The Real Scoop on Google Search Advertising


Two Simultaneous Goals

With PPC (pay per click) advertising, you have two simultaneous goals:

  1. Be visible to the people who might actually become customers (based on the words they search, their geographic location, particular times they are searching, etc.)
  2. Be invisible to everyone else.

Achieving these goals (or at least coming close) requires technical knowledge of the PPC platforms themselves. They have many features meant to streamline your campaigns and costs. Taking advantage of these features is imperative. Also, there is an art and science to PPC. It requires creative use of words, punctuation, and the array of tools you are given to work with. It’s a constant battle to both get clicks and avoid clicks.

Should You Use AdWords for Your Business?

Since AdWords is my specialty, you might want to qualify this advice. My opinion is that you should probably use AdWords for your business. The important thing is that you use it in a careful and efficient way, and that’s not easy. This is why I highly advise finding a consultant to help you.

The AdWords system is very versatile and flexible. It allows you to take a laser-targeted, conservative approach or a more broad and general one. There are advantages to each. With the narrow, conservative approach, you can be sure your money is spent only on the most likely prospects for your business. With a broader and more liberal one, you can gather more information on which to base your future efforts. A bit of trial-and-error can open up possibilities that are missed by being more conservative.

I managed an AdWords campaign for a stand-up comedian. The business of live comedy is not very well suited to AdWords advertising, because people search the words “comedian” and “stand-up comic” for many different reasons. Most people search those terms to find information about comedians, not to hire one. So we made a very narrowly targeted and conservative campaign. We used the keyword [comedian for hire], formatted as shown here. The brackets indicate a “match type” in AdWords. This match type is called “exact match,” and it means that an ad will show only if those exact words are searched, in that exact order, and without any other words before or after. This is an example of how a business can take a conservative and frugal approach to AdWords.

Getting back to the main question of whether or not you should use AdWords for your business: AdWords gives you the opportunity to show up at the top of the Google search results page. The value of this is obviously tremendous. The question is whether your business will make enough income to justify the costs of the clicks. Since I know the versatility and flexibility of AdWords myself, my advice is to use this amazing platform, at least in a low-risk, conservative way.

How to Control Costs

There are two basic ways to control costs in AdWords: daily budgets and keyword bids.

Daily Budgets

When you set up a new campaign, you choose various settings. One crucial setting is the daily budget. This is as simple as it sounds. It’s a dollar amount that is not to be exceeded in click costs each day. It gets a little complicated in one way. AdWords will sometimes exceed that amount in a day, but it will compensate on another day to bring your cost average back down. The average length of a month is 30.4 days. AdWords takes your daily budget and multiplies it by 30.4. The resulting number is the maximum cost for that campaign in a month’s billing period.

Costs-Per-Click Bids

How much does a click cost? That depends on you. Costs per click are controlled by an auction-based system. You set bids at the campaign, ad group or individual keyword level. The bid you set is the maximum you are willing to pay for a click. When a Google search triggers an appearance of your ad, a split-second auction takes place among those bidding for that keyword at that time and for that location. There is a lot of strategy that goes into bidding. For example, a florist might bid high for the phrase wedding florist and low for the phrase birthday bouquet.

In the campaign settings you can also select automatic bidding, which means AdWords will decide what to bid for you. In this case, AdWords will automate a process to try to get good results while staying within your daily budget.

The Search Network vs. the Display Network

AdWords consists of two very different types of advertising: search and display. If you plan on using AdWords, it is crucial that you understand the difference. When you set up a new campaign, you are given the choice of using the Search Network, Display Network, or both. Here’s an explanation of what those are:

The Google Search Network

The Google Search Network refers to search engines like Google. Advertising on the Search Network means your ads can appear when someone searches for the keywords you designate. So in this situation, people are actually looking for products, services, and information related to a specific topic. To be a little more figurative, they have a question and are looking for an answer. Or, they have a problem and are looking for a solution. This, of course, is what search engines are for. So why is it called the Search Network? Because Google has partners that it has arranged to show its search results with. For example, AOL is in the Google Search Network. If you do a search on AOL, you will get results from the Google search engine.

