Marketing for Associations: PPC Strategies and Best Practices

Emily Lutz
November 13, 2021

Associations can benefit from using paid online marketing to promote their memberships, certifications & accreditations, resources, courses, and events to their audience.

Even with a limited budget, associations can develop effective marketing strategies to reach audiences through search engines, display ads, video, and social media platforms.

Key Marketing Strategies for Associations

In this resource, we’ll cover:


How to Target Your Audience, Per Platform

To reach a specific audience for your association, the best strategy is to use a wide variety of targeting options available on the major paid marketing platforms.

Google Search, Display, and YouTube Targeting

On Google Search, Display, and YouTube, you can target your audience by:

  • what they are searching for

  • what type of audience group they fall into

On Display and YouTube, you can create a custom audience using keywords that your audience may have searched recently (related to your association or not). Alternatively, you could use URLs of websites they may visit frequently.

From there, you can begin showing them ads all over the internet, regardless of whether they are currently searching for your association or not, for a cheap cost.

In the case of Display advertising, you only pay when someone actually clicks on an ad. The average cost per click in Display is $0.63, while the average cost per click on Search is $2.69.


average cost per click on google per industry

Average Search & Display CPCs on Google for major industries (Source: Word Stream

Microsoft Bing and LinkedIn Targeting

Both Bing and LinkedIn have a variety of options for professional targeting to meet the needs of your association.

On LinkedIn, you can target your audience by:

  • Education

  • Industry

  • Company

  • Job title

  • Job function

  • and more!

Since Microsoft owns LinkedIn, you can use some of this same targeting on the Microsoft Bing Search and Audience Network (Display) ad platform, which includes the Bing, Yahoo, and AOL search engines. This covers 36.9% of search volume in the US!

Google Ads and Facebook Targeting

Google Ads and Facebook are the two most widely-used platforms that offer targeting and ad options. Currently, they are working on expanding their business and professional targeting.

Google Ads has a new “business demographics” targeting option in beta, which allows you to target audiences by industry or company size. They are also adding more in-market and affinity business audiences as well.

Facebook is also adding more job title, company, and industry targeting options in its “Interests” lists. These platforms can also be important for remarketing visitors to your website to work them down the purchase funnel.

Performing an Association Competitive Analysis

One of the most important ways to get new ideas for strategy and ad language is to do competitive research in your association’s given field. 

Even if you are the only association in your industry, it can help to look at the language that other businesses use when reaching out to your target audience. This will help you understand what calls to action and benefits work best with your audience.

It also allows you to highlight how you are different (and better) than your competitor in your ad copy.

Facebook Ad Competitive Research

On Facebook, you can research the ads that your competitors are running by using the Facebook Ads Library. This feature shows all the current ads that any company is running by searching their Facebook Page name.



Facebook ad library backend

Screenshot of Facebook Ads Library–search for “American Heart Association” 11.10.2020

Google and Microsoft Competitive Research

On Google & Microsoft, try searching Google and Bing using important search terms or queries relevant to your industry. This can trigger you being shown any competitors’ ads, and allow you to get a look at their current messaging. 

This is also a great way to see if and when your ads show up in the results (as well as any organic listings).

In both Google Ads and Microsoft Ads, there is also an “Auction Insights Reports” tool, which can be accessed at the account, campaign, and ad group level. This allows you to see a list of companies that are bidding on the same keywords as you, and where your ads are positioned comparatively.

Conversion Goals for Association Marketing

Associations can have a variety of conversions that they want to advertise for. This requires many types of campaigns and targeting. However, in budgeting discussions, the importance of each conversion to the association should be measured and budgeted for accordingly.

Membership Conversions

For most associations, memberships are the largest priority. This is because members will bring in significant revenue and often lead to other smaller conversions, like course purchases, certifications, and event registrations.

Since memberships are a major focus of association marketing, there should be membership-targeted ads and campaigns running on every platform, making for a holistic ad strategy.

You can do this through targeted search ads on Google and Microsoft Search for people searching for an association.

