Paid search marketing is one of the best ways to drive leads and revenue online.
In this article, I’m going to give you an overview of paid search. By the end, you are going to be an expert.
This guide offers beginners an entry-point into the world of search campaigns, covering the following key points:
- What is paid search, and how does it work?
- Why should you use it?
- What goes into a paid strategy?
- How does Google rank ads?
- What are the biggest paid search mistakes that new marketers make?
What is Paid Search and How Does it Work?
Paid search is a type of digital marketing in which advertisers pay for ad space from search engines like Google, YouTube, Yahoo, and Bing.
Marketers bid for a spot in the sponsored links by entering into an auction where they’ll bid on the keywords that will trigger their ad.
This kind of advertising operates on a pay-per-click model, meaning you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.
Ads generally appear above and below organic search results and typically include three key elements: a headline, a URL, and a description, which, when done right, entice searchers to click. Text ads might also include extensions, which expand your ad by including additional information.
For a deeper dive into how PPC works, read my full guide here.
Why Should You Use Paid Search Marketing?
If you’re new to paid search, you might be wondering if it’s worth the effort. Why bother with it when you can rank in the organic results for free?
Unfortunately, ranking organically is neither easy nor free.
Gaining the domain authority and brand recognition needed to rank on the front page of Google demands a lot of resources, including time and money required for developing and distributing high-quality content.
Search ads can offer a shortcut, bringing qualified traffic directly to your site, while simultaneously supporting your organic efforts.
Here are the main benefits of a paid strategy:
- Increased SERP Visibility. SEO practices alone might land you in the top organic position, but paid ads can help you get on your audience’s radar immediately.
- It Can Be Used with Other Channels. Use paid search to direct traffic to other channels, specific pieces of content—you name it.
- Qualified Prospects. Because search ads target specific search queries and audiences, using them allows you to put your ad right in front of people who are already searching for a solution like the one you provide. While impression-focused ads like Display ads or the ones you might find in your Facebook feed aim to capture searcher attention passively, targeting based on query allows you to tap into an audience with intent. These people are actively searching for solutions—whether they’re starting the research process or ready to buy.
- Audience Insights. Paid search also allows marketers to learn more about their prospects, campaign performance, and what kind of return on investment (ROI) they’re getting from their ad spend.
What is Paid Search Strategy?
A paid search strategy consists of several moving parts: keywords, ad groups, match types, and a whole lot more.
In this section, I’ll go over some of the basic things you’ll need to know before setting up a campaign.
It Starts with a Goal
Most failed marketing campaigns have one thing in common: they launched with no end-game in mind.
As you start putting together your search campaigns, you’ll need to establish just what it is you hope to accomplish.
Your goals might include the following:
- Improving brand recognition.
- Generating leads.
- Increasing sales.
- Driving conversions.
Ultimately, the real purpose here is to convert website visitors, not generate a bunch of clicks. Otherwise, you’re wasting money.
Keep in mind, conversions don’t always equal sales. The term refers to any action matching the advertiser’s goal for the ad. Meaning, it might include:
- Purchasing a service.
- Signing up for a newsletter.
- Signing up for a free trial.
- Booking a consultation.
Whatever your target outcome, you’ll need to make sure you’re tracking conversions. This helps you understand how effective your ads are and how many conversions can be attributed to your paid campaign versus other channels.
Keywords are at the heart of any search marketing campaign and are used to connect marketers to users’ search queries.
Queries represent the words that users type into a search engine to find information, while keywords are the words and phrases that marketers use to target those searchers.
If you have the time, here is a video I made on how to select the right keywords. Enjoy the free class! You can view some of my other classes here.
Essentially, marketers select keywords that they believe are a match to the queries someone would use to find their website.
In Google Ads, you’ll have the option to choose from the following match types when you set up a campaign:
- Exact match – Exact match keywords will only trigger ads when someone searches for that exact term, though it does account for plurals and spelling errors.
- Phrase match – With phrase match, your target keyword triggers the ad when a searcher enters the exact phrase, but also includes additional words. For example, if your keyword is “dog food,” both “natural dog food brands” and “pet stores selling natural dog food” might trigger the ad.
- Broad match – Broad match keywords trigger an ad when the searcher types in synonyms or enters the words in a different order.
- Modified broad – Modified broad match triggers ads when a searcher enters the query in any order, without synonyms. For example, ‘natural food for dogs’ or ‘dog food all-natural ingredients.’
