Search Advertising

What is Search Engine Advertising?

Search engine advertising (SEA) allows advertisers to bid for ad placement in the sponsored links section on search engine results pages. Another name for (SEA) is search engine marketing or SEM. SEM is a powerful form of advertising because people who search on search engines like Google or Bing reveal a great deal about their purchasing intent.

This means that when advertisers bid on the common search terms being used for online searches in their industry, their ads on search engine results pages will have a better chance of matching users’ search queries. Relevant ads lead to higher click-throughs and the opportunity for conversions, which is one of the main goals of SEA.

This article takes a more in-depth look at SEA and how it can benefit and complement a search engine optimization strategy.

What’s the difference between SEA and SEO?

Search engine advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) are very different marketing strategies that can work together beautifully if implemented correctly. We’ll explain how.

While SEA is the practice of buying ad space on the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) relevant to your product or business, SEO is a strategy used to organically rank your website or web pages on a SERP by using a combination of on-page and off-page SEO techniques.

The primary aim of any Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaign is to increase click-through rates (CTR) to a website to increase the likelihood of a conversion. In SEA, a high CTR will lead to a better Quality Score, which will lead to a better ad position and a lower cost per click. This is all great for SEO, as a high CTR improves organic rankings, as search engines come to view a website as a reliable and popular resource for specific queries.


So, which is better? SEA or SEO?

Good question — which is better, a frying pan or a spatula? When you’re making pancakes, you’re probably going to need both. The same goes for your marketing strategy. Both SEO and SEA set out to serve the same goal: to attract more traffic to your website. They’re just different strategies for achieving the same results. In many cases, SEO and SEA work best when integrated and strategically aligned to cover both short-term and long-term goals.


Key differences

  1. Time. It can take a long time to grow organic traffic to a site using SEO, and results are not as immediate as SEA.
  2. Targeting. SEA is more targeted, not only in terms of keywords, but it also allows you to drill down into your targeting data as far as a user’s location, age, gender, and device are concerned.
  3. Cost. You don’t have to pay per click for organically generated website traffic; that said, it can take a long time to reap the rewards of a well-run SEO campaign, so if you want immediate results, run a simultaneous SEA campaign.
  4. Measurements. While it may not be that easy to measure the results definitively in an SEO campaign, you can do this with a SEA campaign. For example, SEA gives you direct feedback on the keywords you advertise on, so you learn people’s intention for a specific term. You can then use this information in your choice of keywords to improve SEO results.


SEO and SEA — a great partnership

In both SEO and SEA, keyword research is vital. This means you can use the same keywords that work well for your SEA campaigns in your SEO strategies (and vice versa). Testing a keyword plan with SEA will give you an instant feel of how those keywords would perform for SEO in the long run. If you run paid and organic campaigns simultaneously, each team can get an idea of which keywords and search terms work best. Your SEO and content team can review paid ad copy and make tweaks to their meta descriptions, for example. On the flip side, your SEA team can use ideas from successful meta descriptions to make variations on their ad copy.

Now we have a better understanding of the differences between search engine advertising and SEO, let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of paid search.

What platforms offer SEA?

Even though Google is dominating the search engine market, incorporating ads into search results isn’t unique. Each search engine has its own advertising platform, allowing paid ads to appear between the organic search results. These platforms include Google Ads, Bing Ads, and Yandex Direct.


Microsoft Bing

Bing Ads is Microsoft’s SEA offering. They allow your ads to be displayed on Bing, Yahoo, MSN, and DuckDuckGO search results. When you advertise on one of these platforms, your ad is shown on all three.

Google Ads

Google Ads, the most commonly used tool for SEA globally, is Google’s online advertising platform. Google Ads comprises two advertising networks: Search Network, where text ads appear on a search engine results page, and Display Network, where ads appear on multiple websites.

Yandex Direct

Yandex Direct is a Russian advertising service that allows you to place ads on Russia’s most popular search engine, Yandex. If growing your business in the Russian market is what you are looking for, Yandex is definitely the one to consider.

What is Ad Rank?

Ad Rank determines your ad position on a SERP and whether your ad will show up for a search at all. Many factors can impact your Ad Rank — your bid amount, your auction-time ad quality, and the competitiveness of an auction, to name a few. The ad with the highest Ad Rank will display in the top position. The second position will go to the ad with the second-highest Ad Rank, and so forth.

What affects an ad’s position on a SERP?

SEA allows advertisers to bid for ad placement in the sponsored links on a search engine when someone searches using a keyword related to their product or service.

There are different payment models with SEA, but the most common is PPC (pay-per-click), where you pay every time a user actually clicks on your search ad. This cost is determined by the maximum bid you have set for your ads. Other payment models include cost-per-impression, where you only pay after your ad reaches one thousand impressions (i.e., once it has been seen by 1000 times).

This bidding is essentially a real-time auction system. For example, if a company that sold running shoes were to bid on the keyword “running shoes,” their ad might show up on the very top of the search engine results page.

Getting your ads to rank involves an actual strategy, including how much budget to allocate to ads, the parameters you want to set for your keywords so you reach the right audience, and much more.

If advertisers want their ad to rank, however, they need to think beyond ad copy.


Let’s take a closer look at some top considerations.


1. Bidding

“Going once, going twice, sold to the ad with the highest bid and the most relevant keywords!”

That’s kind of what happens when Google decides which ad should get shown during a search. Advertisers place bids on keywords, and whether their ads pop up on a search engine results page for a specific search depends on their performance in an auction.

A bid is the maximum amount of money a company is willing to pay for each click on their ad. If the search query’s keyword has been bid on by more than one advertiser, an auction happens. Google determines which ads will display in the search results and how much each advertiser must pay per click.

