“Are pay-per-click ads beneficial?” This may be a question you have asked yourself many times when thinking about starting a PPC campaign.
Pay Per Click (PPC) ads are beneficial for businesses of all sizes. Paid search allows you to pay a fee to have your website be displayed on search result pages when someone types in a specific keyword or phrase to the search engine. You only pay when someone clicks.
You may not even recognize a pay-per-click ad when you see them in the search results. If you are a native to the web, you have certainly seen them. PPC ads can be found across the top of a search result page, as well as along the side.
Here are some top reasons why PPC may be beneficial to your business.
Keep in mind, WebFX is a full-service marketing agency that provides services to clients across the country. So whether you need digital marketing services in Orlando or a marketing campaign in Philadelphia, we’ve got you covered.
1. Code School
3. Gift Rocket
5. Tiny Letter
15. Tips and Trip
17. Clean My Mac
21. Daily Mile
24. Visual Website Optimizer
25. New Relic
28. Huli Health
29. Mobile Web Book
Resources on Optimizing Landing Pages
If you’re looking to improve the performance of your landing pages in terms of converting your site visitors into users, check out the articles listed below:
- 101 Landing Page Optimization Tips (unbounce.com)
- How we made $1 million with one landing page and a few emails (www.conversion-rate-experts.com)
- Landing Page Best Practices: the definitive guide (with infographics) (vwo.com)
- Landing page optimization – Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org)
If you want to see more beautiful sites that use large photos, please check out these two other website design showcases:
- Using Photo Backgrounds in Web Design: 30 Examples
- 40 Beautiful Web Designs that Use Photographic Backgrounds
1. Leve Hytter
2. Piz’ za-za
3. Milwaukee Police News
4. Worth & Worth
6. Insomnia Coffee Company
7. Public Art Fund
8. Brooklyn Soap Company
9. The Old Barber Shop
10. Beg Bicycles
13. Let’s Travel Somewhere
14. Thirty Dirty Fingers
16. Cap Gun Collective
18. Tim Roussilhe
19. Sweet Basil
20. Seesaw Studio
21. APEMAN boards
22. I Shot Him
24. Muriel Labro
25. Magic Leap
29. Secret Study
30. Sandra Lovisco
My, oh my has the search engine results page evolved over the past few years. Raise your hand if you miss the days of typing in a key phrase to be greeted with a crisp page that presented ten organized and relevant results. Don’t get me wrong, I think the evolution of search to include maps, videos, author pictures, etc. is great (occasionally).
While Pay-Per-Click advertising has gone through its fair share of changes in the past few years, I would argue that the rate of growth as compared to organic results is significantly less. Let’s take a look at the results page that appears when I type in a search for the NBA’s Tim Tebow-like sensation, Jeremy Lin.
Notice the PPC ads include seller ratings, product (shopping feed) pictures, sitelinks and more. At a broader level, you will see the structure of the AdWords ads that appear at the top and side of the page appear differently. What is happening here?!
The actual advertisement text is still there, but Google is simply presenting it differently. The two typical ad formats for PPC advertisements at the top of the page are:
Ad Title – Description Line 1
Description Line 2
Ad Title | Domain Name
Description Line 1 + Description Line 2
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It depends.
Typically the click-through-rate for these top advertisements is higher because they more closely resemble organic results, have a colored background that catches your eye and are typically the first item that draws your attention when the page loads.
When choosing the top ads, Google looks at three main factors:
1. Relevance of the advertisement.
2. Historical performance of the ad.
3. The amount of cash you are willing to bid to have your ad shown.
If you are determined to have your ad show in the top position, heed my warning: I have noticed an abundance of ads over the past couple of months where their syntax makes no sense whatsoever. Why would Google format the ads in a way that does not make sense to users?
As previously noted, Google will sometimes pull in all or some of your description line 1 to add to the title. Google states that this alteration will occur when they have “determined that your first description line is a complete phrase or sentence” in an attempt to create a “more noticeable headline”. The problem arises when Google mistakenly assumes that your first description line 1 is a complete phrase (i.e. you abbreviate a word that Google does not recognize). The result is an advertisement that makes almost no sense. This leaves users confused and unlikely to click on your ad.
