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Search advertising is the placement of ads in search engine results. Businesses pay to place these ads at the top of search results. The price paid depends on several factors, such as search term popularity, competition and website quality.

Guiding principles for search advertising

Taking a scroll through Google AdWords’ lessons and picking up a certificate is a great way to start yourself off with paid search. But it doesn’t give you everything you need to know.

It just helps you use the tool.

That’s why I’ve put together this article — to give you the in-depth look at search advertising, how to use and what to expect in the next few years. And if you don’t have time for the whole thing, I’ve got the most important points right here.

Leverage PPC so that it works in tandem with your SEO efforts

If it seems like your SEO team and your PPC team are working on opposite sides of the planet, you may need to book a flight. Making sure these two teams are aligned is crucial to a successful PPC campaign and SEO campaign (but we’ll just worry about the PPC right now).

Keep your eye on the prize

It can be easy to go down a rabbit hole of A/B testing or bidding wars. When that happens, however, you can lose sight of your goal.

While these tactics are certainly necessary at certain points in your campaign, make sure you’re not overdoing it.

Old dogs can still learn new tricks

I know, PPC has been around for a long time. Compared to video advertising or social media, it can seem like the dinosaur of digital marketing.

However, that doesn’t mean things don’t change in the search advertising industry. Algorithms and tools are changing here just as much as anywhere else, so make sure you’re staying on top of those changes.

What is search advertising?

Search advertising, also known as paid search and pay-per-click (PPC), allows businesses to advertise their goods and services on relevant search engine results pages (SERPs).

Some search ads are purely text. Others are a mixture of images and text. But no matter which type you use, they’ll be hard for your audience to miss.

Typically, they are labeled as a sponsored ad and prominently displayed above the organic search results.

The beauty of PPC advertising is that you designate related keywords and tie them to the ad. When a potential customer searches one of those keywords, it triggers your search ad to appear atop the SERP.


There are lot of technical terms and lingo used in search advertising. Some are more common than others.

This list holds only a small number of search advertising terms, but they’re terms that I find important yet less likely to be discussed in an article like this.

  • Attribution — allows you to control how your campaign, ad group, keyword, etc. gives credit for conversions. You can choose from a range of attribution models, including first click, last click, linear attribution, etc.
  • Custom Parameter — this is a tool that allows you to pass additional details through to a landing page. These parameters are usually used for reporting or customizing the user experience.
  • Dynamic Keyword Insertion — this tool allows you to automatically include matched keywords from the ad group to the text ad so that it appears relevant to what a user is searching. This is particularly useful for larger sets of keywords that are very similar.
  • Frequency Cap — involves setting a limit on ad views by website visitors. This is almost always based on a timeframe set by the business. It occurs on all websites that display ads from the same network.

How paid search became Google-first

While Google is usually the first thing you think of when you think, “I need to search for something online,” it’s not the only search engine. Of course, well-versed marketers are aware of the other options, such as Bing, but most keep their focus on Google.

How did Google become the poster-child for search engines? What made it the behemoth of paid search advertising that it is today?

It came down to their strategy. While Yahoo, for example, modeled its paid search around who paid the most for its service, Google focused on providing the best user experience.

Google created an algorithm that accounted for many factors, such as:

  • Page quality
  • Number of links
  • Relevance to a user’s search

… as well as how much the advertiser paid.

And because Google provided the best experience, that’s where users flocked.

Benefits of search advertising

There are a lot of fancy ways to advertise online these days. Everything from social advertising to video advertising. And let’s not forget the trendy native advertising.

Amongst these, search advertising might seem like old news. However, it has a lot of advantages for your brand — don’t write it off too soon.

Easy to learn and implement

Search engine optimization is important for getting your company’s website in front of the people looking for the types of products/services you offer. However, if you’re just starting out, you’ve got a lot of competition. It’s going to take huge amounts of time and effort to be where you want to be on SERP.

While you’re working toward that goal, though, you can always turn to paid search to help boost your visibility. Just hop into your preferred PPC advertising platform, create and optimize your ad and send it out to target your chosen audience.

That use of a PPC advertising platform is the what makes it so quick and easy, as most of the research and development can be done there. In other words, you don’t need to pull your whole team’s efforts toward a paid search campaign the way you do with an SEO strategy.

