Definition: Paid Search

What Does Paid Search Mean?

Paid Search refers to ads placed in search engines above ‘organic’ (ie non-paid for) search results. Most search engines add in these ads, and these are how search engines make money.


Technical Information

On Google, people can use Google Ads in order to advertise on specific keywords. Google has repeatedly assured people that their search and ads divisions are kept strictly separate. However (unsurprisingly) optimising ads for search, and optimising web pages for SEO are very similar processes. Due to this people refer to gaining traffic via search engines (whether through paid or unpaid listings) as SEM – Search Engine Marketing.


What It Looks Like

This is an example of a paid search ad on Google. The number of ads shown per search varies, but there is generally no more than three ads.

Ads are always marked as ads on search engine results pages.

An example of a paid search ad


Top Tip

Most charities are able to get a $10,000 (in USD) per month grant from Google. This is to advertise on Google Search via Google Ads. Find out about the Google Ad Grant here.


Paid Search Advice for Site Owners

Search ads are one of the largest potential sources of traffic for websites. It operates slightly oddly however in that instead of being an opportunity to boost poorly performing parts of your site, it works best by boosting your best pages.

Studies have shown that if you run a paid search ad above a high ranking organic search result of yours, you’ll get more clicks than having either alone. It’s a sort of 1+1=3 effect. This means that you should find pages that are already performing well on search engines, and then run ads for those pages.

This might seem like a sort of scam run by Google, but in fact, it happens for a much simpler reason than that. If you have an ad and a high ranking search result on the same page, then your brand is taking up more of the page. It really is that simple – more screen space means more clicks.

You can find out which pages are performing best on search by looking in Google Search Console. Look at the pages which get the most traffic from Google, and then drill down to find the best keywords for those pages. Target the keywords which have the highest CTR in Google Ads, and use those keywords in the ads themselves. There are many other useful things you can do with Paid Search ads, but this is the simplest and most effective method of getting good value for money.


Other names for Paid Search (synonyms)

PPC stands for Pay Per Click – and you can buy clicks on many platforms. However, the term PPC is generally only used to mean Paid Search.

Similarly, CPC stands for Cost Per Click and can be used for Display ads. However, in Google Analytics CPC is used to mean Paid Search too.

Also sometimes referred to as SEA (Search Engine Advertising).


Not to be confused with

Paid Social, Organic Search, SEO.

This last one is the most important – please note that you cannot pay Google to improve your SEO. You can pay people to improve the SEO of your pages. If someone says they can improve your Paid SEO, then that person doesn’t know what they are talking about (or they are lying).



Paid Search Definition


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