The next issue occurs when description line 1 is written without any punctuation. We used to be able to get away with this because the line separation between description line 1 and description line 2 provided somewhat of a pause to the searcher. Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore if your ad appears in the top ad section. Take some time to do some searches for some of your favorite products. Notice that a lot of top advertisements include run-on sentences in the description line because of the lack of punctuation separating description line 1 and 2. Google will sometimes combine these two lines into one without any punctuation to separate.
From here on out, if you write your PPC ads in the AdWords interface, you should be fine since Google provides a live preview of what your ad will look like if it appears on the top or on the side. My advice is to go through your existing PPC ads and make sure that they are not being converted into an ambiguous babbling of words.
Here is how you can use the top ad placement to your advantage:
- For most ads, include a short, informative description line 1 that features a call to action so Google appends the description line 1 to the existing title.
- If you own a new site and are looking to increase your brand awareness, aim to come close to the 35 character limit for both description line 1 & 2. This will enable Google to attach your domain name to the headline.
- Include relevant keywords within the ad text so these words appear bolded when shown.
- Be sure to include a punctuation mark at the end of description line 1 to avoid any run on sentence issues.
Lastly, to measure the performance of your PPC campaign, AdWords has an option to segment via the “Top vs. Other” category. Maybe bidding high for one of your medium-valued keywords in the campaign isn’t the best strategy. Perhaps being in position 4 will produce better results for you!
Analyzing this information will provide you with the necessary information to make better informed campaign decisions.
Have you ever played ‘The Settlers of Catan’? If you haven’t, you should. Though, it’s extremely addictive … don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Anyway, my friends and I play it a lot more than I’m proud to admit; in fact, it is well known in my group of friends that I love two things in this life: my job and the game ‘The Settlers of Catan’, more affectionately referred to as simply ‘Settlers’.
***Before I go on further, I want to provide a disclaimer that reads: I’m in no way comparing spending real money on advertising to a game – nor should you treat running such a campaign as such; I simply appreciate greatly the use of strategy and logic in each.***
I love my job more than my friends can appreciate — but I had a revelation the other day as we were playing (which is not a rare occurrence). That they would love my job too. Because I get to play Settlers all day, every day (not literally – but wouldn’t that be cool?). I say this because I recognized a correlation between the game and managing a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign.
For those of you who have never played Settlers, I’ll try to make some sense of it for you. Settlers is an extremely complicated game (which is probably why I love it so much) and tends to intimidate first-timers. It requires logic and strategy, two things I love to exercise.
So this got me thinking — what else requires logic and strategy? Managing pay per click campaigns. Aha! That’s why I love Settlers so much — or perhaps why I love managing PPC campaigns so much. Either way, it’s no secret, I love both. I love to look at the resources presented and try to make the most efficient use of what is available to me – forcing me to be both tactful and shrewd.
If you’ve ever run a PPC campaign, you know at least the basics of how it works…
You bid on this keyword and that keyword … you tweak ad text according to which ads perform best and you make sure your landing page is tailored to the traffic you are sending there. But, ultimately, at the forefront of your mind, you’re asking yourself ‘how little can I pay and still maintain the #1 (or perhaps another that works better for you) position for my best-performing keywords?’
So just how does this compare to managing a pay-per-click campaign? Let’s break it down shall we…
- It’s strategic and forces you to think logically … just like managing a PPC campaign.
- It can be intimidating to those who have never played before, just as AdWords can be intimidating to those who have never used it.
- It’s complex, and there are a lot of things to keep in mind and remember – AdWords anyone?
- It’s about making informed decisions and thus making the most cost-effective use of the resources available to you … do you see a pattern?
Treading softly and thinking wisely … that’s the name of both games.
In Settlers, there are several ways to acquire the resources you need to build what it is you need to build to ultimately reach 10 victory points (the objective) before any of your opponents.
