An Introduction to Google Search Advertising

When people talk about Google search advertising they are referring to perhaps one of the most recognisable forms of advertising on the internet: the adverts appearing above and to the right of a Google search engine results page (SERP).

Google search advertising is often called “pay-per-click” (PPC) or “cost-per-click” (CPC) and while many people avoid clicking on these ads in preference for the “organic” results achieved through search engine optimisation (SEO), for an online marketer Google search advertising often has the advantage of being simpler, faster and cheaper to implement than SEO, being measurable, and being highly targeted compared to traditional advertising such as on TV or billboards (Chaffey and Ellis-Chadwick, 2012).

Google Search Advertising - SEO versus Paid Search on Google SERP
Google search advertising is created using Google’s Adwords platform, and as well as the marketer determining the content (i.e., words) that make up the advert, they are also able to select exactly which keywords entered into a Google search cause their advert to appear.  For example, a person entering the words “restaurants in Dublin” into Google should not see adverts relating to dentists’ practices in Dublin because the keywords assigned to the two types of adverts should be entirely different.

Keyword research and the creation of Google Ads is the subject of other posts, so for now we will focus on familiarising ourselves with some basic terminology

Google Search Advertising Terminology

Pay-per click and Cost-per-click (PPC and CPC): As the names suggest, a marketer is only charged money when someone actually clicks on their ad.  Clearly, this type of advertising can be far cheaper than traditional advertising which has to be paid for up front.

Maximum CPC: Advertisers are able to specify the absolute maximum amount they are willing to pay each time someone clicks on their advert (Adwords, 2007).

Click-through rate (CTR):  This is the percentage of people that click on an advert relative to the numbers of people that had it displayed to them (this is called an “impression”) on Google.  The CTR formula is:

CTR = Total Clicks / Total Impressions x 100

For example, if 1,000 people see an advert on the SERP but only 30 people click on it, the CTR is 3%.

Finally, while there is certainly no magic Google search advertising CTR, 1% is considered average (Google, n.d.a) and Wolfgang Digital (2013) suggest that adverts with less than a 1% CTR after 30 days should be stopped.

Learning Note: consider using Ad Extensions (see video below) to boost CTRs (Essex, 2013; West, 2013).

Keywords:  Keywords are fundamental to creating Google ads because they are the words an advertiser selects to “trigger” their advert to appear when someone performs a search.  Therefore, keywords should be highly relevant to both the advert itself and the linked website’s “landing page” that the searcher is taken to when clicking on the advert (Wordstream, n.d.a).  For example, if an advert for men’s suits is triggered by the keyword “clothes”, this would not be considered relevant enough to entice someone to click on the advert.

Quality Score: The Quality Score (QS) is awarded on a scale of 1 to 10 and is Google’s way of determining how “relevant” an advert’s text, its assigned keywords and an advert’s landing page is to a searcher’s query (Google, n.d.b).  It is critical to a successful Google Search advertising campaign because it determines how high up the SERP (see Ad Rank below) an advert appears and how much an advertiser pays for each click.

While the exact elements making up the QS algorithm are unknown, CTR is thought to be the highest-weighted factor (Wordstream, n.d.b), and QS can be summarised as follows:

Quality Score = (keyword’s click-through rate, ad text relevance, keyword relevance, landing page relevance and other methods of assessing relevance) (Chaffey and Ellis-Chadwick, 2012, p.501).

The QS should be of great interest to marketers because it is calculated each time an ad is triggered to appear, meaning that an advert with a consistently-high CTR will over time reduce an advertiser’s CPC costs (Wordstream, n.d.b).

Ad Rank: An advert’s Ad Rank is the result on an online “auction” within Google Adwords that determines where on the SERP the advert appears.  Up until recently the basic formula was Ad Rank = Max CPC x Quality Score, although a recent change to the algorithm now means that the ad extensions linked to an ad are also a factor (Albright, 2013).

Join us next time when we will focus on winning keyword research tips.


Adwords (2007) ‘Min CPC, Max CPC and Avg CPC clarified’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Chaffey, D. and Ellis-Chadwick, F. (2012) Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. 5th ed. Italy: Pearson Education Limited.

Essex, M. (2013) ‘14 PPC Professionals Discuss Their Number One Tactics’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Google (n.d.a) ‘Measuring traffic to your website’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Google (n.d.b) ‘Check and understand Quality Score’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

West, T. (2013) ‘AdWords Tactics for Local Businesses #brightonseo’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Wolfgang Digital (2013) ‘PPC Marketing Infographic of the Week: How Does Google AdWords Work?’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Wordstream (n.d.a) ‘Keywords: What Are Keywords & Why Do They Matter for PPC?’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Wordstream (n.d.b) ‘Quality Score: What Is Quality Score & How Does it Affect PPC?’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Albright, C. (2013) ‘One More Moving Part To Ad Rank – Don’t Get Left Behind!’. Available at: (Accessed: 16 March 2014).

Posted on March 16, 2014, in Google Search Advertising, Paid Search, PPC and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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