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Search Engine Marketing: Why People Click on Paid Search Ads

December 13, 2018

by Grayson Kemper

Content & Editorial Manager, Clutch

People click on paid search ads that are relevant to the information they search for online. Businesses should optimize their search engine marketing (SEM) strategy so that their paid search ads directly respond to people's searches on multiple channels and earn the most clicks. 

Updated April 6, 2022

Paid search advertisements help businesses engage people who use search engines to find information online. 

What is Paid Search? 

Search engines are tailored to bring value to their online users. 

Paid search is a marketing tactic in which advertisers pay search engines for ad placement on search engine results pages (SERPs)  to attract high-intent audiences. 

With paid search advertising, companies see results relatively quickly, bringing back targeted visitors to their offerings. 

Types of Paid Search Advertising

Businesses can bid on search engine advertising – ads that appear among search engine results listings – using Google Ads, Amazon Advertising, Bing Ads, YouTube, or other search advertising platforms.

Types of paid search advertising can vary:

  • Traditional PPC
  • Native ads
  • Remarketing & retargeting
  • Social media ads
  • Display ads

Businesses can craft their paid search campaigns to their business goals. 

Clutch surveyed 506 people in 2019 who have clicked on a paid search ad in a month timeframe to learn the reasons why people click on paid search advertisements.

We found that people click on paid search ads that provide the most relevant information to their online search, which depends on the site they search on and the information they are looking for.

Businesses can use this report to understand how people engage with paid search ads and to format an effective paid search engine marketing (SEM) strategy.

Our Findings

  • More than three-fourths of people (77%) are confident they can recognize paid search advertisements.
  • Three-fourths of people (75%) say paid search ads make it easier to find the information they are searching for on a website or search engine.
  • One-third of people (33%) click on a paid search ad because it directly answers their search query.
  • About four times as many people are more likely to click on a paid search ad on Google (63%) than on any other search engine – Amazon (15%), YouTube (9%), and Bing (6%).
  • People are most likely to click on text paid search ads (49%) instead of shopping/product listing ads (31%) and video ads (16%).
  • More than one-quarter of people (26%) click on a paid search ad because it mentions a brand they are familiar with.
  • The primary reason people click on YouTube and Amazon search ads is that the ads mention a brand they are familiar with (33%).

Hire a search engine marketing agency to support your business goals. 

People Easily Recognize Paid Search Ads

People recognize paid search advertisements online.

Nearly 80% of people in 2019 were confident they could identify paid search advertising.

77% of people are confident they can recognize paid search ads

Most businesses invest in search engine marketing through pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. For these ads, companies bid for placement at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) for certain keywords and phrases. 

Search engines display paid search ads from sites that place the highest bids and are the most relevant to a search query. Companies pay Google or other search engines when someone clicks on their ad.  

Paid & Organic Search Results Listings

Because people can recognize search ads, businesses need to create ads that people find relevant to their search queries. Otherwise, people will ignore ads and opt to engage with the organic (nonpaid) search results.

“People see [search ads], but the ads have to answer or talk to them,” said Sherman Standberry, managing partner for Lyfe Marketing, a digital marketing company. “Otherwise, they can skip right by [the ad] and go to more reliable organic search results.”

Producing paid ads that answer people's search queries helps businesses prove themselves as reliable brands to potential customers.

"Accountability increases when the user does not know where the search ads stop and organic results begin," said Brady Cramm, director of PPC for Directive, a search engine marketing company. “The search engine’s reputation relies on the quality of your ad/landing page experience."

Businesses need to create search ads that people find relevant to earn customers' trust in their business and search engine marketing in general. 

Paid Search Ads Help People Who Click on Them, Demonstrating Value for Businesses

People find the information they are searching for online when they click on paid search ads.

Three-fourths of people (75%) said paid search advertisements in 2019 helped them find the information they're searching for on a website or search engine.

75% of people believe paid search ads make it easier to find information online

Useful search ads produce a number of benefits for businesses that create them. Namely, businesses can improve their brand awareness and earn high-quality site traffic if people find their ads helpful.

“You get all the benefits of advertising and quality traffic,” Standberry said. “I don’t think there’s a source of traffic that is more quality than search engines in general.”

When someone clicks through to your website, your business has the opportunity to make a positive brand impression on target customers. 

