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PPC Advertising Explainers

The Best PPC Tools in 2021, According to Top PPC Marketers

June 18, 2021
Camille Trent

Google's Keyword Planner isn't the only PPC tool. These landing page builders, reporting apps and ad optimization tools deserve consideration in 2021.

Table of Contents

Pay-per-click (PPC) tools used to mean Google AdWords. Period. 

In today’s saturated, increasingly cookieless search landscape, it’s complicated. While Google Ads remains the ultimate PPC tool in a paid search marketers’s utility belt, direct-response tactics don’t always cut it. Once nice-to-have PPC tools, like landing page builders and CRM reporting software, are now considered essential.

PPC optimization isn’t just about the ads anymore. Was it ever? It’s also about ad placement, keyword research, competitive research, copywriting, and bid management, to name a few. You need to optimize PPC campaigns for the full funnel. That likely means A/B testing landing page copy and design, and even a variety of different email nurture streams and flows. 

Whew! That’s a lot of work — and PPC experts use a lot of tools to help them get it all done.

In fact, MarketerHire requires all paid search marketers on its platform to have proficiency in these thirteen — or comparable — PPC tools:

  • Google Ads
  • Microsoft Advertising
  • Verizon Media Native
  • Google Analytics
  • SEMRush (or Ahrefs)
  • Spyfu
  • Google Search Console
  • Google Display Network
  • DoubleClick
  • Taboola
  • Outbrain
  • Instapage
  • Unbounce

To better understand the top PPC tools for 2021, we interviewed:

PPC management tools

As of 2020, Google, Amazon and Facebook now account for more than 50% of all digital ad spend. And Google’s the biggest of the big three, by a lot. 

Source: MediaPost

All three major ad networks — plus Bing — offer PPC management tools within their platforms. They’re all free, with some upsells for bulk management or advanced features. 

Here’s what you need to know about each:

Google Ads.

Ad networks it works with: Google Search, Google Maps, and YouTube

Owned by: Google

Core function: It helps you launch search, display, video and app ads on Google’s network.

As of February 2021, Google owns 92% of the global search engine market, and they’ve developed a few creative ways to monetize that near-monopoly. 

Source: Statista
  • Google search ads are text-based ads that help your solution jump to the top of the Google search engine results page (SERP) for a desired search term. 
  • Display ads are visual ads — think native and banner ads — available across millions of websites and apps participating in Google’s ad program.
  • Video ads advertise to YouTube (owned by Google) audiences, via remarketing and targeting specific YouTube channels, interests and more. 

You can also run shopping, local and smart campaigns through Google Ads using the channels and mediums mentioned above.

Then there are native ad optimization features like Google’s Quality Score. This score gives you a sense of ad performance by grading your campaign by CTR (against expected), ad relevance and landing page experience, all within the same Google Ads account you use for general PPC campaign management. 

Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads).

Ad networks it works with: Microsoft Search Network

Owned by: Microsoft

Core function: It helps you reach Bing, Yahoo, and MSN searchers with text-based search ads. 

While Google is the biggest digital ad platform and the most dominant search engine, it’s not the only search engine worth advertising on. There are reasons to advertise on Bing, Alexandra Sifton, owner of digital agency Futureproof, told MarketerHire. 

Bing powers 26% of U.S. desktop searches and, in October of 2020, 6.7% of global desktop searches.

Often the default search engine on office computers, “Bing’s demo skews slightly older and more affluent... which can be ideal, depending on the account,” Josh Rosenthal, senior analyst at Levelwing, told MarketerHire. “In a few cases, I’ve seen it take up the majority of spend thanks to better return.”

"Bing's demo skews slightly older and more affluent... which can be ideal."

It takes less up-front investment than Google, too. “It’s almost always a LOT cheaper,” said Ryan Cormier, director of digital marketing at Kalkomey.

Amazon Advertising

Ad networks it works with: Amazon

Owned by: Amazon

Core function: It helps your product show up on Amazon desktop, mobile, and app searches.