The Google Display Network

The Google Display Network is very different. The Display Network is a massive inventory of advertising space on pages all over the web. In fact, it’s the largest inventory of ad space on the planet. People and businesses that have websites and blogs can “rent out” parts of their web pages for Google advertising. Google shows ads in those spaces and if someone clicks on an ad, the advertiser will pay. Part of the money goes to Google and part of the money goes to the owner of the web page. Google tries to match up ads for certain businesses to the content the ads appear with. For example, a travel agent who runs an AdWords display ad might have their ad appear next to a news article about airline prices or specific destinations like Paris, London, or Las Vegas. Advertisers also have the option of choosing specific pages on specific websites to show their ads. This is done by setting up a campaign on the Display Network, choosing placement targeting for specific web pages, and then bidding for the space.

Account Levels and Structure

There are different levels in the AdWords system. An important part of using AdWords is understanding functions and settings that go with the different levels. The levels of AdWords are (from the top down): account, campaign, ad group, and keyword (or placement on the Display Network). Accounts can have multiple campaigns, campaigns can have multiple ad groups, and ad groups can have multiple keywords (and/or placements). Here is a brief description of the functions and settings that relate to the different levels:

Account Level

Most of the settings in AdWords are at lower levels, but a few settings are made at the account level, such as billing, address, language, account access, notification settings, and preferences.

Campaign Level

To have a functioning AdWords account, you must have at least one campaign, one ad group, one keyword or placement, and one ad. The first step after opening an AdWords account is creating a campaign. When you create a campaign, you will decide on various settings such as:

  • Whether the campaign will run on the Search Network, Display Network, or both. You can also set it to only run on the Google search engine.
  • Whether you want to specify particular devices to target (such as mobile phones, or tablets).
  • What the daily budget for the campaign will be.
  • What geographic areas the campaign will cover – they can be countries, states, cities, congressional districts, zip codes, or a radius around a particular address.
  • Whether the campaign will turn on and off on a schedule—for example, if you sell NBA jerseys online, you may only want your ads to show during certain NBA games.

Ad Group Level

After creating a campaign, you will need to create at least one ad group within that campaign. Ad groups are where your keywords and actual ads reside. The purpose of ad groups is to keep a tight theme that directly relates the designated keywords to the actual ad that shows, and (finally) to the landing page the ad will lead to. For an example of a good use of ad groups: an expert mechanic might have one ad group for auto repair and another for motorcycle repair. The only reason to create separate campaigns for different ventures would be to control the daily budgets separately, or to have different campaign settings (such as geographical areas covered, or ad scheduling).

If you are running a display campaign, you might wish to use placements without any keywords. This simply means that you choose specific web pages on specific websites where you want your ads to show. You create an appropriate ad for that space, which can be a text ad, an image ad, or possibly a video ad. Then you set a bid for having your ad show on that web page.

Some of the functions and settings found at the ad group level are:

  • Ad group level bid. This will be the default bid for every keyword and placement in the ad group. These bids can be overridden by setting different bids at the keyword or placement level.
  • Here you will add the keywords that will trigger your ad.
  • Ad creation. Here you will create the actual ad that will run. You can also create more than one ad and set the ads to rotate (thereby split-testing to see which ad performs better).

Keyword (or Placement) Level

At the keyword or placement level, you designate the actual keyword (for keyword targeting on the Search Network or contextual targeting on the Display Network) or place you want your ad to show on a particular web page. You can also set a bid for each keyword or placement that will override the bid set at the campaign or ad group level.

