted with paid media.

Let’s demonstrate this with a real-world example: Pretend you’re a small brand that makes vegan shoes and you want to check out the competition. If you type the words “vegan men shoes” into Google Search, you’ll find a host of search engine results that look like the image on the right. >>

In the outlined area, you can clearly see product ads for vegan shoes displayed by Google in response to a search query for these products. Below are text ads.


These ads are paid media in action

They’re working hard for brands in the nascent vegan shoe market, a burgeoning sector given how important the climate has become to people. Every time a new customer clicks on the vegan shoe brand’s ad and sends a prospective customer to their website, the company will have to pay Google a fee for directing this traffic to them. This fee model is called pay-per-click (PPC), where you pay every time a user actually clicks on your ad. Other payment models include cost-per-mille (CPM) or cost-per-impression, where you only pay after your ad reaches one thousand impressions.

How much you eventually spend on each click on your PPC ads is determined by cost-per-click (CPC) — or cost per tap if using Apple Search Ads. CPC is calculated by dividing the total amount spent on your paid ad by the total number of clicks it received.




Key PPC components

What makes an effective PPC campaign? There are some key components to be considered when building out a successful paid media strategy.

These are:


  • Keywords
  • Ads and landing pages
  • Budget and bids
  • Targetted audiences
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Keywords are the cornerstone of paid marketing success

Successful search marketing is centered on a pivotal concept — keywords. When you go online to buy a product or service, invariably, you’ll head over to Google, Bing, or a similar platform and key in several words that represent a search. These phrases, or units of language, are called keywords.

The better your understanding and execution of keywords, the better your search results. Ultimately this is a dynamic practice of continual improvement.

A good keyword strategy is iterative; search marketing success depends on continually improving the ecosystems of keywords that your brands, products, and services use for digital marketing.

Choosing the most effective PPC keywords

But the big question is, how do you get great keywords to begin with? The detailed answer is customer surveys, competitor research, industry trends, and careful use of the right technology, like keyword tools or generators.

A general principle is that customers who are new to your brand or category search for it using single keywords or short generic phrases. The more the customer knows about your brand or category, the more detailed and exacting the search phrases can become.


Remember to use long-tail keywords

Let’s use the vegan shoe example to explain. When climate-conscious style icons search during the awareness stage, they’re more likely to key in “vegan shoes.” But as these consumers search online, they grow their brand and category knowledge, and their searches become more sophisticated.

People also chat with friends and colleagues and engage in word-of-mouth to confirm purchases. As a customer’s understanding of a product, brand, or category grows, so do the keyword strings.

With the vegan shoe example, long-tail keywords could evolve to include: “Adidas vegan shoes biodegradable fungi-based leather alternative Bolt Threads.”

In short, the deeper down the sales funnel your customers are, the more likely they are to use these complex, specialized search terms.


A summary of what impacts keyword success:

  • Understanding what keywords customers use.
  • Knowing how this changes as the customer moves through the sales funnel to purchase.
  • The search engines your customers use.
  • The algorithms that inform the results of these search engines.



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PPC ads and landing pages

Once you’ve decided on your keywords, you need to start thinking about the other elements of your campaign. This includes finalizing:

  • Your campaign’s goal or objectives. This could be increased sales, driving traffic to your site, growing brand awareness, or generating leads, etc.
  • Your advertising offer.
  • Your ad types. Brands often create multiple ad campaigns, using different media formats to test performance and ensure improved marketing results over the period of each campaign.
  • Your microsite, landing pages, or ecommerce offerings.
  • The overall user experience. From their keyword search to your ad to click-through and purchase.


Let’s take a closer look at paid media ads.

The media format you choose for your PPC ads depends on the platform you use (Google Ads or Facebook Ads) and your campaign type.

Google Ads, for example, allows you to create:
  • Text ads for Search campaigns
  • Banner ads for Display campaigns
  • Videos for Video campaigns
  • Product inventory ads for shopping campaigns

Your campaign goals will ultimately determine the type of campaign you choose for your PPC advertising.


Facebook Ads Manager offers the following ad formats:

These are for placement on Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram.

  • Photo ads. Publish and boost posts from your Facebook page with an image to grow awareness around products.
  • Video ads. Use stories and product collections to create native video ads to increase engagement and reach.
  • Stories. Generate immersive experiences on the Messenger, Instagram, or Facebook apps to increase reach and engagement.
  • Messenger ads. Repurpose ads from Facebook and Instagram to send via the Messenger chats tab.
  • Carousel ads. Showcase up to 10 individually linked product videos or images in one ad to increase click-throughs and sales.
  • Slideshow ads. Tell your story to users with slower internet connections with simple, video-like ads.
  • Collection ads. Display products in a grid format to drive conversions on your landing pages.
  • Playables. Provide interactive previews for an app before download to encourage conversions.



Landing pages

Paid ads need to encourage clicks that direct online users away from the search platform to a landing page where they can take action. These standalone web pages or product pages are set up to increase the opportunity for a conversion — the action you want online users to take after clicking on your ad.

