An introduction to paid search marketing for small businesses

If you’re looking to boost your traffic, or you’ve lost your search engine rankings in one of the latest Google algorithm updates, then paid search marketing could be a good option for your business. Even allocating $50 – $100 each month could be a worthwhile investment that helps you gain leads or clients. In order to maximize your ad spend, you will need to take the time to prepare your website as well as research the terms you want to target. In this post, you will learn what steps you need to take before you start your paid search marketing campaign and what you need to know before starting your ads.

Choosing your keywords

When it comes to choosing keywords for your paid search marketing campaign, you will want to choose keywords that will lead qualified buyers to your website. If you have no idea what keywords to choose, one of the best places to start is with your competitors.

One great tool to help you research competitors using Google Adwords is SEMrush. You can start by entering the keywords you had in mind to learn more about advertising with them. You will get the average cost-per-click rate (CPC), search volume per month, competition ranking (Com.), and a number of organic search results for that keyword.

Next, you will get related keyword phrases along with average search volume and cost-per-click. The CPC depends on the competition and keyword. In the above example, the estimated CPC for web designer is $12.56. Related terms, like web page design, have a much lower CPC of $7.87, as you see in the example below.

Below that, you will see the top 20 domains ranking for that particular keyword in organic search results.

The most important piece of information you will find next is the top domains that are advertising using the keyword you searched.

If you don’t see companies that compete with your products or services within the organic or ads results, then you may want to try different keyword phrases and ideas until you do find your competitors.

Another option is to search for your competitor using their domain. This way, you can see the keywords they are advertising for as well as some sample ads they have placed using Google AdWords. In the below example, you can see the keywords one popular web design company is targeting with their Google AdWords along with some of the exact ads they have in search.

Getting to see the ads your competitors use is a great way to get inspiration for your own ad text. Since ad text has to be short, you need to know what words to use to get the most attention from your potential customers in search results.

If you want to see more information than what’s shown in the above examples, you will need to sign up for a SEMrush PRO account. Their monthly rates start at $65.95, but if you are only planning to do one round of in-depth research, you can go with the plan for one month’s access for $79.95. If you don’t find the information you need, you can also request a refund within 7 days of signing up for your PRO account.

Other helpful paid keyword tools you can use for research include Google Keyword Planner (free), Spyfu (paid-search), and KeywordSpy (paid-search).

As you are doing your competitor research, be sure to visit the landing pages your competitors are using with ads similar to the one you want to purchase. This will help you for the next step of your paid search marketing preparation.

Preparing your website

Before launching a paid search campaign, you will want to prepare your website. Specifically, you will want to make sure you have great landing pages for the products or services you are advertising. Your landing pages will need to be optimized for two things: search and conversions.

Google assigns a quality score for each of your paid search ads. This quality score affects whether your ad will be displayed when someone types in your targeted keywords. One of the main factors that will make or break your quality score is whether the landing page for your ad is optimized for the keyword you are targeting.

For example, if you want to advertise for the keyword phrase web design services, you wouldn’t want to have the URL for the ad go to your homepage that talks about your overall digital marketing services in hopes that the visitor will then see the link to your web design services page. Instead, you will want the ad URL to take those who click on it to your web design services page.

Your web design services landing page will need to be fully optimized for the keyword phrase web design services. This means that your keyword phrase needs to be in the page’s SEO title, meta description, first paragraph, H1 header tag, image ALT tag, and maybe even bolded somewhere in the text. While all of the page’s content should be geared to look natural to visitors, it should be as optimized as possible so Google has no doubt that the page is about web design services.

On the conversion optimization side, you will want visitors who come to this page to have no choice but to inquire about your web design services. The best conversion-optimized landing pages usually have nothing else on the page but the call to action that it wants the visitor to take and the content that will help make the visitor make the decision.

What content should be on your landing page? Think content that identifies the problem your ideal customer has, tells them how your product or service can solve that problem, assures them your business is reputable, shows them results from actual customers, and then shows them the next step—whether it’s a form to submit for a quote or an add-to-cart button to purchase.

If you need some design inspiration for your landing page, you should start with these posts on 38 Creative Landing Pages and 15 Landing Page Examples Analyzed for Conversions. Both will give you tips for making your landing page visually appealing and geared for conversions. This will help you have a high return on investment for your paid search marketing campaign.

Deciding on ad types and networks

Once you have developed your ad message based on keywords and your landing pages is ready, your next question is where to place your ads.

You have various options for that, such as Google’s Search Network, the Google Display Network and YouTube. We’ll take a closer look at each one and some of the ad types available, which include simple text-based ones or ones with graphics.

The Search Network

If you want your ad to appear when people search on Google, you can do that through Google Adwords, which offers lots of options when it comes to where you can display your ad and the ad types you can use. Most advertisers want to appear on the first page of search results (or as close to it as possible), so they will target their ad for the Search Network.