Amazon Advertising helps e-commerce brands show up at the top of key searches on the Amazon site or app. It can also help you remarket to people who view your product on Amazon but leave the site before buying — like an abandoned cart email flow, except you don’t need an email address to execute it. 

We’ll dive deeper into the different Amazon ad options later in this article.

Verizon Media Native (previously Yahoo Gemini).

Ad networks it works with: Verizon Media Native

Owned by: Yahoo

Core function: It helps you reach tech news readers with targeted search and native ads.

When Futureproof’s clients need to address an older, corporate audience — or simply expand their audience — they look at secondary search engines like Bing and Yahoo.

While Verizon Media Native owns just 2.7% of desktop search engine market share, it offers search and native advertising in one DSP. 

In addition to owning Yahoo!, Huffpost and TechCrunch, the advertising platform partners with ESPN, ABC News, Apple News and MSN. That’s a premium media mix. While scale and reach is the big question with Verizon, they claim 60+ billion monthly global native impressions and one billion active monthly users. 

PPC reporting tools

Revenue is the real goal of all PPC efforts — but you’re paying per click, just like the name says. It’s a challenge to connect the dollars you spend to the dollars you earn. 

“[R]eporting to revenue and scaling is the hardest part of paid search,” Jay Baron, CEO of Elevate Demand, told MarketerHire

"Reporting to revenue and scaling is the hardest part of paid search."

Enter PPC reporting tools — ad tech that helps you track PPC campaign performance in real time, and follow those clicks you pay for all the way to the CRM to see if they convert.

Like PPC management tools, they’re usually free tools offered by the platforms themselves.While you can get by using the free tools forever, that gets cumbersome when managing multiple clients and channels, so we’ve also included some reporting tools for aggregating all your PPC data into one report.

What’s the difference between PPC management and reporting tools? 

  • PPC management tools help you manage campaigns. This is where you’ll adjust ad groups, ad budget and creative. 
  • PPC reporting tools help you measure and analyze the results of those campaigns — trends, successes, failures, etc.

Here are the best PPC reporting tools out there, according to PPC ad experts:

Google Data Studio.

Ad network it works with: Various

Owned by: Google

Core function: It aggregates performance data from Google Ads, Google Analytics, YouTube Analytics and more. 

A popular reporting option for PPC agencies, Data Studio lets you keep tabs on your entire marketing mix — Google, Facebook, Microsoft and more — from one dashboard. It pulls data from its own Google apps and uses popular connector apps like Supermetrics, which let you pull data from Adobe Analytics and HubSpot. 

“Google Data Studio is a must. The Google Ads/Bing interface is far too confusing to send someone who isn't an expert,” Andrew Allsop, Founder of Wunderkind Agency, told MarketerHire. “I recommend that to everyone as a starting point for reporting.”

Google Analytics

Ad network it works with: Google

Owned by: Google

Core function: Lets you track website traffic and Google ad campaign performance. 

Source: Practical Ecommerce

Whether or not you’re running a PPC campaign, you likely have Google Analytics set up for your website. You can check in on Google Ads performance from the same tool you use to view organic search performance by navigating to your Google Ad Campaigns from the Acquisition dropdown on the left-hand toolbar.

Assuming you have Google Ads set up properly, you should see clicks, cost, cost per click (CPC), and landing page session data by campaign. 

If you see “not set” under campaign name, or you can’t make sense of the PPC performance metrics, it’s time to hire an expert PPC marketer

Wordstream’s Google Ads Performance Grader.

Ad network it works with: Google

Owned by: Wordstream

Core function: Grades your Google ad campaigns.

Like Google Ads’ quality score, Wordstream’s Google Ads Performance Grader assesses your Google campaigns and assigns you an overall score between zero and 100. This free benchmarking tool provides more in-depth feedback than Google, though, factoring in not only quality score but also CTR and budget efficiency.