The resources are of the utmost importance – because just as dollars buy you ad rank, resources buy you properties, and thus victory points. You do not have to (nor should you) show anyone the cards you have until you’re ready to play them so you can keep your strategy a secret – much like in AdWords where you don’t want your competitors to know which keywords work best for you. Though, all the while you want to be paying acute attention to what resources others pick up (and likewise do your research on what keywords your competitors are bidding on) so you can constantly stay ahead.
Making a Purchase
In Settlers, you can build a road (1 brick and 1 wood); you can build a settlement (1 brick, 1 wood, 1 sheep and 1 wheat); you can build a city (2 wheat and 3 ore); or you can purchase a development card (1 ore, 1 wheat and 1 sheep) while in AdWords you likewise have several options based on what you’re looking to achieve – you can bid on an exact match, a phrase match or if you’re feeling daring, a broad match keyword.
Rolling the Dice
The way this game works is the dice determine all. If your numbers are rolled, you get to pick up your resources. If they don’t get rolled, well the game can be daunting and go on what seems like forever. Kind of like if your keywords are queried in search, your ads appear and everyone is happy, and if your ads aren’t appearing at the price you’re willing to pay – you’re hoping eventually they will (of course with PPC this takes some work on your part to up that quality score, whereas with Settlers you’re forced to simply wait it out). And thus comes the AdWords auction – not so affectionately referred to as the bidding war – and, based on your bid, you’re hopeful your ad gets shown – similar to how you’re hopeful your numbers are rolled in Settlers.
If you are in need of a particular resource, you can trade for it – that is, if you have something your opponent wants and is willing to trade for. Your opponent knows the value of his or her resources; if they have a resource they know is scarce, they expect you to pay kindly for it – 2, 3, perhaps even (gasp!) 4 cards for that one card you so desperately need. Just as Google and MSN (Bing) know the value of your keywords – they expect you to pay kindly for them. While you’re thinking ‘how little can I pay for the best position?’, Google and MSN are thinking ‘how much are companies willing to pay for the #1 position?’ – and you mutually (or maybe not so mutually) agree upon that figure.
When it comes to both trading in Settlers and determining your maximum CPC (cost-per-click) in AdWords or adCenter, you have to always be considering what the most cost-effective use of your resources are.
For instance, in Settlers, say I have 5 brick, a wood and a sheep and I want to build a settlement (which, again, costs 1 brick, 1 wood, 1 sheep and 1 wheat), and still need a wheat in order to do so; and sadly, no one is willing to trade their wheat due to its scarcity. Fortunately I have 4 additional brick to the one I actually need at this moment. (The general trade-in with ‘the bank’ is 4 of any one resource for any 1 resource I want.) This is a costly endeavor. However, if I don’t do it and decide to wait it out to see if I pick up a wheat the next go-round, I risk losing cards. This is because I am leaving myself with 7 cards in my hand, and should I go over before my next turn and a 7 is rolled, I’m in trouble – if a 7 is rolled and I have more than 7 cards in my hand, I have to get rid of half of my cards (tragedy that would be!). So I have several options; I can either a) risk going over 7 cards, b) buy a road (which I don’t really need at this moment) with one brick and one wood so I have a few less cards and hope I likewise pick up another wood to use for my settlement on my next turn, or I can c) take advantage of the plethora of brick in my hand to buy a very expensive wheat so I can ultimately buy a settlement on this turn. So I know the resources and options available to me and what I can get for said resources. Now I just have to decide what the most cost-effective option is for me (as you of course would with a PPC campaign); I can hold out and risk losing cards (kind of like missing out on clicks while you hold out for a lower-cost auction) or I can buy what I want for a little bit more than I’m normally willing to pay.
As aforementioned, there is an option to purchase what are referred to as “development cards” (each explained and compared below). Just as you keep your resource cards a secret, you do not want to let anyone know what development cards you have until you’re ready to play them, keeping your strategy a secret (again, ideally, your competition has no idea what is working for you).
