A Marketer’s Complete Guide to Paid Search in 2024

Back to Blog - by The Digilant Team

In recent years, the landscape of paid search advertising has undergone remarkable transformations, prompting marketers to reassess its efficacy amid evolving consumer behaviors and technological advancements. Even as consumer search behavior expands to other platforms, including e-commerce and social media platforms, traditional search engines are evolving the technology that underpins their solutions to take advantage of new AI and machine learning capabilities.

As algorithms and AI become more sophisticated, and user intent grows increasingly nuanced, the efficacy of traditional paid search strategies must be scrutinized. Likewise, campaigns must be adjusted to keep pace with the evolving landscape. In this article, we delve into the shifting dynamics of paid search advertising, exploring its evolving role in 2024’s digital advertising landscape.

Paid search is a digital marketing strategy where advertisers pay to have their ad featured prominently on search engine results pages (SERPs). These ads, often purchased on a pay-per-click basis (which is why paid search is sometimes referred to as “PPC advertising”), typically appear high within organic search results and are marked as “sponsored” or “ad” to distinguish them from organic listings. Paid search allows advertisers to bid on keywords relevant to their products or services, targeting specific audiences based on search queries and demographic data. It’s a highly targeted and measurable way to drive website traffic and generate leads or sales.

Powered by advanced algorithms and machine learning solutions, paid search is the most direct-response and transaction-oriented advertising channel. Paid search advertising allows advertisers to market their products and services using powerful audience and keyword intent signals across the Google and Microsoft ecosystems, as well as a growing array of retail media networks, such as Amazon, Walmart, and CVS. Popular platforms for paid search advertising include Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords), Bing Ads, and Yahoo Search Ads.

As of March 2024, Google’s overwhelmingly dominant share of the U.S. search engine market stood at 87 percent, with Bing representing about 8 percent and Yahoo another 2.5 percent.

In 2023, U.S. paid search spend reached an estimated $110 billion, representing 41.8 percent of total digital spending. Additionally, paid search saw a growth rate of 8.2 percent, slightly higher than overall U.S. digital ad spend (7.8 percent). Within search, spend in retail media networks grew fastest at 18.7 percent.

Does Paid Search Still Work in 2024?

With so much investment going into paid search—and continuing to grow at a respectable rate—it begs the question: How effective is paid search in 2024? As with any question of ROI, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single rate of return for paid search advertising in 2024. ROI varies depending on several factors, including:

  • Industry: Different industries have varying customer acquisition costs and profit margins.
  • Campaign goals: Brands may aim for brand awareness, website traffic, or direct sales, each of which influences ROI calculations.
  • Campaign effectiveness: Click-through rates, conversion rates, and ad spend all affect ROI.

However, there are some resources that offer useful ROI benchmarks on paid search. For example, studies suggest an average ROI of 200 percent for paid search advertising across various industries. That falls in line with ROI estimates from Google, which reports businesses making an average of $2 for every $1 spent on Google Ads.

In other words, while ROI on paid search will vary according to the advertiser, return on spend within the channel remains consistently robust. Importantly, paid search can also be used to amplify results in other channels, including display, positioning it as an essential lynchpin in a larger digital marketing strategy.

Examples of Paid Search Ads

Paid search ads can take a variety of formats, depending on the platform on which they appear and the goal that they are trying to achieve. Examples of paid search ads include:

Text Ads

Think of these as the classic paid search ads. Typically seen on search engines like Google,  Bing, and Yahoo, they consist of a headline, description line, and URL, all designed to be clear and concise while convincing searchers to click.

Shopping Ads

Often used for e-commerce, these ads showcase product images, titles, prices, and sometimes even reviews or star ratings. They aim to grab attention with visuals and entice immediate purchase.

Call Extensions

These appear alongside text ads and offer a phone number for searchers to call directly. They’re ideal for businesses with a strong focus on phone inquiries.

App Install Ads

Appearing on search engine results pages or within apps themselves, app install ads are concise promotions designed to convince users to download a mobile application.

These are just a few examples of the diverse range of paid search ads available to advertisers, each offering unique features and targeting options to help reach their desired audience and achieve their marketing goals. While the above represent the most typical paid search formats, it’s worth noting that paid search campaigns can also incorporate video content elements or visuals driven based on contextual and affinity targeting.

How Is Paid Search Different from SEO?