Source: Wordstream

Google Sheets

Ad network it works with: All

Owned by: Google

Core function: Tracks important PPC metrics using this spreadsheet and light database tool.

The “incumbent” PPC reporting tool, according to Alexandra Sifton, owner of digital agency Futureproof. Her team still uses Google Sheets to track key weekly metrics, though, to reduce time-consuming manual data entry, she recommends using the Google Ads add-on for Sheets.

Source: Google Workspace Marketplace

HubSpot.

Ad network it works with: Various

Owned by: HubSpot

Core function: Funnel and pipeline dashboards and reports.

A top all-around marketing tool, HubSpot’s robust CRM not only helps PPC marketers spin up landing pages from templates, but also provide better full-funnel reporting data that ties PPC results to actual sales.  

“[It’s] nice having the reporting and interactions all in the CRM,” said Matthew Holman, head of growth at QPilot, of HubSpot. 

Baron argues it’s not only nice to have, it’s critical for making more informed decisions about your PPC campaigns. 

PPC competitor and keyword research tools

Keyword and competitor research is an important part of PPC strategy. Because you’re likely not the only one bidding on your category and product keywords, it pays (literally) to know which words your competitors are bidding on, what their ads and landing pages look like, and which terms correlate with buying intent. 

These tools help with competitor research and curating killer keyword lists, so you can bid more confidently. 

Google Keyword Planner.

Ad network it works with: Google

Owned by: Google

Core function: It helps you find related keyword ideas and curate relevant keyword lists. 

Google Keyword Planner is still the keyword research tool of choice for most paid search marketers. You can use it to expand your keyword ideas and spit out lengthy keyword lists. 

One problem with Google Keyword Planner, though: UX. It's less intuitive to use than Ahrefs and SEMRush's competing tools — but it captures organic search trends more accurately. Trade-offs! 

However, SEMRush and Ahrefs are less reflective of PPC trends [than what?], as they are based on organic search trends.

Google Trends.

Ad network it works with: Google

Owned by: Google

Core function: Track search term trends by season, industry and location. 

Some search terms fluctuate wildly with the seasons. Tax questions will see an uptick before April and patio furniture gets more love in summer months. 

Google Trends gives PPC marketers a glimpse into those searching patterns to help them “determine what the seasonality is like for the industry and whether projected media plans align with seasonal shifts in the industry,” Aaron Metzger, Founder of Genius Digital Marketing, told MarketerHire. 

Google Trends also captures longer-term upswings and downswings in search interest. "Growth hacking," for instance, is on the downswing right now... but "oat milk" is trending up.

SpyFu.

Ad networks it works with: Google, Bing, Yahoo

Owned by: SpyFu

Core function: Spys on competitors’ PPC keyword bidding, ad variation and rankings. 

The popular competitive research tool boasts that it can show you every keyword and PPC ad a competitor has ever used. However, SpyFu is no longer a secret weapon. Your competitors can do the same to you. 

“SpyFu is [okay] for a general overview,” said Josh Gould, PPC expert and founder of Flood Media. “You'll see the real deal when you start running ads.”

iSpionage.

Ad networks it works with: Google, Bing, Yahoo

Owned by: TapClicks

Core function: It unlocks seven years of competitor PPC and SEO keyword data from Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Like SpyFu, iSpionage is essentially a PPC and SEO ad and website archive. They claim to give users full access to 92 million keywords, 108 million ad copy variations, and 45 million domains.

PPC bid management tools

PPC bid management tools are for folks who want to automate PPC campaign management. When you have lots of campaigns going at once, machine learning can help spend your budget wisely based on past performance. 

Once you’ve set up the campaigns properly and determined keyword spending thresholds based on acceptable customer acquisition cost (CAC), you can entertain the idea of leaving the bidding to an algorithm — but you’ll still need to keep an eye on the campaigns, and don’t try automating ads if you haven’t run enough manually to recognize broken when you see it.