First we have the ‘Monopoly’ card. With this card you get to monopolize one resource of your choice. In other words, take any instance of this resource that your opponents currently possess from them (fun, right?). There is one catch however, you must choose wisely – otherwise you could end up realizing that no one actually has that resource and you just wasted a perfectly good ‘Monopoly’ card. This card of course gives you a competitive edge – as does cannibalizing the results for specific search queries. Consider the following though. Perhaps you start bidding on a keyword that is relatively inexpensive because your competitors aren’t willing to pay as much as you are – you think you hit the AdWords jackpot – finally, you have the opportunity to take traffic away from your competitors because you can pay a bit more than they’re willing to! But what good would it be if the seemingly ‘competitive edge’ you were so excited about is ultimately not an edge at all because no one ever searches for that keyword?
When you play this card, you get to move the “Robber” and place it on someone else’s (or several others’ resource, so they are not able to pick that resource up). You then get to steal a resource from someone. (This is always fun when you’re the one moving the robber, not so fun if you’re on the wrong end of it). You want to ensure you take full advantage of this opportunity and choose wisely – making sure you know what your competitors have in their hand and how useful it will be for you, and choose who to steal from accordingly. This is much like choosing the appropriate competitors to perform a competitor analysis on – it should never be in vain.
These are my personal favorite: free victory points that no one knows you have (unless they’re paying attention really well and can speculate that perhaps you do in fact have one or two). This is all about making sure you’re on top of everything and keeping track of what your competitors are doing – as you should be doing with any PPC campaign. What areas are they winning in and why? How can you match if not beat them in this area?
In other words, traipsing in new, uncharted territory. The reason this card is beneficial is because you get to build 2 roads, of which you need in order to build a settlement – however, you have to be certain it is not only feasible to build where you are trying to go, but you should be confident that you will beat other contenders for that spot. This compares to PPC because you need to do your research and make sure you have the ability to outrank your competitors based on your ads and landing pages – otherwise you suffer a low quality score. It’s not worth going after traffic simply to “beat out the competition” if it’s not worth it to you in terms of profit.
Year of Plenty
This card allows you to take two resources of your choice from ‘the bank’ to use at any one time – perhaps resources you don’t have adequate access to on the typical dice roll. I equate this to the “See Search Terms” function in the AdWords platform – this is one of my favorite tools to use when I’m working on improving any PPC campaign. When I’m not using exact match keywords I can never be 100% certain what the actual search queries were that elicited my ads – unless I reference this invaluable tool to provide me with something I wouldn’t normally have access to. What keywords brought in traffic that I have not before considered? Was it quality traffic? Should I consider adding those keywords? Should I consider adding them as negative keywords? This tool helps me determine the best way to discover not only new traffic opportunities, but likewise the best way to make sure I’m reaching the right kind of traffic.
Your strategy of purchasing development cards can also help you acquire the ‘largest army’ (3 knights cards) which equates to two victory points. Similar to the ‘largest army’ is the ‘longest road’ (also worth two victory points) – if you have at least 5 roads consecutively built and you have, ironically, the ‘longest road’ compared to anyone else. These two opportunities for bonus points are of course accrued over time with a little effort on your part – much like a successful quality score – providing you a competitive edge.
What if I have a Significantly Lower Budget than my Competitors?
It’s sensible that the more you’re willing and have to spend (resources) the more you can expand. And of course the more you’ve expanded, the more of the game board you cover, and thus the more you saturate the game board (and the SERPs). In sum, unfortunately it seems the big guys always win; the ones who have all the right numbers (and have more marketing dollars to spend). Though, sometimes the little guys end up pulling out from behind with a sneak attack because they endured along the way … and we all love an underdog victory. This is because if you work really hard to optimize your landing pages and your ads to ultimately increase your quality score, you may just come out on top at a price you’re willing to pay and can afford. So even if you think you couldn’t possibly compete in the search engine marketing world, don’t count it out too quickly – you may end up being pleasantly surprised.
Ultimately, the reason I find Settlers to be so similar to running a pay-per-click campaign is because the entire journey is about figuring out what works and what doesn’t work and honing your strategy along the way – because what works for one company, may not work for you. If you continue to build upon what you have learned, your strategy can only improve moving forward. You would never want to take two steps back in a game, nor would you want to in online advertising.