Paid Search Ads That Directly Answer Search Queries Are the Most Appealing

People click on paid search advertisements that provide relevant responses to their online searches.

One-third of respondents (33%) clicked on a paid search ad in 2019 because it directly answered their search query.  

Top 4 Reasons People Click on Paid Search Ads

People search online with intent, meaning they conduct online searches to find specific information.

“As long as ads are relevant to what searchers are looking for, the clicks will come,” said Matt Umbro, associate director of search for Hanapin Marketing, a digital marketing company. 

Umbro founded #ppcchat, a popular Twitter chat that digital marketing and PPC experts use to discuss SEM best practices and strategy. 


On this thread, experts agree that search engine marketing provides better value for their money than social media marketing. 

To earn click-throughs on their paid search ads, the ads should respond directly to people’s search queries.

Compelling Meta Tags Improve a Paid Search Ad's Relevance

A compelling title, description, or image (if applicable) can make a paid search ad's intent clearer. 

The title and description of a search engine results listing are pulled from a web page’s “meta tags,” or bits of code that provide high-level information about a page and its contents for search engines and web crawlers. 

Businesses that optimize meta tags of pages they promote in their paid search engine marketing campaigns can capture the 19% of people who click on paid search advertising because of a compelling title or description.

19% of people click on paid search advertising because of a compelling title, description, or image.

“The title and description of an ad need to be optimized to answer users’ search queries,” said Steve Pritchard, search engine marketing manager for Cuuver, an online life insurance provider.

Search engines pull a webpage's title and description tags pages to preview in SERPs.

For example, the search results for “lawn care companies in New York,” feature titles and descriptions that help people determine which lawn care provider is best for them, and then they will find relevant content by clicking on an ad.

Meta Tags

Ads with a title and description that directly address the intent of this query – to find a lawn care company in New York – are well-positioned to earn clicks from search engine audiences.

Google Ads Allows Businesses to Connect With the Most Customers

Businesses that bid on Google search ads earn the most clicks.

Nearly two-thirds of people (63%) were most likely to click on a Google search advertisement in 2019.

Which paid search ads people click on the most

The number of people that were most likely to click on search ads on other sites – Amazon (15%), Youtube (9%), and Bing (6%) – is less than half of the number who are most likely to click on Google search ads.

This disparity is due to Google’s status as the primary destination people use to accomplish any task online.

“Searchers are ingrained with the notion that Google is the go-to engine to find what you are looking for,” Umbro said.

As the primary source of information for people online, Google is the most logical place for businesses to market their products.

Google Ads, Google’s advertising platform, is the most popular online advertising platform in the world.

“Google Ads is a robust platform that provides extensive data on keyword volume, budget management, and performance of ad campaigns,” said Sara Desmond, vice president of operations for Page 1 Solutions, an online marketing company. “Savvy marketers and advertisers spend the majority of their PPC budgets where  consumers are going to search."

Google is where most people tend to spend time online, so that’s where businesses should direct search engine marketing dollars to engage customers.

Text Ads Are the Preferred Paid Search Advertisements

People are more likely to click on text ads than video or shopping/product listings advertisements (PLAs) on search engines. 

Nearly half of people (49%) were most likely to click on a paid search text advertisement in 2019, while around one-third (31%) were likely to click on a shopping ad or PLA and 16% were likely to click on a video ad.

Types of Paid Search Ads People Click on The Most

Text ads display a website's meta tags – web page title, company name, and product description.

Text Search Ad

Text ads communicate the basics of a web page's content making it easier for people to determine whether the content answers their query.

Type of Paid Search Ads People Click on Determined By Websites They Use

The paid search advertisements people click on depend on the websites they use:

2019 data –

  • More than half of people (55%) who click on Google search ads prefer text ads.
  • Those who click on Amazon advertisements favor shopping/product listing ads (50%).
  • Those who click on YouTube advertisements favor video ads (36%).

People's preferences for paid search ads differ based on intent. This supports that people browse websites according to their intent: searching for an answer to a question on Google, a product that interests them on Amazon, or a tutorial video on YouTube.

Branded Search Ads Engage People on Amazon and YouTube

Branded paid search ads appeal to people who search online for information about retail, consumer goods, and videos.

