If you are new to the concept of paid search advertising, the overwhelming amount of information on the internet can make it difficult to come to a basic understanding of what paid search really is. As the digital arm of marketing grows, this understanding is necessary for anyone who wishes to stay relevant in the marketing world. While the execution of this piece of the marketing puzzle can be extremely complicated, the concept itself is more easily digested. Once you come to an understanding of how search engines work, it becomes much easier to answer the questions “what is paid search advertising?” and “how can paid search benefit my business?”
Before we can begin to discuss advertising on Google, you need to understand how the search engine works in general. If you think you already understand this, feel free to jump to the next section. If not, never fear, the remainder of this section should clear things up a bit. When you search for something on Google, you are almost instantly given a list of results from all over the web. The majority of these search results are referred to as “organic” because no one is paying for them to appear. Different searches can produce a variety of results, with more or fewer ads, rich snippets, videos, images, news articles and more. For example, when I complete a Google search for “cute kittens”, I am served only organic images, videos, and web search results*:
When deciding which results appear for a particular search, Googlebot plays a significant role. Googlebot is Google’s web crawler that discovers and ‘crawls’ each web page. These crawled web pages are added to Google’s massive index. When a search is performed, Google uses its algorithm to pull the pages from the index that are deemed most likely to meet the needs of the searcher. This is determined by over 200 factors, such as the context of information in relation to the search term, the quality of the content, and the number and quality of other websites that link to the web page.
The process of getting a website to appear in the organic results for a particular search term is complicated. At Workshop Digital, our Search Engine Optimization team works hard to keep our client’s websites healthy and ranking on search engines. However, a business will never rank organically for every relevant search term, and even when they are ranking organically, they may want to further dominate the search results by having their website appear multiple times. In both cases, paid search advertising can be effectively utilized.
Alright, so now that you have a general idea of how a search engine works, it is time to discuss how paid search advertising comes into play. Paid search advertising is the process of advertising on search engines, such as Google and Bing. In other words, you can pay to get your ad to show up in the results for particular search terms, also called queries or keywords. These advertisements “disguise” themselves as organic search results, with the only noticeable difference being the little orange-yellow box in the top left corner that says “Ad”. These advertisements often appear as the first three results, and along the righthand side of search results pages. For example, when I complete a Google search for “cute kittens for sale”, the top three results served are advertisements, as are the results along the righthand side. The fourth result and down are all shown organically (for free), based on relevance and authority.
A business may decide to pay to get their ad to show in the results for particular Google search terms for a variety of reasons, but it is most often done to help their potential customers find them. For example, if you owned a cat adoption service, you would probably want your advertisement to appear when someone in your area searches on Google for “cute kittens for sale” or “cat adoption near me”. The number and size of other cat adoption services may create too much competition for you to organically rank for these terms, especially if you are a small business owner. However, you could still get your website to appear in the results by paying for advertisements in Google’s advertising platform, AdWords.
Advertisements on search engines have a few main advantages over traditional ads. Not that traditional advertising does not have its place, but paid search advertising can benefit businesses in many ways that traditional advertising simply cannot. First, paid search advertisements are more highly targeted than many forms of traditional advertising. When you see a commercial during a break from your favorite tv show, chances are you are not that interested in the product or service being highlighted. Most people actively ignore commercials that are not entertaining because they are often not relevant to their wants and needs. For example, when a commercial for a nail salon airs, it could be shown to people who already have a salon they are loyal to, people who do their nails at home, or people who never get their nails done at all.
The commercial has such a wide audience that it is not speaking to a specific target, and that causes a lot of waste. Now let’s apply the same example to a Google search advertisement. With proper campaign management, a Google search advertisement for the nail salon will appear in the results when people in the appropriate geographic area search for things such as “nail salon near me”. There is very little waste with this approach as the advertisement is only being shown to people who have indicated an interest in the product or service being offered.
Another advantage of search engine advertisements is that they are reactive rather than proactive. In life, this is rarely a good thing, but in advertising it can be. Google advertisements are shown as a reaction to potential interest in business offerings. Not only does this mean that the ad is being shown to a more highly targeted audience, it also means that it is being shown at a more opportune time. People who are searching on Google are already actively looking for something when they are shown the relevant advertisements. This makes them much more likely to be in the purchasing mindset than people who are watching television, reading the newspaper, or listening to the radio. Instead of pummeling people with advertisements while their attention is elsewhere, search advertisements wait for the opportune time; when people are specifically searching for a business's offerings online.
The next advantage of search advertisements is that they are much cheaper than many traditional forms of advertising. Television ads in particular are very expensive, and often less effective which can also lead to lower returns on investment. If you place an advertisement on television, on the radio, or in the newspaper, you pay for it to run even though you have no way of knowing if anyone pays attention to it. But with paid search advertisements, you only pay when someone actually engages with your ad. Let me break it down by going back to our previous example of a cat adoption business. If a business wants to appear in the results when someone searches for “cat adoption near me”, they do so by placing a bid that tells Google how much they are willing to pay for a click on their ad. This means that even if their advertisement is shown, the business is not charged unless someone is interested enough to click on their ad. Average cost-per-click varies widely by industry, but the average in the US is between $1 and $2. This makes paid search advertising an extremely cost effective method of informing your target customer base of your offerings. It is also a very inexpensive way to increase traffic to your website and ultimately, your desirable website actions, such as video views or e-commerce transactions.
None of the first three advantages I mentioned would matter very much if search engines had not become the most common method of obtaining information. Google in particular is so popular that it has become a commonly used verb; to “google” something is to look it up on the Google search engine. We turn to Google for everything, from getting directions to the movie theatre to shopping for a new coat, or just to answer the random questions that pop into our heads daily, like “how many cats are in the world?” (If you are now curious, the answer is 600 million, courtesy of Google.) The fact of the matter is, if your customers are looking for you on the internet, you better be there, because chances are your competitors already are. Even if they don’t know of your business yet, your potential customers are searching online for something you offer. If you want to stay relevant, you have to make sure they can find you. Paid advertisements on Google are the most effective way to ensure that they do.
Okay, so you now know a little about what paid search advertising is and why it can be beneficial, but how it is executed effectively is a whole different story. Running a successful and efficient paid search campaign is a complex process. Google has a lot of great resources to get you started, but if you don’t know what you are doing it can be all too easy to waste large sums of money. Paid search has too many considerations to be effectively handled by someone who is not a trained expert. This is where digital marketing agencies save the day. Our Paid Search Analysts have helped clients across a variety of industries to increase their online presence and work toward their overarching business goals.