What is Paid Search Marketing?

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Paid Search Marketing Versus Search Engine Optimization

If you’ve been online sometime in the past five years, you’ve at least heard the term SEO. Most of you recognize this to refer to Search Engine Optimization, what you do to your websites to make them rank better in Google. This is now understood to be a different thing than Paid Search Marketing, where you pay Google to place an Ad at the top of their search results for a given phrase. If you Google “cloud web hosting”, for example, the top four results are actually paid ads:

paid search marketing


In the old school days of Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, this term used to be used to refer to every activity that got you higher up in a search engine’s results, including both organic and paid campaigns. Now the term SEM has split to refer solely to paid search marketing strategies.

You may also see the phrases ‘paid search ads, pay-per-click (PPC), cost-per-click (CPC), or cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM)’. These all refer to different strategies that fall under the umbrella of paid search marketing. Basically, though, “SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines”, as defined on Search Engine Land.

The Big Players in Paid Search Marketing

The biggest platform for paid search marketing campaigns is undoubtedly Google’s own AdWords platform. This is distantly followed by Bing Ads and Yahoo Advertising. On any of these platforms,  you can start a campaign to get your website ranked higher by their respective search engines. The most common formula is the PPC campaign, which is what Google Adwords offers. To start a PPC campaing, you choose a phrase that you want to rank highly for. This will be the phrase that people type into Google when they’re in the market for what you’re selling. For example, if you run a web hosting company, you might run a campaign for the phrase “cloud web hosting”. In a PPC campaign, you are only charged when someone actually clicks an ad to your website. This can be a draw for companies who don’t have a huge budget to experiment with.

Paid Search Marketing Isn’t a Magic Bullet

Of course, you shouldn’t think that all of your marketing problems will go away once you throw money at Google. It is technically possible for a competitor to click on your paid links just to drain your PPC budget. This is the subject of much marketer anxiety, and a few satirical articles. This practice is considered “black-hat”, while not technically illegal, and is known as click fraud. However, the hysteria doesn’t really keep pace with the occurrence of this practice. Without a large number of computers running scripts from multiple places around the globe, Google has a relatively easy time detecting and deterring click fraud.

What you should be more worried about is your marketing funnel. Often, you are your own worst enemy for wasting your paid search marketing budget. I’ve seen plenty of websites with a lot of traffic, but few conversions of visitors to paid customers. You can throw all the money in the world at the search engines and still won’t see your ROI benefit from it. There are a lot of reasons that visitors don’t buy from your site, but a few common ones are a confusing user interface, dead links, or the total lack of a call-to-action to buy. The lack of a proper landing page, which I wrote about here, is another frequent reason for traffic drop-off.

It is crucial to understand the difference between organic and paid search marketing techniques. This is doubly true if your marketing strategy calls for high traffic to your website. While paid search marketing can be a godsend for some companies, your best bet is to consult with a marketing expert to determine whether this approach is appropriate.

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