Paid search 101

Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo have become an indispensible tool for most of us, and we could hardly imagine the internet without the functionality of being able to quickly and easily search through the billions of web pages out there to find what we’re looking for.

When someone searches online using a search engine, the engine displays results on a web page called, sensibly enough, a search engine results page, or SERP. Every search engine is trying to deliver the most relevant search results possible, based on everything they’ve learned from the billions of searches that are conducted online every day.

As more and more people rely on search to help them make decisions and find information, it becomes increasingly vital for businesses large and small to have a high degree of visibility on the SERPs whenever someone conducts a search that is relevant to that company’s business offerings.

Two Ways to Get on a SERP

Paid Search 101

There are two ways for a company to try and get their web pages to the forefront of the SERPs, and many companies pursue both methods. The first is to create web pages that are designed to appeal to the search engines so that they appear “organically” on SERPs when the engine conducts a related search. There are many techniques to optimize a web site for organic search listings, but basically it is all about including high quality content that is relevant to the people who would be searching, and coding the pages in such a way that they are easy for the search engines to index. The search engines look for many, many other indicators, including clues about how popular that page is with searchers, based on traffic to the page, how many other web pages are linking to that page from other web sites, and other signals.

The second way to get listed prominently on a SERP is to buy an ad. This is known as Paid Search, or pay-per-click (PPC). For example, if you were to type in “BC Travel” on Bing, a number of ads will appear on the right rail as well as at the very top of the SERP. Advertisers bid on the search terms they would like to have trigger their ad, and they are only billed if someone clicks on the ad – but they are billed every time someone clicks on an ad.

The good news is that this is a very measurable kind of advertising. Each click can be counted along with each time the ad was displayed on a SERP (each appearance on a SERP is known as an “impression”). The bad news is that a sloppy paid search campaign can burn up a lot of money and produce poor results, if the people clicking on the ad are not the audience that the advertiser intended to attract.

Whatever search term is used, if a company is bidding on some or all of those words, their ad may appear (depending on their bidding strategy, as well as ad and post-click web page relevance, as judged by that search engine’s criteria). Paying for ad placements on the SERPs can be a very effective element of a company’s online marketing strategy.

Uses of Paid Search

If you’re just getting started with the website, or you’ve just developed a new product and your SEO (search engine optimization) isn’t ready to go yet or you don’t have enough content where you can start ranking and the search crawlers can find your content, pay-per-click is a good tool to get that exposure and build up brand awareness without having to wait for your content to be picked up by the search engine. It’s also a really good tool if you are trying to reach a broader audience or, conversely, trying to target a specific vertical or industry that your existing content doesn’t cover; it can help you build knowledge on existing markets that you haven’t approached before, so that you can start integrating them into your overall marketing strategy.

If you’re in an industry where you have a big event happening or there’s a specific contest, tradeshow or other time-sensitive event that you want to promote, paid search is a really good way to get automatic exposure right away.

There are a number of other models for using Paid Search effectively, depending on your business objectives. Are you looking to get more leads, more sales opportunities, or even more direct sales? These are all valid objectives for a well-considered Paid Search campaign. With Paid Search, it’s also easy to measure the results you’re getting, and make changes quickly. With good monitoring and management, the return on investment for Paid Search can outperform many, if not all, other kinds of marketing.

Paid Search is a very powerful tool when you integrate it into your customer acquisition cycle. It’s useful in getting volume through to the top of your sales funnel, but then it’s going to be up to you to do something constructive with that information. Usually it works best when you pair it with a remarketing strategy or you integrate it into your other marketing platforms, and use it as a portal for gaining new customers.

If you are currently using Paid Search in your marketing, and you’d like to know if you could be getting better results, contact us for a free consultation.