2. Keyword match types

Keyword match types are parameters that you set on your keywords; it’s a way of telling Google Ads how accurately the user search query must match your keyword. There are four keyword match types in Google Ads: exact match, phrase match, broad match, and modified broad match.

  • Exact match

Exact match type keywords will bring up your ads when the user search query exactly matches the keyword you have bid on or if the user enters a pretty close variant. For example, your keyword “men’s tennis shoes” will trigger the query, “men tennis shoes.”

Results? You’ll target highly qualified traffic using the exact match type and minimize wasted budget.

  • Phrase match

Phrase match uses the exact sequence of keywords but with a few extra words. This can be before or after your keyword phrase. For example, if your keyword is “tennis shoes,” your ad could pop up when someone searches “blue tennis shoes” or “tennis shoes for women.”

A phrase match might not drive the same volume of traffic that broad match does, but it will drive more quality traffic, and it’s more flexible than an exact match.

  • Broad match

Broad match is the default match type for your keywords. It allows search engines to display your ads for terms that are variations of your selected keywords. Your ads may display on searches that include misspellings, synonyms, and other variations that Google thinks are relevant.

This might not be great for your PPC budget, as your ad can be displayed on irrelevant variations of your keyword and reach people who aren’t looking for what you’re offering. Your keyword of “tennis shoes” will probably end up matching “running shoes” and “tennis socks” — it targets the broadest possible searches.

  • Modified broad match

Modified broad is possibly the most powerful match type in PPC. It’s essentially the same as broad match, but you can modify it so that it has to include certain words.

You can tell Google which the most important terms are by adding the + sign to your keyword. So “tennis shoes” as a modified broad match type will be “(+) tennis (+) shoes.” The user search query will need to have these two words present for your ad to show. “Tennis shoes for men” and “blue tennis shoes” could now all trigger your ad as it includes the relevant terms.


3. Ad Rank

Ad Rank is a value that Google ascribes to your search ad to determine its position on a search engine results page. This value changes for each unique search query and depends on your competitors, bid amount, quality score, and your ad’s relevance to each specific search query.

Google uses a quality score to determine how relevant and useful your ad is for a search query. The more relevant your keywords, ad text, and landing pages are, the higher your quality score, which means the higher your ad ranking could be for a search query.


4. Ad formats

There are many features or format types that you can use for your Google Ads; we list some of them below:

  • Ad extensions

The ad extensions feature shows additional information with your ad, like an address or a phone number. By expanding your ad with more information, people will have more reason to click on it.

  • Dynamic search ads

Dynamic search ads can automatically target keywords that relate to your business and generate an ad from the content that’s on your website. It uses AI technology to modify your ad based on what Google thinks will work best — this includes taking images, headlines, tags, and other components from your web pages.

  • Call-only ads

Call-only ads are specifically designed for mobile devices. They encourage users to call your business — so instead of taking a user to a website, it opens the phone app on their device and makes a call to the number you have provided.

  • App promotion ads

With an app promotion ad, you can promote your app on platforms like Google Search, YouTube, Google Play, and more. Google optimizes your app ads to reach the most relevant audience.


5. Account structure and ad groups

The structure of your Google Ads account is critical to the success of your paid search strategy. A well-structured account will lead to more relevant searches, better quality scores, and it will help keep you organized. No one wants a messy account, so keep the below in mind when structuring your Google Ads account.

  • Campaigns

Campaigns essentially allow you to house ad groups, which contain all the keywords that tie to your text ads and direct to your landing page. This is helpful if you have more than one product or service you want to advertise. For example, if you’re selling both sports shoes and rackets. Each campaign will have a different Ad Group and different keywords.

  • Ad Groups

Ad Groups are a group of ads that are targeted to a set of related keywords. This helps you group related keywords and create ads around a similar theme. If your campaign is ‘sports shoes,’ one of your ad groups could be ‘tennis shoes.’

  • Keywords

Keywords fall under an Ad Group and are used to trigger your search ad when someone types a query in Google that matches your keyword. This is why it’s important to use tools to do your keyword research to ensure your keywords are accurate and relevant to your Ad Groups and search queries.

  • Negative keywords

Using negative keywords is important if you want to avoid wasting money on irrelevant searches — especially if you’re using the broad match format type. Make sure to build a list of negative keywords as you don’t want to pay for traffic related to irrelevant searches.

Common paid search ad mistakes

When money is on the line, you want to make as few mistakes as possible. Here are some of the most common mistakes in Google Ads.


Not using the right keyword matches.

Google allows you to use different keyword matches for your ads, but how do you know which is the right one for you? If you go too broad, you can spend a lot of money with little return on investment. Make sure you have a solid keyword strategy before trying out paid search advertising.


Poorly written and formatted ads.

Be sure to get the most out of your ad by writing enticing ad copy and using ad extensions — extra pieces of information or links. If your ad copy doesn’t grab the attention of your audience, your ads will fail. Therefore, you need to test your ad copy and ad extensions.


Ignoring negative keywords.

Negative keywords help you to ensure that your ads are only shown for relevant search terms. For example, if you’re selling high-end beauty products, you can exclude keywords that aren’t a good match for your business offering, such as “cheap” or “budget.” By excluding negative keywords, you could attract the wrong audience, which could be damaging to your bid and your budget.



The key to search advertising isn’t about getting your product or service in front of the biggest audience possible, but the right one.

Search engine advertising helps you achieve that by targeting a specific audience with relevant messaging. Used alongside SEO, search engine advertising is definitely something to consider for fast, effective results.

Need help taking your website to the next level or boosting your lead generation? Contact SiteCare to find out more about our inbound and digital marketing services.

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