Google AdWords and pay-per click marketing in general can be very difficult. The amount of competition is consistently increasing, and the Google AdWords platform in particular is relatively complex.
For that reason many small businesses need some sort of help – whether it be in the form of a piece of software or a service to manage your account. Because of the complexity of pay-per click campaigns and the ROI available from a well-run account, many quality PPC management services are out of the reach of a typical small business.
At Measured SEM, we’re frequently being approached by businesses who simply don’t have the budget for our services, but are still looking for help getting the most out of pay-per click.
My former company, WordStream , offers a few tools for PPC users, including its free AdWords Performance Grader and free Keyword Tools. The WordStream PPC Advisor is the company’s full-featured Pay-Per-Click Marketing Management Software, which is designed to help users analyze, configure and monitor their PPC campaigns in 20 minutes per week.
They also offer hands-on management services  aimed at small to medium sized businesses as well.
- Free AdWords Performance Grader and Keyword Tools
- Complete AdWords/adCenter integration
- Competitive intelligence helps identify profitable search terms
- Savings alerts help reduce unnecessary spending
- Software: $299 per month (Small Business), $499 per month (Professional), $999 per month (Enterprise)
- Services: Pricing currently starts at $1,000 per month
- AdWords Performance Grader and Keyword Tools are free
- Discounts available for annual pre-pay
Gazel  is an AdWords Excel plugin allowing users to instantly refresh data with a single click, negating the hassle of downloading .csv files from AdWords. Users can track unlimited client profiles using Gazel and make use of customizable report templates to share data with key team members and external stakeholders.
The tool does require some level of comfort with Excel, but for those comfortable with Excel it’s a great tool for more efficiently manipulating data and optimizing your PPC campaigns.
- Powers pivot tables and reports
- Unlimited client profiles
- Shareable, customizable report templates
- Easy comparison metrics
Cost: $99 (Beta version, compatible with Excel 2007 and Excel 2010)
3. Portent Interactive PPC Essentials Program
It’s extremely difficult to get competent PPC help for less than four figures, but Portent  actually offers a PPC essentials  package that starts at $250/mo. and gives you a dedicated account representative. Obviously with a monthly fee that low there are several specific restrictions on deliverables, but of course they also offer additional services at a higher retainer.
I don’t know of any company doing quality work with a minimum monthly retainer that low, so it can be a great option for really low budget campaigns and/or folks just getting started with AdWords.
- Written reports with identified issues and suggested solutions
- Varying service levels for any size budget
- Ad copywriting and multi-variate testing
- Keyword, CPC and CTR optimization
- Certified account managers
Cost: $250 and up (PPC Essentials package, covering users with budgets under $3,000 per month and 200 keywords or less)
Trada is a crowdsourced platform with a network of experienced, certified optimizers who help companies take their PPC campaigns to the next level. Trada’s experts provide complete campaign buildout and optimization, meaning clients spend less time on managing and organizing their paid search campaigns.
- Optimizer Matching algorithm matches clients with the right experts
- Complete campaign buildout and optimization
- Continuous testing and optimization to maximize ROI
Cost: Varies. Clients and experts agree on a target cost-per action (sale, lead, etc.); Trada only wins when client goals are met.
AgileBid is an automated bidding platform designed to save users time on PPC campaigns – without marking up costs. AgileBid puts paid search campaigns on auto-pilot, allowing advertisers to set budgetary limits and sit back while the platform takes care of bidding and keyword optimization behind the scenes.
- Manages both Google AdWords and Bing ads
- Automatically search for winning bids and eliminate non-performers
- Automated CPC optimization; never exceed your budget limits
Cost: $49.95 per month (Starter, monthly spend less than $1,000). Advertisers with monthly budgets exceeding $1,000, $50 additional monthly cost per additional $1,000 spent.
WordWatch specializes in Google Shopping and Google Product Listing Ads, but also offers PPC optimization tools for standard paid search campaigns. Varying service levels accommodate advertisers with small to large budgets.
- Unlimited keywords at all account levels
- Simple interface usable for non-experienced advertisers
- Works behind-the-scenes to optimize campaigns and reduce spend
- Specialized features for Google Product Listing Ads advertisers
Cost: $49 (Small Budgets – 1 account, 5 campaigns), $99 (SMB Advertisers – 1 account, 25 campaigns), $199 (Marketing Pros – 10 accounts, unlimited campaigns), $399 (SEM Agencies – 50 accounts, unlimited campaigns
7. Certified Knowledge
Brad Geddes’ Certified Knowledge offers a collection of PPC tools, several in-depth training modules on various AdWords related topics, and a forum where you can get answers to specific questions and issues you’re having with your campaigns.
Brad is one of the smartest and most experienced AdWords advertisers around and if you’re looking to maintain control of your own pay-per click campaigns access to these tools and this information is extremely valuable.
- Save Time With Robust PPC Tools
- AdWords Lessons from Basic to Advanced
- Receive Quick Answers to Your Questions
- Unlimited Access to 150+ Videos
- Manage AdWords in Less than an Hour a Day
BONUS: Google’s Free Tools
While using a paid tool or service can often jumpstart your campaign and save you a lot of time, it’s important to note that Google offers a number of free tools to help advertisers get the most from their paid search campaigns, and depending on your situation (how much time you can dedicate to the campaign, your budget, etc.) managing the campaign yourself with Google’s free resources may actually be the best approach for your business.
Google AdWords Editor allows advertisers to simplify the process of making bulk changes across campaigns, including keywords and bids, and also enables working offline with ease of uploading changes any time.
The Conversion Optimizer is a free feature for AdWords advertisers that you can leverage if you have conversion tracking set up (and you’re generating a minimum volume of conversions) to have your bids optimized for you.
The Google Keyword Tool  is a widely used resource by both AdWords advertisers and for general users looking to improve SEO.
- Work offline; upload changes easily
- Keyword Tool valuable for general SEO
- Automated CPC and keyword optimization
- Analyzes user attributes, content targeting and search targeting
Cost: Free (Although you are, of course, already giving them money if you’re using the tools.)
Ultimately with any of these tools and services, you’ll still need to understand your objectives, ensure you’re getting the proper ROI, and provide input about your business.
But you can get significant time savings and campaign improvements with a fairly minimal investment if you find the right product for you so that you can get a better return on your investment and focus more of your energy on things like hiring smarter , making sure you’re allocating budget properly, and generally finding ways to grow your business.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kycstudio