Learn PPC One Step at a Time – How PPC Works with Search Engines

Search engines select and place PPC ads based on ad quality, bid price and Quality Score. Learn what these mean and how to make the most of your PPC efforts.
Search engines select and place PPC ads based on ad quality, bid price and Quality Score. Learn what these mean and how to make the most of your PPC efforts.

Now that you know the difference between PPC and SEO, we can begin our dive into the art and science of PPC advertising. The art comes from the text of your ads and design of your website, while the science stems from how search engines pull your PPC ads. This “scientific” aspect is what we’ll be covering today.

Keep in mind that you have to create ads based on various keywords before search engines can recognize and deliver your ads. Thus, once you tackle the responsibility of setting up your account and campaign details, search engines are in charge of the rest.

Here’s an overview of how the process works:
When a person enters a search query, search engines like Google scan through all of the ads in its massive database. Based on the user’s search query, the search engine then selects and displays what it deems as the most relevant ads.

Naturally, there are multiple factors included in how search engines decide which ads are the most relevant.
Relevancy is based on two ideas

1. The quality of ads in relation to the keyword
2. The bid price a business is willing to pay for a click

Ultimately, if an ad is seen of high quality with a competitive bid price, it will receive more premier placement on a search results page.

But what does “ad quality” and “bid price” even mean?

  • Ad quality details the relevance of your ad to the search query made by the user. In other words, if your paid search ad provides quality information that answers the question of a searcher, it’s deemed as having higher ad quality.
  • Bid price is the amount of money you’re willing to pay for someone to click on your ad for certain keywords. This amount is set when you set up your campaign. The higher your bid price, the better placement your ad receives for that keyword.

So let’s take an example into consideration, using my favorite fake product, Matt’s Organic Hot Sauce. Let’s say that my ad reads the following:

Spicy Organic Hot Sauce
Savor the Best Organic Hot Sauce,
Locally Grown and Delicious

If a searcher were to type in a keyword like “spicy organic hot sauce” or even “organic hot sauce,” my ad quality would be relatively high since my website is a close match to the search query. Likewise, if my bid price is competitive to other top bidders, my ad is likely to show up in one of the prime spots.

On the other hand, if a searcher enters the keyword “cheap picante sauce,” my ad is totally irrelevant to answering the search query. And unless I specifically bid highly for this keyword, the ad won’t appear at all. This is good thing – since Matt’s Organic Hot Sauce doesn’t sell cheap picante sauce, I don’t want someone using that keyword to click on my ad and cost me money.


Seems pretty reasonable, right? Have relevant information, bid competitively, and your good to go! Almost. There’s another very important factor that impacts the placement of your ads in search results – something that Google calls Quality Score.

Quality Score is based on several factors related to the historical performance of your ads, all in the name of serving the most relevant information to searchers. Several of these attributes are kept secret to protect the almighty algorithm, but Google has offered the following for us to work with:

  • Historical click through rate (CTR) of your ad in relation to a certain keyword. Click through rate is a metric that is calculated by dividing the number of times an ad is clicked by the number of overall ad impressions (impressions are the number of times a PPC ad is delivered in search results).
  • Performance level of your overall ad account. Google takes the performance of all of your ads in your account history and gives you a ranking. Think of this almost like a credit score for your entire PPC account history – the better your overall performance, the more credit you earn.
  • The level of connection between your ad and the search term. This is the same thing as ad quality and largely depends on keyword utilization within your ad.
  • The quality of your landing pages. A landing page is the webpage that searchers are taken to after clicking on your PPC ad. Again, since search engines want users to find quality information, the helpfulness of your landing page content is considered.


Of course, before search engines can begin pulling your PPC ads into their search results, you have to have an ad in their database. And before you can even make an ad, you have to decide which keywords to pursue. That’s what we’ll discuss next time – PPC keywords. Stay tuned.

Happy selling!
-Matt Winn, Marketing Associate, Volusion


Learn PPC One Step at a Time Series

Part One: What’s the Difference Between PPC and SEO?
Part Two: How PPC Works with Search Engines
Part Three: The Best Keywords for Your PPC Campaigns
Part Four: How to Save Serious Bucks on PPC Bidding
Part Five: How to Write PPC Ads That Convert
Part Six: How to Use Landing Pages for an Instant PPC Boost


Matt Winn is Volusion’s Senior Brand Manager, where he helps oversee the organization’s branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience. Beyond being a certified nerd, Matt is an avid college football fan, enthusiastic home cook and a self-admitted reality TV junkie.

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