In addition to match types, marketers can also use negative keywords to prevent ads from running on queries containing the target keyword but suggest a different intent.
This allows you to avoid irrelevant clicks—which increase campaign costs, raise bounce rates, and lower quality scores.
Crafting Your Ad Copy
When you write your ad copy, you’ll need to immediately establish the product or service you offer and what separates it from the competition, while also making sure to include your keyword the appropriate number of times.
Here’s a breakdown of how you can make the most out of that limited space:
- Headline: Make sure the keyword makes an appearance in your headline. Once is enough.
- Description line 1: Should discuss features and benefits.
- Description line 2: Reinforce benefits and include a call to action (entice them to buy your product or sign up for a free trial, for example).
- Display URL: yourwebsite.com/Keyword
Additionally, Google guidelines strongly recommend against using all caps or too many exclamation points. The flourishes likely won’t do anything but annoy your audience.
Need some inspiration for turning ads into action? Here are 18 of the best CTAs on the web you can look to as an example.
In Google Ads, you’ll also be able to include Extensions, which are those links included below the main ad copy.
This feature allows you to take up more space in the search results while adding more context to your ad copy.
Ad extensions include the following options, which you can pick and choose based on your campaign goals.
- Sitelinks – Links users to specific website pages like product categories or contact pages.
- Callouts – Additional text you can use to highlight things like “free delivery” or special promotions.
- Location – Shows users your business address.
- Call or Message – Encourages people to get in touch.
- Seller ratings – Google My Business or TrustPilot reviews that show customer ratings.
Structure Your Ad Groups the Right Way
Before breaking your keyword lists into ad groups, consider Match types, messaging, and audience intent.
I recommend creating your campaign structure by creating ad groups based on one topic or idea at a time.
While Google recommends adding about 7-10 keywords to each ad group, targeting the right audience is easier when you keep things as narrow as possible, limiting ad groups to three or four keywords a piece.
For example, your ad groups might look like this:
- Campaign Name: Chairs
- Ad Group: Leather office chairs
- Keywords: leather office chairs, brown leather office chairs, etc.
Additionally, you’ll need to consider the buyer’s journey when setting up your ad groups. For example, if someone is just starting their buying journey and beginning to gather information, they don’t necessarily know which brands they might buy from.
This example from AdEspresso breaks down how an ad for the same product changes based on a user’s funnel stage.
Keyword targeting isn’t the only factor in reaching your target audience. Marketers can optimize their campaigns using other targeting options like:
- Day and time.
Beyond the “basics,” Google has introduced several new targeting options for search ads, which break down as follows:
- Customer Match
- Similar Audiences
These audiences can be layered over one another or combined with imported audience data from your website or Facebook Insights.
Here, I’ll go over some best practices for using Google’s life event targeting to deliver the right content at the right time.
How Does Google Rank Search Ads?
Ultimately, search engines aim to deliver the best possible results to their audiences, which means there’s more to securing the number one spot than simply paying more than everyone else.
Google, for example, looks the following to determine ad rank.
- Bid amount.
- Ad relevance.
- Ad quality.
- Ad format and extension use–Google prioritizes sites that make use of extensions.
- Contextual signals like device or location type.
- Search topic.
- Related auctions.
Ad Relevance and Paid Search Marketing
Ad Relevance measures how successful you are in matching your keyword to your ad. You’ll also need to create ads that are relevant to the searcher’s query.
Make sure your ad addresses the query directly, then leads the user to a landing page that corresponds with both the ad copy and the query.
There are a few key reasons why relevance is a huge deal for paid search ads.
For one, relevant ads lead to higher click-through rates (CTRs), which leads to more cost-effective PPC campaigns, as they give your Quality Score a boost (more on that below).
Second, a close match between ads, queries, and post-click landing pages will help you net more conversions.
According to Google, Quality Score is a metric that determines ad relevance by taking the following into account:
- Relevance of the keyword to the ad copy.
- Relevance of the ad copy and keyword to the search query.
- Post-click landing page quality.
- The account’s overall average click-through-rate.
There are different types of quality scores: keyword-level, account-level, and ad group-level.
Additionally, your post-click landing page factors into your quality score, as Google will display your ads less often if it detects they lead searchers to sites offering a poor experience.
Per Google’s landing page guidelines, you can improve the experience by applying the following steps:
- Offering relevant, useful content.
- Ensuring your page directly reflects keyword and ad text.
- Being transparent about your business and what it does.
