The Five Most Frequently Asked Questions About Paid Search

There are many frequently asked questions lists floating around the web for paid search. Here are the five most common questions that will help you understand this powerful advertising medium better.

What’s the difference between organic and paid results?

On a search engine results page (SERP), the organic (also called natural) results are determined by the search engine’s algorithmic (i.e. mathematical & statistical) formulas for ranking pages. The organic results have become somewhat “sacred;” if it was ever revealed that a search engine was manually ranking pages, the perceived value of the service would be greatly diminished due to a lack of strict objectivity.

By contrast, paid results normally flank the organic ones and are generally four line text ads with links. These listings are paid by advertisers to be included next to relevant search queries.

The key takeaway here is that each time a SERP is loaded, the engine platforms decide “on the fly” which listings, both paid and organic, should be shown to that user. Thus, with around fourteen billion searches performed each month in the U.S., there are fourteen billion corresponding, unique SERPs generated each and every time.

What is search engine marketing (SEM)?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the type of marketing in which the core goal is to use search engines to increase business objectives (such as visits to website, online or offline sales, etc).

The two most common, distinct strategies for SEM are:

  • Search engine advertising (SEA) which is using any advertising product by a search engine, including paid search. Companies like Google offer advertising opportunities beyond search-based products, such as banner ads across their partner network and even placing television ads.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is strategically working to improve your organic rankings in the engines as the primary success tactic. This discipline has moved even beyond search engines to include other digital media “assets” including video, social media, product feeds, etc… basically, SEO may be used to try to achieve better rankings for just about any type of online content.

What is paid search?

Paid search a type of SEA that uses an auction based model where advertisers bid on keywords to trigger the placement of their ads to users via search engine results pages. Normally, the search engines use an algorithm to decide which ads should appear and in which order based on various weighting factors—mainly driven by revenue. Paid search can also be referred to as paid listings, sponsored results, sponsored listings, etc.

So what’s PPC?

PPC refers to Pay-Per-Click, the most common fee structure for paid search. With PPC, advertisers don’t pay for impressions, but rather only when their ads are clicked. PPC was an early term for paid search that is still frequently used today. When just talking about any of your efforts that are pay-per-click, PPC is an acceptable term. However, I recommend you use the phrase “paid search” when referring to paid listings on a SERP as PPC can also refer to any ads that are bought per click, including banners, video ads, mobile ads, rich media, affiliate links and so on.

Why is it important to do paid search?

Paid search has proven to be one of the highest return-on-investment (ROI) channels both online and offline. Why? Relevancy. Search engines have become the new Yellow Pages where users go to find products and services. Because an advertiser is bidding on relevant keywords to their business (such as a car dealership bidding on their ad to show whenever a user types in “used car” in their area), they are able to get in front of a user who is actively searching for information on that topic. Because of this, paid search is generally referred to as a “pull” medium as users trigger these ad exposures by searching on Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Most other advertising such as banners, television, radio, newspapers, etc. is referred to as “push” media.

To summarize, paid search works so well because it is driven by keyword searches. Search marketing pros often use the word “intent” to describe this valuable data passed to them by users. What’s the true value of a highway billboard when most people who pass it are not interested in the product or service it’s promoting? However, when you think about how much information about the user’s intention online one can deduce from a keyword like “Hawaiian cruise” or “buy new laptop”, the true power of paid search becomes obvious when an engine can match relevant advertiser messages with interested consumers.

This week’s question: What is one of your paid search frequently asked questions that doesn’t appear above? Please ask your question in the comments section below.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | PPC Academy


About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

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  • Andziuleq

    Hi Josh
    This is very good article and is very helpful for beginners.
    Here is my question what are the bad sides of using PPC?

  • Josh Dreller

    Good question and we’ll certainly be getting more into that as the course progresses this year.

    However, a top level answer is that in the auction-based marketplace such as PPC, when you have a lot of competitors bidding on the same keyword set, there’s a level of sophistication needed to ensure success. That takes experienced people with solid paid search fundamentals. If you don’t have that, it’s very easy to waste your budget and not get the desired outcomes (sales, leads, etc) that you are looking for.

    So, basically, the answer is that PPC can be “bad” if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m hoping this column will give you the knowledge to succeed and not fall into that trap.

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