Getting started with search engine advertising

Want to top the Google, Yahoo or Bing search results? Or looking to tell customers about a special promotion, product or service? Search engine advertising is a great way to increase your findability and reach lots of potential customers. All you need to do is follow these seven steps and your ads will be live.

To boost your Google ranking for free, you can optimise your website, known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO, in Dutch). This process takes a little more time. If you want people using specific keywords to find you right away, Search Engine Advertising (SEA) is a better option. Peter Veenvliet is Head of Search at Dept Agency in Rotterdam and has been working in SEA for almost a decade. He shares his tips and a roadmap for successful Search Engine Advertising.

Product and text ads

SEA consists of two components: product ads and text ads. The search engine determines what type of ad it shows based on the query. For product-related queries like ‘Green Sunglasses’, Google will automatically show product images. For other queries, the search engine displays a text ad instead. Product ads are interesting for shopping sites, while text ads are better for all other businesses and services. Veenvliet's roadmap is specifically for SEA with text ads.


Before you can set up SEA, you need a website. Add a clearly structured, comprehensive description of your product or service on your website. You could choose to refer to your homepage in an ad, but creating a specific landing page (in Dutch) for your promotion, product or service is more effective. “A query on Google, for instance, produces a relevant answer, which would be an ad in this case. The ad then leads to a good landing page on your website. If you get all three elements right, you will have a successful campaign”, Veenvliet explains.

In mid-2022, new rules were introduced for online sales. Do you personalise offers for your customers based on data such as recent searches, purchase history, and place of residence, for instance? In that case, you are required to tell your customer before they finalise the purchase. One way to do this is by triggering a pop-up or notification when they reach the payment page.

SEA in 7 steps

These seven steps will help you get started with Search Engine Advertising. Always remember: people using a search engine always want an answer to their question straight away. The more relevant your website is, the better the result. When you create ads, always keep your potential customer in mind, not the search engine.

1. Formulate your business goals

Formulate your business goals to make sure that you will be using the right keywords to purchase ads. What do you want to achieve: more brand awareness, more growth by attracting new customers or an increase in sales? Write down your objective or include it in your marketing plan.

Next, write down a concrete goal for next year. For example, a certain turnover (in euros) or a certain number of new customers. Use this target to calculate your monthly objectives.

2. Install the right tools

Install Google Analytics or another web analytics tool to check whether your SEA campaigns are actually profitable. Take the time to decide which metric is the best fit for your objective. Want to sell more? Relevant metrics would be the number of items sold, revenue and the visitor count of your ‘thank you page’ (the page you show after a customer makes a purchase). If visibility is your goal, track how many visitors make their way to your website and how long they stay.

3. Determine your budget

Set a budget based on what you intend to achieve. Veenvliet recommends starting with a minimum of €250 per month and using anywhere from 5 to 10 keywords. “Setting up a campaign and writing ads takes time and energy and you want your investment to be worthwhile. Depending on the industry, your goals and your expected impact, a monthly outlay of €250 is a good start. If your ads perform well, you can increase your budget.”

“The search engine auctions the ad spots to providers”, Veenvliet explains. “If your ad wins the auction, it will be shown on the search engine. You only have to pay if a visitor actually clicks through to your website.”

In ad auctions, there are two factors that determine the winner:

  1. The quality score assigned to your website by a search engine like Google. Google determines your quality score by looking at whether the keyword, your ad and the landing page on your website are a good match.
  2. The amount you are willing to pay for a particular user action, such as a click to your website, visiting a particular page or a transaction.

Your bid is an important - but not the only - factor that determines whether you win. Veenvliet explains how to come up with a good bid: “As soon as a visitor reaches your website, there is a chance that they will buy something. Suppose that the purchase probability is 1% (based on historical data in Google Analytics). In that case, you will need 100 visitors to land one sale. If your ad purchase nets you €100 in margins and you pay €1 per click to your website, you will break even. After all, you will need 100 clicks for one sale.”

4. Decide on your keywords

Advertising is done with keywords. To find the right ones, you can do keyword research. Choose the most relevant keywords for you. For independent plumbers, ‘plumber near me’ is more relevant than ‘toilets’. The first keyword is usually your brand name (for instance ‘Johnson’s Plumbing). The next step is your product or service (‘fixing leaks’). Only then should you start thinking about more general keywords (‘toilets’).

5. Write your ad copy

Ads on Google and Bing, for example, consist of three parts: a title, a display URL, and a description. Just take a look at the image at the top of this article for an example.

  • Write your title. Use no more than 30 characters and mention the keyword you picked.
  • Choose a URL. The URL is the address to which visitors are redirected when they click on the ad. Make sure this web page matches what the visitor is looking for.
  • Write your ad copy. Talk about your product or service, using no more than 90 characters. Stress what makes your business unique. This will make your ad stand out and help you beat your competitors to the punch. Instead of writing ‘I sell pens’, write: ‘I sell the cheapest pens’ or ‘I have the fastest delivery times on pens’. End with a call-to-action like ‘Order Now’, ‘Reserve Now’, or ‘Download a Quote’.

If you want to mention your phone number or price, check out the so-called ad extensions.

You can add 3 titles and 2 pieces of copy to every ad. The search engine displays the different pieces of copy and automatically chooses the one that performs best.

6. Set up your campaign

The next step is to set up your SEA campaign in Google Ads, Bing, or any other search engine. Here is how:

  • Create an account and set up your payment method.
  • Specify which keywords you want to advertise on.
  • Enter your titles, URL and ad copy for every keyword.
  • Make your bid.
  • Put your search engine ad live.

7. Check your ads regularly

Your ads will perform better if you update or improve them regularly. Go to Google Ads Manager to track how much money you spent and how much revenue your ads brought in. Every week, check your ads for the following:

  • Ad views. Is the search engine not showing your ad to visitors? Consider increasing your bid (see step 3).
  • Your click-through rate (CTR). If too few visitors are clicking through from your ad to your website, look at the tips in step 5 and improve your ad copy.
  • Your conversion rate. Is your website analysis tool telling you that your website is seeing little action? If plenty of people are visiting your website, but they are not making many purchases or reservations, consider tweaking your landing pages. Take a close look at the URL (step 5), make sure that the content on your landing page matches your ad, and put a clear call-to-action, like ‘book now’ or ‘order now’ on the page.

How your ads are performing will help you decide whether to advertise more or less. If you find that some keywords are underperforming, replace them with a new keyword and start testing.

Good to know for anyone looking to optimise a SEA campaign: in 2021, Google introduced BERT, the biggest algorithm update of the past 5 years. BERT will also affect your ads on Google, and experts recommend (Frankwatching, in Dutch) looking beyond keywords alone and focusing on the intention of your visitors as well.

New campaign type: Performance Max

Google ads has recently launched Performance Max, a new campaign type that combines display, video ads, text ads, and Google shopping. It is a potent advertising tool that will improve your visibility at the right touch points during the customer journey and help you allocate your budgets in the best way possible. Ultimately, Performance Max will make your campaigns even more effective. Click here for a tutorial on Performance Max on Youtube.