For small businesses with some financial flexibility to go after online marketing, pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is an ideal strategy to pursue. Not only does it give you access to large volumes of targeted traffic, but it can also be very cost-effective if strategically approached and implemented. In most cases, small business owners will want to target local customers--so let this serve as your go-to guide.

Understanding Your Options

Depending on who you ask, there are generally considered to be four major PPC platforms. Each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages and you'll have to determine which one meets your specific needs.

Google AdWords.
Yahoo! Bing Network.

While you can't go wrong with any of these four, most small businesses will start with one PPC platform. In these cases, Google AdWords is the clear leader. With that in mind, we'll specifically focus on mastering local AdWords advertising for the purposes of this article. Do note, however, that most of the knowledge learned here can be applied to the other three platforms as well.

Setup Your Keywords

The biggest key to running a successful local AdWords campaign is to optimize for the right keyword. While Google will gladly help you out with its Keyword Planner tool, you should also take the time to put in some firsthand research.

The biggest problem small businesses have when first venturing into PPC advertising is that they take too wide of an approach. Take a local home repair company for example. While they may do pressure washing, roof repairs, painting, remodeling, plumbing, and HVAC work, it's not wise to lump all of these individual services together. Instead, they should start with a single component of that business--say roof repairs--and work on attracting leads with those related keywords. Answering the following questions will help you narrow your focus:

Furthermore, once you find your keywords, you should turn your attention to the thing most advertisers ignore: negative keywords. These are arguably as important as positive keywords and can help you avoid ranking (and wasting money) on audiences you don't care about reaching. For help adding negative keywords to your campaign, check out this resource by Google.

Craft Good Ad Copy

Google doesn't give you much flexibility or room for customization with your PPC ads, so makes sure you use your virtual real estate wisely. You need a very descriptive headline that catches the reader's attention and gives them a reason to read the rest of the copy. On top of that, you need to include two to four keywords--with at least one pertaining to your local geographic target market. Finally, there needs to be a specific and tangible call to action.

With Google's Click-to-Call feature, you can even encourage people to pick up the phone and call you directly. This is ideal for local businesses and knowing how to craft good ad copy around this feature can bring good results. Using the landscaping example, the call to action may look like one of these:

Whatever you do--and whether or not you choose to use the click-to-call feature--make sure your ad copy excites or instills urgency in local users.

Build Highly-Targeted Landing Pages

Getting users to click on your PPC ads is only half of the battle. Once they arrive on your landing page, you need them to convert in order to justify your cost per click (CPC). Your best option is to build and design highly-targeted landing pages to continue pushing users through the conversion funnel. Here are three things to strive for:


Test, Test, and Test Again

After you have both your ads and your landing page set up and optimized, your final (ongoing step) is to continually test and monitor your results. The good news is that Google offers plenty of insight within the AdWords platform and there are dozens of other third-party resources to help you track the efficacy of your campaigns. Some of the most important metrics to look at include CPC, click-through-rates, bounce rates, and conversion goals.

Commit to Ongoing Education

Even long-term PPC experts will admit they don't know everything. That's in part due to the variable nature of PPC platforms, but also has something to do with the unlimited number of options and techniques available. The best thing you can do is make a commitment to stay up to date with changing trends and developments, while using this guide as the framework for your understanding.