I've written before about the many pitfalls of pay-per-click advertising for small business owners. Pay-per-click advertising is deceptively simple, which means that business owners often jump in feet first without bothering to see how deep the water is. It's not uncommon to see small businesses quickly get in over their heads with thousands of dollars draining out of their wallet and no new customers to show for it.

Smart business owners take the time to learn more about how pay-per-click advertising works before getting started, but even thorough research into pay-per-click techniques can leave a company without the knowledge they need to make good decisions. For example, while it's important to learn things like how to set your budget, using landing pages and why you might run long term ppc campaigns or short term ppc campaigns, you also need to know where to run your pay-per-click campaigns.

Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing have long been the dominant players in the world of pay-per-click, but there are plenty of other options worth looking into as well. Ask Jeeves has launched their own program and MSN will be doing so later this month as well. That already makes four choices without ever looking beyond the top four search engines. Once companies start looking into some of the up and coming engines like Miva, Enhance and Kanoodle, it's easy to start getting overwhelmed. There are literally hundreds of pay-per-click engines out there, including quite a few that cater to niche markets. So, how does a company looking to get started with pay-per-click advertising decide where to turn? More importantly, how many engines should you even be advertising with.

The easy answer to the latter question is one. That's right, one. As I've noted before, pay-per-click advertising is deceptively simple. Put another way, it's surprisingly complex. It takes real skill as a marketer along with plenty of trial and error to learn how to select the right keywords, place the right bids, prepare the right ads and deliver customers to the best landing pages.

That's why my first suggestion to any small business looking to get started in pay-per-click advertising is to start small. Select one engine and advertise exclusively with it until you start to get the hang of things. If you aren't turning a profit on your campaign with one engine, starting up campaigns on more engines isn't going to suddenly put you back in the black. By focusing your efforts on one engine, you can spend your time learning how to improve the performance of your campaign rather than how to find your way around different advertiser interfaces.

Where you start isn't necessarily important, though it's a good idea to do a bit of research into the demographics of each engine. For example, Google is more popular with younger Internet users where portal sites like AOL and Yahoo! tend to have more visitors from the 50+ crowd. The type of service that you offer may mean that you'll get a better response from a particular engine so it's worth a little bit of research.

Only after you've started to see some success with your first engine should you move on to opening accounts and launching campaigns with additional ones. Once you reach that point, it's a good idea to read through some of the excellent pay-per-click engine review sites that are available. Sites like Pay Per Click Analyst and Pay Per Click Search Engines are good starting points. It's also worth visiting some of the popular forums like Search Engine Watch and Webmaster World to find out what other advertisers have to say about each engine.

While it may be frustrating to limit your efforts when you want to get your product in front of as many people as possible, the time and money that you can save by learning to do it right the first time will be invaluable to your long-term online marketing campaigns.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
October 19, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Starting Small with Pay-Per-Click will Pay Off