Unprecedented analytics

Yes, Google has its eye on your PPC ads, and it’s keeping score. Although its algorithm is a closely guarded secret, known factors include:

  • Performance across different devices, including mobile
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR)
  • The quality of the ad
  • The ad's relevance to the landing page

Taking all of this into account, the search engine giant will then assign your ad a score ranging from one to ten (Hint — you want to aim for ten).

Not only will a higher score determine your ad’s page position, it will determine your ad’s bid price. The cost of a PPC campaign can be hard to pin down.

And maybe you’re wondering, “How would I know what to change to improve my score?”

That’s where one of search advertising’s biggest benefits comes to shine. Search engines, such as Google and Bing, provide its users with free, real-time data and analytics.

With that information at your fingertips, you get to learn an impressive amount of information about your audience, including:

  • What device your viewers were using (mobile, desktop, laptop, etc.)
  • The location of those who viewed you
  • How much time they spent on your landing page
  • What pages they visited in addition to the landing page

This shows what’s working in your ad and who it’s appealing to, and it also provides you with insight on how to best optimize your ad.

Paid search and SEO are natural partners

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has a similar emphasis on precisely-chosen keywords as search advertising does. And it’s an effective way to get your company on page one of the SERPs.

However, as I mentioned before, it’s a long-term strategy that can take a while to achieve. Therefore, while your SEO efforts are slowly but steadily advancing your company in the organic ranks, placing effective search ads can help you get an immediate sale.

Those combined efforts can benefit you in several ways. For example:

  • Keyword and conversion data from PPC can be used to improve your SEO campaign
  • The total volume of traffic can be increased by targeting the high-performing keywords in both strategies
  • The A/B testing of ad copy and landing pages can be used to improve your organic landing pages

And that’s just to name a few. Using the two in tandem will push you ahead farther and faster than working on them as if they’re two entirely separate tasks.

Challenges of search advertising

Using PPC seems like a no-brainer. Everyone uses — It’s vital.

However, its popularity doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges. Just because it’s easy to use doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it.

I’ll cover some of the biggest challenges below, but you can also check out this chart to see where many of the issues lie:

The high cost of PPC living

One major downside to using PPC is that it can use up a lot of money. If you want to stick to a budget, you need to keep a close eye on how your ads are performing.

“Google is becoming more and more expensive and requires expertise to use correctly and profitably…

… With both Google and Facebook, the more one advertises, the more it costs the business owner. If the ads are ineffective with undesirable results, it’s even more expensive.” — Andy Curry, President at WallaZoom & Owner at AndyCurry.com

read more from Andy

Avoid targeting the crazy popular search terms, since those will be incredibly expensive due to high competition. Aiming for relevant keywords that aren’t overrun by your competition but still receive a healthy amount of searches is your best bet.

Remember that you’re paying per click. So if someone clicks on your ad but has no intention of buying your product/service... you’ve still paid for them. That’s why it’s important to be eagle-eyed with your ads and regularly track how many clicks they're generating and how much you’ve spent.

War of the bids

Nothing can drain your resources faster than a good old-fashioned bidding war. In a “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” moment, advertisers often find themselves in a bidding competition in order to nab high-value ad space.

Just like in the westerns, only one guy can be left standing. And getting to that point is going to cost you.

The more competitive the industry, the higher the cost per clicks. That’s important to keep in mind as you weigh the pros and cons of heading off into a stand-off with your competitors over keywords.

How can we expect search advertising to change over the next 3-5 years?

Search advertising is a tale as old as time. Which might be why it’s one of the most important parts of digital marketing you need to watch for when it comes to changes.

As things like AI and voice search start to become the norm in our digital marketing world, you need to be prepared for the PPC shake-up.

Voice search

How often do you find yourself saying, “Hey Alexa,” or “Hey Siri?" In all likelihood, you’ve done that at least once in the recent months. If you’re especially tech savvy you may even do it several times a day.

And that’s why marketers predict it’ll shake up the search advertising industry soon.