Paid search and search engine optimization (SEO) are two sides of the same coin, both aiming to get your website or products seen by potential customers. But, they achieve this in fundamentally different ways. Both fall under the umbrella of Search Engine Marketing, also known as SEM, which refers to the overall strategy of improving your website’s visibility in search engine results. Generally speaking, SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to improve its organic ranking and visibility in search engine results.

Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between paid search and SEO:

Paid Search:

  • Cost: You pay a fee each time someone clicks (or, in some cases, just sees) your ad.
  • Placement: Ads appear at the top or side of search engine results pages marked as “sponsored” or “ad.”
  • Speed: You see results quickly, as your ads can be launched right away.
  • Control: You have a high degree of control over your targeting (who sees your ads) and messaging. However, ad positions depend on your bids and ad quality score.
  • Sustainability: Traffic stops once you stop paying for ads.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization):

  • Cost: While SEO may require tools and resources, it’s generally considered an organic approach.
  • Placement: Your website ranks higher in the natural search results (the non-paid listings).
  • Speed: SEO takes time and ongoing effort to improve your ranking.
  • Control: You can influence ranking factors, but ultimately, search engine algorithms determine your position.
  • Sustainability: Organic traffic can be more sustainable in the long run, but it requires maintenance.

In short, paid search offers a fast track to the top of search results, while SEO is a marathon that builds organic, long-term website traffic. Many businesses will use a combination of both SEO and paid search for a well-rounded SEM strategy.

How Does Paid Search Work?

In the sprawling digital marketplace, where billions of searches are conducted daily, mastering the fundamentals of paid search advertising has become indispensable for businesses striving to stand out amid the online cacophony. At its core, paid search operates on a simple yet powerful principle: the symbiotic relationship between advertisers seeking visibility and search engines facilitating relevant connections. Let’s look at the basic process of how paid search works.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is the foundation of any successful paid search campaign. It involves brainstorming relevant terms people might use to search for your products or services. You’ll then use keyword research tools to analyze search volume, competition level, and cost-per-click (CPC) for those keywords. This helps you identify a targeted mix of high-traffic, yet affordable keywords that will drive qualified leads to your website.

Ad Copy

Crafting compelling ad copy for your paid search campaign requires understanding your target audience and what resonates with them. Research your competitors’ ads to see what messaging works and what gaps you can fill. Analyze high-performing keywords to understand the specific needs and desires searchers express. Then, focus on crafting clear, concise headlines and descriptions that highlight your unique selling proposition (USP) and incorporate strong calls to action (CTAs) to entice clicks and conversions.

Campaign Structure and Targeting

Structuring your paid search campaign effectively is key to maximizing its impact. This involves grouping relevant keywords with high conversion potential into focused ad groups. Each ad group then gets tailored ad copy that speaks directly to the specific search intent behind those keywords. You’ll also set targeting parameters to ensure your ads reach the right audience, including demographics, location, device usage, and even interests to ensure your message resonates with qualified leads searching for what you offer.


In the fast-paced world of paid search auctions, bidding determines where your ad appears and how much you pay. You’ll set a maximum amount you’re willing to pay for each click (max CPC) on your chosen keywords. This bid, along with the quality and relevance of your ad and landing page, influences your ad rank. The auction considers these factors to determine the highest bidder eligible to appear and the cost you’ll ultimately pay, which is often lower than your max bid; you only pay what’s necessary to outrank the next competitor.

Measurement and Optimization

Measurement and optimization are the cornerstones of a successful paid search campaign. You’ll closely monitor key metrics like impressions, clicks, conversion rates, and cost-per-acquisition (CPA) to identify what’s working and what needs improvement. By analyzing this data, you can optimize your bids to get the most out of your budget, refine your keyword selections to target the right audience, and continuously test and adapt your ad copy to maximize clicks and conversions, ensuring your campaign delivers the best possible ROI.

How Do Paid Search Ads Get Ranked?

There are multiple considerations that determine where your ad will be placed on SERPs. These include the following.

Bidding Price

In paid search, bidding gets your ad in the race, but relevance wins the trophy. You set a max price per click (bid), but search engines consider your ad’s quality too. A lower bid with a super-relevant ad can outrank a higher one. So, it’s not just about throwing money into the mix; it’s about crafting targeted, high-quality ads that resonate with searchers.

Ad Extensions

Ad extensions won’t magically shoot your ad to the top, but they can be your secret weapon. By adding features like sitelinks or call buttons, you make your ad more informative and useful, potentially boosting click-through rate (CTR). Search engines consider CTR in their ranking formula, so these extensions can indirectly nudge your ad rank up a notch. They’re like bonus points for creating a user-friendly ad that stands out.