An example is a PPC campaign for newsletter sign-ups before launching a brand’s new online store. Paid ads will direct users to a landing page where users can submit their email addresses in exchange for a discount code (to be used on their first purchase once the online store goes live). This promotional code is delivered straight to their email inbox — while their email address is happily added to a remarketing list for future targeted marketing campaigns.

Google rates your landing page and gives it a page experience score — based on ease of navigation, the number of links on the page, and how useful and relevant the information on the landing page is — which contributes towards your overall keyword Quality Score. In short, the better your landing pages, the higher the chances of your ads ranking for search terms on Google. You can read more on this below.

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Budgets are set in stone, while bids are dynamic auctions

A PPC budget is the amount of money you invest in a paid media campaign over a period of time, while bids relate to how much money you are willing to spend on each click.

Budgets are set seasonally or per campaign, but they are usually finite and dictated by broader marketing budgets. Before you begin with PPC, it is best to decide each campaign’s budget and set limits for daily and/or weekly spending. Once you’ve determined the budget for your campaign, you can look at bidding.

How bidding works

Search advertising platforms like Google AdWords use a keyword bid to enable pay-per-click auctions of advertising inventory. Every ad you see on Google, for instance, is the result of a bid process that determines the placement of the brand ad on the search engine results page (SERP).

At Google, bidding on ads is a dynamic process that affects advertising placement and is determined by two factors:

  • The value of the bid;
  • And the quality of an ad in terms of how useful and relevant it is to users.


These bids’ process determines which brands get to appear on a particular SERP and enables brands to compete more fairly for customer attention based on both the quality of click-throughs and the subsequent landing page. The idea is to make things easier for the consumer with a virtuous system that does just this.

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Targeting is used to reach your desired target audience

Targeting works differently based on the platform you’re using, be it Google Ads or Facebook Ads. Let’s take a closer look at each.


Google Ads targeting

Google Ads allows you to target audiences based on their affinity or intent, and to remarket to users who have interacted with pages on your website.


Audience Targeting

You can use audience targeting on Google Ads to segment your audience by their interests, what they’re actively searching for on Google, as well as the previous websites they’ve visited and categories that Google has placed them in. These groups are available through the “Audience Manager” section in Google Ads. These audiences can be Affinity audiences or Custom-intent audiences.


  • Affinity audiences refer to large groups of people that Google has placed in certain groups. Examples of these would be “Cooking Enthusiasts.” This would be a group consisting of people who enjoy cooking. The audience would be very broad, often consisting of millions of users, and used primarily within Brand awareness situations. Affinity audiences are best used to layer over broad keywords within more general Google Ads campaigns.
  • Custom-intent audiences are used to target people who are searching for specific products, services, or solutions on Google. An example would be “Installing residential hot water heaters.” These lists will not be as broad as Affinity audiences but will allow your campaign to expand beyond simple keyword targeting.



Remarketing lists are used to target users who have already interacted with various aspects of your website. These lists are great for tailoring specific ads to users that have visited specific web pages. An example of this would be if a user views a product page on your website, you can capture that user’s information and serve them with remarketing ads that mention that specific product, reminding them to purchase.

Remarketing can also be used for visitors that add products to their cart but do not complete their purchase. You can serve them unique ads reminding them that they have outstanding items in their cart waiting to be purchased.


Facebook Ads targeting

Facebook ads work off a different targeting system to that of Google Ads. Instead of using keywords as a bidding mechanism, Facebook targeting provides “interest, job titles and demographic information” as targeting options. Let’s look at how interest and job title targeting work.

Interest targeting

Interest targeting allows you to target users with specific interests based on the pages they like, frequent, and interact with on Facebook. An example of interest targeting would be “Computer Games.”

Job title targeting

Targeting audiences based on job titles allows you to show your ads to those Facebook users who match the job title you’re targeting or have previously used one of your targeted job titles. Examples would include “Plumber,” “Website Developer,” or “Painter.”


Search engine marketing

In digital marketing, search engine marketing (SEM) is one of the fastest and most effective ways to market. Search is the easiest way to find things online when it comes to looking for products and services.  This is why search engines like Google are so incredibly pervasive and useful.

More than a third of all product searches start with Google. Here, speed is everything because humans are time-constrained. Consequently, the most frequented results are those closer to the top of a SERP.

SEM is all about buying visibility and traffic

SEM is about using paid media to achieve a top ranking in SERPs so that your products or services are easily seen, accessible, and available to humans looking for them. Because, if they are not, you can bet your competitors will take this pole position and benefit from the resultant sales.

When many brands seek to invest in the same keywords, this can drive that paid keyword price up, which drives up investments in paid advertising. Another reason why using an expert can save time and money and help you get the results you want.

What is the difference between SEM and SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) and SEM are both search marketing strategies that brands use to reach new customers.

To feature prominently in the results of Google or other search engines, brands either need to bid or buy top advertising listings (SEM) or dedicate a huge amount of time and effort to improve organic search performance with SEO efforts.