Teikametrics

Ad network it works with: Amazon Advertising

Owned by: Teikametrics

Core function: This tool builds, optimizes and analyzes Amazon advertising.

Teikmetrics uses AI to automate and optimize real-time keyword bidding. Like a financial portfolio, you can decide how aggressively you want to invest by dragging a simple toggle on a sliding scale.

Lori Fields says the training, user experience and accessibility give Teikametrics the edge over similar Amazon PPC software she’s worked with. The time from onboarding to execution is faster than she’d expected.  

Adzoola

Ad networks it works with:: YouTube, Google

Owned by: Adzoola

Core function: It suggests better keywords and placements for your YouTube ads.

Adzoola helps advertisers set up YouTube placement campaigns, YouTube keyword targeting campaigns, and find new audiences based on YouTube SERP results and competitor campaigns. 

The YouTube ad optimization software prides itself on finding keyword and placement opportunities on Google and YouTube “no one else is using.” Or, if you prefer, ones your top competitor is using. Like SpyFu and iSpionage, you can use the tool to spy and steal campaign and keyword ideas from competitors. 

WordStream Advisor

Ad networks it works with: Google, Facebook, Instagram, Microsoft Ads

Owned by: WordStream

Core function: This tool analyzes PPC spend.

Source: WordStream

More of a semi-automatic bidding tool, Wordstream is built for small businesses with low AOV (average order value) and straightforward pricing. Its Optimize Bid tool scans PPC campaigns for low performing ads and recommends a new bidding strategy to maximize conversion rate. Similarly, it’s Budget Opportunity tool looks for underfunded high performers. And it’s Device Bid Adjustment feature gives bidding recommendations based on browsing device. 

Together, these tips give media buyers the insights they need to reallocate budget, without time-consuming manual analysis work. 

PPC landing page tools

Now that your PPC campaigns are fully optimized, targeting high-intent keywords with efficient bidding, it’s time to optimize the landing pages they link to.

Aligning ad and landing page messaging is one of the easiest ways to improve Google Ads’ quality score and reduce CAC, according to Sifton. Sifton’s agency, Futureproof, was able to take CAC from $7.50 to $5 by making sure landing pages delivered on what the ad copy promised. 

Because marketing teams rarely have enough dedicated developer resources, though, growth and PPC marketers often rely on these page builder tools to create their landing pages.

Unbounce.

Most popular feature: Unlimited plan ($120 per month)

Ideal for: SaaS and e-commerce startups

Pricing: Starts at $80 per month

I knew going into this piece that popular DTC growth marketers like Nik Sharma recommended Unbounce, I was shocked by how many times it came up when I asked PPC marketers how they built landing pages. Unbounce and HubSpot are the clear landing page builders of choice. 

“If you don't use HubSpot, I'm a big fan of Unbounce,” said Ryan Cormier, Director of Digital Marketing at Kalkomey. “It's very easy to use, even if you have little to no coding experience.”

"It's very easy to use, even if you have little to no coding experience."

HubSpot.

Most popular feature: Templates or A/B testing

Ideal for: B2B marketing teams

Pricing: $800 per month

Besides the fact that many marketing teams already use HubSpot for email or social media, the template library, drag-and-drop capabilities and HTML flexibility make it an obvious choice for building landing pages on the fly. 

“You can clone the page, run an A/B test or adaptive testing (up to 5 different versions),” noted Sarah Chadwick, marketing director at Commercial Restoration Company.

It also comes in handy for capturing full-funnel reporting. 

“If you're using the HubSpot CRM it's a seamless integration,” said Chadwick, “but it also integrates easily with Salesforce (assuming fields are mapped correctly).” 

Optimizely

Most popular feature: experimentation — multipage and unlimited A/B testing

Ideal for: marketing teams with a larger budget to add a second landing page tool

Pricing: unavailable

With an intuitive and clean interface, Optimizely is considered one of the easier landing page tools to set up — though it fancies itself more of an experimentation tool than a page builder.