So when you’re looking for pay-per-click managers, you may want to ask if they play this game – because I’d venture to say if they do, it means they love thinking strategically (a requirement for any PPC manager). The fact that they play Settlers on a regular basis is not a requirement however, just a bonus :).
I’ll ask one more time: does your pay-per-click manager play Settlers? Or perhaps the more important question to be asked is, are they good at it?
Step 1: Let’s Get Started
Open up a new document in Illustrator and set the color mode to RGB. Then select the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a rectangle with width of 346 pt and height of 237 pt.
With the rectangle still selected, apply some rounded corners (20 pt) by going to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners.
Step 2: An Easy Way to Apply Rounded Corners
Now we have some rounded corners. We want them to be expanded, so go to Object > Expand Appearance. This will remove the Style.
Select the rounded corner shape and apply an Offset Path to it. To do so, go to Object > Path > Offset Path and enter a negative number (-25pt). This will proportionally shrink the rectangle.
Once that is done, ungroup the two shapes (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + G), select the smaller inner rectangle and apply another round corner effect with the Radius of 5 pt.
Afterwards, expand the appearance again ( Object > Expand Appearance).
Step 3: Creating the Framework
Now that we have created two rounded rectangles (one smaller than the other) we can fill them both with black. This is the framework (or base shape) for the digital clock: the outer/bigger shape is the frame and the inner/smaller shape is the clock face.
Step 4: Adding Highlights
Now, I will show you how a few simple shapes created with the Pen Tool (P) can add a 3D look. Select the Pen Tool (P) and draw a similar shape for the highlight on the left side of the frame. Leave a small gap between the edge of the rectangle and don’t overlap into the smaller inner (clock face) rectangle.
Fill the shape with a black/gray linear gradient with the Gradient Tool (G), oriented vertically. By placing the gradient highlight towards the top and blending into the black color of the frame towards the bottom, the shape will look like it bevels outwards.
Create a similar shape for the top part of the framework and also give it a linear gradient.
And then create another highlight at the bottom. As you can see, our clock is already coming to life.
For the corners, create small, semi-rounded shapes and fill them with a gradient.
Here is the bottom-right corner.
Here’s the highlight for the top-right corner.
Here is our digital clock icon thus far with all the gradients.
Step 5: Adding Details
Make a copy of the inner rectangle on top by copying it (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and then using the Paste in Front command (Cmd/Ctrl + F).
Cut away a big part of the top—you can do so by either using the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) or the Scissors Tool (C). Then, fill it with a dark teak to light teak color.
Step 6: Create the Clock Face’s Background
Next, select the inner rectangle (the clock face base shape), add a light gray stroke, and then set the fill to the same gradient as in the previous step.
Step 7: Adding Dimension
Now we will add an effect to bring the clock instantly to life. Select the inner rectangle and add an Inner Glow (Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow). This effect will give the clock face the needed inset look.
Step 8: Small Details Can Make a Big Difference
Now we are just adding some stylistic elements. These thing are always optional and you can add whatever shapes, buttons, numbers or text of your liking. I added two small rectangles at the left side of the frame that will serve as controls for the digital clock (maybe they are the snooze and alarm controls – let’s just use our imagination), one in red and one in gray.
Step 9: Adding the Digital Numbers
A digital clock is nothing without the digital numbers that represent the time! Add the numbers either with a free font (such as DS-Digital font) or draw them yourself with the Pen Tool (P). Usually digital numbers have cut-off endings in a 45o degree angle.
Step 10: Add More Elements to the Clock Face
Here is the clock with numbers, text and some more design elements.
Step 11: Adding Stylized Elements
I thought I’d spice up the digital clock icon with some colored elements. To do so, start by making a copy of the inner rectangle and removing the gradient of the copied shape.
Then cut away the left part and slice it into three parts. You can do so by drawing two lines across the shape, selecting the shape and the lines, and then dividing them with the Divide command in the Pathfinder Panel.
Color each part differently by selecting them with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and choosing your colors. Then set the layer mode to Overlay in the Transparency Panel so that the buttons embody the contours of the clock face.
