We've all seen online ads while surfing the Internet. In fact, the truth is you can't escape online ads. On almost every website and search engine you visit, online ads crowd the online world with their flashy graphics and blinking text. "Click here" or "Lose weight now!" the ads say. Why are there so many ads, you ask? The answer is simple: they are the online money-makers. Known as pay per click marketing, PPC includes online paid advertising in the form of banner ads, text ads, graphic ads, pop-up ads, and the like.

PPC versus Print Marketing

Similar in appearance to magazine or newspaper ads, PPC ads have many more dynamic options than their static paper ad counterparts. Online ads are basically a special type of hypertext link that is clickable and directs the viewer to where the advertiser wants them to go. Think of it as touching a print ad and landing at the advertiser's front door. Print ads sure can't do that!

Another great thing about PPC is that ads can be made relevant to what people are searching for online. Have you ever done a search for shoes and a convenient ad for a clothes chain store pops up in your sidebar or flashes above in a banner ad? It's not just coincidence. PPC ads are tied directly to search words that you type based entirely on relevancy. Say goodbye to days of magazines with ads no one is interested in. Now PPC can more accurately estimate what you really might want to see for advertisements based on what you're searching for.

How PPC Ads Work

Pushed and prodded into every conceivable open web space, PPC ads are made, exchanged, and sold in many different ways. The two basic options or models for PPC ads are the following: ads that go on others' websites and direct visitors to your website or others' ads placed on your website. Both situations have their pros and cons and are best utilized in different situations.

For example, if you have a website with high traffic (tens of thousands of visitors per month, for example), then the first option is the best. If you have a website with lower traffic and you're more interested in getting visitors to your website, the second option is likely better for you. Most Christian schools will probably fit into this second category, so this chapter will focus on PPC in terms of online ads on others' websites (or search engine ad networks) that promote your school. An item to note is that the term PPC is often used interchangeably with the acronym CPC (cost per click). Don't let this confuse you. This is simply another term to describe this type of marketing model.

Make PPC Work for Your School

Bringing your school into the picture, PPC marketing should be viewed as an additional avenue of online advertising opportunity that complements your website's organic search results (which are more trusted by the average Internet user than paid advertising). PPC marketing allows your Christian school to expand your possible audience with graphic or text ads that  appear in search engine results or other websites. Don't worry; this isn't just for large businesses and schools. PPC can be utilized no matter your budget.

Step 1 - Choose What You Want Your Audience to Do.

Before you can implement PPC marketing, it is definitely recommended that you have a school website or at the least a landing page to direct interested families to. As discussed in previous sections of this book, a website plays a vital role in the success of your school and all your marketing efforts-both online and offline. A 24/7, self-manned advertisement for your school, a website opens your marketing efforts to infinite audiences and removes previous geographical boundaries that limited marketing efforts before the age of the Internet.

PPC ads can link families to your website or landing page similar to a funnel that channels information to the correct source. For example, someone could click on your PPC ad, be directed to a landing page, and then fill out a contact form you have added to that page to get more information about your school. Of course, if you can't afford a website or even a landing page but still want to try PPC, you can! Simply have your PPC ad contain a specific phone number to call for more information. Make sure you use a phone number you can track results from and that staff remembers to ask and note if an interested family came from your PPC ad.

Tip: If you don't have a website, read a past blog post to learn how to affordably and easily create your own Christian school website.

Step 2 - Decide Your Key Audience.

Who do you want to reach? Does it make much sense for you to pay for your online ads to appear in results of people searching 10, 25, or 50 miles away from your school? Google AdWords allows you the ability to dictate the radius of how far your ad will appear to searchers. Setting a parameter for those searching by location, you could pay for your Christian school to appear in paid results for someone searching for a school in the next town or if you choose the next county. This is called local or regional targeting. You can also choose to exclude areas where your ad will appear if you so desire.

If you have a virtual online Christian school or offer online classes, this opens the range even further of how far you can advertise, as you aren't hindered by geography. Brick and mortar schools are obviously limited in the logical range of how far someone might travel to attend. The key to reaching quality, interested people is to place ads and tie them to words that are the most relevant. The more relevant your keywords, the stronger results you will have reaching your audience.

Tip: Google AdWords has tips for picking out keywords that would go well with your ads. Try keyword search tools too to research searched for words.

Step 3 - Determine Your Budget.

This is the big question regarding how much your Christian schools can invest. The beauty of PPC is that you can choose as little or as much to spend as you want. From a few dimes to hundreds of dollars a day, you can spend whatever is comfortable for your marketing budget. PPC isn't just for large businesses and corporations; everyone can do it, including your Christian school. If you have limited funds, focusing on improving organic search engine results through SEO might be a better option for you. That said, PPC is certainly a viable option for all Christian schools, no matter your size. Once you've decide what you can afford, that will determine what type of ads you will use, what ad network you'll use, and how often you will place ads.

 Perhaps the best way to help you determine what you can afford is to break down the cost of a PPC versus the amount of money getting a new student can bring to your school. For example if your cost to educate a student is $3,000 and you charge $4,000 a year for tuition you have $1,000 of profit. Suppose, for example, that it costs you ten cents per PPC ad click, and it takes you ten clicks to get a seriously interested family. Then perhaps it takes you ten interested families to get a student to register in your Christian school, that means it took $100 investment to get $1,000 of profit. Is the cost of a PPC really worth getting more dollars in tuition? That is an answer that only your Christian school can decide. However, using the above example, you can easily see how PPC can be an affordable way to market your Christian school.

