Pay-per-click (PPC) sounds like a great option, but what does it really cost and is it worth the effort and money? 

Each campaign is different, depending upon the bid amounts, the number of actual click throughs and the generated Return on Investment (ROI).

This article intends to help guide you to make the best choices by offering free, totally unbiased reviews of PPC search engines and the tools designed to be used in conjunction with the PPC process - both to help you with understanding the process and to evaluate its usefulness for you as a marketing tool.

It can be relatively easy and inexpensive to give PPC a try.  PPC search engines offer all kinds of support and some are easier to use than others, but the opportunity to ensure a placement of your ad without necessarily investing a large amount of your marketing dollars, makes PPC an extremely attractive option and one that business owners should not completely ignore as a potential marketing technique.

A huge number of tools have been developed to automatically monitor, bid and track your Return on Investment (ROI), craft your PPC ads, and help you to choose alternate keywords that may be just as effective but cost much less on the particular PPC search engine.  Although there are hundreds of PPC search engines on the Internet, there is a core group of five to 10 PPC search engines that because of their size, brand name, and reputation are the preferred choices for most PPC ad campaigns. These major companies are now experimenting with many variations on the basic premise, including the ability to use PPC on a local basis, extending it from keywords to context and behavior of users, offering their versions of tools that help make the process easier - especially for novices, and decreasing the amount of time it takes to see results from your campaign from hours to just minutes.

The first step in putting together a PPC campaign is to decide on your budget and what level of risk you are willing to take as both will affect which PPC search engine you ultimately choose.  As one would expect, the larger PPC service providers are less risky, since they already have excellent market coverage and tend to offer a lot of assistance to their users.  On the other hand they are the most expensive in terms of the amount of money you must spend to acquire a top ranking, based on a specific keyword or group of keywords.  Do also consider that there are plenty of free, independent tools available to help you in your research of keywords which will tell you the current bid price for certain words or phrases in the different PPC search engines.

Once you have decided upon which PPC search engine you are going to use, you have to put together your ad and decide on the keywords you wish to have in your ad, register with the search engine, fill out the necessary information to open an account, and then begin the bidding process for the keywords you have decided upon.  When you first register your keywords with the search engine you have chosen, you will also specify the maximum amount you are willing to bid for those keywords.

Once you've mastered the basics of PPC and have learned more about the options, tools, and search engines that offer this form of marketing, you will be in a position to fine tune your campaign and perhaps try some of the niche-market PPC search engines, which offer lower keyword costs and may be more suited to your product or service.  Keep in mind that even companies with experience in online marketing struggle with the intricacies of the techniques needed to judge which PPC search engine to use and how best to play the bidding game.

There is, sometimes, fierce competition for specific keyword(s) in a given PPC search engine.  Most PPC search engines automate the bidding process for you (stopping of course when they reach the maximum bid you have indicated), but personal involvement and the judicious use of third-party tools by the user is advisable to ensure that the tracking mechanisms, built into the search engine's control panel, are in sync with what is actually happening.

The company that bids the highest amount of money for a specific keyword will be ranked first in the PPC results, the second-highest bidder will be ranked second, etc.  PPC search engines, typically limit the number of PPC ads on a results page to less than 10, and research has shown that unless you are in the first three or four of the PPC ads, you are much less likely to be ‘clicked-on’ by visitors.

Because the competition is so fierce in this market, most PPC search engines do not require you to invest a minimum amount of money in a campaign.  In fact, some will even give you a nominal amount of money to start your campaign.  Some may require a small deposit (around $25 to $50), but this money is then applied to your account.

Make sure to check the fine print in the agreement to be clear on any required minimum deposits or about what would happen if you decide to cancel your campaign.  Do be prepared to spend a fair amount of time, in the beginning, to monitor your campaign.

By Daniela La Marca