Paid Search Not Working? Why Not?

Paid search is complex and can take a long time to understand in detail. There are two primary reasons for this. First, paid search has more acronyms and terms than any other form of digital marketing. Second, its relatively easy to start a paid search campaign, but it can be challenging to get it right and to understand all of the different options and variables that go into a campaign. In this article, we will try and help explain the key terms for the paid search channel and give you additional information on how to optimize your paid search campaigns.

Let's start by defining some of the key terms that are used in paid search. The following is a list of some of the most common terms that will be helpful for you when setting up your paid search campaign.

  • PPC – "pay-per-click" - this is a term used in place of paid search.
  • SEM – "search engine optimization" - this term is usually used to refer to paid search.
  • Bid – this is the auction-style "bid" price for your advertisement ranking.
  • Keyword – this is the word or words that people type into the search engine.
  • CPC – "cost-per-click" – this is the amount you paid when people click on your ad.
  • Ad copy – this is the words that make up your advertisement on the search engine.
  • Match type – this is the way that your keyword is matched with the phrase that is used to search.
  • Quality score – this is a formula that Google uses to calculate your ad quality.
  • Search network – this is a network of sites that provides the search results for a search that someone types into the search engine.
  • Metrics – this is a measurement of something. We will talk more about this later.
  • SERP - Search Engine Results Pages - Pages displayed by search engines in response to a keyword search.
  • Site link – this is a link to some part of your website that is set up through the extension options that you can add to your campaign.

This list is not exhaustive, but it covers some of the most important terms that you should keep in mind while building and optimizing your paid search strategy.

The Basics

Paid search is defined as the process of bidding for potential clicks on an advertisement you create that is displayed within the search engine results page of a search engine. In other words, it is the ad you see at the top, bottom, and sides of a search engine results page. Instead of paying a specific price to run an ad, it is delivered via an auction-style model. So, an advertiser can place a maximum bid for a given keyword or phrase. The higher the bid, the higher the likelihood that the ad will be displayed at the or near the top of the page. However, one of the things that make paid search advertising so appealing is that you only pay when someone clicks on the ad, not when it is displayed.

What is the channel?

One of the confusing things about paid search is that we use different terms to describe the same thing. Paid search often referred to as:

  • PPC – "pay-per-click" – this seems like an obvious term since you only pay if someone clicks on your ad. However, other channels, such as affiliate and display, often use this same type of payment model. So it can be confusing which channel we are talking about if you use more than one of them.
  • SEM – "search engine marketing" – SEM was once used as an umbrella term to cover both search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search. We now have split these terms up into two separate categories: SEM and SEO. Despite this separation, people sometimes tend to use the two terms interchangeably.
  • Biddable media – this is a newer term that we have seen that covers any media that you can bid on to buy. Paid search sits under this umbrella term along with other biddable media.

Setting Up A Campaign

Setting up a paid search campaign is quick and easy. That said, it is essential to take the time to conduct adequate research and plan the campaign before launching it. Here are key considerations before setting up and launching a paid search campaign.

Keyword Research

The first thing you will need to do before setting up your campaign is defining your objectives for the campaign and identify the audience you would like to reach. The next step is keyword research. One tool you can use to do this is Google's Keyword Planner that is available through the Google Ads platform. It's a great way to get an idea of how to start your keyword search and build out some keywords for your campaign.

Campaigns And Ad Groups

In your paid search account, you can set up one or more campaigns. Within each campaign, you can define your overall budget settings and determine the geography or location of where your ads will appear. Then within your campaigns, you should have ad groups. You can use groups to segment your campaigns. If your company has multiple products or services, you can set up groups for each one. Each ad group should contain keywords or phrases related to the product or service the group provides.

Ad Copy

Your paid search ad copy can be more of an art form than a science. One of the reasons you have a limited number of characters to use to compose your ad copy. If you are using English, you are limited to 140 characters, and this includes the URL. However, you can create as many ads as you would like, so you can create a few and refine your message as you learn what works.

Match Types

Once you have defined your keywords, created your copy and ads, you will need to decide on any match types for each keyword. You can declare whether you would like for your ad to appear if the exact keyword or phrase is entered in the search engine. Alternatively, you can widen your match with different parameters. A broader match criterion will return more displays of your ads, but it can be less targeted, and your ad may not perform the way you intended. Additionally, a broader match criterion can get expensive.

Quality Score

Google takes great efforts to present people with the most relevant information that they are searching for in their search engine. One of the ways that they achieve this is by giving your ad a "quality score." The quality score is Google's way of quantifying the quality of your ads as it relates to relevant search content. The higher the score, the higher your ads' potential will be on the search engine results page. While Google doesn't share what makes up the quality score algorithm, three parameters are believed to affect the quality score. These parameters are: how long your ad has been running, your ads' click-through-rates, and its relevancy.


One last thing you should consider before going live with your paid search ads is the "search networks" option within Google Ads. If you choose this option, you are giving Google permission to include your ad in their ad partner program. The program is made up of third-party publishers that have agreed to publish Google ads on their platforms. This option can increase the reach of your ad. However, you will lose control over where your ad is displayed.


Paid search has a low barrier to entry but is a complicated subject. Unless you have an unlimited budget to spend and don't mind wasting it on ads that don't meet your goals, do the research, take the time to set up your campaigns correctly, and avail of all the tools that Google and other search engines provide. Better yet, hire an expert.

by : Chad Alessi

A marketer, a technologist, and an engineer, Chad Alessi loves all things digital. When not writing blogs, he helps clients run memorable and measurable digital marketing campaigns using good design and sound data. Chad is the Co-Founder of Launch & Orbit, a small business digital marketing agency.


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