You can also utilize prospecting and remarketing Display and YouTube campaigns to increase awareness of the association in the mind of your target audience, which could lead to future membership conversions.

Using a prospecting strategy–which entails reaching out to people who have not been to your website before–is crucial for this conversion. But remarketing–which involves reaching out to people who have been to your site but not converted–is essential as well.

Remarketing keeps your association top of mind for prospective customers and allows you to offer new information and benefits that could lead to conversions.

Resource Conversions

Many associations offer multiple types of purchases on their websites outside of membership costs. This can include:

  • Online courses

  • In-person courses

  • Continuing education

  • Certifications

  • Accreditations

  • Content resources

These resources may be required for employment in a field and could be offered at a discount for members.

To best convert for these important revenue streams, associations must focus their advertising efforts on awareness. Making sure your audience is aware that these resources are valuable to their career is all it takes to get a purchase.

Platforms that are best for promoting awareness include Google Display and YouTube, Microsoft Display, and social media campaigns. These types of campaigns have a low cost per click and often a high return.

Event Conversions

Another common conversion for associations are event registrations.

Most associations hold annual conferences, expos, or other in-person or online events to network, sell products, and present industry research. This can also be a major source of both revenue and memberships, given that members are offered a significant discount on registrations.

Facebook has a number of great event advertising tools for events, including promoting signups on the platform itself and doing more traditional advertising to a website page.

Google Display and YouTube are also normally effective platforms for events, given that you can target an email list or custom audience. Plus, these platforms allow you to show ads multiple times to a large audience at a fairly cheap budget.

The most important strategy for event conversion, however, is to have an eye-catching image or video. You also must highlight any essential information and dates in the ad copy. To create urgency, you can run ads as early bird registration or general registration comes to a close, and highlight any cutoff dates or pierce changes.

Education/Public Awareness Conversions

One final conversion that an association may need to focus on is public education campaigns.

Oftentimes, associations aim to educate the public about their organization, industry, or members. This could entail getting visits to a website, disseminating content or videos, or even obtaining business for current members.

For instance, a medical association may run campaigns to make the public aware that it is time for them to see a doctor. It could then direct them to a search tool on the association’s website that will help users find an accredited member near them.

Social media, Display, and YouTube are very effective platforms for these campaigns because you can target a large audience and show your ads frequently for a relatively small budget.

The Importance of Seasonality in Marketing for Associations

With the many conversions needed for an association’s success, there may be conflicting seasonality.

For instance, professional and business memberships will likely slow down around the holidays in November and December, as well as summer months. Student memberships and products tend to peak at the beginning of school semesters.

However, online course purchases may peak during the holidays and summer, as people have time off of work. Event registrations will obviously peak around the time of the event.

With all of these strategies, your budgeting strategy should be sure to take these swings into account.

course purchases trends in associations

Course purchases trends for an association client of PSM, showing a peak in purchases in April & May 2020, dipping when businesses re-opened in June & July, but then increasing again at the end of summer & into the fall.

During 2020, we saw professional and business memberships peak in June and July, when businesses were re-opening after being shut down due to COVID.

Student memberships and purchases were low most of the year as schools shut down and students paused their studies. However, online course purchases were incredibly high during the months of April and May, when many people were off of work.

Many events moved online, widening the audience that could attend from all over the world, increasing registrations for the associations that were hosting them.


Key Takeaways

Association PPC strategy can be complicated due to their hyper-specific audience and diverse conversion goals.

Some associations also use very technical language that marketers may not be experts in. With open communication and planning and prioritization, a marketing team can work with an association to develop a flexible and effective strategy.

Soon, you’ll be reaching your right audience, at the right place, at just the right time.


An expert digital marketing agency can help you craft a successful strategy that fits the exact needs of your association. Contact the team at Perfect Search for a comprehensive site and strategy audit.

Emily Lutz
Director of Strategy

Emily Lutz is from Kalispell, Montana and has been camping more times than she can count. She geeks out over musicals and the TV show Firefly (yes, she’s on some chat sites). Before joining Perfect Search, Emily was a zookeeper for ten years.

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