The big downside is cost and buying experience. Unlike most builders, Optimizely doesn’t list pricing on their site. Pricing’s rumoured to have gone up and if you can’t spare a few hundred dollars per month on a landing page solution, you’re better off sticking with Unbounce or HubSpot, if you already have it. 

PPC software

Is this list overwhelming you yet? If you have budget to burn and don’t want to jump between all these tools to monitor campaigns, make adjustments, and run reports, there are several PPC management software solutions that do all of the above — for a price. 

Optmyzr

Most popular feature: robust automations, like one that keeps Google Ads Shopping in sync with merchant feeds

Ideal for: agencies and large marketing teams

Pricing: starts at $208 per month

Compatible with Google, Microsoft, and Amazon ads, Optimyzr “helps you build out granular shopping campaigns in seconds,” James Flitcroft, senior PPC account manager at Colewood Internet, told MarketerHire. “[W]hich is a real plus when [adding] negative keywords.”

As its name suggests, Optimyzr optimizes nearly every aspect of PPC management — bidding, budget, keyword management, quality score, ad copy, even reporting. It’s essentially all the tools above in one. 

Shape

Most popular feature: automated pacing and budget allocation

Ideal for: agencies

Pricing: starts at $0 per month (for one client)

Shape’s main plan ungates all features, users and clients, making it highly scalable and efficient for agencies. 

“Shape is great for larger clients since it automates the pacing and will course-correct on budgets,” Brian Swanick, marketing consultant, told MarketerHire. “I use it for really complicated accounts with budgets >$10,000/month. I would not recommend [it] if you only run [two or three] campaigns.”

"Shape is great for larger clients since it automates the pacing and will course-correct on budgets."

Adalysis.

Most popular feature: keyword audits

Ideal for: growth marketing teams

Pricing: $99 per month

Another cross-platform PPC management tool, Adalysis works across Google and Microsoft ads. Unlike Optimyzr, Adalysis prefers recommending rather than doing. It offers bidding suggestions and identifies insights and opportunities based on results from its many audit tools.

Supplemental Google PPC tools

Google Tags Manager.

Most popular feature: Google Ads conversion tracking and remarketing

Ideal for: paid search and social marketers

Pricing: Free

Google Tags let you add and update tags to track any activity on your site via Google Analytics — from conversions to remarketing. You can also establish triggers that cause tags to fire when specific events take place.

Google Optimize.

Most popular feature: A/B testing

Ideal for: paid search and social marketers

Pricing: free

A user experience and A/B testing tool, Google Optimize is a free app that helps you pinpoint which site experiences your customers love and loathe using a combination of Google Analytics technology, targeting tools and statistical modeling. 

Google My Business.

Most popular feature: ability to rank in local pack

Ideal for: small businesses

Pricing: Free

After verifying your business location on Google My Business, you can run PPC ads on Google Maps, display locations and phone numbers in search ads, and use Google Smart campaigns.

Pro tip: We recommend using call tracking software like Twilio or CallRail to measure the success of local PPC campaigns.

Amazon PPC tools

Amazon is its own special beast, often requiring its own separate PPC tools and Amazon marketing expert. These are three popular Amazon PPC tools Amazon consultant Lori Fields walked us through: 

Amazon Advertising (Sponsored Brands, Products and Display). 

Most popular feature: building Amazon campaigns

Ideal for: most Amazon sellers

Pricing: Free

These three native Amazon ad tools — Sponsored Brands, Products, and Display — help you show up in Amazon searches and on product pages. While they require more manual data entry and analysis than other tools, they’re the best way for e-commerce owners to get started, Fields told MarketerHire. 

Amazon DSP. 

Most popular feature: awareness and retargeting (can’t do on platform)

Ideal for: advertising outside of Amazon

Pricing: unavailable

If you’re managing large advertising budgets, Amazon DSP will make the work less time-consuming by programmatically bidding on keywords and buying display, video and audio ads. 

