Online transactions are predicted to account for nearly 20 per cent of all retail sales by 2019.

The continued rise in smartphone usage has been a major factor behind the e-commerce boom, with savvy shoppers often visiting stores to find their chosen products before comparing prices and searching for better deals online.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that a growing number of businesses, both long-established and new, are setting up shop in their own corner of the internet, hoping to cash in on the developing trend for online spend.

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising has experienced similar growth, PPC offers a multitude of functionality that can be fine tuned to almost guarantee success, and the big selling point for newcomers is that you only pay when people actually click on your ads, guaranteeing targeted traffic to your site and allowing you to track ROI like never before.

Despite its triumphs, PPC campaign management isn’t always the most intuitive of tasks, with many variables to master, but this brief guide can help you get ahead of the pack with a few simple clicks.

Soft landings

There’s no use in getting to grips with the finer points of PPC until your website is fully optimised for an influx of visitors. It’s best practice for each ad to have its own landing page, allowing for targeted conversions. Your home page carries too much information and shoppers won’t want to waste time navigating your site; they’ll expect to be taken to a specific page that directly corresponds to the ad they’ve clicked on.

If you specialise in antique furniture, for example, you should create separate ads for your Victorian four-poster beds and your 17th century chaise longues, ensuring that you have bespoke landing pages for each range, making the customer journey as easy as possible.

Landing pages should also have very clear calls-to-action; if you want to sell that four-poster bed, tell people how much it is and add a ‘Buy Now’ button of some description.

Another important factor is loading times; if your page takes an eternity to load, people are likely to get bored, hit the ‘back’ button and probably click on your competitor’s ad instead. You can check your URL loading times using Pingdom’s Website Speed Test.

Keyword research

The building blocks for any lucrative PPC campaign will always start with thorough keyword research. Essentially, PPC works by rival companies competing against each other to secure the best spots in search engine rankings when people input the words and phrases that closely relate to their products and services.

Get your keywords right to maximise your PPC

The competition comes in the form of bidding on each of your designated keywords, entering the maximum spend that you’re happy to pay whenever people click on your ads. The higher the bid, the more likely you are to appear higher in the rankings, although you can leapfrog competitors who have a higher cost-per-click (CPC) by improving your Quality Score.

Choosing the right keywords will help trigger conversions, so it’s important to dedicate time to this process. Start by studying your landing page, and harvest the relevant terms that really get to the heart of your content. If you have a search functionality on your site, you can open up your analytics to see what terms and phrases your visitors are already inputting, giving you a better idea of what keywords are important to customers.

You can then brainstorm a list of related terms, i.e. not necessarily those that your customers have been searching for, but ones that are in the same ball park. So ‘vintage bed’ instead of ‘four-poster bed’, perhaps. You can then conduct some competitor analysis, reviewing rival sites and ads to see what works for them.

This knowledge will help inform your approach, giving you clarity on what keywords to prioritise in your bidding. Prices vary on a daily basis, so you can take advantage of lackadaisical rivals by adjusting your bids every day, ensuring the best value and lowest CPC.

You can also select negative keywords (words that you definitely don’t want your ad to appear for) removing the chance of unnecessary, costly clicks. Dealers of real antique furniture may wish to deter those looking for ‘antique dolls house furniture’, for example.

Choose your platform

Just about every PPC marketer the world over will exalt the virtues of AdWords, as it’s the frontrunner in the world of paid search, setting the pace since the turn of the millennium and responsible for the vast majority of Google’s vast wealth.

As the term ‘Google’ has become shorthand for ‘search for something on the Internet’, AdWords ads naturally get lots of eyes on them. However, Microsoft’s Bing Ads is slowly building up momentum, reaching people who use the ‘other’ search engines (Bing, AOL and Yahoo). The market share for Bing Ads is only 10 per cent in the UK and 21 per cent in the US, but it’s steadily growing and generally offers a lower CPC, due to the smaller audience.

It's up to you which search engine you choose

Interestingly, though, research suggests that brands targeting ladies over the age of 35 could flourish on Bing Ads, as this demographic uses Bing the most. In all likelihood, newcomers to PPC will probably want to experiment with AdWords first, but you may find that dedicating energy to both platforms will maximise your ROI in the long run.

Test for the best

You’ve got very limited space to make a good first impression with PPC; titles are restricted to 25 characters, and description lines can only be 35 characters each. However, both AdWords and Bing Ads allow you to A/B test your output, running multiple versions of the same ad to see which performs better over time.

This empowers you to tweak, evolve and master your campaigns until they start delivering serious returns. This hands-on, scientific approach with easily quantifiable analytics has made pay-per-click the undisputed leader in online advertising, offering usability and insight like no other form of marketing.

There’s no doubting that it takes time to learn, but having a strong PPC strategy can certainly help any e-commerce retailer see profits soar. If you decide to outsource your campaigns, here’s 5 Questions to ask your AdWords agency.

Thomas Coppen is UK director of Keel Over Marketing. 

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