Pay-per-click (PPC) is an internet advertising model used to drive traffic to websites, in which an advertiser pays a publisher (typically a search engine, website owner, or a network of websites) when the ad is clicked.[1][2]

Pay-per-click is usually associated with first-tier search engines (such as Google Ads, Amazon Advertising, and Microsoft Advertising). With search engines, advertisers typically bid on keyword phrases relevant to their target market and pay when ads (text-based search ads or shopping ads that are a combination of images and text) are clicked. In contrast, content sites commonly charge a fixed price per click rather than use a bidding system.

PPC display advertisements, also known as banner ads, are shown on websites with related content that have agreed to show ads and are typically not pay-per-click advertising, but instead, usually charge on a cost per thousand impressions (CPM).

Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest, TikTok, and Twitter have also adopted pay-per-click as one of their advertising models. The amount advertisers pay depends on the publisher and is usually driven by two major factors: the quality of the ad, and the maximum bid the advertiser is willing to pay per click measured against its competitors' bids. In general, the higher the quality of the ad, the lower the cost per click is charged, and vice versa.

However, websites can offer PPC ads. Websites that utilize PPC ads will display an advertisement when a query (keyword or phrase) matches an advertiser's keyword list that has been added in different ad groups, or when a content site displays relevant content. Such advertisements are called sponsored links or sponsored ads, and appear adjacent to, above, or beneath organic results on search engine results pages (SERPs), or anywhere a web developer chooses on a content site.[3]

The PPC advertising model is open to abuse through click fraud,[4] although Google and others have implemented automated systems[5] to guard against abusive clicks by competitors or corrupt web developers.[6]


Pay-per-click, along with cost per impression (CPM) and cost per order, is used to assess the cost-effectiveness and profitability of internet marketing and drive the cost of running an advertisement campaign as low as possible while retaining set goals.[7] In Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM), the advertiser only pays for every 1000 impressions of the ad. Pay-per-click (PPC) has an advantage over cost-per-impression in that it conveys information about how effective the advertising was. Clicks are a way to measure attention and interest. If the main purpose of an ad is to generate a click, or more specifically drive traffic to a destination, then pay-per-click is the preferred metric. The quality and placement of the advertisement will affect click through rates and the resulting total pay-per-click cost.[citation needed]


Cost-per-click (CPC) is calculated by dividing the advertising cost by the number of clicks generated by an advertisement. The basic formula is:

Cost-per-click ($) = Advertising cost ($) / Ads clicked (#)

There are two primary models for determining pay-per-click: flat-rate and bid-based. In both cases, the advertiser must consider the potential value of a click from a given source. This value is based on the type of individual the advertiser is expecting to receive as a visitor to their website, and what the advertiser can gain from that visit, which is usually short-term or long-term revenue. As with other forms of advertising, targeting is key, and factors that often play into PPC campaigns include the target's interest (often defined by a search term they have entered into a search engine or the content of a page that they are browsing), intent (e.g., to purchase or not), location (for geo targeting), a device used (e.g. whether the user is searching from a desktop device or mobile) and the day and time that they are browsing.

Flat-rate PPC

In the flat-rate model, the advertiser and publisher agree upon a fixed amount that will be paid for each click. In many cases, the publisher has a rate card that lists the pay-per-click (PPC) within different areas of their website or network. These various amounts are often related to the content on pages, with content that generally attracts more valuable visitors having a higher cost per click than content that attracts less valuable visitors. However, in many cases, advertisers can negotiate lower rates, especially when committing to a long-term or high-value contract.

The flat-rate model is particularly common on comparison shopping engines, which typically publish rate cards. However, these rates are sometimes minimal, and advertisers can pay more for greater visibility. These sites are usually neatly compartmentalized into product or service categories, allowing a high degree of targeting by advertisers. In many cases, the entire core content of these sites is paid ads.

Bid-based PPC

The advertiser signs a contract that allows them to compete against other advertisers in a private auction hosted by a publisher or, more commonly, an advertising network. Each advertiser informs the host of the maximum amount that he or she is willing to pay for a given ad spot (often based on a keyword), usually using online tools to do so. The auction plays out in an automated fashion every time a visitor triggers the ad spot.