Like Amazon’s a la carte ad buying options (Amazon Advertising), DSP lets you retarget browsers through Amazon’s ad network. However, it’s built for enterprise — so there’s a high minimum to get started, making it inaccessible for most e-commerce shop owners.

Helium10.

Most popular feature: keyword analysis

Ideal for: Amazon sellers

Pricing: Starts at $37 per month

A third-party tool, Helium10 is Field’s go-to for Amazon keyword research. Think of it as the Ahrefs or SEMRush for Amazon. It gives you a clear view of search volume, keywords, and rankings. 

Ad design and copy inspiration

These aren’t tools per se (some are, like Canva!), but they are incredibly helpful for sparking ideas for A/B tests, new creative and more. 

PPC ad copy inspiration

Wordtune

Highlight: annotates differences in its AI rewrite

Ideal for: generating alternate ad copy phrasing

Pricing: starts at $0 per month

Because accurate data and clean, single-variate tests are the name of the game in PPC, you’ll want to run several versions of the same message to make sure you have the best copy possible. Wordtune leverages AI to remix your sentences for you and generate subtle, but potentially impactful, variations on your work. 

Conversion.ai

Highlight: endless copy variations

Ideal for: optimizing Google search ads and landing page copy

Pricing: starts at $29 per month

One of the more popular AI copywriting tools, Conversion.ai is a more tailored version of Wordtune, offering more than 40 short-form copywriting templates for headlines, ads, product descriptions and more. It’s been recommended to me more than any other AI copywriting software. 

Facebook Ads Library

Highlight: sheer breadth of archive

Ideal for: browsing competitors’ social ad campaigns

Pricing: free

The least expensive way to spy on your competitors is to see what they’re doing on Facebook. Facebook lets you browse their ads library for free. If social ads are running long-term without revisions, you can suspect their Google Ads campaigns are doing the same thing.

Display ad image inspiration and creation 

Canva.

Highlight: ability to save brand fonts and colors

Ideal for: designing and resizing display ads

Pricing: starts at $0 per month

While most designers still prefer Adobe for illustrations, photo editing, and infographics, Canva’s become the layman’s design tool of choice. Its generous free plan lets users access 250k+ design templates and 100+ design types (social posts, banner ads, etc.), and its paid plan nearly doubles the free template library and unlocks 75 million stock images, audio, and videos. It’s a no-brainer tool for building and testing PPC ad variations, fast. 

WordStream.

Highlight: PPC blog

Ideal for: small businesses running PPC campaigns

Pricing: starts at $49 per month

Wordsteam has one of the best PPC blogs around. They regularly publish Google ad benchmarks, ad ideas and examples. It’s a great resource for understanding what “good” looks like — on both the creative and quantitative measurement side.

Marketing Examples.

Highlight: color-coded copy teardowns. 

Ideal for: optimizing PPC headlines with clever structures

Pricing: free

While the Marketing Examples newsletter and blog is not specific to PPC marketing, it simplifies the creative process by breaking ad copy down word by word.

The future of PPC advertising

Considering ads madke up between $65 and $70 billion of Google’s ad revenue in 2020, it’s safe to bet  Google will continue to prioritize paid search opportunities in the privacy-first web and world.

Brands seem to be banking on it, if MarketerHire hiring trends are any indicator. Requests  for PPC marketers rose from March to April 2021. 

One key factor in the demand hike: While iOS14.5 has disrupted paid social ad targeting and reporting, Google and Amazon still know a lot about how we research and buy products. 

They’re still where we go to buy — so  they’re still where brands go to advertise.  We doubt the PPC economy of clicks (and taps?) will shrink anytime soon.

Camille Trent
about the author

Camille Trent is the managing editor at MarketerHire. A copywriter and marketing nerd, she's passionate about helping freelancers and creatives recognize their value and get the knowledge they need to win long term. When she's not writing, she's hanging out with her pup and two favorite redheads. Or she's trying to coach the Portland Trail Blazers to victory from her couch.

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