Communicating Paid Search Basics to Clients

Clients often turn to you to answer their questions about getting found by the search engines. It can be a lot to navigate when your specialty is building — not marketing — websites.

So what should you say when your clients ask you about paid search? We’ve created an overview of paid search marketing to help you better address your client’s questions.

What is Paid Search?

Paid search typically refers to ads that appear within the search results. The ads are triggered by both the user's search query and the keywords in your campaign. The two main ad platforms are Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads).

Key Features of Paid Search:

  • Keywords are the driving force behind and the heart of campaigns. Much like SEO, it’s important to understand what language and keywords your audience uses when they’re searching.
  • The actual cost per click is determined via an auction. The platforms themselves do not set pricing; the amount of competition and the quality of your campaign determines your price.
  • Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising both link to Google Analytics. Sharing data with Google Analytics increases your understanding of how users interact with your site after clicking on an ad. This is valuable data for not only improving your campaigns, but for learning what search queries your audience uses when searching for your products and services.
  • Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising use various keyword match types to determine how broadly or precisely  to match your keywords to a user’s search query. Understanding the various match types for keywords is the key to a well-run campaign.

Common Paid Search Terminology

The variety of terms and acronyms used in paid search can be overwhelming. Here are the most important terms to understand:

  • CPC = Cost per Click: The charge to bring a visitor to the site (when clicking on your ad/link). While CPC is not the only way to pay for traffic, it is the most common.
  • CPA: Cost per Acquisition: The cost per lead or conversion (when a desired action — like a  has been completed). CPA can be used to set bidding.
  • CTR = Click-Through Rate: The number of users who clicked on an ad, divided by the number of times the ads were displayed.
  • Impression: Each time your ad is displayed.
  • Impression Share: The percentage of times that your ad actually displayed divided by the number of impressions you were eligible to receive. Eligibility is based on the settings and targeting of your campaign.
  • ROAS = Return on Ad Spend: The amount of revenue per dollar spent in advertising costs. The ROAS needed for a profitable campaign varies based on profit margins and other numbers specific to each business.

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What are the Advantages of Paid Search?

Fast Results

Paid search offers quick visibility in the search engines, which means immediate site traffic. An account can be active in a matter of hours, providing a near-instantaneous presence on the first page of search results for your selected keywords.


Because paid search campaigns are built around keywords, selecting the correct keywords leads to highly targeted, quality traffic. Campaigns can also be geo-targeted to reach potential customers by their location. Audiences can added to and overlaid on campaigns, further customizing the keyword targeting.


Paid search is a tangible advertising tactic. It is relatively easy to collect and evaluate valuable statistics like as ROI and Return on Ad Spend.

Real-Time Data

Google Ads provides search query data which shows the actual searches users are entering before landing on your site. This data can be used to not only improve upon the ad campaigns, but also inform other marketing efforts such as SEO.

What are the Disadvantages of Paid Search?

Results Rely on Budget

In opposition to SEO, where any investment of effort creates results on an ongoing basis, paid search results end when the dollars stop flowing. Once a user stops investing in paid search, there are no further benefits outside of any customers gained from the campaign while it was running.

Getting Results Require an Understanding of the Platforms

While the overall concept is not complicated, an improperly built campaign can spend money with no guarantee of results.

How to Get Started with Paid Search

The basic process for starting a search campaign is creating an account, building out the campaign, and linking to Google Analytics. The campaign creation process includes selecting geo-targeting, choosing keywords, entering the right match type, creating ads, setting bids and building out ad extensions. Conversion creation and linking to Google Analytics is also important and should always be part of the set-up process.

While the overall process is not overly complicated, it requires an understanding of the platforms and their nuances. Once a campaign goes live, it will start spending money immediately, period. Even poorly targeted campaigns spend money, so if you want a better return on investment, take more time defining and setting up your campaigns beforehand .

Things to Keep in Mind for Paid Search

  • Budgets are typically set at the daily level (Google is also offering a monthly budget option for select accounts).  For campaigns set at the daily level, the ads stop showing for the day once the daily budget is reached. Aligning search volume with budget ensures visibility and higher impression share throughout a single date.
  • Google uses an algorithm to determine the ad rank for keywords at the time of the auction. There are several factors that go into ad rank, including how well your ad groups are themed alongside the relevance of your keywords, ads, and landing pages. Poor ad rank affects the cost and visibility of an account’s keywords.
  • While you can select a maximum bid for your keywords, your ads will not display if you set your bids too low, . There are several bidding options beyond cost per click, such as cost per conversion and target CPA. Google has been increasing its promotion of conversion-based bidding alongside its increased use of AI. Therefore, building sites that are specifically designed to encourage  conversion is becoming even more important.

Options for Getting Started with Paid Search

  • Hire an Agency or PPC Expert:The advantage here is leaning on someone’s established expertise to design and execute profitable accounts. The disadvantage is that the fees for management can be cost-prohibitive for smaller businesses. It can also be time-consuming and difficult to find the right agency or person willing to take on smaller accounts.
  • Learn: While you can’t expect to become a PPC expert overnight, you can definitely learn how to create campaigns that serve your client base. For example, if you serve small, local businesses and you focus your learning on small, geo-targeted campaigns,you’ll be able to offer your clients the services they need.
  • A Combination of the Above: Find a PPC partner to help you execute campaigns and pick up where your skills drop off. At Pathfinder SEO, our team PPC experts are always available for coaching calls.

Should my Clients do PPC?

Paid search is a great option for businesses who want instant visibility in the search engines. When deciding if PPC is a good option for your clients, there are several things to think about:

  • Who will manage the account and campaigns?
  • What are the investments for the campaigns (plus account management)?
  • How the campaigns will be tracked and measured for results?

Google’s Keyword tool is a good place to start to gain an understanding of the keyword space. Use the tool to evaluate competition, estimated cost per click and search volume to better understand the costs and estimated reach of the campaign.

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Lori Calcott

Lori Calcott

Originally from Pittsburgh, Lori has been working in search engine marketing since 2001. Lori is the published author of The Definitive Guide to Google AdWords and is a leader in the paid search field. When not at work, Lori spends time with her family and can often be found hiking and skiing the Highland Bowl.