Paid Search: What is PPC and Why You Should Use It

Kevin Long
Kevin Long  |  October 1, 2015
Paid search, also referred to as search advertising, search engine marketing (SEM), or pay-per-click (PPC), is the process of advertising on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.

Paid search, also referred to as search advertising, search engine marketing (SEM), or pay-per-click (PPC), is the process of advertising on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.

Let's go through everything you need to know about paid search, so you can decide how to incorporate it in your marketing strategy.

Paid search

Search advertising software serves to automate this process. Search marketers use paid search in conjunction with search engine optimization practices and organic search marketing software to form a comprehensive search strategy. Search marketers may also utilize other digital advertising channels such as display advertising, mobile advertising, social media advertising, or video advertising as further avenues to reaching their target audience.

Why is paid search important?

Paid search advertising allows advertisers to place their product in front of people who are already looking for it. Because paid search advertising is targeted based on people’s searches, ads are only shown to those already seeking out a product or service, increasing the likelihood that they will click on an ad and convert to paying customers. Furthermore, there are more than 3.5 billion searches performed per day on Google alone, and not targeting that audience is significant lost potential.

Where do potential customers see search ads?

Paid search advertisements run across search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Search ads are generally purchased based on relevant keywords and appear after someone includes that keyword in their search. Ads may also appear across a search engine’s search network. Search networks consist of a collective of partner websites through which search engines can deliver keyword-specific content, allowing advertisers to cast a broader net with their ads.

Search advertising software serves to automate this process. Search marketers use paid search in conjunction with search engine optimization practices and organic search marketing software to form a comprehensive search strategy. Search marketers may also utilize other digital advertising channels such as display advertising, mobile advertising, social media advertising, or video advertising as further avenues to reaching their target audience.

What do search advertisements look like?

Search ads come primarily in two different formats: text ads and product listing ads.

Text ads are simple text-based ads that appear above and to the right of organic search rankings. As shown here, these results are clearly marked as ads to avoid any confusion to the end user. Some search engines also offer extensions to include contact information, location, and other supplementary information.

paid search
Product listing ads (PLAs)
are for products and merchandise, and they provide more visibility by including an image and price along with the description and link. The format mimics organic e-commerce results, so it’s familiar and accessible for consumers.

product listing ads

How are search ads priced?

Search ads are paid for on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis: Advertisers pay each time someone clicks on their ad. The price per click is determined based on how competitive a given keyword is. The more popular the keyword, the more expensive it is. Price also varies across search engines. The average cost per click (CPC) across Google and the Yahoo! Bing Network ranged from $0.50 to $5.82—depending on the industry and search network—in the first quarter of 2014.

What are important trends in paid search advertising?

There are several trends you should be aware of so you can make the best business decision.

Mobile Prominence

In May 2015, Google reported that more searches are performed on mobile devices than PCs in the US. As more and more users turn to their phones and tablets to search, companies are seeing more mobile clicks. As such, advertisers should take a mobile-first approach and take appropriate measures to optimize their PPC ads accordingly. Making sure landing pages are fast, simple, and to the point will be key to getting the most out of your paid search advertising.

Personalized PPC 

With more data than ever on searchers’ personas, paid search advertising will continue to become more data driven. In particular, remarketing will continue to increase, allowing marketers to “follow” their audience around the web based on a consumer’s prior engagement with your brand. This people-based marketing is becoming ever more evident as conversion rates of these ads grow. The logic is simple, your audience is much more likely to click something when they have engaged with it already.

Keyword Importance Waning 

It is the “beginning of the end for keywords", according to Larry Alton, contributor to Search Engine Journal. Experts predict that keywords will be knocked off as top priority in PPC strategies with the adoption of product listing ads (PLAs) and search engines’ growing focus on semantic search.

Add paid search to your marketing strategy!

Paid search advertising is nothing new. While it is not the most flashy of advertising methods, when performed correctly, it continues to provide fruitful results that raise the bottomline. That said, as the channel begins to truly embrace a new, data-driven approach, there are opportunities to capitalize on the new possibilities not previously provided by search engines.

For an in-depth look at other advertising channels, take a look at other posts in G2 Crowd’s Guide to Digital Advertising Channels on mobile advertising, social media advertising, and cross-channel advertising.

Kevin Long
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Kevin Long