Recently, I’ve been receiving emails from recent college grads asking me about the future outlook and job opportunities in paid search. also referred to as PPC. I’m here to tell you as a paid search recruiter, the field is on fire. The COVID crisis has barely dented the enormous demand for this kind of specialized talent. I’m also here to tell you that it’s not a job for everyone, so I’m devoting this post to those who are thinking about opportunities in paid search, either on the client or agency side, or as a consultant.
The numbers tell the story. When the final figures are in for 2020, spending for all forms of search marketing is expected to surpass $150B. That’s more than the total annual revenues of McDonald’s. That’s a lot of Big Macs! There are hundreds, if not thousands, of agencies that specialize in search, with the lion’s share of that going to paid search. By the way, for the purposes of this post, I am defining paid search to include paid search ads, paid search advertising, pay-per-click, cost-per-click, and cost-per-impressions.
The Basics of Paid Search
Paid search, or Pay-per-click (PPC) is performance-driven advertising all the way. Brands place ads with publishers or other advertisement platforms and they pay the host of that platform whenever someone clicks on their ad. The brand or ad platform hopes that after clicking on their ad the user will complete an action such as requesting additional information or purchasing a product. Search engines like Google are popular platforms for PPC because they present ads that are relevant to what users are searching for. Google Ads, the most popular paid search ad platform, works in “real time” by using a bidding system where advertising space, or “inventory” as it is referred to, is sold in a private automated auction that takes place behind the scenes. When you see an ad that appears on a search engine results page (“SERP”), a real time auction is taking place instantaneously. These auctions are triggered based on keywords that are bid by advertisers, keywords they’ve chosen that are related to a user’s search query. Ads that win the auction are the ones you see on the SERP, but there is much more to winning the auction than having the highest bid. Search engines look at other factors including bid amount, ad relevance and quality, and a whole host of other criteria. Targeting is key in allowing advertisers to show the right ads to the right potential buyers.
Intimate knowledge of Google Ads is a hard and fast requirement for anyone seeking a position in paid search. Obviously strong math skills and analytical know-how are a given. Does that mean that without a mathematics or statistics degree the odds of success are stacked against you? Not at all. I know one PPC stud who majored in Russian literature. But let’s put it this way: If you have even just one numerophobic bone in your body, think about another career. As a paid search recruiter I can tell you this: If you’re going to live it, you need to love it. It’s not rocket science, but you need to be as comfortable with numbers as your accountant. It’s lots of data, it’s lots of Excel pivot tables, it’s conversion rates, it’s spotting numerical trends. You get the idea. If none of that gives you the nervous shakes, you’re half way there in your search for opportunities in paid search.
Typical Duties and Responsibilities
The day-to-day routine of a Paid Search Specialist (or Manager) will include the following (not a complete list depending on the size and scope of the role):
• Develop and manage PPC campaigns including keyword research, and maintaining balance in bid prices, click-through rates, and quality scores
• Manage the search spend budget
• Stay on top of latest industry news and trends. View webinars on newest best practices.
• If managing a ream, communicate regarding strategy and performance metrics
• Perform analysis and optimization of SEM campaigns based on SEM best practices, including account structure, keyword research, landing page testing, ad text creation, bid management.
• Manage the progress of paid search campaigns across multiple websites and product lines
• Support Search Engine Optimization efforts through site audits, keyword research and development, content strategy, and metadata writing
The thing about these jobs that a lot of beginners don’t realize is that it takes much more than math and computer skills to be good in paid search. Eventually, you might decide to move up from analyst to a Manager, usually after you’ve had at least a few years under your belt. At this level, you’re now responsible for the performance of the person who’s doing the job you used to have, as well as possibly others who are engaged in other aspects of search engine marketing. Hopefully, one of your former supervisors took you under his or her wing and taught you something about motivating others along with the other stuff managers do like budgeting, training, vendor review, etc. This is also where communications skills really start coming in to play, particularly if you’re working for an agency that has clients that know paid search about as well as they know 18th century monarchs of Buganda. I call it “client speak”, a form of no-nonsense, clear and concise communication that tells clients, both externally and within your own organization, exactly how your work can help grow their business. Business acumen becomes almost as important as split-testing site links, and on the agency-side you might even participate in new business discussions, which can really be fun. It also requires creative thinking, and by that I’m not talking about design or copy. Sometimes the right answers just don’t jump off the page. I talk a lot in my book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing” (paid search chapter) and in my other writings about how it’s not just what you know about the data, but what you don’t know, and solving problems that you and your client were not even aware of.
Being a manager can offer great challenges and a bigger paycheck, but it’s possible that the idea of being responsible for the work of others along with hiring and firing is not your cup of tea. If that’s you, don’t despair. As a paid search recruiter, I know a lot of great paid search experts who have carved out great careers focusing on what they do best. But if you find yourself reaching for more than just the day-to-day of paid search work, then moving into a management role might be for you.
What to Look for
For employers looking to hire a paid search recruiter, careful interviewing is critical to separate the real deals from the wanna-be’s. For those who’ve never hired a paid search manager before, use this checklist as your guide:
Candidates must have a strong grasp of html, the basics of Web design and information architecture, site maps, as well as server-level optimization and re-directs.
One of the things that I sometimes finding lacking in these candidates is the ability to explain SEO methodologies to those who have little or no knowledge of how it works. You want someone who can translate complex terminology into terms laypeople can understand, and that’s especially true when dealing with senior leaders in the C-suite, but even middle-level managers as well.
This is a skill required of any discipline with the ecoystem of digital marketing, but SEO/SEM/PPC in particular requires the ability to decipher countless reports filled with numbers, charts and technical jargon. You want someone who is adept at quickly analyzing data and spotting opportunities for improvement.
A Good Eye for Content
Candidates need more than just a strong knowledge of content marketing. They must have an eye for high-quality content and how to distribute that content. Good writing skills are also important.
Search experts have to be adept at researching what competitors are doing, what Google is doing, and what others in the industry are doing.
“Must Have” Tactical Skills. Make sure the candidate has strong familiarity with all of the following:
- SEO tools such Moz, SEO Book, Majestic
- Keyword reserch tools including Google Adwords Keyword Tool, Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Keyword Research, Wordtracker, UberSuggest and SEMRush
- Analytics tools such as Google Analytics, ClickTale, Lyris, Wordstream, WooRank, HubSpot Marketing Grader.
- Paid Search ads (Google AdWords, Bing Ads)
- Advanced search engine operators
The opportunities in paid search are enormous, it’s an outstanding entry point for a career in digital marketing, literally thousands of organizations are actively seeking candidates to fill these roles, and it is among the highest paying entry level positions in the digital marketing ecosystem. Paid search in all of its forms will keep you highly engaged and will stimulate your curiosity. As an experienced paid search recruiter, I see a very bright future for those who choose this exciting and highly sought after specialty in digital commerce.
Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and omnichannel marketing. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 33 years. With more than 200 published articles on his blog and LinkedIn profile, and widely quoted by leading business publishers including Bloomberg, AdAge, AdWeek, DigitalCommerce 360 and Target Marketing, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences and webinars. He is also a vetted member of the Clarity.fm faculty of experts, specializing in the fields of digital commerce. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.