PPCPaid search and PPC: a super accessible beginner’s guide

Paid search and PPC: a super accessible beginner’s guide

This will hopefully touch on all the various elements you might hear uttered in the same breath as paid search, taking in such puzzling acronyms as PPC, CPM, CPC and SERP.

Presenting a guide purely for the individual just entering the crazy world of search marketing.

This will hopefully touch on all the various elements you might hear uttered in the same breath as paid search, taking in such puzzling acronyms as PPC, CPM, CPC, SERP plus a few other made-up ones that I’ll throw in just for fun.

First of all though, let’s answer the most obvious question…

What is paid search?

On a search engine results page (SERP), you can pay for your website to appear in specific sections of the results. These paid-for ads normally appear at the top of a SERP, to the right-hand side, or within a separate ‘Shopping’ section.

Here’s the Google SERP for the term ‘confetti cannon’ and you can see how ads dominate the page…

Update: Google has now removed ads on the right-hand side of the page. You may now find up to four ads on the top paid search field and product-listing ads in the right hand space.


You may also notice that the ads look increasingly like naturally occuring results that aren’t paid for (organic results), they’re simply labelled with a little yellow ‘Ads’ symbol.

Previously, paid results were defined by a beige box, presumably this was removed as searchers were getting used to ignoring the coloured listings in the same way nobody pays attention to banner ads anymore.


It’s not just Google that offers an ad service, but also Bing and Yahoo too…



Google’s offering is called AdWords. Bing and Yahoo share networks through their own paid search tools, Bing Ads and Yahoo Gemini. There has been an agreement between Google and Yahoo to serve Google results on the Yahoo SERPs, but this is subject to review by the United State Department of Justice, but let’s not get bogged down in that right now.

Why is paid search important?

Google makes the majority of its revenue from advertising. Whether that’s through the paid-for AdWords results on SERPs, or display advertising throughout its AdSense network or pre-roll ads on YouTube, advertising is what keeps Google thundering along.

Of the $17.3bn it made in Q1 2015, $15.5bn was from advertising sales, rather than say driverless cars or Google Glass. Then again, that still leaves $1.8bn in revenue from other products, so it’s nothing to be cynical about.

Basically this all means that paid ads on SERPs are going to be part of your search experience for the long-haul, and they’re probably only going to dominate search results even more in the future and become even less transparent, as search engines figure out ways to drive revenue while keeping on the right side of transparency.

But don’t lose heart, you can use paid search to your advantage, especially if your site is new and struggling to achieve any presence on the SERPs with your current search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy.

And you don’t necessarily need to spend a small fortune to do so, as long as you carry out some thorough keyword research and employ some imaginative tactics, paid search can be an effective revenue stream for even the smallest niche website.

Heck, you don’t even need to be a business. I can just run a paid search campaign right now for the term ‘Christopher Ratcliff’ and anyone who searches for me will be served with an advert that I wrote myself saying “editor, writer, strong yet tender companion” with a link to a few online reviews from Peeple. Watch the traffic pour in!

What is Google AdWords?

It’s important to talk more about AdWords just because it is so popular, and in doing so I can explain a few more terms used in paid search.

The basic principle of AdWords (and indeed all other paid search tools) is as follows:

  • You pick some terms that a searcher may use on Google
  • Then create an advert that will appear on the SERP based on those search terms


As you can see above, the search term remains in bold. You will also notice that there are three different companies serving an advert for the same search term.

How does Google AdWords decide which adverts to serve?

Chances are you won’t be the only company wanting to serve ads based on your chosen search term. More often than not you’ll probably be jostling with Amazon for first position.

If you want to appear in this space, you’ll have to bid against other companies. The amount you spend will depend on how much you’re willing to pay Google AdWords every time a searcher clicks on your ad. The more you pay-per-click (PPC) the more likely your ad will appear in the search results.

But it’s not just about how much you spend, Google also uses a metric know as a ‘quality score’. This looks at how relevant your ad is to the searcher, how many clicks your ad has received previously and how relevant your landing page is. You need to link to a specific landing page that fulfils the promise of your advert, rather than just a regular homepage.

So if your term is ‘cheap confetti cannons’ you better lead them directly to some discount party-starters otherwise you won’t have a chance of being successful.


Bear in mind that even if your maximum bid is less than a rival company’s bid, you still may appear above their ad if your quality score is better.

Do I have to use paid search?

Nope. You can still rank highly in SERPs through various organic, unpaid means depending on the focus of your website. A thorough and disciplined on-page SEO strategy (good internal linking, fast loading pages, logical and clear navigation, the use of Sitemaps) coupled with quality content and a great user experience can still help you rank highly in SERPs, for no cost whatsoever beyond your own time and energy.

However if you’re struggling to get higher than the top few organic results, paid search can give you immediate access to the lofty world at the top of a SERP.

Many marketers will recommend that to truly master search marketing, you should be doing paid search as well as SEO, depending on the keywords you’re not ranking for. Many businesses will do both, even if it has the top organic result just to completely dominate the SERP and push the competition further down the page.

Which is exactly what I intend to do to a certain San Francisco based architect once my ad has been approved…


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