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What’s the first thing most consumers do when they’re looking to find a new business, get an answer to a question, or solve a problem? They go to a search engine for answers and advice. You want your business to have a presence on these search engines so that they turn to you for the perfect solution to their issue.

Part of showing up on search engines is having a great SEO strategy. But the other key component is paid search advertising, otherwise known as search engine marketing (SEM) or pay per click (PPC). Paid search helps you get seen on search engines for queries related to your business so you can drive visitors to your website, generate leads, and increase brand awareness.

paid search gets you seen on search engines like google.

In this post, we’ll answer questions like:

  • What is paid search?
  • How does paid search work?
  • Why use paid search?

Let’s get started!


What Is Paid Search Advertising?

To understand paid search advertising, you have to first understand the makeup of a search engine results page (SERP). When you type something into a search engine (like Google), the search engine responds with a list of web pages (their title, links, and description) that are relevant to your search. This is your SERP. The bulk of that list is comprised of organic results: web pages that the search engine algorithm determined were the best match for your search.

PPC ads are the results (web page names) that appear at the of your SERP and can also appear in the Google 3-pack.

While we often think of ads as visually distinct elements, paid search ads look similar to the organic listings after them, but are labeled in some way to distinguish them as an ad.

PPC ads are the first results that show when you search for a new dentist.

Here’s an example of paid search results on Google.

Paid search ads appear based on the keywords a user searches with and in the location they’re searching from (in addition to a variety of other factors, which we’ll get into a little later). With paid search ads, you pay for each click on your ad (which is why paid search ads are also called pay per click ads).

Paid search ads happen to appear on search engines, and search engines may be huge, but you don’t have to be a big business to use them. Businesses of any size and with any budget can use and benefit from paid search ads.

Paid Search Ads vs. Display Ads

While display ads are also a form of pay per click advertising, they are different from paid search ads. Display ads show up on web pages themselves (which you arrive at by clicking on one of the results of your SERP or by typing the address into your browser). They typically take the form of a box or banner and have an image/graphic and a distinct call to action button.

Here's an example of two display ads on a local news publication.

Paid Search vs. SEO

Search engine optimization, or SEO, and paid search both get your business seen on search engines, but they are very different. With SEO, you don’t pay to have your results displayed on the search engine, while paid search requires a budget and spend to show up. SEO helps you rank organically, meaning in the spots below paid search results.

Learn more about SEO vs. PPC and how they work together here.


How Does Paid Search Work?

Paid search sounds simple – you pay to have your business show up on search results for specific keywords – but the reality is that paid search can be complex. There are a lot of moving pieces that go into paid search.

So, how does paid search work?

Paid search works essentially like an auction. When someone conducts a search, the search engine will look at the keywords included in the query to determine whether or not it contains any keywords advertisers are bidding on. If it does, the “auction” will begin, and the search engine will look at various elements, like specific keywords, budget, and quality factors to determine which ads to show where on the page.

Here’s an example of how the paid search auction works on Google Ads:

This shows how CPC would be calculated for advertisers measuring their ppc metrics.

This means that in order for paid search to work, you have to determine various components of your paid search campaign, including keywords, location, budget, ad copy, and where the ads will link to.


Why Use Paid Search?

Paid search ads are a huge asset for any business because they can increase your visibility on search engines and traffic to your website, and ultimately sales.

Here are five benefits of paid search advertising for your business:

1. Gets You on the First Page of Google

There’s limited real estate for the top positions in organic search results, meaning there is a lot of competition. Whether you’re a new business or an existing one just starting to build your online presence, paid search ads can get you a coveted spot on the first page of Google.

Plus, on average, 41% of clicks go to the first three paid ads on the search results page.

2. Works Fast

SEO, the other digital marketing strategy that gets you seen on search engines, doesn’t work immediately. It takes a few months for you to increase your chances of ranking organically on search engines for relevant queries. But, paid search works fast. You can start showing up on search engines almost immediately, which gives you a way to capture interested searchers quickly.

3. Helps Maintain Your Reputation

With paid search ads, users will know that you paid to be on the first page of Google. However, this won’t reflect poorly on your business reputation. Just like with organic rankings, search engines have a set of requirements and factors in place for paid rankings to ensure that the ads it puts in front of its users are relevant and trustworthy.

Your ad rank is not solely based on how high you bid. Google and other search engines also look at your Quality Score, which is a measure of how relevant your keyword is to your ad text and to what a user is searching for.

This graphic shows some of the factors that make up Google Quality Score, an important PPC metric.

4. People Who Click on Paid Search Ads are Ready to Buy

Your paid search ads show to users who are specifically searching for your products or services, meaning they don’t just have a passing or unrelated interest. They’re ready to buy – or at least learn more and eventually buy.

In fact, research has found that for searches with high purchase intent, paid search ads get 65% of clicks.

5. Provides Robust Analytics

Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing provide those using their advertising platforms with free real-time data and analytics. With this information, you can learn quite a bit about those who click on your ad, including:

  • Where that person is located.
  • How much time they spent on your site.
  • What pages they visited on your site.
  • What type of device they were using (mobile, tablet, laptop).

This detailed data allows you to see exactly what you’re getting from every paid search dollar you spend. Use it to be more efficient with your advertising, to continuously improve your campaigns, and to get the results you want.

Take a look at the top PPC metrics to measure here.


Get Going with Paid Search

The vast majority of people start their search for a new business on search engines, and paid search advertising is a great way to leverage this channel to drive traffic to your website, increase brand awareness, and get new customers.

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