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It's tough for small companies to get their own websites optimized to the point where they appear on the first page of organic search results. One way around that is to run a pay-per-click campaign. PPC guarantees you visibility and assures that you're one choice the homeowner might make in researching home improvement options.

But just being on page one doesn't instantly translate to leads. “Strategy is at the core of a successful PPC campaign,” says Sarah Shelley, president of Bring Me My Leads, an Indiana company that specializes in Web design, optimization, and other Internet strategies.

1. Homework. Shelley suggests contractors should research the keywords worth bidding on, especially product categories and geographic locations. Don't guess or let an Internet marketer guess for you. To get a sense of the “total potential” for your campaign, know search-term volume based on previous history. Use that to develop goals and a budget based on potential leads.

2. Specifics. Search engines seek to direct researchers to sites that contain the most-specific information. When All-County Exteriors, in Lakewood, N.J., redesigned and relaunched its website this year, it bid on many keywords signifying location. “Not just ‘roofing contractor,'” says Chash Giovenco, marketing director, “but ‘roofer Tom's River' or ‘roofer Ocean County.'”

3. Timing. PPC is expensive. So if you can't afford to run your ad around the clock, select a day and time when consumers are most likely to be researching your product or service. For contractors, “the biggest usage period is Monday through Wednesday,” Shelley says.

4. Next steps. Tell website users where to go. A common mistake is sending searchers to the home page of the company's website rather than to a landing page built for that PPC campaign. Whatever the offer, make sure that the landing page “is very product-specific,” Shelley advises. “It's not supposed to be a micro-site.” Landing pages should be in place before you launch your PPC campaign.

5. Engagement. Todd Bairstow, president of Keyword Connects, a Boston Internet consultant, says that the “magic factor” is when clicks become phone calls. In addition to trackable phone numbers and contact forms, include live chat and click-to-call to make it easy for searchers to engage your company. “Track, track, track,” Bairstow says, and respond immediately.

PPC gives you instant visibility. But a well-optimized website generates steady customer contacts and creates an online place where all your marketing can coalesce. According to Bairstow, “The best strategy is to be doing both.”