Have you ever used Google to search for something and noticed a list of small links down the right side of the results page and maybe even a few links in a faint yellow box at the top? Those are ads.
Google AdWords is by far the biggest source of ads on the Web, and likely to be the first place you'll go when you're ready to create and place ads. With Google, your ad will have an enormous reach. Indeed, Google dominates search, with 70% market share nearly five billion searches each day. That's a huge potential audience you can reach by placing your ads against their search results. The benefit is pretty easy to recognize: People use Google by entering keywords. When your ad comes up in association with these keywords, you're reaching an audience that is expressing interest in and actively looking for content that you're promoting.
Along with search results, Google has a massive network of millions of websites where they place text and display ads, giving you even greater reach and marketing potential. These ads appear in various areas on different Web pages, by site owners and operators looking to generate revenue by placing ads on their site. (See Part 3 for more info.)
The problem with Google, however, is price. For each keyword you want your ad to be associated with, you'll have to provide a bid—how much you're willing to pay. The higher the bid, the better the chance your ad will be displayed. And bid amounts are only part of the equation; there's also your ads’ Quality Score, which measures, among other things, how closely your ad relates to any given keyword. For popular or common keywords, the competition might be fierce; it's hard to imagine any legitimate company that advertises online not dedicating at least a portion of its budget to Google AdWords. With so many business vying for exposure—the goal is to have your ad displayed on the first page of Google's search results, as most people never look past that first page—the bid rate is often quite high, and the price of traffic to your site could be very expensive.
While Google is the biggest search-based advertising network, it's not the only one. Bing—which, as of the writing of this book, combines its ad network with Yahoo!—is an alternative worth considering. Although significantly smaller, with only 16% market share for Bing and about 12% for Yahoo!, these two search powerhouses still account for over four billion searches each week—a block that you can't ignore in your marketing efforts. And although the technology behind Bing's marketing dashboard is primitive compared to Google's, Bing has one major benefit aside from its large audience: It's cheaper. And because far fewer businesses advertise on Bing than on Google, it's possible that you can get good keywords that relate to your site for far less per click than you can with Google.