Cast your mind back a few years, 5-10 should be enough (depending on where you live), and you will be taken back to a time where savvy small business owners and entrepreneurs could use PPC to connect their product or service to a market that would benefit from it.
Crucially, most business owners could also do this at a cost-effective level, and without spending huge amounts of time learning the technical features of the system.
The questions is, does this still hold true today?
I started thinking about this after the PPC team at Reef received a document from Google about what is still the most popular PPC channel, AdWords.
The document was a list of all of the beta initiatives and programmes currently available to a select group of AdWords advertisers.
Confidentiality agreements prevent me from going into specific details of the betas, but I think I can safely say that there were A LOT of them. However complex PPC, and AdWords in particular, has become, it’s only going to grow in complexity in future.
These innovations are great, of course, as they respond to market needs, and ultimately, some of them will probably end up making a lot of money for forward-thinking advertisers.
However, as more and more companies take up these new techniques and opportunities to try and gain competitive advantage over their rivals, the bar for what is an entry-level, or “good-enough-to-compete” advertising campaign will inevitably rise.
There has been a lot of talk about this issue in recent years, with an article in the New York Times business section discussing the suitability of the channel for small business owners. This article then led to a robust response from Larry Kim.
Larry’s argument that AdWords can be a great marketing channel for any business is true, but the issue that competition on AdWords is now such that campaigns have to be well-optimised even to achieve average results.
This takes time to do, which is one of the resources most lacking for a small business owner.
Other PPC channels such as Bing, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube are now becoming popular due to the relatively lower levels of competition, and hence time and knowledge barriers to entry being lower.
These channels are likely to become more competitive over time, however, and in 5 years from now someone may be writing a similar blog post to this about any one of them.
Another factor which is worth a blog post all on its own, is the impact that conversion rate optimisation (CRO) practices, cross-channel remarketing and programmatic media buying are having on the marketing industry.
Topics like sitelinks and time of day or device bid modifiers, which were once at the advanced end of what a small business owner taking on PPC alone could expect to come across, have now been replaced by in-market audiences, remarketing lists for search ads and assisted conversion funnels.
So for the time-poor business owner who wants to give PPC a try, what is the answer?
Well, as with most things in life, its complicated. If you are lucky enough to operate in an industry or country which has been slow to embrace PPC advertising then you may be able to get some quick wins without too much upfront learning.
Even in these situations though, competition will change over time, and all PPC channels reward better constructed campaigns with lower costs and higher quality traffic, so the days of a “set-it-and-forget-it” campaign are definitely over.
If you can’t commit the time for this approach, hiring an agency can be a cost-effective way to have an expert implement your campaigns in a timely fashion without the need to employ a full-time staff member in-house.
Another difficulty many small businesses face with the in-house method is attracting an experienced candidate.
In many countries the pool of talent for PPC staff is limited, so agencies will often hoover up the best candidates, leaving small business with a greatly reduced choice of potential staff.
Is PPC now too difficult for small business owners?
Well, the answer is probably yes, at least to do completely on their own. However, if you have some time and budget to apply to it, PPC is still a great channel for getting your fledgling brand into the wider world.