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Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved road trips. Family vacations often meant hours in a car, watching Titanic with my brother on a portable VHS player and annoying our parents to no end. While the old adage “it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey” is a bit played out, it holds a lot of truth as I think back to my childhood. In some instances those car rides are more memorable than the vacations themselves.

I still enjoy spending time on the road, taking in the countryside and visiting new places, but sometimes the interstate is unforgiving. Going countless miles without an exit is torturous when you’re hungry, and when an exit finally appears you’re forced to eat whatever’s available. You’re given limited options in an untimely manner.

Now imagine: what if, the moment your stomach started growling, three restaurant signs automatically appeared in the distance? These signs wouldn’t just be easy to see, but would be for restaurants you were thinking about while driving. After looking at the signs and deciding on which restaurant is most appealing to you, the interstate immediately presents you with an exit leading to that restaurant. No obstacles, no waiting, just immediate satisfaction of your needs.

This situation is obviously hypothetical, but it’s actually a good way to think about how Google AdWords works. These ads have a lot of names — Google ads, CPC, PPC, SEM — but for the sake of simplicity we’ll refer to them as AdWords or Google ads.

What Is Google AdWords?

Whether you realize it or not, you’re familiar with Google ads. Not only do they appear at the top of Google search results, meaning they’re the first thing you see when looking for a product or service, but they appear as display ads on countless websites across the internet. Multiple times a day, every day, you’re presented with Google ads.

How Exactly do Google Ads Work?

As the name suggests, the ads you see at the top of Google search results are just that: ads. Businesses that want to advertise with Google choose a list of closely-related keywords to bid on—yes, bid. Just like in a silent auction. But in this case, advertisers choose how much they’re willing to bid on each individual keyword. Then every time a user searches for that keyword, Google analyzes the different bids from each advertiser and determines which ads “win” and can be shown at the top of search engine results.

There are a lot of strengths when it comes to Google AdWords, but there are two that stand out:

  • The ability to control who sees your ads (based on geographic location, bidding on specific keywords, etc.), and
  • The ability to reach customers at opportune moments, i.e. at the moment a user is actively looking for a product/service, meaning they’re much more likely to buy.

So, back to our road trip. Without our automatically-appearing billboards, you’re at the mercy of how the path was built and what businesses decided to open shop along the way. Even if you want some food and are ready to buy, you have to wait until you happen upon an exit. This can be frustrating and inconvenient—especially when you’re looking for something specific.

If the interstate worked like Google ads, things would be very different.

Let’s say the above hypothetical were true: you’re driving along hungry and you begin to think about your options, realizing you’re really craving a burger. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that the next exit will have a good burger place — only to be let down by a Subway and a Starbucks — the Golden Arches appear in the horizon. A path opens up, and you make your way to the drive-thru.

This is a win for you because you were easily able to find what you were craving. It’s also a win for McDonald’s because they were easily able to capture your attention instead of wasting time on someone who was craving a turkey sandwich.

If McDonald’s decided they didn’t want to advertise in this way, they’d be at a big disadvantage on the road. Even if a consumer loves their food, they would only see the competition when they became hungry. And since McDonald’s is nowhere to be seen, they’ll go with another option — because ultimately they just want to feed themselves.

Find out what other online advertising platforms are out there.

What Does This Have to Do With Your Business?

Choosing to advertise using Google AdWords is like choosing to be one of the restaurants on the interstate with the hypothetical “magic” billboards. Your business can be seen by all of the internet users in your chosen geographic area who are searching for your product or service. By the same token, choosing not to advertise with Google AdWords means that you have to rely on the old-fashioned interstate exit signs to advertise your business — and just hope that a hungry driver comes your way.

It sounds silly, but it’s true. Search engines play a part in nearly every purchasing decision we make, big and small. If you vaguely remember a brand of shampoo your friend told you about but can’t quite remember the name, you’re going to Google it; if you meet someone at a networking event and decide to look up their business online, you’re going to Google it; and if you moved to a new city and don’t know where to go to get your oil changed, you’re going to Google it.

Search engines have become so prolific that “google” is an official verb in the dictionary. It’s an intrinsic part of our day-to-day lives, so much so that we sometimes overlook how much we depend on it. But we definitely depend on it; in fact, 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine.

How Does Google AdWords Compare to Traditional Advertising?

Traditional advertising (television ads, radio ads, billboards, etc.) is based on broadcasting messages to an extremely broad audience in hopes that the message will resonate with someone. Just like the regular restaurant and gas signs you see on the side of the interstate, you often don’t know if members of the audience are ready to buy, let alone in need of your product/service. And there will be plenty of moments when someone wants what you sell, but your messages don’t get in front of them due to budget, where the ads are placed, the time of day, etc.

Someone might happen upon a McDonald’s while driving, but there’s no guarantee they’ll want food at that moment. There are so many possibilities: maybe they just finished eating, or just started driving, or they’re feeling sick and lost their appetite, or they’re just not in the mood for McDonald’s at that moment.

You can think of your own business in the same way. You can broadcast messages all day long, but a lot of people will see those messages and never take action. Maybe they can’t afford what you sell, or they just bought it somewhere else, or they simply don’t need it. Whatever the reason, you’d be spending money to talk to the wrong people.

While there is a place for traditional advertising, it’s hard to argue for this type of marketing when you’re working with a limited budget. Not only are Google ads much more cost effective, but you can ensure that the only people seeing your ads actually have a need for what you provide. On top of that, those people are already interested because they’re the one searching for your product/service, so you’re grabbing their attention at an extremely opportune time.

Don’t Leave Your Customers Hungry

Nowadays people’s number one priority is convenience. Call it entitlement or the natural progression of society, but it’s the reality we live in. People want instant gratification and have little patience. This is even more pronounced on the web, where a second can make the difference between capturing a user’s attention and losing them forever.

Chances are, if you’re in business, you provide a product or service that you believe in and which other people need. You want the people who need your product/service to be able to find it easily, and then be able to take action with little effort. You want to give them that sign on the interstate and an exit which will lead them to the solution you provide. Because if you don’t, you can be sure your competition will.

Cody Edgar

Author Cody Edgar

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