The Advantages and Disadvantages of Search Ads


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Search advertising is a technique that involves displaying ads in search-engine results the moment someone searches for specific keywords so that the ads displayed perfectly match the query. Paid search ads are incredibly efficient and can offer benefits for almost any type of business. In this post, we will present some of the most important advantages of paid search advertising.

Search ads are usually provided by companies operating search engines. This is a natural way for search providers to capitalize on the huge user base and their users’ intent. The actual mechanics of search ads are very similar across most of the popular search engines, although there are slight differences. Because Google is the most popular search engine, we will use them to discuss the advantages and main challenges of search ads.

The Advantages of Search Advertising


Google has made pay-per-click (PPC) ads in search results visually similar to organic results, making it increasingly difficult for people to differentiate one from the other. It is estimated that about half of searchers can’t really tell the difference between paid and organic search results, which only speaks in favor of the former.

Search ads
Google search ads in the wild

Resistance to AdBlock

Since search ads are non-intrusive and mostly very useful, they are, by default, immune to ad-blocking software. This increases their appeal for advertisers and presents an undeniable advantage against traditional display ads—banners and skyscrapers alike. While AdBlock settings can actually be adjusted to block search ads, most people don’t do it and allow them to work.

Focus on Intent Marketing

The abundance and availability of products and services, coupled with banner blindness, has made it more important than ever for the companies to know and address the customers’ actual intent. This constitutes the central idea of so-called intent marketing: aiming marketing at a customer’s intent—i.e. knowing what your clients want at that very moment and focusing on the ways to deliver it to them.

It goes almost without saying that search engines make a great vehicle for the implementation of intent marketing; they reveal heaps of information about the purchase intent of the user.

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Remedy for Poor Organic Traffic

Paid search advertising is a solution for websites that don’t rank high organically and have poor SEO performance. It is also a way new businesses can get featured on the first page of search results, gain the ever-important search exposure, and reach their audience.

Great for Companies Providing Urgent Services

Some businesses are more likely to benefit from search advertising than others. This advertising technique is especially good for companies that provide services or sell products that people need urgently, only from time to time, and when immediacy is key.

The one-off nature of the services provided by 24/7 specialists like plumbers, handymen, electricians, or tire services makes it impossible to build long-term relationships with their clients or develop brand loyalty. In such cases, investment in long-term display campaigns is not likely to ever pay off. However, it should be a priority for such companies to be present in search results, and make sure to rank high.

Mobile Advertising

Another consideration for using search ads, and one that nicely meshes with the urgent nature of services, is mobile search. Using a mobile phone to find a service makes much more sense in specific, urgent situations. For example, since we are more likely to look for “parking in the city center,” “tow truck,” or “dentist” on a mobile device, paid search advertising will yield better results on mobile devices than on desktops.

Modern businesses can no longer ignore the trend to go mobile. Websites are expected to be responsive and easy to read, independent of the device used for viewing them.

Disadvantages of Search Advertising

High Competition

One of the most obvious disadvantages of search advertising is the fact that there is a limited number of ad slots on each search-engine-results page (SERP for short), especially for the more popular queries. The fact that Google is transparent about Ad Rank mechanics levels the playing field for everyone interested in advertising in SERPs. The result? Since everybody knows full well the mechanics and ways to maximize their Ad Rank, it may all boil down to bidding soaring prices to win ad impressions.

Big Reach = High Cost Per Click

The advantages of leading PPC-marketing engines have become their biggest disadvantages. For example, while Google offers the biggest reach, the prices it charges for clicks have grown to amounts beyond $20 for some of the most popular, cutthroat industries. Yahoo and MSN/Bing may offer more attractive pricing, but their reach and efficiency are incomparable to Google’s. Their usage significantly varies across markets and demographics as well. For example, Yahoo is known to be more popular with more mature US users compared to Google, and is still relatively big in Japan (not only as a search engine).

The first spots of paid search results are likely to be densely populated by companies ready to shell out a premium price to gain the ever-important exposure. This may force advertisers to bid against one another and inflate the prices of ads.

evolution of search ads
Evolution of Google search ads

People Don’t Click Search Ads—or Do They?

There is a commonly held opinion that people avoid clicking sponsored ads, but statistics show it’s not entirely true. While it’s generally true organic results do get more clicks than sponsored ones, this proportion strongly varies depending on what the searcher is looking for. For example, keywords that carry high commercial intent get more paid clicks than their organic counterparts. This is caused by the fact that sponsored links use structured data and provide more value to the users. Sponsored ads lead directly to a product or service page or a dedicated landing page.

Final Thoughts

Paid search advertising is an effective way of advertising directly to your audience the very moment they need your service or product. It offers excellent results for specific industries, and may, in specific cases, be much more effective than the use of traditional “spray-and-pray” ads.

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