Best Practices for Paid Search (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Google)

At its most basic level, paid search involves buying placement for your ad on the search engine results page (SERP) when someone types in specific keywords as part of their search. The SERP then ranks and displays your ad based on various criteria (to be further discussed in a later article) and directs visitors to your website. How often your ad shows up on the SERP is highly dependent on the amount you are willing to pay for keyword matches (called bids) and your overall marketing budget. Since you are charged a fee each time your ad is clicked, it is important to make sure that each click counts. This article will offer some tips on making the most of your paid search strategy.

To better understand best practices for paid search, it helps to know some of the reasons why you would want to use this method of marketing.

Instant Brand Awareness

By using paid search, you can instantly bring your brand in front of millions of potential customers. It’s a well-known fact that when using search engines, people rarely look beyond the first page of results, and often stick to the results that lie “above the fold” on the first page. Out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes. By relying on your site to be organically ranked high on the SERP – which can take a long time even if done right – you risk losing out on a great deal of traffic and  revenue.

Testing and Research

The major search engines provide tools for you as a marketer to test your marketing campaigns and provide data allowing you to see what works and what doesn’t. You can do A/B testing to see which landing page converts better, identify which keywords drive traffic and are cost effective, and target your ads to specific regions, times of day or even type of device.

Relevancy and ROI

Why target ads and spend your marketing budget on people who aren’t interested in your products or services? Paid search links your ads to specific search terms at the time that the user is actively seeking information or needing a solution to a problem. In other words, your ad is presented at the time that is most relevant for the user and allows you to spend your precious advertising funds wisely.

By using paid search, you are effectively buying your way onto the front page of the Internet, which is a lot different than buying an ad on the front page of the New York Times. First off, you can control what your costs will be by setting limits on what you’re willing to pay (or bid) on the keywords you hope users are searching for. Secondly, you can also determine what your total expenditure will be for a given time frame. For example, if you see that the marketing allocation you thought was going to last the whole month has been spent in a week, you can halt your campaign. Thirdly, you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad.

Now that you have a basic understanding of some of the benefits paid search can provide, let’s make sure you use it wisely so that you’re minimizing your marketing expenditures while maximizing your revenue.

Use Phrase Matching Properly

There is no one best way to use phrase matching. Exact match, broad match and phrase match are the three types offered by Google AdWords, and each has its benefits and drawbacks that affect your conversion rates.

  • Exact match is precisely what it sounds like. Your ad will only show if the keywords are exactly matched to the search term typed in by the user: no variations or additional words allowed. This match type allows you to target highly qualified customers, but may work against you by disallowing searches using related search terms.
  • Broad match, on the other hand provides the largest pool of potential customers based on your keywords. The downside is that it also serves up the largest percentage of uninterested customers who may be searching for something different than what you’re offering.
  • Phrase match combines the best qualities of both previous match types by allowing variations of your keywords, even misspellings but you’ll have to make sure word order is correct.

Understanding the Power of Negative Keywords

In addition to researching and testing keywords and phrases that will attract customers, you’ll want to understand the need to research those that will keep people away, and that can be a good thing. Negative keywords act as a filter or qualifier, and keep your ad from showing up when certain search terms are used. This could be particularly useful if you are using broad match for some of your keywords, by preventing unwanted clicks by people who are, most likely, not really looking for your offerings. It also increasing click opportunities for those that are.

Not Paying Attention to the Competition

It may seem obvious, but keeping an eye on what’s working for your competitors is crucial. Firstly, you can be sure they’re looking at you: your keywords, your landing pages, and your ad copy. Secondly, you can learn a lot just by visiting your competitors’ sites to see what kind of customer experience they are providing. In researching keywords, you’ll definitely want to know whose site shows up when you do your own test searches.


Paid search is not going to work for everyone, but even with a limited budget and a dedicated strategy to use the tools and analytics available, it can pay off by driving quality traffic, increasing conversions and giving you a healthy ROI.

John Hernandez is an Affiliate Marketing Manager at cleverbridge