Your Ultimate Guide to Paid Search

Daniella Alscher
Daniella Alscher  |  July 19, 2019

Money can’t buy happiness. 

But it can buy a great spot at the top of Google. 

Paid search, pay-per-click (PPC), search engine marketing (SEM) – whatever you call it, it's a type of online advertising you need. 

Here’s why: 

Paid search fundamentals

Like a dog, SEO is fun to play with, requires patience, and it’s a big responsibility. That dog may never learn a new trick, and your pages may never show up on the first page of Google. 

Related: Confused? Learn more about how SEO works

Like a cat, paid search is easy to take care of and maintain. Oh, and it gets you to the top of Google instantly. 

Here’s a quick snapshot of what paid search looks like versus organic search: 

paid search display

Below, we’ll be going over the basics of paid search, from beginning to end:

Paid search glossary
Why paid search?
How does paid search work?

Paid search glossary

Before we get started, there are a few terms that are important for understanding the remainder of this article, as well as some general paid search lingo. Plus, new vocabulary is fun. 

Impression: when an ad is shown on SERPs (note: the ad does not have to be seen by the user to be considered an impression. Impressions are counted regardless of whether or not a user sees it.)

Click: when a user clicks on one of your advertisements

Click-through rate (CTR): the percentage of impressions that result in clicks (higher is better)

Average cost-per-click (CPC): how much a click costs on average

Conversion rate: the percentage of users who completed a conversion after clicking your advertisement (higher is better)

Average position: average location in which your ads have shown on SERPs (position one is highest) 

Cost per conversion: the amount spent on paid search divided by the number of conversions generated (lower is better). 

Why paid search? 

In other words, why spend money on something that you could be doing for free? 

Here’s a good answer: 63% of people say they’d click an ad on Google, and 75% of those people said they click because those ads make it easier to find what they’re looking for. 

It makes life as a searcher easier. What’s in it for the advertisers? 

It’s targeted

Paid search allows you to not only choose your keywords, but the geographic areas in which you’d like your advertisement to appear.  

It’s efficient

Instead of spending months, even years perfecting an SEO strategy to get to the top of Google, paid search lets you get there instantly. Paid search is great for small companies with a limited number of employees; SEO can be tedious, paid search works in a split second. 

It’s measurable

Paid search will track your metrics for you, all the way from clicks to sales. Having this information at the tips of your fingers can help you optimize the usage of your overall ad budget and improve your strategy. 

It’s cost-effective

While some advertisers may choose to spend thousands of dollars on TV commercials or newspaper ads, they may not receive a single phone call, email, or visitor from a customer who is interested in buying their product or service. 

With paid search, you know exactly what you’re paying for: the attention of customers who are already interested in what you’re offering. Not only that, but because of their initial interest, it’s more than likely that you’ll be making a profit rather than experiencing a loss. 

How does paid search work?

Google is the most popular search engine to date, by far; it owns 92.62% of the market share worldwide as of July 18, 2019. It makes sense that advertisers would want to spend their money there. 

However, there are several paid search platform options, called search advertising software, which all work in a similar fashion. Below, we’ll go over the general steps that need to be taken so that your advertisements makes it to the top.

See the Highest-Rated Search Advertising Software, Free →

1. Location

Your target audience should be located using market segmentation techniques, one of which includes geographic location. Use this to determine the locations in which your ad will appear. You can specify by country, city, zip code, etc. 

2. Choose your keywords

Keywords are the terms that people search most commonly when they’re looking for something online. For example, if someone were looking for slippers, keywords could be “slippers”, “comfortable slippers”, or “house shoes”. 

How do you choose?

There are a limitless number of keywords that could be chosen for what you’re selling. Using keyword research tools can help you to determine which keywords are most popular among searchers, how much competition there is against other advertisers, and an estimate of their CPC. 

3. Keyword match types

There are four different keyword match types in paid search that will determine when your advertisements are shown. If you’re selling a blue bike, here’s what these options would be doing for you: 

Keyword Match Types

TIP: While broad match may seem like the most obvious choice, it is also the least targeted. The wider the audience, the more clicks your advertisement will be receiving from people who may not even intend to buy your product or service, meaning that you’ll be running out of money faster than you can say ROI. 

4. Create the ads

You’re paying for this, so make it good! 

Like Twitter, search advertising software gives limits to the amount of characters you can use in your ad copy. For example, Google Ads’ limits are as follows:

Headline 1 30 characters
Headline 2 30 characters
Headline 3 30 characters
Description 1 90 characters
Description 2 90 characters

Most of these platforms have additional restrictions as to what you advertise and how you advertise it. The following is a list of elements that your advertisement cannot contain. Keep in mind that these are only a few of many restrictions: 

  • Unorthodox capitalization (BLUE BIKE, bLUe BiKE)
  • Symbols to draw attention (!!! Blue Bike !!!)
  • Unnecessary spacing (b l u e b i k e)
  • Emojis

What can you do? 

Advertisements are there for the convenience of the searcher. In order to structure your advertisement in an appropriate way, be sure to: 

  • Use vocabulary that is relevant to your keyword
  • Include points that make you stand apart from competition
  • Include a call to action

5. Dollarbiddollarbiddollarbid

It’s time to bid! Fair warning: this experience is not anywhere nearly as exciting as a live auction. 

The “bid” or “CPC” you choose to enter can be different for each keyword. 

Paid search platforms provide recommendations regarding the amount you should bid, but that’s all they are: recommendations. If you want to bid lower than the suggestion, there is no penalty, other than the risk that your ad may show lower than others, or not at all, and appear less frequently than if you had chosen a higher price. 

HINT: Whatever price you choose, know that the amount of times your link is clicked is the amount of time you pay that price.

Search engines decide where and when your ad shows up based on an “ad rank”, which is made up of two factors: your bid and your quality score. 

Quality score is determined by the combination of relevance, condition of your landing page, and expected click-through rate. The quality score was developed so that advertisers with more money couldn’t just pay more to get to the top; now they have to earn their way up there, just like everyone else. 

6. Launch and monitor

You’re good to go! You can let your ad take off and expect to see it within just a few hours. As metrics come in, continue to optimize: change the copy, use new keywords, and make a note of successes and failures. 

Faster than lightning

Paid search is fast, it’s easy, and, even though it’s paid, it’s extremely cost-efficient. Remember: it’s not all about the money. The quality of your website is a determining factor in where your page lands. If your business doesn’t have time to waste, paid search is the answer. 

Paid search has the chance to not only boost sales, but also brand awareness

Daniella Alscher
Author

Daniella Alscher

Daniella Alscher is a Content Marketing Associate for G2. When she's not reading or writing, she's listening to murder podcasts or sitting on the couch. Or both.