Step 12: Adding Handles
Let’s add some handles to the clock. Create a rounded rectangle and fill it with a white/black linear gradient.
Then make a copy of it below by copying the shape (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and using the Paste in Back command (Cmd/Ctrl + B). Fill the new shape with black. Move it towards the right and bottom so it sticks out a little.
Select both objects, group them together (Cmd/Ctrl + G), duplicate the group by copying it (Cmd/Ctrl + C), paste (Cmd/Ctrl + P) it, and then reflect the duplicated group horizontally by going to Transform > Reflect, choosing Horizontal for the Axis option in the dialog window that appears. This will be the handle for the other side of the clock, so move it across to the other side.
Step 13: Creating a Back Shape for an Outer Glow
Now select all the shapes you have created so far, make a copy and group them. We want to make one solid shape that is the outline of the entire digital clock. Select the grouped shape and click the Unite button in the Pathfinder Panel. Afterwards, fill the shape with black.
Step 14: Add an Outer Glow to the Back Shape
Add an Outer Glow (Effect > Stylize > Outer Glow) to the back.
Then place the shape with the outer glow behind your digital clock so that it looks like it’s casting a shadow (you might have to reorder your layers so that the back shape with the outer glow is below all of the digital clock’s parts).
Not bad so far, our digital clock is coming along, it’s just a little flat at this point.
Step 15: Make the Shiny Stuff
Let’s add some shine to our digital clock to make it more interesting. Make another copy of your back outer glow shape and fill it with a light blue/black radial gradient.
Edit the gradient so the gradient fill is an ellipse rather than a circle by choosing the Radial for the Type option and then modifying the shape of the gradient to a vertically-oriented ellipse.
You can easily change the color of the radial gradient and give the clock a different color shine if you prefer another color over a blue-dominant color.
Then place the shape on top of all other shapes by selecting it and going to Object > Arrange > Bring to Front (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + ]).
Allow the contours and shapes of the clock face to shine through the shape by setting the layer mode to Overlay in the Transparency Panel.
Step 16: Don’t Forget a Light Reflection
A nice shiny object is not complete without a little reflection. Create a shape similar to the one in the image below. To make the shape, take a copy of the inner rounded rectangle and subtract a large ellipse from it by creating an elliptical shape with the Ellipse Tool (L) and then using the Minus Front command in the Pathfinder Panel. Otherwise, if you have steady hands and a good free hand ability, using the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shape is another (more laborious and probably less accurate) option.
Fill the shape with a lighter teak color and set the layer mode to Multiply. Place it on top of the clock shape, but below the Overlay shape from Step 15.
Step 17: Giving the Clock a Shadow
Whenever there is light, there is a shadow of an object. Let’s create one. Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and fill it with a white/black radial gradient. Place it below the clock shape.
Then make a copy of it and place it to the right.
Then set the layer mode to Multiply.
Step 18: Reflection, Reflection, Reflection
Let’s add some more reflective elements to our digital clock. We’ll make it to look as if the clock is standing on a glossy surface. Group all shapes except the shadow parts, make a copy and reflect them vertically by going to Object > Transform > Reflect and choosing Vertical for the Axis option.
Place the grouped, reflected shapes below the clock. Afterwards, set the Opacity to 40%
Once that is done, select the reflected group and apply an Opacity Mask so that the bottom part of it fades away.
Step 19: Adding a Backdrop
This final step is really optional: We are just going to add a simple background to help frame our subject.
Start by adding a big rectangle behind the clock and filling it with a vertical linear color gradient.
Duplicate the background by copying it (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and then pasting it in front (Cmd/Ctrl + F). Fill it now with a transparent white gradient.
Set the layer mode to Overlay.
This is it. A glossy digital clock designed solely in Illustrator.Though some might think that Photoshop is an easier way for creating icons with lots of reflective elements and color gradients, I hope this tutorial showed you that Illustrator is not only capable of such design styles, but that it actually does a great and efficient job at it.
Using Illustrator also makes you more flexible as you can increase and decrease the icon’s size without loss of quality. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.
Download Tutorial Source Files
- digital_clock_icon (ZIP, 1.62MB)