If you’re new to paid search marketing (also known as search engine marketing or SEM), it can be overwhelming to know where to start—but don’t let that stop you! If executed correctly, the results of paid search marketing can massively pay off.

This is part one of a two-part series. Start here if you’re brand new to SEM and have no idea where to begin. If you have a handle on SEM basics, then head over to part two where you can learn more about key word match options, targeting, and more.  

What is PPC?

Before we get started on paid search, it’s helpful to note that paid search falls under PPC in the digital marketing umbrella. PPC stands for pay-per-click and is a type of online advertising where a company pays a fee each time their ads are clicked. There are many different kinds of PPC marketing (and some of them overlap and bleed into each other), including: 

  • Paid search marketing: This is one of the most used types of PPC. Companies pay to have their ads displayed alongside search results when users search for certain keywords.
  • Display ads: Companies can buy space to display banners, images, videos, etc. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are some of the largest platforms for display advertising.
  • Affiliate marketing: This is a form of revenue sharing where someone can earn money by promoting and selling a company’s products. For example, a consumer review site might review a mattress and use affiliate links to send readers to the mattress site, then earn money for those visits and purchases.
  • Retargeting ads: When a user visits your site and bounces, you can use cookies to retarget them with ads on other websites.
  • Social media ads: Companies can use granular targeting to advertise to audiences on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

What is paid search advertising?

Alright, now onto paid search. Paid search is also known as search engine marketing (SEM) and is when companies pay to have their ads displayed alongside search results when users search for certain keywords. The most popular platform for paid search is Google Ads, but there are also other platforms, such as Bing Ads and Yahoo! Ads.

Paid search results usually appear above organic results and have a small “sponsored” disclaimer. Below is an example of what paid search results look like (paid in red and organic in yellow).

 Image example of what paid search results look like. The Ads are in a red box and organic in yellow


If you’ve done any Googling (or other searching) lately, you’ve probably noticed that less and less real estate is given to organic results. Often times, there are paid results, a map of store locations, YouTube videos, or featured snippets (the pullout feature boxes Google sometimes highlights).

Since it’s now more difficult to appear at the top of Google search results organically, a smarter paid search strategy is becoming necessary for many companies.  

How is Google Ads structured?

Before we dive into the details of Google Ads, it’s helpful to understand how Google Ads is set up.

Your Google account is associated with your unique email and billing information. Within your Google Ads account, you have campaigns. Your campaigns can vary by campaign type, which include search network, display network, shopping, video, and apps. Campaign types determine where your ad can be displayed (e.g. video campaigns are displayed on YouTube). Each campaign will also have its own budget settings.

Each of your campaigns will contain one or more ad groups, which are very important to your paid search strategy. Ad groups are groups of ads that are targeted to a set of related keywords—basically, they are the organizational structure for your campaigns, and give Google information about who you want to target and how.

Within your ad groups, you will have keywords, ads, and landing pages.


Tree diagram showing the structure of Google ads.

What are keywords?

Perhaps the most important component of any good paid search campaign is keywords and keyword groupings. Your ad will show up when people search using your keywords. For example, if you sell suede shoe cleaner, then you can add “buy suede shoe cleaner” to your Ad campaign as a keyword phrase. Then, your ad might appear alongside those keywords when people search for them (more on how keywords work in part two).

What are ad groups?

Each of your campaigns will contain one or more ad groups, which are very important to your paid search strategy. Ad groups contain target keywords, their related ads, and the landing pages those ads lead to.

That means for each ad group, you identify the searches you want to target, what your ads will say in response to those searches, and where you will lead users who click on your ad. This gives Google a lot of information about how relevant your ads and landing pages are, which impacts your Quality Score (more on Quality Score in part two of this series).

When it comes to creating high converting, lower cost ads, the trick is creating highly specific ad groups. That means your keywords should be tightly related and your ads and landing pages should incorporate those keywords. Doing that creates what Google calls “Ad relevance,” meaning that if users search for “size 10 Nike shoes,” they will be shown ads about size 10 Nike shoes, not ads for blue Nike shoes.  

Highly specific ad groups allow you to target clicks with a higher chance of converting, because those users are directly searching for what your ad and landing page offer.

Key takeaways

If you’re brand new to SEM, this article should give you a basic understanding of the Google Ad landscape and what’s important to know before you get started (we know it can be overwhelming—but hang in there!). If you feel confident with the information here, then you can head over to part two of this two-part series.