- Making it easy to find contact details.
- Ensuring the site loads quickly.
- Building mobile-responsive pages.
- Providing clear navigation.
What are the Most Common Paid Search Mistakes New Marketers Make?
Forgetting to Use Negative Keywords to Refine Your Campaigns
Negative keywords prevent intent mismatch from messing with your search performance—and by extension—eating up your budget.
Not sure where to start with negative keywords? Here are a few of my favorite hacks for finding the right negative keywords for your brand.
Stuffing Your Ad Copy with Keywords
These days, searchers are conditioned to spot spammy language and avoid it like the plague. Along with spelling errors and emails addressed with “Dear Sir,” overusing keywords set off consumer alarm bells.
This graphic from Unbounce highlights where to use your keyword, striking a balance between optimizing your ad and talking like a human:
Applying Broad Match to Your Initial Paid Search Campaigns
Starting with broad match will allow Google to show your ad to anyone who types in all kinds of variations of your keyword.
When you’re new to paid search, casting a net as wide as broad match may not be to your benefit. You’ll likely end up showing ads to many unqualified searchers and limiting your ability to target your audience effectively.
Keep in mind, your campaigns will be assigned broad match by default, which is where many new paid advertisers trip up, either by assuming it’s the best option or simply being unaware of the other match types.
Instead, I recommend searchers start with exact or phrase match to gain more control over their campaign and targeting options.
This way, you’ll start to collect data that you can later use to refine your strategy.
Failing to Research Demographic Information
Paid search success hinges on a combination of keyword research and a deep understanding of demographic information.
While the concept of keywords, queries, and match types are relatively straightforward, conducting research the “right way” may be intimidating for newcomers.
Remember, your goal is to “match” keyword targets to user queries. As such, you’ll want to rely on data to make decisions, not guesswork based on what you think people might enter into a search bar to find your website.
Luckily, Google offers free demographic reports that you can access from your Google Ads account, which help you understand your customer base and assess campaign and ad group performance.
As you gather more data over time, your reports can help you refine your strategy and develop campaigns targeted to specific groups.
Not Getting Granular with Targeting
As Google continues to roll out new ways to reach audiences based on interests, income, and a whole lot more, brands that don’t take advantage of the targeting options available may get left behind.
While keywords remain a core element of search marketing, relying on search queries alone means you might get it wrong when it comes to buyer intent.
Capitalizing on hyper-specific audience targeting allows brands to drop the hard sell and focus on developing messaging that offers helpful, personalized solutions to buyers at each stage in the journey.
Focusing on the Wrong Problems and Solutions
If you want people to click on your ad, you’ll need to make sure you focus on the right pain point or need in your ad copy.
One common mistake I see a lot of marketers make is that they fail to identify the motivating factors that trigger a search in the first place.
Instead, they go ahead and assume that the consumers share the same set of goals as they do—and continue to emphasize the point they feel brings the most value to the table.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through a few simple formulas for uncovering the customer pain points you can use to target audience intent and make an emotional connection.
Wrapping Up Paid Search Marketing
Paid search allows you to connect with searchers at the exact moment they are searching for whatever it is you have to offer.
When done right, paid search is one of the fastest ways to grow your business online. However, there are a lot of potential pitfalls (learn about more PPC mistakes and how to avoid them) that can lead to irrelevant clicks and wasted ad dollars.
How Does PPC Work?
Pay-per-click (PPC) is a major component of search ads. Learn all about how PPC and the ad auction works in this article.
The Best Calls-to-Action on the Internet
Great paid search ads start with effective calls-to-action (CTAs). Read this article for a little inspiration on how to craft a CTA that draws clicks.
How to FInd the Right Negative Keywords
Negative keywords play a big part in your ad campaign. But using them correctly is harder than you might think. Here, I’ll show you how to choose and use the right negative keywords for your campaign.
How to Find Your Customer’s Pain Points
Effectively communicating with your audience starts by understanding their problems, or pain points. No matter what channel you’re using, clearly demonstrating how your product or solution can alleviate that pain point is one of the best ways to connect with and convert users.
What’s the Best Google Ads Bid Strategy For My Business?
Paid search doesn’t come cheap, but ensuring you’re using the right bid strategy for your brand and business objective will help ensure you’re investing the right way.
Common PPC Campaign Mistakes Your Brand is Making
We mentioned a few beginner mistakes above, but this article offers a deep dive into some of the PPC mistakes we most commonly see, and how brands can avoid making them.