Does PPC Work For Every Business? (And Other FAQs In Digital Marketing)

Woman leaned back looking at a blank chalkboard

After a decade in digital marketing, I’ve learned the only constant is change. But within change, there are consistencies that reoccur in the big questions – and they aren’t exactly simple to answer! The typical retort of “it depends” is fairly accurate in most cases, but a small revision in how you consider these questions and their responses can help guide more definitive (but flexible) marketing decisions.

FAQ #1 – Does PPC work for every business?

The answer lies in how you define “work”.  The key is that PPC can be leveraged in a variety of ways, so PPC can work for most companies if the definition of what it’s intended to produce is tailored to that business. Will paid search campaigns drive direct first time customer revenue for an ecomm brand, for example? Not necessarily. Where that company may find value is in remarketing techniques to improve repeat orders with existing customers, or sponsored ads in social channels to promote new followers (if the brand knows they have strong conversion rates with increased social engagement).

Another aspect of this discussion should include the timeline used to characterize performance. A wonderful trait of digital marketing is that much of what we’re doing can be quickly measured for impact, but that can also cause reactive decision-making and some aspects of PPC require a bit of traction to build before they really start chugging along. It is possible to target a campaign to the perfect audience, but if results need to be ROI positive on a day-to-day basis, then you’ll likely sunset those particular efforts and in those cases – PPC may not be a great fit.

I am a firm believer, as are most in our industry, that PPC can at least participate in your marketing machine unless it’s the only cog you’ve installed. It isn’t a matter of can it work, but rather how it could work or how much lift it can provide to different segments of your sales pipeline.

FAQ #2 – How do we return to 2019 performance levels?

I’ve found this question arising when a company sees a dip in results (and in fairness, we’re even regulating to pre-pandemic for this example, because everyone knows anything measured YoY right now will be….confusing), but more often than not – the request is to “get back” to previous performance figures using the same tools.

That simply won’t work. Not only are there new competitors entering most channels every day, but the actual searchers or customers on the other end have drastically changed the way they interact and engage online. Achieving the same results from what you’ve “been doing” or what “used to work” will be nearly impossible.

If there’s a drum beat on the biggest takeaway for digital marketing over the course of the last year or two, it’s that diversification and agility are critical. AKA: it’s rare, if ever, that a company can produce all its results from one channel or engine. Now, it’s been a while since I have seen a digital strategy rooted in a single source of leads or revenue from PPC, but this last year has shown tremendous hits on big players like Google & Facebook (privacy changes, adjustments to how/where your ads can serve, etc) and have prompted more brands to think through deeper channels like Spotify, Quora and others.

If PPC is still producing leads or revenue for you, but at a slower pace or at a higher cost of acquisition than you’ve seen before, the answer isn’t to move on from PPC – but to seek a few new methods. For example, if Facebook & Instagram have been high performers in terms of introducing and engaging new audiences…try Pinterest! This isn’t intended to be a naive statement, because of course launching Pinterest campaigns skillfully takes a bit of time, but set clear boundaries for the test and explore your findings.

The better question to ask is “are we still doing the same things now that we were doing in 2019?” And if the answer is yes, the time to evolve your digital strategies is now.

FAQ #3 – Is our [insert KPI here] in line with other accounts? 

There are definitely benchmarks or averages available in a number of reports for our industry, and those reports may be published by engines or channels themselves, could be determined from what an agency sees in terms of that data point across their entire roster, or a number of combined sources. Most folks are seeking an answer to this question to make sure they’re achieving the right results, whether those results are hitting their tailored goals or not. This is actually a great way to analyze when or how you need to adjust. If, for example, query volume and impressions are down and thus you’re seeing a decline in bottom of funnel conversions over a 90 day period, it helps to know your advertising peer set are experiencing the same decline in interest from searchers. This does not mean that you and that peer set have the same path forward, or plan to point performance back in the right direction, or that other KPI in your accounts would be similar.

Since most brands are diversifying their digital marketing strategies – even if you know your biggest competitors share your PPC timeline, budgets, similar website/landing page strategies and audience…you’re still missing some key elements of the puzzle (like what their email marketing tactics look like, whether they have affiliate partners who also send them traffic, etc) to compare or contrast your major metrics to another set of accounts.

You should certainly look at benchmarks and find guiding metrics from other advertisers similar to yourself to help keep your PPC path honest and reasonable, just don’t let that comparison bog you down daily.

FAQ #4 – How often should changes be made to an account?

All right. I’m ready to take a stand. For everyone’s sanity, we need to accept that this is perhaps the king of all “it depends” questions. But I promised straight forward answers here, so let me explain why.

If you’re testing a specific keyword, audience, ad copy, or any other element of PPC, you need to allow for statistically relevant data to accumulate before you should pivot or adjust (or pause, if it’s really bad). Let’s revisit my thoughts on giving new PPC stuff a moment to gain its true momentum…changing that element in the middle of the test could skew results, but more importantly it could have thrown the trajectory of what may have gained traction and taken off. As marketers, we can eliminate this question from our conversations with one simple solution – communicate expectations ahead of time.

Determine a forecast for how long a test may take, or set up a calendar to communicate typical recurring tasks and when they can be expected to be seen in the change history. Ultimately, the question about how much change in an account is the right amount is a question of whether this account is getting the attention it deserves, so a brief explanation of what’s been done and what’s in the queue when chatting about a set of campaigns is the easiest way to keep this question at bay.

FAQ #5 – What should we test next?

Rest assured that while expansion and determining a next PPC step can sometimes be scary or cumbersome, if you’re considering this question you’re on the right track. The only certain thing that will tank your digital marketing return is to put it on auto-pilot, either in strategy or channel coverage.

There are always new targeting features or channels opening up ad capabilities, so whether you have an in-house team or are leveraging an agency for management of your campaigns, make sure someone in that team has the responsibility of keeping up to speed on what’s becoming available, and then where or how those pieces could fit into your PPC structure.

Did you sniff out that final piece of feedback for this question? Don’t test everything, because not everything will work for every company! Which feels like a lovely bow to tie around this entire post.

Looking at the performance of your PPC campaigns analytically is the absolute right thing to do. The conversation can go off the rails a bit, however, when the lens or framework you’re measuring by doesn’t grow with your accounts (or vice versa).


What would you add in response to the frequently asked questions above? Any others you hear often that you’d like input on? Share them with us below and we’ll write up a future post with more!