When the ad spot is part of a search engine results page (SERP), the automated auction takes place whenever a search for the keyword that is being bid upon occurs. All bids for the keyword that targets the searcher's Geo-location, the day and time of the search, etc. are then compared, and the winner is determined. All this happens in real-time, therefore this is called real-time-bidding or RTB, and in a fraction of a second. In situations where there are multiple ad spots, a common occurrence on SERPs, there can be multiple winners whose positions on the page are influenced by the amount each has bid and the quality of their ad. The bid and Quality Score are used to give each advertiser's advert an ad rank. The ad with the highest ad rank shows up first. The predominant three match types for both Google and Bing are Broad, Exact, and Phrase Match. Google Ads and Bing Ads also offer the Broad Match Modifier type (although Google retired it in July 2021) which differs from broad match in that the keyword must contain the actual keyword terms in any order and doesn't include relevant variations of the terms.[8]

In addition to ad spots on SERPs, the major advertising networks allow for contextual ads to be placed on the properties of 3rd-parties with whom they have partnered. These publishers sign up to host ads on behalf of the network. In return, they receive a portion of the ad revenue that the network generates, which can be anywhere from 50% to over 80% of the gross revenue paid by advertisers. These properties are often referred to as a content network and the ads on them as contextual ads because the ad spots are associated with keywords based on the context of the page on which they are found. In general, ads on content networks have a much lower click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CR) than ads found on SERPs and consequently are less highly valued. Content network properties can include websites, newsletters, and e-mails.[9]

Advertisers pay for every single click they receive, with the actual amount paid based on the amount of bid. It is common practice amongst auction hosts to charge a winning bidder just slightly more (e.g. one penny) than the next highest bidder or the actual amount bid, whichever is lower.[10] This avoids situations where bidders are constantly adjusting their bids by very small amounts to see if they can still win the auction while paying just a little bit less per click.

In order to maximize success and achieve scale, automated bid management systems can be deployed. These systems can be used directly by the advertiser, though they are more commonly used by advertising agencies that offer PPC bid management as a service. These tools generally allow for bid management at scale, with thousands or even millions of PPC bids controlled by a highly automated system. The system generally sets each bid based on the goal that has been set for it, such as maximizing profit, maximizing traffic, getting the very targeted customer at break even, and so forth. The system is usually tied into the advertiser's website and fed the results of each click, which then allows it to set bids. The effectiveness of these systems is directly related to the quality and quantity of the performance data that they have to work with — low-traffic ads can lead to a scarcity of data problem that renders many bid management tools useless at worst, or inefficient at best.

As a rule, the contextual advertising system (Google Ads, Yandex.Direct, etc.) uses an auction approach as the advertising payment system.


There are several sites that claim to be the first PPC model on the web,[11] with many appearing in the mid-1990s. For example, in 1996, the first known and documented version of a PPC was included in a web directory called Planet Oasis. This was a desktop application featuring links to informational and commercial websites, and it was developed by Ark Interface II, a division of Packard Bell NEC Computers. The initial reactions from commercial companies to Ark Interface II's "pay-per-visit" model were skeptical, however.[12] By the end of 1997, over 400 major brands were paying between $.005 to $.25 per click plus a placement fee.[citation needed]

In February 1998 Jeffrey Brewer of, a 25-employee startup company (later Overture, now part of Yahoo!), presented a pay per click search engine proof-of-concept to the TED conference in California.[13] This presentation and the events that followed created the PPC advertising system. Credit for the concept of the PPC model is generally given to Idealab and founder Bill Gross.[14]

Google started search engine advertising in December 1999. It was not until October 2000 that the AdWords system was introduced, allowing advertisers to create text ads for placement on the Google search engine. However, PPC was only introduced in 2002; until then, advertisements were charged at cost-per-thousand impressions or Cost per mille (CPM). Overture has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Google, saying the rival search service overstepped its bounds with its ad-placement tools.[15]

Although started PPC in 1998, Yahoo! did not start syndicating (later Overture) advertisers until November 2001.[16] Prior to this, Yahoo's primary source of SERPs advertising included contextual IAB advertising units (mainly 468x60 display ads). When the syndication contract with Yahoo! was up for renewal in July 2003, Yahoo! announced its intent to acquire Overture for $1.63 billion.[17] Today, companies such as adMarketplace, ValueClick and acknowledge offering PPC services, as an alternative to AdWords and AdCenter.

Among PPC providers, Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords), Microsoft adCenter and Yahoo! Search Marketing had been the three largest network operators, all three operating under a bid-based model.[3] For example, in the year 2014, PPC(AdWords) or online advertising attributed approximately US$45 billion of the total US$66 billion of Google's annual revenue[18] In 2010, Yahoo and Microsoft launched their combined effort against Google, and Microsoft's Bing began to be the search engine that Yahoo used to provide its search results.[19] Since they joined forces, their PPC platform was renamed AdCenter. Their combined network of third-party sites that allow AdCenter ads to populate banner and text ads on their site is called BingAds.[20]

PPC Statistics


In 2012, Google was initially ruled to have engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) in possibly the first legal case of its kind. The ACCC ruled that Google was responsible for the content of its sponsored AdWords ads that had shown links to a car sales website Carsales. The ads had been shown by Google in response to a search for Honda Australia. The ACCC said the ads were deceptive, as they suggested Carsales was connected to the Honda company. The ruling was later overturned when Google appealed to the High Court of Australia. Google was found not liable for the misleading advertisements run through AdWords despite the fact that the ads were served up by Google and created using the company's tools.[25]