In the above example, everything in the highlighted box and right sidebar are paid search ads. If you sell products, you can also choose product listing ads that will get your products to the top of the search results.

For product listing ads, you will also need a Google Merchant Account in conjunction with your Google AdWords account.

So, what are the pros and cons of advertising on the Google Search Network?


  • Exposure to a highly targeted audience (if you choose your keywords correctly).
  • The chance to draw attention away from potentially negative results on the first page when people search your business name.


  • High CPC for certain keywords based on high competition.
  • Potential to pay for advertising due to click fraud.

Choose ad extensions

For ads within the Search Network, you can choose an array of extensions that help drive more engagement and conversions. Ad extensions essentially add more to your ad in search. Commonly used ad extensions in search are:

Sitelinks allow you to add extra links below your ad so visitors can click through to the landing page that best suits their needs, as shown with the FreshBooks ad.

If you are in the process of growing your mailing list, you can place a sign-up form with your ad as shown in the example above for Crate & Barrel. You can also see how they are using two extensions—the communications extension for the mailing list subscription and sitelinks to take visitors to specific parts of their website.

Local businesses can claim more real estate by adding their address, local phone number, and directions to their business as shown above in the ad for Ecreations. If someone is looking to do business in person, this can be an easy conversion.

Help visitors start the conversion process by including next steps to your ad as shown in the example above for a business card company. This can be huge for conversions as you don’t want to worry about losing someone once they get to your website. Customers eager to make a purchase can do so quickly and efficiently.

Show search visitors some social proof by integration your Google+ followers in your ad like all three of these email marketing companies have done. If you would like to take advantage of this option, you will need to create a Google+ page and build a decent sized following.

Note that some ad extensions (such as the one for building your mailing list) are still in beta and are only available to a limited number of advertisers. Hopefully these extensions will soon be available to all businesses, large or small, to take advantage of—so be on the lookout for them.

Google Display Network

Going a step further than just trying to get your ad to show up when people search, you can have image or text ads appear on various websites by advertising through the Google Display Network. The Display Network consists of websites that choose to display Google Ads on their pages. These websites will earn a portion of the fee when visitors to their site click through to your ad.

In the above example, both of the square ads for Fiverr are paid Google ads through the Google Display Network. This network is simply a collection of websites that choose to display Google ads to their visitors via the Google AdSense program. When their visitors click on the ads, they get a small portion of the pay per click fee, which ranges from a few cents to a few dollars or more, depending on the keyword.

So, what are the pros and cons of advertising on the Google Display Network?


  • Even if people don’t click on your ads, you’ll receive a lot of exposure to targeted audiences.
  • Text ads have the highest conversion rate.


  • There is always the risk of click fraud, either due to bots or website owners who display your ad in a misleading way that causes people to click on it when they don’t mean to.
  • While image ads have the highest click-through rate, they don’t necessarily have the highest conversion rate.


If you want to tap into the third most popular website in the world that receives one billion unique visitors per month, you can choose video advertisements that show up on YouTube videos. Video advertisements come in the form of commercials before a YouTube video begins.

They can also pop up during a video.

So, what are some of the pros and cons to advertising on YouTube?


  • Your business will be put in front of relevant segments of YouTube’s audience, that generates 1 billion visits per month.
  • You only have to pay if viewers watch at least 30 seconds of your ad, meaning that you get at least 30 seconds of people’s attention.


  • People might accidentally click on your ad while closing it, costing you extra advertising spend.


You can even choose to show ads to people who have visited your website through a remarketing campaign. How it works: when a visitor comes to your website, they will get a cookie on their browser. As they continue to surf the web, they will see your ad on display networks and YouTube videos based on the type of ad you have set up. This is a great way to continuously remind people about your business. If the visitor was close to making a purchase, they will be reminded to do so throughout the web.

As you are browsing the web, you can always take the domains you see using Google ads that are relevant to your business and research them using SEMrush, as described earlier.

Getting help

Fortunately, if you have problems along the way with Google AdWords, you have lots of options for getting support. If you visit the Google AdWords help page, you will have the option to call a toll-free number, chat with online AdWords specialists, email support, or ask the experts and other businesses using Google AdWords in the forum.

You can also search the forum (as shown above) to see if your questions have already been answered for other businesses.

If you prefer video, you can visit the Google Business YouTube channel and look at their videos on Google AdWords. They have videos covering everything from creating your first campaign to Google+ Hangouts discussing what’s under the Google AdWord’s hood.

Once you have completed the steps of choosing your keywords, researching your competitors, creating your landing page, and choosing your ad types, networks, and extensions, you will be ready to begin a successful paid search campaign.

Do you have questions? If so, please ask in the comments.

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.