“Voice search is growing every day on Google, Amazon, iTunes, etc... Plus, people talk faster than they write, so it just makes sense that the future of search advertising is voice.” — Jonathan Aufray, Chief Executive Officer at Growth Hackers

read more from Jonathon

“More and more searches are being conducted in voice, be it with hardware such as Alexa or software such as Siri, and so search queries and ads will have to shift to accommodate this trend.” — Daniel Rosenfeld, Chief Marketing Officer at HearMeOut

read more from Daniel

“Search is going to massively shift over the next 3-5 years with the tide of voice and in the way it blends in and contrasts with natural organic results.” — Tim Brown, Owner at Hook Agency

read more from Tim

“I believe with time, advertisers will be able to create ‘voice search’ campaigns. As an advertiser, you will be able to stipulate a set of keywords that you’d like to advertise for. Then, when these queries are triggered your ‘ad’ will be presented in voice form…

… I truly believe that when Google launched their home assistant device, they were already in the early stages of developing an ad platform to monetize searches, and it wasn’t simply an idea that would allow them to rival Amazon’s equivalent device.” — Jason Scott, Digital Marketing Specialist at Archway Cards Ltd

read more from Jason

“We'll see new technologies and ad platforms created to capitalize on voice search. (Thanks, Alexa and Siri and Google Home.) With as much as 20 percent of all search traffic already coming from voice search, we'll see a similar move to voice as the primary driver just as we saw mobile traffic eclipse desktop in the early 2010's.” — Wes Marsh, Director of Digital Marketing at Solodev

read more from Wes

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

And then there’s the big ol’ AI and machine learning duo that’s been hanging over marketers for a while now. According to our experts, soon it will cause a big splash for search advertising in particular.

“AI and machine learning will grow, which will allow PPC teams to focus on more important tasks.” — Gert Hattingh, SEO Team Lead at Digital Boer

read more from Gert

“I am seeing is publishers and ad networks both simplifying their platforms and take more and more control out of the advertiser's hand into the machine learning” — Daniel Rosenfeld, Chief Marketing Officer at HearMeOut

read more from Daniel

“Advertisers will start to use AI to take advantage of user behavior to learn predictive keywords and patterns to place their paid advertising at exactly the right place at exactly the right time.” — Rich Kahn, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at eZanga

read more from Rich

“We will continue to see machine learning algorithms come into play, and its influence will expand beyond what we're seeing right now for the search engines.” — Wes Marsh, Director of Digital Marketing at Solodev

read more from Wes

Campaign management will find new ways

Some of our experts also predicted a change in how campaigns will be managed. As technology becomes smarter and faster, it makes sense that how we manage it to run campaigns will change as well.

Some of these changes also come down to Google fine-tuning their algorithms for user experience. As those algorithms change, so too must our campaigns.

“Because Google depends on people trusting the quality of the results – more and more constraints and requirements will require PPC experts to hold themselves to a higher level of dedication to quality and contextual relevance based on the types of queries and the types of rich snippets they are presenting.”— Tim Brown, Owner at Hook Agency

read more from Tim

“Pay-per-click as we know it is changing. It’s going through a transformation to focus on more automation within campaigns and accounts. These automatic changes are helping marketing agencies and PPC specialists dynamically optimize their campaigns so that they can focus on new additions and high-value optimizations to client’s campaigns...

… More targeted advertising features, more robust automation, new search volume to capitalize on, and best of all — more refined interfaces and management tools that will aim to make digital marketing life easier and advertisers more successful.” — Jacob Wulff, PPC Manager at Thrive Internet Marketing Agency

read more from Jacob

“The biggest tech that is disrupting the industry seems to be with the switch to PWA (Progressive Web Apps). They allow you to access device capabilities that were previously only available to applications. In the next three to five years this will significantly reduce the number of applications in the market. PWA could replace up to 50 percent of general purpose consumer-facing apps.” — Alex Tarrand, Vice President of Marketing at Lucktastic

read more from Alex


Search advertising is a careful balancing act. You need to keep on a budget while also making sure you’re doing everything you can to get in front of your audience. You need to make sure your PPC campaign works well within your SEO campaign and vice versa.

And, of course, you also need to make sure you’re paying attention to all the new technology and trends and making adjustments for how they impact your campaigns.

You’re juggling several plates in the air at once, and you don’t want them to come crashing down.

If I could leave you with one stellar piece of advice on how to keep everything spinning, I’d leave you with this quote:

“Spend a lot more time focused on creating and distributing quality content for your target users than on trying to reverse engineer what Google’s bots and SERPs might prefer.” — Matt Solar, Vice President of Marketing at nDash

read more from Matt