Dusan Jankovic

In a recent survey released by Microsoft Advertising adCenter, nearly three-fourths of small business owners said they’d rather work on filing their taxes than set up a search engine marketing campaign. That’s a shame because it can be an affordable, measurable way to connect with prospective customers at the time they’re ready to buy. Among the many search engine marketing methods, the lion’s share of the industry is based on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

“Everyone wants to be No. 1 on search results,” says Greg Bray, president of Melbourne, Fla.–based marketing firm Blue Tangerine Solutions. “What pay-per-click offers is an almost guaranteed way to get on the front page [of search results].”

At its simplest, PPC advertising is an auction. You pick out phrases that you think your prospective customers will use to search for you online; for builders, it might be “Atlanta townhomes” or “new homes Cleveland.” You place bids based on what you want to pay for each of those clicks—and where you want to end up in the search results. You only get charged when someone clicks on your ad.

Bids can start as low as a dime and go much higher. Bray says the vast majority of keywords will go for between 75 cents and $2.50. You’ll pay the most for the top spot in the results—but that’s not necessarily where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.

“We don’t generally find that being No. 1 is cost effective,” he says. “The best return on investment comes in that fourth, fifth, or sixth spot because the cost is lower.”


The process starts with choosing your keywords, says Jessica ­Covello, a senior account manager with Atlanta-based ­Communications 21, which works with several home builders. “Keywords are the backbone to any successful pay-per-click campaign,” she explains, “and since you’re paying by the click, you want to be as ­targeted and on-point as possible.”

She recommends talking to current homeowners and colleagues about the keywords they have used in their home searches. Also, go through your Web site, your brochures, and other collateral materials to pick out central messages that could be used as keywords.

Wondering about whether your keywords will work? Bruce Williams, development manager for Cleveland-based thunder::tech, a Web marketing firm, notes that there are great tools available to help you. “These tools can recommend variations of similar keywords that might have higher search volumes than the ones you might initially brainstorm,” he says. He likes the keyword software from Web CEO (www.WebCEO.com) and Google’s own search recommendation tools (www.google.com/sktool/), both of which are free.

If you come up with a list of 10 keywords, don’t panic when you start doing the math. You control the cost. You set a budget of how much you want to spend per day. When you’ve reached that amount, the ads simply won’t appear anymore that day.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.