Search engine advertising



If you want to get the word out about your business or product, then search engine advertising can be a very powerful tool in your digital toolkit. By running paid ads on search engines and social media, you can increase your reach, engage new audiences and increase your visibility at the point when people are searching for products or experiences like the ones you sell.

Paid search engine advertising, or search engine marketing, can be an effective way to ensure that your product, service or business is visible at the exact moment in time when a potential customer is searching for a product or service like the ones you sell. By purchasing paid advertising on search engines, you can ensure that your advertisement appears either beside or above the organic search engine results. If you’re struggling to make an impact using search engine optimisation techniques, and your website just isn’t making it to the top of the search results for terms that matter to your business, then search engine advertising might be the boost you need.

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be focusing on Google AdWords, as Google is far and away the most commonly used search engine (with over 2 billion searches happening on Google every day). However, the techniques suggested here can also be generalised for other search engine marketing campaigns (such as advertising on Bing).

Selecting keywords

Search engine advertising works by taking keywords that you have provided and matching those up to customer searches. If someone searches for something that matches the keywords you’ve selected, then your ad will be shown to them. If they search for something that isn’t a good match for the keywords you’ve chosen, then your ad is likely irrelevant to that search and won’t be shown.

With this in mind, creating a successful search engine advertising campaign really comes down to the keywords you choose to focus on. For example, if you sell women’s clothing, then it might be tempting to use a keyword like “clothes”. However, this is a very general keyword, and chances are it will result in showing your advertisement to a lot of people who may not actually be potential customers. Instead, it’s better to focus on more specific keywords. If you can target your keywords in a more specific way, then the chance that any one person who sees your ad being genuinely interested in your business is far greater.

It’s also important to keep a close eye out for jargon that you use in your business, which might not match up with terms that your customers commonly use to describe the same product or service. Wherever possible, you should aim to use the terms that your customers use to describe various products, even if that term isn’t as technically correct as a term that might be used more commonly in conversations with your suppliers and other industry partners.

Fortunately, Google has developed the Keyword Planner, a tool to help business owners figure out what kinds of keywords their customers are actually using. By starting with a basic search term (such as “bicycle helmets”), Google will then tell you about other related searches, how often people search for particular terms and so on. The Keyword Planner will also give you an indication of how much competition there is for various search terms. If a search term is hotly contested, it will be more expensive to build ads that are connected to those keywords, so keep an eye out for search terms that are commonly used, but aren’t currently hotly contested by other advertisers.

Before you get started on planning your actual advertising campaign, you should spend a bit of time playing with the Keyword Planner and trying to find search terms that you would like to tie your advertising to.

There are two types of Keywords: Short tail keywords that are 1-3 words. These are things like ‘make money online’ ‘lose weight fast’. Long Tail Keywords are three words or longer for example ‘how to make money working four hours a day’ ‘Lose belly fat with this one ingredient’. To find long and short tail keywords for you industry, the best start with a free tool is entering text into Google and seeing what is auto suggested – this gives you a clear idea of what the long and short tail suggestions are. Google auto-populates keywords based on popularity, so start typing your first keyword and the rest will follow. Using free tools like Keyword Planner is great when you are staring out, and when you want to get more advanced, there are paid resources that will take you next level.

You can also use LSI keywords that are specific to your content for blogs and articles. Read more about that here Search engine optimisation and you can access the LSI graph tool here.

Learn more about the Keyword Planner

Creating an AdWords campaign

Once you’ve come up with a list of keywords and search phrases that you’d like to target, it’s time to start pulling together your ad campaign and writing copy for your ads.

You can get started by visiting Google AdWords and clicking “Create your first campaign”.

Choosing a campaign type

In the first step, you’ll need to select your campaign type. Google AdWords gives you quite a few different options. Broadly, Google gives you the choice between advertising on the search network and the display network, with a few additional options on top of that. Here’s a quick overview of some of the jargon and what it means:

  • Google Adwords is what we would traditionally think of as search engine marketing. When you advertise to the search network, your ad is shown to people when they do Google searches. Your ad shows either on the right hand side, or above the organic search results for the keywords you’re targeting.
  • Google Shopping is Google advertising that happens outside of the main search engine. If you’ve seen Google ads on websites, blogs and other places that aren’t the search results page on, then you’ve seen ads that have been sent to the display network.
  • Google also allows you to select a “remarketing” option. This is a fairly sophisticated setting that allows you to target people who have visited your website in the past. By targeting those people who already have some awareness or familiarity with your brand, you might find you have a better click-through rate on your ads. That said, remarketing is a fairly advanced option and is probably best left alone until you’ve mastered the basics.
  • The first option in the list (and the last option in this list here) is the “default” setting. The default option will show your ad on both the search network and the display network.

When you’re just getting started, it’s usually best to either select “search network” or “default”. These are the most commonly used options and are usually the best approach.

Specifying a location

During the ad setup process, you’ll also have the option to specify a location for your ad. If you can sell your product anywhere, then you might want to keep the location broad. However, if you’re a local store and want to encourage foot traffic, you might be better served targeting your local region. You can also further refine your targeting by specifying locations that you want to exclude from your advertising campaign. For example, if you wanted to target regional Tasmania, you might create a campaign that targets Tasmania, but does not show the ad to people who are searching from Hobart, Launceston or Burnie.