Search marketing relates to any tactic that helps a brand get attention by appearing on SERPs. It includes efforts to get higher rankings and increase search visibility so you can drive more traffic to a website or specific web pages.

With SEO, quality and quantity drive traffic.

Unlike SEM, SEO uses organic or unpaid strategies to gain visibility in SERPs. Brands do not pay to have their placement but rather use various tactics that prompt search engines to place their results higher up in the rankings.

These SEO tactics can be separated as follows:

  • On-page SEO optimizes each page’s content to target a specific keyword. These strategies include keyword research, content creation, and keyword optimization. On-page optimization in SEO helps search engines understand a page of content, which helps rank it higher.
  • Technical SEO optimizes the non-content elements of a website and the website as a whole to improve its backend structure and foundation. These strategies include improving site speed, recoding for mobile-friendliness, proper indexing, testing ‘crawlability,’ improving site architecture, and security.
  • Off-page SEO builds a website’s reputation and authority by connecting it to other good websites. This would normally involve link building (acquiring high-quality backlinks) and managing local listings and directory profiles. When many websites link to a brand’s website, it demonstrates its trustworthiness, reliability, and reputability, which positively influences its search rankings.

Why SEM then?

  • SEM allows you to specify additional information such as clickable phone numbers or, in the case of ecommerce businesses, illustrations with prices and clickable order links.
  • Getting results from an organic strategy can take time, and a huge amount of effort, especially if the brand is starting on a low base. On the other hand, paid media like SEM is a fast track to the top of the SERP.
  • PPC also allows for A/B testing to evaluate which message performs the best.

When to use SEO vs. SEM

Ideally, brands should plan to do SEO and SEM/PPC concurrently. If this isn’t possible, here is what we recommend:


  • If your brand’s organic search presence is poor or non-existent, you might find more immediate success with a PPC campaign — at least until you’ve built up enough organic search momentum.
  • If your brand already has a strong organic search presence, building upon that strong foundation with an SEO campaign can translate into more leads, traffic, and brand awareness.

Display Advertising

The term “display ad” refers to a range of PPC ads placed on high-traffic websites that invite the user to click through to a landing page. A call-to-action (CTA) on the page invites them to take the next steps, such as purchase a product, sign up for a newsletter, etc. The CTA could be a special purchase offer, a freebie, or a “find out more” invitation.

These are often programmatically placed to retarget potential customers who have previously shown an interest in your brand.

There are various types of display ads, including:


  • Banner ads, which are the earliest form of display ads, and normally positioned at the top of a web page.
  • Interstitial ads, appearing as web pages before they redirect users to the requested page (or game, in the case of mobile phones).
  • Rich media entices the viewer to interact with video or other elements on a page.
  • Video ads are served up across YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

The top display networks include:

  • Google AdSense. With a large customer base, Google AdSense features visibility across several different platforms, including mobile and apps.
  • Facebook Network Audience Network Ads. The Network also has a large customer base that allows for high versatility across platforms and apps.
  • mMedia. Affordable for small campaigns and brands, starting with focused messages
  • Apple Advertising. It has an intuitive bidding and targeting system, a large coverage size that reaches millions of potential customers and is considered the best for mobile display advertising across millions of Apple devices.
  • Bing. A Microsoft company offering a search engine alternative to Google. It is the sole paid search provider for the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, and because it has a smaller reach than Google Network, it may provide a more cost-effective entry point for targeted campaigns.

Other display networks to consider include:


Social Media Advertising

As the name suggests, this advertising type is served on social media sites, like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Scaling in social media advertising is relatively quick and easy and can obtain results from the first day. Unlike other channels, it is quite simple to configure and execute a social media campaign.

Top social media channels (by popularity) include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat.


The big question about social media marketing is whether you have to choose between PPC and social spending.

This depends on your target market. In consumer markets, youth cluster around popular social networks like TikTok, whereas LinkedIn offers more precise targeting for business-to-business brands.

Social campaigns offer a great deal more creativity in content and design and work well when integrated with PPC. Social media expands the reach of PPC, and, thanks to highly granular targeting tools, campaigns on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube can deliver exactly the kinds of customers you are looking for.


Remarketing uses legal methods of tracking users online to follow up on consumers when they have clicked on an ad or visited a website but haven’t made a purchase or converted. This is because it can take several points of contact to close a sale in the online world, and your brand needs to be kept top of mind.

Remarketing is more than simply serving up the same ad again and again. Once a potential customer has interacted with your brand, they need different messaging delivered to them, using other media, such as video or email.

The infographic on the right illustrates how remarketing works: >>

  1. A user visits a specific page on your site but then leaves to browse elsewhere.
  2. On another website or platform, they notice a paid ad about the very product and services they were looking at on your site. They click on the ad and are redirected to the ad’s landing page.
  3. On the landing page, they either take action, such as signing up for a service, buying a product, or subscribing to a newsletter, or they bounce.

For more insights on how remarketing works, read: How Do Some Banner Ads Follow Me from Site to Site?


We hope you enjoyed this overview of pay-per-click advertising.

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