Keyword Match Types

One of the most brilliant aspects of AdWords is the system of match types that can be used for keywords. Match types give you a greater degree of control to determine which searches should trigger the appearance of your ad. For example, if you designate the keyword blue flannel pajamas to trigger your ad, do you want your ad to be displayed if the searcher adds another word in the phrase, like cheap blue flannel pajamas? Or what if they search your keywords in a different order, like flannel pajamas blue? By setting various match types, you can control issues like these. It takes time and practice to learn the techniques that fully utilize the power of the match types, but it is a crucial aspect of AdWords. Here is a brief description of each match type:

Broad Match

As its name suggests, broad match allows for the broadest interpretation of search queries. To use a keyword in this match type, simply type the keyword without any formatting around it.

Warning: Avoid using broad match. It is too broad and can run up your costs very quickly. A great many of the clicks you receive will likely be off-target for your business. For example, setting the keyword dancing shoes to broad match might trigger your ad for the search dancing cruise. If you are going to use broad match, consider it a temporary experiment to educate yourself on the different ways people search your keywords. You can use that information to get ideas for new keywords and approaches.


Modified Broad Match

The next most broadly interpreted match type is modified broad match. This is a very handy and important match type that has only been around for a couple of years. It gives you much more control than broad match, but allows flexibility as well. To use this match type, simply put a plus (+) sign before each keyword that must be part of a search query. For example, the keyword +valentines roses +bouquet indicates that the searcher must use the words valentines and bouquet in the search query. The word roses is not as mandatory. Also, the words can be in any order. If someone searches for bouquet for valentines day, it would still most likely trigger the ad.

Phrase Match

Phrase match is a more rigidly controlled match type because it requires that the entire keyword phrase appears in the proper order. To use phrase match, simply put quotation marks around the whole keyword phrase. The keyword “vegetarian cooking classes” indicates that the searcher must use that phrase in order to trigger the ad. Although this match type is more rigid, it does allow the searcher to use additional words before and after the keyword phrase. For example, the search query vegetarian cooking classes springfield il would still trigger the ad.

Exact Match

The most precise and rigid keyword match type is exact match. Exact match gives you complete control over what searches will trigger your ad because it requires that the search query matches your keyword exactly. It requires that it be those exact words, in that exact order, and without any words before or after. If you want to use AdWords in a very frugal and conservative way, consider having several different keywords in exact match. You could even have several hundred keywords in exact match if you want to laser-target your approach this way. I would not recommend this in most cases, but it is an option. To use exact match, simply put brackets around the keyword phrase like this [keyword phrase].


As I mentioned above, negative keywords are a crucial cost-saving component of AdWords. By designating words as negative keywords, you can prevent the showing of your ad. For example, if a photographer does studio portraits but not outdoor portraits, they can set “outdoor” and “nature” to be negative keywords. This way, their ad can be displayed for the search “portraits” but not for the search “outdoor portraits.” It is important to have an ever-expanding list of negative keywords. By looking at the Search Terms Report in AdWords, you can see the actual searches people make that lead to clicks on your ad. This is usually a goldmine for finding new negatives to use. But just to get you started, consider using the words free, cheap, discount, and reviews as negative keywords for your account. To add keywords as negatives, simply put a negative (-) sign before the keyword. (Also, there is a designated place where negative keywords can be added without the need for any formatting.)

Match type strategies

If your goal is to experiment (which is a good goal at first), use the less-rigidly controlled modified broad match. This will lead to more impressions of your ad than phrase or exact match. More impressions allow you to glean more about what’s happening and how to proceed. You can then consider these questions:  Are your ads getting clicks? If so, what are the search terms people use that lead to a click? If they are not getting many clicks, is it because your ad is showing too low on the results page? (Raising your bid can help in this situation.)  Or perhaps the wording of your ad is not appealing to the searchers? The broader your keywords are, the more impressions you will get. The more impressions you get, the more data you will have for making judgments. It is still a good idea to avoid broad match, however. If you’re going to use it, do so with a low daily budget and a careful watch. If your goal is to make every penny count, lean more toward phrase and exact match. This means your ad won’t show as much for irrelevant searches.