Using more specific locations for your ads can also help to reduce the budget impact of each ad. The narrower your focus, the less likely it is that you’ll be competing with a lot of other advertisers for that particular niche, which means that your cost per ad will be lower as a result.

Just say negative

Negative keywords tell Google which keywords you don't want your ads to appear on. Why would you do this? For a few reasons. The first is to prevent your ad from showing on a keyword that simply isn’t profitable. If you’re finding your ad is appearing frequently for a keyword but it is not bringing in any sales, you may want to add that keyword to your negative keywords list to improve your return on investment. Secondly, you might appear for a search that’s actually irrelevant to your product. If you're selling sunglasses and your ad is showing for the search “drinking glasses” you probably don’t want to appear in that search since you're not selling that kind of glasses.

Setting a campaign budget

Google AdWords works on an auction system. If you want to advertise to a particular target market, and target particular keywords, then the price you will need to pay is dependent on how many other people are trying to show advertisements to the same group and how much those competitors are willing to pay. This process means that careful targeting of your advertisements is always a good idea, as it will help to reduce the competition you’re likely to face and help you keep your overall costs down.

There are a number of different ways that you can pay for advertising on Google AdWords, though they are all influenced by competition and the auction system. Here’s a quick overview of the jargon you’re likely to run into when you look into setting up the budget for your first campaign:

  • If you select the “cost-per-click” (CPC) option, then you will be charged each time someone clicks on one of your ads. If you’re trying to drive traffic to your website, then this can be a good option, as you’ll only pay for those people who actually click on the ad.
  • If you select the “cost-per-impression” (CPM) option, then you will be charged for each 1000 people your ad is shown to, regardless of whether they have clicked the ad or not. This can be a good approach if you’re aiming to show your ad to as many people as possible, but aren’t as worried about whether they click the ad or not.
  • If you select the “cost-per-acquisition” (CPA) option, then you will only pay for your ads when they actually convert to sales on your website. This option is quite a bit trickier to set up, so you should probably leave this one until you’ve had some experience with what works for your business with the first two options.

As you set your budget, you’ll also have the option of deciding whether you want to set a fixed budget that will renew month to month, or whether you’d prefer to set a lifetime budget for your campaigns. You’ll also have a choice between letting AdWords automate your bids to try and maximise the number of clicks within your chosen budget, or setting your maximum bid per click manually yourself. Either of these options is fine, though you might find that just allowing AdWords to automate your bids is the easiest way to go to start with.

As a general rule, focusing on cost-per-click (CPC) is going to be the best approach for your first few campaigns. It’s also a good idea to set small lifetime budgets and experiment with limited advertising campaigns while you’re still learning the ropes. If you can spend $10-20 and learn some important lessons about what works and what doesn’t for your target market, then that will ensure that any larger campaigns you run later on are more likely to achieve a desirable return on investment.

Optimising your copy

When it actually comes time to figure out what you’re going to say in your ad, you’ll find that you really don’t have very much room to move. Google gives you 25 characters for a title and only 70 characters for the body text of your ad. Because of the tight constraints, you’re going to need to apply some Twitter-style brevity and precision to your copywriting.

As a general rule, there are a few things you’re going to want to keep in mind as you write the copy for your ads:

  • Try to make sure that in the ad copy itself you use the keywords that you’re targeting. This way you make sure there’s a clear link between what people are searching for and what you’re talking about in your ad.
  • Include a call to action if you can. Terms like “buy now”, “download the PDF” or “visit the website” are more likely to inspire your desired action than more passive language. Your call to action should be the focal point of the ad.
  • Try to demonstrate some value in the ad itself. Rather than just advertising a product, offer a sale price or some sort of exclusive product. If you can’t do that, you should at least aim to highlight a unique selling proposition, such as the fact that your product is made in Tasmania, or that it’s of particularly high quality.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with running different versions of the same basic ad structure, or of running two similar ads simultaneously to compare and contrast your results. Do whatever you can to use small, low-cost campaigns to improve your own skills and knowledge.

Measuring your success

Once you do actually launch a campaign, make sure to keep an eye on the analytics, both within your analytics account and on your website. Pay attention to how your advertising campaign is influencing hits on your website and sales through your online store. If your ad is leading to a lot of visits to your site, but not a lot of sales, think about why that might be; perhaps your ad is making a promise and your website isn’t providing the appropriate follow through. You’ll find that by paying close attention to whether your advertising is achieving your desired result, and using smaller campaigns to experiment and learn before running any campaigns with larger budgets, you’ll get search engine marketing working for you in no time.

Learn more about Google AdWords. If you are ready to dive deeper, try these resources:

The Ultimate Guide to Google Shopping is an ebook that covers Google shopping, how it works and how to set it up.

Guide to Google Keyword Planner for SEO covers off on the fundamentals of using the Keyword planner tool and helps uncover the best keywords for your campaigns and strategy

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Opportunities in Adwords is a hack and education guide for Adwords full of handy tips and terminology explanations.