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10 Crucial Questions Before Building Your PPC Campaign

Congratulations! You have completed the Research Phase of your advertiser’s PPC account. You should already have a ton of data on your advertiser’s keyword landscape, including details about your preferred keywords, competitor campaigns, ads and landing pages that are being used in paid search marketing efforts relevant to your category of interest.

Now begins the fun part of building the actual elements of your campaign—the keyword list, the ad groups, the campaigns, the ads—in short, everything needed to launch your paid search program.

Before we start, let’s review the basic parameters of a paid search.

Paid search in a nutshell

  • Users type a query (or query string) into a search engine
  • The resulting search engine results page (SERP) contains both organic (aka natural) listings and paid ads
  • Organic listings come via algorithmic (mathematical formulas) systems for which you cannot buy inclusion
  • Paid search ads are triggered from matching keywords in paid search accounts which you can buy in an auction-based model from the engines
  • Placement and position of ads are determined by both the max bid you’re willing to pay (generally, the more you pay, the higher up on the page and more often your ad will appear) and Quality Score (the engine’s perceived relevance of showing you to that user)
  • You only pay when a user clicks your ad (thus the term PPC: pay per click)
  • The user is directed to the landing page of your choice

There are many intricacies and implications to each of those steps, but that’s the basic summary. We will certainly be diving into those topics on a deeper level in this column on upcoming posts (for example, Quality Score).

So, with all of the research you have now in front of you, some initial questions will invariably pop up. Here are ten frequently asked questions regarding the Build Phase of a paid search campaign.

How many keywords do I need to have in my account? What’s a small account? What’s a big account?

There will never be a definitive answer to the question “how many keywords do I need in my account.” That is like trying to answer how long a book needs to be or how many colors one should use in a painting. However, we can talk meaningfully about optimal ranges. Too few keywords will be certainly easy to manage, but remember that you will have fewer terms to test. Each keyword will generate its own spend/profit ROI. So, the more keywords you have, the more opportunities you will have to pause the poor performing ones and increase the spend on the good ones.

On the flip side, having more keywords means you’ll have more optimization opportunities, but also a lot of terms to have to manage and deal with. Every time you get a report, you’ll have to go through a ton of keywords. You could get completely bogged down with just managing the terms which could not only take time from your analysis, but could become costly in terms of man hours which could negatively affect the ROI of the program. In terms of size, I’ve seen accounts with as little as a few dozen keywords all the way up to three million keywords.

How much am I going to be spending? What will be my average cost per click (CPC)? Will I make any money for my advertiser with this thing?

Sorry to say, but these are all questions that can’t be answered until you start your campaign and can see what it will do. However, I can tell you can set your daily budgets for each campaign so you’ll only pay for what you think is reasonable. CPCs can range from ten cents to twenty dollars or more, but right now, unless it’s a very competitive term, you will probably be paying in the neighborhood of fifty cents to four dollars per click. That’s a visitor to your website who has been triggered by a keyword you think is relevant to your business, so that’s a pretty reasonable cost. Will you make money? You won’t know that until after you’ve tested the account (with real money), sorry.

Are there any editorial guidelines? Can anyone bid on any keyword with any ad they choose?

The engines have strict editorial limitations. First and foremost, they protect themselves against “bad” words. They also have restrictions on some regulated industries such as pharmaceutical, gambling, guns, etc. The engines even require any claims made in the ads to be verified on the landing page (or one click away in a disclosure statement).

What engines should I advertise on?

The best practice is to start with the three top tier search engines, Google, Yahoo, and Bing, which have a virtual lock on the U.S. market with a combined 95% of all searches. There are other engines such as Ask and AOL search along with numerous other PPC sources such as second tier engines, internet yellow pages (IYPs), and others. However, just remember that each engine has their own platform, reporting system, billing and so on which need to be learned and mastered. That could take days or weeks. So start with the “big three” and then expand to other sources when they are needed.

Which keywords are worth keeping and which ones I should toss out?

I’m sure many SEMers could disagree with me here, but I say keep them all. Frankly, if they came up during your research and they’re close enough to make you even question if they shouldn’t be tossed, then go ahead and keep them. Just make sure to put the “questionable” ones in different groups so you can pause their display and only turn them on when you’re ready to deal with them. Deleting is easy—finding new performing keywords is much harder. And you can test them with small budgets so you can pause them later if they don’t perform well.

How should I group my keywords? How should I group my ad groups into campaigns?

There will be a post in this column about best practices surrounding keyword and ad grouping soon. The short answer is to put similar keywords in groups. There should be a natural sense of which should be grouped under product terms, brand terms, competitor terms, general terms, etc. Just try to get them in a few different groups by topic and that will be good enough for now.

How many campaigns can I have? How many ad groups? How many ads per group?

Here are current standard account limitations. However, if you show the engines you will be spending money with them, they can extend these parameters when needed.


  • 25 campaigns per account
  • 2,000 ad groups per campaign
  • 2,000 keywords per ad group
  • 50 ads per ad group
  • 1 million keywords per account


  • 20 campaigns
  • 1000 ad groups per campaign
  • 1000 keywords per ad group
  • 20 ads per ad group


  • 10,000 campaigns
  • 10,000 orders (ad groups) per campaign
  • 10,000 keywords per ad group
  • 20 ads per ad group
  • 100,000 keywords per account

Can I bid on competitor branded terms? Can they bid on my brand terms?

Currently, Google is the only one of the top three engines that let’s you bid on competitor terms or use those terms in their ads (full details here). Yahoo and Bing do not allow trademarked terms to be bid upon or used in ad text.

What’s click fraud? How can I ensure only users in my target audience are clicking my ads?

Unfortunately, nothing is 100% safe. Click fraud is defined in different ways but the strictest definition is basically any click you pay for that you didn’t want. Who’s to say that your competitors are not going to go and click your ads a hundred times a day just to charge you? That’s a hard one and it is something the industry is still dealing with. Fortunately though, not only have the engines invested in some serious technology and dollars to combat click fraud, but there are even third party systems that can help you determine if your account is a victim of this. Just know, if you’re getting suspicious clicks (especially from the same IP location), that they will be handled by the engines and you will see a reduction in your monthly statement. The best defense against click fraud is attention to detail on your account. If you find certain keywords, targeted geolocations, times of day, etc. aren’t driving the ROI you want, you will end up pausing them.

What’s the one best piece of advice I need to know before I start building my PPC account?

The best piece of advice is to put a lot of time and care into your initial account build. Once the account is live, it will need to be robust enough to test many different types of targeting, various keywords, ad messages and so on. But you don’t want it so large that it’s difficult to manage. As well, in this industry we talk about “leaving yourself levers” for optimization. What this means is that you want to create campaigns and ad groups structured in a way that you can quickly and easily make significant changes to your account. For example, if you have three product lines, go ahead and split them into different campaigns. That way, if one of the product lines is dropped, all you need to do is pause that campaign. If you put them in the same campaign it won’t be that easy. Build you account with the forethought that you will be in there analyzing, optimizing, changing, expanding, etc and you’ll need those levers to do your job well.

This week’s question: “What questions would you like answered before you start building your PPC account?”

PPC Academy is a comprehensive, one-year search advertising course from beginning to end. Starting with the basics, PPC Academy progressively explores all of the varied facets of paid search, and the tactics needed to succeed and become an advanced paid search marketer.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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