To PPC or not to PPC --how best to decide

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Although "age-old" might be a slight exaggeration, the question of whether pay-per-click or non-pay-per-click advertising offers the better return on your online investment has been around since, well, the dawn of search engine marketing. The truth of the matter is: What works for me may not work for you. There is no definite answer; however, there are definitely guidelines that can send you in the right direction. Both PPC and N-PPC models have their advantages; the key to a successful online advertising campaign is determining which model will work best for you based on the particular business challenges you face (i.e. steady lead generation, awareness, a launch, seasonal marketing, etc.).

PPC advertising, the primary model offered by major search engines such as Google (known as AdWords), can be ideal for companies looking for a 'blitz' advertising push. Seasonal promotions typically see quick return for engaging in PPC keyword campaigns during peak buying periods. A company that manufactures snow plows, for instance, might want to boost PPC keyword spend once winter weather sets in and, conversely, an air conditioning manufacturer may decide to stop their PPC spend within the New England region during the winter chill. Seasonal campaigns are typically crowded, however, which will force the price for your keywords up, so this is something you will want to take into consideration.

Quick-response campaigns are also a natural fit for keyword PPC advertising. A typically low search product or service might see demand explode in reaction to an unforeseen event. During the recent snowstorm that buried Washington state, snow removal suppliers may have wanted to alert emergency response teams that they had the equipment needed in stock. In about two hours, these suppliers could target the Seattle-area response teams via a blitz keyword PPC campaign. And then, once the snowfall had ceased and the roads were cleared, the online campaign could melt away with the snow. These quick-response opportunities may only last days or hours, so effective campaigns require you to move quickly - far too quickly for any other type of advertising.

Flexibility and manageability are major benefits to PPC models. Again, if you aren't careful, the cost can get out of control. If you have the discipline (and time to monitor keyword progress), PPC models allow you more control over your spend than any other model. Self-service PPC campaigns allow you to go online at any time, select keywords, spending limits, and then pay by credit card. Because advertisers pay per click, instead of paying a flat fee for a set duration, this format offers more flexibility in its use. Keywords can be adjusted more frequently than with N-PPC models and spending limits better controlled based on which keywords generate more traffic. Companies new to the online advertising world also can test out different keywords to determine which are most popular for their market, and then invest more heavily in those specific terms.

PPC's greatest strengths are also some of its scariest drawbacks. Out of control spending, ill informed keyword targeting, and too many blitz campaigns sucking up staff time are all concerns that need to be thought through. Most of these come down to whether or not you have the time and expertise to manage the wild and woolly nature of this model. The self-serve advertising nature of PPC, although quick and flexible, doesn't provide advertisers the same customer service benefits of N-PPC models. Advertisers looking for guidance on how to set up their online advertising account - what keywords to use, what response to expect, what package fits their needs and budget - would be best served with a N-PPC model that can offer a representative to walk you through the process.

For companies that want a share of the 'top position' on a site, without paying the premiums that come with online bidding wars, N-PPC models are the best bet. With these models, advertisers pay one flat package rate for a set period (either monthly or annually). Some specialized vertical search engines add to this model by rotating all advertisers through the top positions of a site, guaranteeing they appear top-of-page for a period of time. Every advertiser gets their time on top, without fear of being out-bid. The flat rate fee often costs significantly less than what an advertiser would most likely pay to appear in the top position in the PPC model, making it a great option for companies without a large budget for online marketing. Again, you are tied in to that purchase for the duration of the contract, which might tie your hands down the road from being opportunistic with regard to fast-paced market changes.

N-PPC models are often, and appropriately, used by companies looking for ongoing search engine visibility with minimal upkeep. Since the cost is not tied to the number of hits an ad receives, the flat-rate fee eliminates any budget-related guesswork and ensures the advertisement is upfront throughout the entire online campaign. And once the flat rate package is selected and the campaign is up and running, advertisers can focus their energy on leveraging the leads that come in.

So the question of 'PPC or non-PPC' is really a question of what your company's individual needs are. Do you want an ongoing campaign or just need to advertise for a short period of time? Do you have the budget and time to bid for top keywords or would a N-PPC system work better? With the guidelines above, you can answer the questions that will help you select the advertising model that makes the most sense for your particular situation (after all, we all have a unique position with individual challenges!).

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