Tip: PPC has a tendency to get you to keep spending and to get you asking how much you should invest. Don't fall into the habit of overspending. Tracking and testing ads is more important than spending more and more in PPC. If you can track positive results, don't be afraid to tweak budgets and try different ads as needed.

Step 4 - Find a PPC Network.

Far and away, the most popular PPC marketing program is Google AdWords. This online advertising program offers advertisers the ability to place and track PPC ads as they wish. For example, an advertiser can bid on keywords they think interested families will search for and select the keywords that will make their ad appear. If you think visitors looking for a Christian school would search for "Christian school in Miami, Florida," you could choose to bid for those trigger words that will make your ad appear in the sponsored (or paid) results, and you choose the maximum amount you will pay per click.

The more popular your keywords, usually the more expensive they will be. The goal is to find specific, average-priced keywords which will perform better, so you can pay less and still have reasonably good results. As search trends continuously change as do popularity in keywords, keeping up to date information in your keyword analysis is essential to PPC success.

When choosing a PPC network, remember to go where the eyes are! The more people viewing your ad, the more likely they are to click on it. In the same vein, don't be afraid to try smaller networks. Sometimes the lesser viewed networks are not as popular, but the viewers could be very interested, outweighing the lower number of people. Test, test, and test some more, and find out what works best. 

Tip: The alternatives to Google AdWords are Yahoo Search Marketing/MSN adCenter, Ask.com, Adbrite, and many others. However, for ease of use and affordability, Google AdWords will like work quite well for you.

Step 5 - Create PPC Ads (and Put Them to Work!)

You can create graphic, media-rich, or text-based online ads. These could include banner ads but don't have to. In fact, studies have shown that simple text-based ads are much more effective in positive results than graphic or media-rich ads. This could be because text-based ads appear similar and near organic search results, making them appear like a viable, interesting option to the view rather than a forced, perhaps annoying graphic ad on the sidebar of a results page. Online visitors are also learning to tune out graphic and banner ads while reading search results or any webpage for that matter. Are you worried that you don't have the staff to create any type of ad-graphic or otherwise? No problem. Google AdWords has the answer: Google Display Ad Builder.

This handy service lets you create and display customized ads in minutes! You can choose color, background, text, and images as you like. This service also conveniently allows you to choose from all the ad sizes available on Google and its content/display network (other partner areas where ads can be displayed than Google such as YouTube). Remember to test your ads too. Don't create one ad and let it run forever! That's like wearing the same outfit for weeks. Try different ads and see what is really effective and fits best for your needs.

Tip: If you are not sure what ads to use or how to create a great looking ad, Google has an Inside AdWords blog full of tips and hints to get you started on the right track. Got your own creative streak? Of course, you can create your own ads or hire professionals to make ads for you if you choose.

Step 6 - Track and Review Results.

Surprise, surprise. Google also makes tracking your PPC ads as easy as pie too with the free Google Analytics program. This service records how many clicks per ads you have gotten (known as click through rate), the keywords associated with the clicks, and other useful information like tracking history of your ad's performance and where you have placed your ads to appear. The mission control center for online ad tracking, Google Analytics is free for those with a Google account. You then simply pay per click. As stated earlier, tracking and constant review is essential to see how your ads are performing. Reviewing data, in addition to just gathering it, will help your school make better, more informed choices about whether PPC marketing is helping your Christian school meet your goals.

Another caution to your school is to avoid the habit of setting a limit to your keyword bidding for PPC and not watching progress. No matter if your threshold for daily bidding is $5 or $50, you want to make sure those coming to your website or calling from your PPC are actually performing the desired action you'd like them to do. You don't want to have to pay the same amount each day and not be getting truly interested parties contacting your school. Make sure your dollars are working smartly for you by paying attention to your results. If visitors are coming to your website then leaving right away (known as having a high bounce rate), then you need to re-evaluate and adjust the keywords you've bid on, the clarity of your PPC ads, or where your ads are directing interested families to on your website.

Tip: Adjusting keywords, ads, and pricing will help you find the best formula that works well for your Christian school's goals and budget. PPC doesn't have to be all or nothing; it's about mixing and matching to find the best combination.

Final Inspiration

PPC marketing is a great way to increase the probability that your Christian school's website will be found online in search results. PPC simply goes a step further to help ensure your online ad appears in paid search results for the keywords you determine. Helping you reach more interested families, PPC opens a whole new avenue of possibilities for online advertising for your Christian school. Reaching a larger audience means reaching more souls for Christ's Kingdom. Only by reaching out can we become witnesses beyond our current environment.

PPC is not an instant, all-in-one answer to helping your website's ranking, but it does help build a larger number of visitors to your website, although they might not necessarily all be relevant visitors. The goal with PPC is to generate interested families to visit your website that are interested in what you have to offer. This type of traffic to your website in the end is much more beneficial then those who leave immediately because your Christian school is not what they are looking for. PPC takes time and patience as you track results and find the best formula for your online advertising and budget, along with bidding on keywords that bring you the best success for the best price.

Because visitors are always searching the Internet for relevant information, the best rule to follow for PPC is to make quality, clear ads and place them where your audience is going to be. Quite simply, if your paid online ads are relevant and findable, your website will have more visitors! Plus, the more potential parents and students who visit your Christian school's website, the more opportunities you'll have to reach souls in need of Christian education and the message of God's glory and salvation.

Have you tried using PPC for your Christian school? Why or why not?