AdWords: the other half of search

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We've had a few posts recently about the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) in driving traffic to your site through Google search. But the traditional search results that Google is best known for are only half of the story. The other half are the "sponsored links" that show up above or to the right of the normal listings when you perform a Google search. Today I'll be giving a brief introduction to where that other half comes from.

Unlike the main search results, websites pay Google for placement among these listings. This system, which Google calls AdWords, is the main revenue source for Google, and an opportunity for businesses to drive more traffic to their site. To some extent, AdWords provides a shortcut to get your site listed for keywords where traditional search is too competitive. It turns out that SEO helps your site not only for search, but also if you choose to advertise through AdWords or other online advertising platforms.

In the future, we'll have some posts about how to get started with AdWords and other online advertising to drive targeted visitors to your site. Today I just want to talk about the basics of how AdWords works. A few key aspects will go a long way towards understanding AdWords, and how it can help your business.

When you decide to show advertisements online, you determine specifically what type of searches will result in people seeing your ad. Furthermore, you can choose to show different ads based on what they searched for. What that means is that people who click on your ad are already looking for something like what you provide. As such, you can carefully target exactly who comes to your site through the ads.

For the most part, Google only charges for displaying an ad if the someone clicks on it. No matter how many people see an ad, you only pay for the people who end up on your website.

Google decides which ads appear in the sponsored links through an auction. Basically, every time someone performs a Google search, Google asks everyone who wants to advertise how much they would be willing to pay for a click from that search. The advertisers that are willing to pay the most will show up as the top sponsored links. This process is entirely automated, but that's the basic idea of how the cost of an ad is determined.

Quality Score
One of the things that made AdWords unique when it first came out was that the value of a bid made by an advertiser isn't strictly determined by how much money they are willing to pay. It also depends upon the "quality" of the ad and of the website to which the ad points. Google cares about "quality" for two reasons. First of all, people use Google to find things. If someone searches for "Cardinals baseball" and they're seeing ads to buy a surfboard, they're unlikely to be happy with the results. Secondly, Google only gets paid if people click, and good ads and good websites are more likely to be clicked on. As a result, Google is willing to show an ad with a lower monetary bid if the website is of higher quality to the searcher. The great thing, if you're already thinking about SEO, is that quality is largely determined in the same way as for traditional search. As such, with good SEO techniques, you can get more visitors through traditional search and pay less if you decide to advertise.

There is plenty more to online advertising and AdWords than what I covered above, and we'll get into some of that in the future. Hopefully this overview gives you a decent idea of the basics, and some understanding of where all those sponsored links on Google come from.

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