Using the same keywords in multiple match types

Can you use the same keywords in multiple match types at once? Yes, you can and you should. Seems weird, right? After all, won’t they be competing against each other within the same ad group? Yes, they will compete against each other sometimes, but you can predetermine who the winner will be by setting different bids for each (I told you this takes time and practice!)  Here’s how it works…  If you add these keywords to your ad group +cowboy +boots, “cowboy boots” and [cowboy boots], and then someone searches the words cowboy boots, AdWords must determine which keyword is going to trigger the ad. It will weigh different variables, including the bids for each keyword. As the advertiser, it is advantageous to bid highest for the exact match version, then lower for the phrase match version, and then lower still for the modified broad match version. This is because the more rigid the match type is, the more we can closely discern what the searcher is looking for. After all, there is a big difference between the query cowboy boots and the query cowboy boots for pets. Bidding highest for exact match is safer because it doesn’t allow for additional words that change the meaning. And bidding higher for phrase match over modified broad match is safer because it requires a particular phrase to appear in the search query and not a variation that changes the order of the words, or adds others within. (To use these strategies, you must choose “manual bidding” in the campaign settings.)

Side-note fact: When keyword phrases are long, they are described as having a “long tail.” For example, the keyword tuxedos for rent is not a long-tail keyword. To make it a longer-tail keyword, we could change it to tuxedos for rent in cincinatti. To make it a very long tail keyword, we could make it white wool tuxedos for rent in cincinatti in kids sizes. Using long-tail keywords can sometimes give us an advantage on AdWords or in SEO (search engine optimization).

Terms to Understand

Here is a little glossary of important terms to understand in AdWords and other PPC platforms. These are all basic terms and concepts you must know to understand the AdWords interface and the fundamental principles of PPC.

Impression – The appearance of an ad.

CTR – “Click-through-rate” is the number of clicks on an ad divided by the number of impressions of an ad. If an ad gets 1000 impressions and 10 clicks, the CTR would be 1%. Google considers a 1% CTR to be healthy. A higher CTR could be a good or bad thing, depending on how much new business/revenue is generated from the clicks. (In the end, profit for your business is the most important metric.)

Landing Page – The landing page is simply the web page a person will be taken to if they click on your ad. This is something you determine when setting the “destination URL” in the ad creation process.

Quality Score – Google assigns a “quality score” to each keyword you are bidding on. This is a computerized evaluation of various factors, such as historical performance of the keyword, historical performance of the ad group, the CTR of the keyword, the relevance of the words in the ad, the relevance of the landing page to the keyword, and more. Your quality score can be positively or negatively affected by the way you use the AdWords system, but it works somewhat mysteriously. It is important, however, because it directly affects the costs-per-click and the ranking order of the ads on a search results page. (To see the quality score for your keywords, go to the “keywords” tab and customize the columns to show quality score.)

Rank/Position – The ad at the very top of the page is in position one. The next ad is in position two, and so forth. In the AdWords interface, you can see the “average position” of your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and ads.

Search Term/Query – Search terms (or queries) refer to the terms used by the person doing the search. For example, bookstore in canton ohio might be what someone searches on Google. AdWords allows you to see the actual terms used that triggered your ads in the search terms report. This is enormously helpful for seeing whether your keywords and match types are on target.

Placement – A placement is when a display ad shows on a web page somewhere. For example, if you are using the Google Display Network in AdWords, your ad might show next to an article on a news website or next to a blog article.

Contextual targeting – Contextual targeting is one way that the Google Display Network places your ad on web pages. It uses the keywords you designate to align your ads with relevant web content.

Conversion – A conversion is when someone performs a desired action on a web page, such as making a purchase, visiting a particular page on your site, or opting in to receive your email newsletter. Conversion tracking can be set up in AdWords to show the rate at which your visitors are converting. This is helpful for you to track the results of changes you might want to experiment with. For example, you might compare the results between two ad variations to see which lead to more conversions.

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Barry Abraham is the author of "The Internet Marketing Strategy Book."  This is a 10-chapter book that gives an easy-to-understand overview of current Internet marketing opportunities.

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