Paid Search Marketing 101 for Startups

The main type of paid search marketing suitable for startups is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on Google and Bing, using Google AdWords and Bing Ads. The process is pretty simple:

  • Do keyword research to select keywords that search engine users would use to find your products or services.
  • Create ads that display on Google and Bing when search engine users conduct searches for those keywords.
  • Bid on those keywords when a search is conducted for them, controlling your expenditures with a pre-established budget.
  • Create a landing page to sell your advertised products or services, to which search engine users are taken when they click on your ad.
  • Track and evaluate the campaign and conduct tests to improve click-through rates and increase conversions.
Why PPC Is Great for Startups

PPC is a superb online marketing option for startups because it produces high visibility on Google and Bing immediately. Whereas search engine optimization (SEO) takes several months or even years to produce a measurable impact, exposure through PPC is as broad as a firm’s budget is big: The more you spend, the more people see your ad. An aggressive PPC campaign not only generates conversions (i.e., sales leads or orders), it also increases brand awareness, another key objective for startups.

Job 1: Hire an Expert

The two main reasons startups fail with PPC: trying to do it themselves and not spending enough money. Let’s look at do-it-yourself PPC first.

Although the PPC process is simple enough, and although Google AdWords and Bing Ads make it easy to jump in and start advertising – don’t be fooled. Getting meaningful results takes tremendous expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including keyword research, campaign structuring, campaign management, ad and landing page creative development, A/B split testing techniques, campaign tracking, data collection, analytics and analysis.

If that laundry list sounds a bit overwhelming, it should. Advertisers spend in excess of $40 billion a year on Google AdWords alone, so you had better believe the competition is fierce and sophisticated. In addition, today’s users are more discerning than ever; clumsy ads and landing pages will be ignored.

Fortunately, many highly qualified paid search marketing agencies are in business to help you. Vet agencies carefully, checking references and asking for specific details about how their process works and what results they have produced for clients.

Job 2: Establish a Sufficient Budget

If you think an advertising budget of $500 or $1,000 a month is enough, think again. PPC is a numbers game; 100 or 200 or 500 ad impressions may be needed to generate a single click (at least initially). Budgets in the $500-$1,000 range won’t buy you enough ad impressions to determine whether or not your campaign is working.

Of course I’m speaking in general terms and there are always exceptions, but for the most part, a budget in the $2,500-$5,000 range over a period of 6-12 months is what is needed to generate meaningful ROI, or let you know pretty conclusively that PPC marketing is not for you.

Focus and Stay the Course

This last statement brings up three highly significant points.

First, don’t give up too quickly. A/B split testing, the process of testing, for instance, one offer against another or displaying ads at one time of day against another, enables PPC campaigns to continuously improve. Split testing has a cumulative effect that often produces game-changing improvement months into the campaign.

Second, your sizeable investment pays off only if you are working with a PPC agency that knows what it’s doing – go the extra mile in deciding with whom to partner.

Third, don’t dabble like the rabble! Many startups spend a little here and a little there on PPC, SEO, social media marketing, email marketing and heaven knows what else. You are much better served by focusing on one option at a time, pursuing it aggressively, and then moving on to something else if it fails, or pouring it on if it succeeds.

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