How does paid search work?

Paid search is a web-marketing lever intended to put your ads in front of Internet users who have typed a relevant search query. The most used paid marketing campaigns are the CPC campaigns (or cost per click). It is a bidding system quite simple to understand: you bid to place an ad in the sponsored links of a search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing ...) for keywords related to your offer, then you pay the search engine a small commission for each click.


CPC may seem very expensive, but in reality, in a well-designed campaign, it is quite the opposite. In fact, if your chosen keywords and landing pages are relevant, your potential customers will only see your ads when they are specifically looking for the products or services you offer. As a result, they are much more likely to convert.

To appear in sponsored links, you have to participate in an auction and compete with other bidders for ad space. One may then ask why one should engage in paid search when one can rank for free with natural search.

What is the difference between SEO and SEA?

The advantages of organic search  

Regular traffic

Indeed the natural positions on the search results bring you a regular flow of visitors every day, it is unlikely to vary except for penalties from Google or a change of algorithm that you have not anticipated.

A better brand image

A well-positioned website reassures Internet users. The fact that your website is visible on the search results increases the confidence of users and contributes to the reputation of your company.

A lasting effect

Organic search capitalizes on your efforts and reinforces the visibility of a site in the long term.

The disadvantages of SEO

It takes time and it's not free.

To say that SEO is free is actually a common misconception. Indeed, this lever requires a lot of time, effort and knowledge to gain and maintain good positions in search engines results. These human resources, but also material (crawl tools,semantic analysis or links ...) are anything but free for your company, especially if your site is new on the web. It takes several months to get enough authority on a domain and to be positioned on the first pages of Google.

The advantages of paid search

Instant visibility

Paid search (SEA) can help your website take off while organic search is developing. The main advantage is to be first on Google on the keywords you have selected, and that, as soon as your website is online.

Measurement and tracking

Thanks to statistics you can know at any time what your campaign brings in terms of leads and also know the budget spent.

Qualified traffic

A good set up of your campaigns on an appropriate keyword will generate qualified and relevant traffic to increase the conversion rate.

The disadvantage of paid search (SEA)

Its cost

The stronger the competition, the more money you will have to spend!  

Another disadvantage is that as soon as you stop your campaign, you immediately disappear from the search results.

What are the different types of levers in paid search?

The world of paid search can be a bit confusing, filled with acronyms and technical jargon. The two easiest ways to categorize paid ads are to divide them into "search" ads and "display" ads. Search ads are designed to appear when the consumer has already typed their query into the search engines. They are "captured" as soon as they express their need. The most common ads are of course Google Ads that appear above the organic results. The "display" ads appear afterwards and in other media. They can for example take the form of ads that are displayed before watching a Youtube video or banners that appear next to the content on a site.

Often, display and search are intertwined and it is difficult to distinguish them for the uninitiated. Let's take a look at the different types of ads.

Ads related to search

Search engine ads on a CPC basis

These types of ads appear in the search results just before organic results. Depending on the cost of the ad and the search engine, they may appear at the top, to the right or below the organic results. Search engines are required to identify these ads as paid content. Google AdWords has the largest market share of these ads, but Yahoo and Bing also have their own advertising platforms.

All of them operate on a bidding system. The more you want to appear in the SERPs (search engine results page), the more you have to pay. Keywords with little competition are cheaper. It is possible to target these ads in several ways, by location, by time of day or by using negative keywords.

The big advantage of these types of ads is that the KPIs are easy to track and measure. Setting a budget is much easier than for SEO and you can target certain product categories very precisely.

Google Shopping

Google Shopping ads work quite similarly to traditional CPC ads. They work on the basis of targeted keywords, which are also very easy to measure. Thanks to the product photo that appears, Google Shopping often has a higher click-through and conversion rate than Google Ads. However, you must follow the strict rules and processes that Google imposes, especially when importing data feeds. By mixing Google Ads and Google Shopping, you are sure to get a huge footprint on the first page of Google (provided of course that you manage the campaigns correctly).


Remarketing / retargeting

Retargeting ads combine, to some extent, search and display. It is the practice of displaying an ad based on the user's browsing history. So if you're looking for blue shoes, you'll suddenly see a lot of blue shoe banner ads on the sites you visit, even if they're not related to shoes. Retargeted content is usually in the form of traditional advertisements. Retargeting is a great way to increase your brand awareness. This lever is a little more complicated to implement than Google, Yahoo or Bing Ads, but it is known to be very effective.


Paid ads on social networks and media

Most social media platforms provide advertising space. For several years, Facebook provided classic display ads, but their ROI was not satisfactory. To keep its clients, the giant had to change paid ads formats. That's how "promoted" and "sponsored" content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were born, and are now a huge success.


Ads on Facebook


Facebook is the social media with the largest user base in the world, which offers a very reliable advertising platform. Its huge audience potential, combined with its multiple detailed segmentation options, make it an ideal medium to integrate into your digital strategy.

Ads on Instagram

Instagram is an extremely visual social media, where users are inclined to follow many pages. Ads are displayed like a regular post, which offers great visibility.


Ads on Twitter

This social network, although a little less popular, also offers very interesting advertising options. They allow you to create campaigns based on specific objectives (conversion, leads, application installations, etc.) and to potentially increase the audience of your site.

Ads on Youtube

Paid ads on YouTube are the ones that are closest to the traditional advertising seen on TV. They allow to capture a larger audience, but are a little less targeted than for other social networks.


Ads on Linkedin

This professional social network offers a large user base and provides an advertising solution for those seeking to reach a corporate audience (BtoB marketing).


Ads on Gmail

Google has recently made the Google Mail inbox open to all Google Ads users. This means that it is now possible to find sponsored content at the top of one's email box. These ads use search history and cookies, but also the content of your inbox to better target your ads.


Paid SEO has several aspects that can be complementary. It is ideal to get started and to maintain your notoriety afterwards. Nevertheless, you have to keep in mind the famous adage "you should not put all your eggs in the same basket"! An SEO strategy is essential, otherwise, the day you lack advertising budget, you become totally invisible on the web. It is therefore better to use paid search as a springboard, and then as a complementary lever to SEO.

   Article written by Louis Chevant

Further reading

The complete guide on the referencing of e-commerce sites

The 6 key steps to follow to correctly optimize your e-commerce site with a good natural referencing.