Quality of Ads and Landing Pages

Advertisers who craft compelling ads and landing pages will find their campaigns climbing the paid search ladder. Search engines reward relevant ads that match user intent and landing pages that deliver. Both factors play a role in the ad rank formula, alongside your bid. So, prioritize clear messaging and a smooth user experience. A high-quality ad can outrank a competitor with a bigger budget, just like a great restaurant with good reviews thrives without needing the flashiest decor.

Keyword Focus

Keywords are the golden ticket to higher ad rank in paid search. By including relevant keywords in your ad copy and targeting, you ensure your ad shows up for searches people actually make. Plus, relevant keywords boost your quality score, a ranking factor. Think of it like a map: relevant keywords guide users and search engines to your ad, potentially placing you above competitors even if they bid higher. So, choose your keywords wisely.

When U.S. advertisers are willing to spend more than $100 billion every year on a given advertising approach, you can bet it’s because they see multiple benefits in return. In the realm of paid search ads, those include the following.

Paid Search Ads Can Target Audiences Immediately

Overall, paid search is one of the nimblest advertising channels. Once approved, paid search ads can make their way to SERPs almost immediately. This means advertisers can fire up campaigns quickly and start reaping the benefits in terms of traffic and sales right away.

Data Comes in Fast and In Real-Time

In addition, advertisers can get visibility into search ad performance fast. Advertisers can expect to glean initial insights pertaining to ad impressions and click-through rates within minutes of launching a campaign. This offers a valuable real-time snapshot of audience reach and potential customer engagement.

While more granular metrics, such as conversion rates and cost-per-acquisition, may necessitate a data accumulation period ranging from several hours to a day depending on campaign traffic volume, the overall benefit remains significant. This expedited access to performance data empowers advertisers to make data-driven adjustments to their strategies, fostering campaign optimization and maximizing return on investment.

They’re Cost-effective

Paid search campaigns offer granular control over how budget is spent and are incredibly cost-effective. In many cases, you only pay when someone clicks your ad, ensuring your budget targets genuine interest. You can also precisely target your ideal audience with relevant keywords, minimizing wasted ad impressions. Finally, detailed campaign data allows for ongoing optimization, maximizing your return on investment by focusing on high-performing strategies.

How to Create a Successful Paid Ad Campaign

Finally, advertisers should keep the following tips in mind if they want to create a winning paid search campaign.

Know Your Audience Inside Out

Before diving in, conduct thorough audience research. Understand your ideal customer’s demographics, needs, and search habits. This knowledge informs keyword selection, ad copywriting, and targeting strategies, ensuring your ads resonate with the right people.

Track ROI Like a Hawk

ROI is your campaign’s lifeblood. Monitor key metrics like clicks, conversions, and CPA. Analyze this data regularly to identify areas for improvement and optimize your campaign for maximum profitability.

Master the Match Game

Keyword match types are crucial for targeting. Here’s a breakdown of three common options:

  • Broad Match: This casts a wide net. Your ad can appear for searches containing any variation of your keywords, even if the order changes. Broad match is great for reaching a broad audience but can lead to irrelevant clicks.
  • Phrase Match: This offers more control. Your ad appears for searches that include your exact phrase or close variations with additional words before or after. This provides a good balance between reach and relevance.
  • Exact Match: Ads will only be shown when someone searches for that exact keyword or term or a close variance.

Advertisers should also consider negative keywords when planning their paid search campaigns. Negative keywords are applied to block your ads from showing up in any search queries that include them, which can help to improve relevance, reduce costs, achieve a higher quality score, increase CTR, and deliver stronger overall ROI.

Don’t Set It and Forget It

Paid search is a dynamic landscape. Don’t set up your campaign and walk away. Regularly monitor performance, test different ad variations, and adjust your targeting based on insights. Remember, a data-driven approach is key to continuous improvement.

Digilant is the paid search partner behind some of the highest-performing paid search campaigns in the CPG, B2B, travel, and wellness industries. Our goal is to help you outperform your competitors—every time. Our team of specialists analyzes search signals, keyword intent, and data to understand where, when, and how consumers are searching across the Google and Microsoft ecosystems.

Are you ready to unlock the full power of paid search advertising for your brand? We’re here to help. Let’s talk about what Digilant can do for you.

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