More than one-fourth of people (26%) in 2019 clicked on a search ad that mentioned a familiar brand.

26% of people click on a paid search ad when it mentions a familiar brand

On YouTube and Amazon, brand familiarity was the most common reason people click on search ads (33%) in 2019.

Amazon paid search ad


Branded search engine marketing is beneficial to large and enterprise companies, particularly when people are unfamiliar with the topic or products they're searching for. In these scenarios, people may opt for the brand they recognize.

“On Amazon, I find it interesting that people click brands they are familiar with,” Standberry said. “I think it could be a good advertising play for larger or more recognizable brands.”

People who search on Amazon are likely looking for consumer products and may be more willing to trust an ad from a familiar brand than one they don't recognize among search results. 

Search Engine Ranking More Important for Organic SEO Than Paid Search Advertising

Paid search advertisements' position on SERPs has a smaller impact on a search ad's click-through rate compared to organic SEO. 

Only 20% of people were likely to click on a paid search ad because it is listed above other results in 2019.

This is surprising given the impact of top rankings for organic search results – it’s the very reason that companies invest in SEO services.

Paid search ad formatting helps explain this. Shopping and product listing ads are often displayed horizontally, so listing above other organic search results is not as important. 

Horizontal Google Shopping Ad

Paid shopping or product listing ads that are displayed horizontally of these advertisements draws searchers’ eyes.

Optimizing for the top listing, however, should still be a priority for PPC advertising, as it is for organic SEO services.

This is especially true for companies targeting mobile users. Mobile interfaces often display only paid ads above the fold on the screen, meaning users have to scroll down to reach organic listings.

“If you look at a mobile search on a popular phrase, you have to scroll to get to any kind of organic results,” said Justin Seibert, founder and president of Direct Online Marketing, a digital marketing services company. "It’s a challenge for those trying to get their business [seen] through organic search."

"seo services" mobile above-the-fold SERP

For mobile searches, the benefits of top results may depend on if your website is featured among paid search results. As a result, your business may need to invest in paid search engine marketing to ensure you appear for target terms and phrases on mobile. 

Paid Search Advertising On Multiple Platforms Improves Click-Through Rates

Businesses should invest in paid search ads on multiple search engine platforms to engage the most customers.

Including Bing, YouTube, or Amazon advertising as part of your company’s search engine marketing strategy provides some benefits that Google can't offer, given its saturation.

In fact, Bing has a higher click-through rate for paid search ads than Google.

YouTube, on the other hand, attracts people who prefer video demonstrations of solutions to their problems. 

For example, someone who wants to learn how to tie a bowtie may prefer a video.

How to tie a bowtie youtube ad

Investing in paid search ads on multiple sites allows businesses to provide a tailored advertising experience. Often, businesses create specific landing pages that correspond to their ads. 

"The advertiser has control over where they’re sending people," Seibert said. "They’re going to do everything they can to optimize that experience to make their ads pay off for them."

This high level of control over the content people see when they click on a paid search ad allows your business to present itself to potential customers in the best light possible. 

People Click on Paid Search Ads That Respond to Their Search Queries

People recognize paid search ads and are inclined to click on the ads that directly answer their search queries. Our 2019 data backs up this thought. 

Most people say paid search ads make finding information easier, meaning businesses that create relevant ads make a positive impression on potential customers. 

People click on Google search ads much more often than Amazon, YouTube, and Bing ads. Businesses that want to engage broader customer segments, however, should still invest in PPC advertising across all major search engines.

The type of search ads people click on depends on the websites they use when searching online. 

Text ads are the most common type of paid search ads people click on, especially on Google.

YouTube and Amazon users, however, are most likely to click on video and shopping ads, respectively. These users are also the most likely to click on a search ad because it mentions a brand they are familiar with.

Businesses that recognize the reasons and locations that people click on search ads can format a paid search engine marketing strategy that speaks directly to people’s search intent and preferences.  

Find the right search engine marketing agency on our directory of trusted service providers.

About The Survey

Clutch surveyed 506 people in 2019 who have clicked on a paid search advertisement in a month timeframe. 

Two-thirds of respondents (66%) were women and one-third (33%) were men.

Over half of respondents were between the ages of 18-35; 36% were 35-54 years old; 11% were 55 years old and above. 

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