Click fraud

Main article: Click fraud

A common concern amongst advertisers is the practice known as "click fraud". This takes two forms:

  1. Publishers who illegitimately click on or fraudulently arrange for clicks to be generated on adverts, in order to increase their own publisher revenues. In 2018, the FBI, in partnership with Google and other major industry ad platforms, cracked down on an illegal ad fraud scheme known as "3ve", which was estimated to have defrauded advertisers several millions of dollars in combined ad costs. The case highlighted the extent of ad fraud; as of 2018, ad fraud annual revenue was on track to be worth more than the illicit drug trade, with over $19 billion estimated to have been stolen by click fraudsters.[26]
  2. Advertisers who attempt to derail competitors' adverts, by clicking on them in an effort to raise their competitors' costs in order to give themselves an unfair advantage in the advertising space. The Google Ads platforms claim to be able to identify such clicks, and label such traffic as "invalid clicks".[27]

See also


  1. ^ "Get More Customers with Pay Per Click (PPC) Ads - Google Ads". Retrieved 2021-05-04.
  2. ^ Fjell, Kenneth (2009-03-01). "Online advertising: Pay-per-view versus pay-per-click — A comment". Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management. 8 (2–3): 200–206. doi:10.1057/rpm.2008.39. ISSN 1476-6930. S2CID 153731290.
  3. ^ a b "Customers Now", David Szetela, 2009.
  4. ^ Jansen, B. J. (2007) Click fraud. IEEE Computer. 40(7), 85-86. The Pennsylvania State University. (PDF)
  5. ^ Shuman Ghosemajumder (March 18, 2008). "Using data to help prevent fraud". Google Blog. Retrieved May 18, 2010.
  6. ^ How Google prevents invalid activity Google AdSense Help Center, Accessed November 17, 2014
  7. ^ Szetela, David (2010). Pay-per-click search engine marketing : an hour a day. Joseph Kerschbaum. Indianapolis, Ind.: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-91719-0. OCLC 659561779.
  8. ^ "Keyword Matching Options Article: Keyword Matching Options Bing Ads". Google Inc. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  9. ^ Yahoo! Search Marketing (May 18, 2010). "Sponsored Search". Website Traffic Yahoo! Search Marketing (formerly Overture). Archived from the original on February 20, 2010. Retrieved May 18, 2010.
  10. ^ The cost of AdWords Google AdWords Help, Accessed May 18, 2012,
  11. ^ Jansen, B. J., and Mullen, T. (2008) Sponsored search: An overview of the concept, history, and technology, International Journal of Electronic Business. 6(2), 114 – 131. (PDF)
  12. ^ Planet Oasis gives web sites promotion clout, Bradley Johnson, Advertising Age July 8, 1996, Retrieved December 5, 2012,
  13. ^ Overture and Google: Internet Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising Auctions Archived 2009-03-25 at the Wayback Machine, London Business School, (PDF) Accessed June 12, 2007,
  14. ^ Jansen, B. J. (2011). Understanding Sponsored Search: Coverage of the Core Elements of Keyword Advertising. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.
  15. ^ Stefanie Olsen and Gwendolyn Mariano (April 5, 2002). "Overture sues Google over search patent". CNET. Retrieved Jan 28, 2011.
  16. ^ Yahoo! Inc. (April 25, 2002). "Yahoo! and Overture Extend Pay-for-Performance Search Agreement". Yahoo! Press Release. Archived from the original on June 9, 2007. Retrieved May 18, 2010.
  17. ^ Stefanie Olsen (July 14, 2003). "Yahoo to buy Overture for $1.63 billion". CNET. Retrieved May 18, 2010.
  18. ^ Rosenberg, Eric (5 February 2015). "How Google Makes Money".
  19. ^ Singel, Ryan (18 February 2010). "Yahoo and Microsoft Join Search Forces". Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  20. ^ Crum, Chris (September 10, 2012). "Link to Article: Yahoo And Microsoft Introduce The Yahoo Bing Network, adCenter Becomes Bing Ads". WebProNews. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  21. ^ "SEO vs PPC – Time for a Fight! [Infographic]". 20 June 2012.
  22. ^ "How Much Does PPC Cost in 2022?". WebFX.
  23. ^ "VARN Original Research: Almost 60% of People Still Don't Recognise Google Paid Ads When They See Them". VARN. 18 January 2018.
  24. ^ "Click Bots and Fake Traffic Cost Online Advertisers $35 Billion". 3 October 2022.
  25. ^ "Google Inc vs ACCC". Archived from the original on 2019-10-29. Retrieved 2015-07-02.
  26. ^ England, Rachel (2018-11-28). "FBI and Google dismantle multi-million dollar ad fraud scheme".
  27. ^ "About Invalid Traffic".