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The Basics of Paid Search

Giulianno Lopez

Content Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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Search engines have been specifically built to bring value to internet users. Used and treated like a digital library, people from all walks of life use search engines like Google and Bing to scour the internet to learn about any and all topics. For direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, this has been yet another channel to build brand awareness. Considering that 93% of all website traffic comes from search engines, it makes sense for D2C brands to tap into this resource for potential customers. But how can a marketer leverage search engines to drive website traffic when there are over 1.7 billion websites (and counting)?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the most effective way to drum up organic traffic (i.e., website traffic that comes from search engines). This type of traffic is free, meaning that brands don't directly pay search engines for this traffic. However, the major downside to organic traffic is the stiff competition. Ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs) for popular terms is extremely difficult and requires a Herculean effort behind an SEO strategy. Search engines offer a solution to bypass this: paid search.

What is Paid Search?

Paid search is a marketing tactic in which advertisers pay search engines for ad placement on SERPs. There are six different factors that determine the placement of these ads on Google:

  • Bids - Working within an auction structure, businesses bid on keywords or phrases that are tangentially related to them or their products and services. These ads work on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis, meaning that businesses only pay when ads are clicked.
  • Ad and landing page quality - Google assesses the relevance and usefulness of landing pages (mobile-friendly websites perform better!) and assigns a Quality Score for ads.
  • Ad thresholds - These include the following: ad quality, ad position, user signals and attributes, topic and nature of the search, and related auctions.
  • Popularity of keywords - If two ads have the same ad ranking, the one with the highest bid will win out.
  • Context of search - The search term, location, time, device type, nature of the search, competing ads, and search results are some things that are taken into consideration.
  • Impact of ad extensions - Businesses have the option to include phone numbers and multiple links (e.g., ad extensions).

The look and feel of paid search ads can vary. Some can look like regular search results at the top of a SERP:

Paid search example 1

Other paid search ads can have the look and feel of a product page feed:

Paid search 2

Benefits of Paid Search Ads

Search engines are fertile soil for businesses looking to expand their customer base. Google alone handles over 3.5 billion searches a day, meaning that search engines will always have a guaranteed stream of high-quality traffic available for the picking. Let's go over some of the benefits of utilizing paid search ads:

High-intent audiences

By doing a bit of keyword research, businesses can target shoppers that are most likely to be in the market for their offerings. For example, if a fitness apparel company targets the keyword phrase "best running shoes" and delivers paid ads to those who search for that term, they’re likely to reach shoppers who are are looking to buy new running shoes. Matching paid ads to search intent and keywords is the way to reach high-intent audiences.

Great bang for your marketing buck

Since search engines operate under a bidding format, they let the market dictate the price of ads. For example, if a business sets their maximum bid for a keyword at $5 and the highest competing bid is only $3, they’ll only pay $3.01. Most of the time, businesses pay less than the maximum bid price, and if there's an uptick in interest for a keyword by competitors, they have the option of changing their bid at any time.

Not only are the prices of these ads protected by the market, but they also deliver a great return on investment (ROI). On average, brands see a return of $8 for every dollar they spend advertising on Google.

Immediate results

Unlike other aspects of an SEO strategy, businesses can see measurable and quality results fairly quickly. The highly-targeted nature of paid search ads (as noted above), removes shoppers that would need a lot more persuading to purchase. So, businesses end up targeting shoppers that will have shorter customer journeys.

Additionally, launching and setting up a campaign takes very little time and effort. Brands don't have to worry about hiring a graphic designer or copywriter since search engines don't require creative assets (e.g., images or copy). That being said, paid search ad campaigns do require long-term maintenance, so don't set it and forget it. Make sure to check in periodically and make necessary optimizations when needed.

Are you interested in learning how to incorporate an SEO approach to your marketing strategy? Check out How to Build an SEO Strategy for a Direct-To-Consumer (D2C) Brand [TEMPLATE] to find out how.

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