A paid search specialist manages PPC advertising and SEM by creating, testing, and optimizing ad campaigns. From data analysis to content, this is a dynamic job option for any aspiring digital marketer. Here’s what the career entails.

Here, you’ll find:

  1. What is a paid search specialist?
  2. What does a paid search specialist do?
  3. How to become a paid search specialist
  4. How to spot a good paid search specialist
  5. Questions to ask a paid search specialist
  6. Why your business needs a paid search specialist 

Paid search is the pay-to-play arm of online marketing, often called pay-per-click (PPC) or SEM.

It’s an almost-instantly valuable method of advertising your business, but for paid search success, you need to work with the right people. 

By better understanding what the career entails, you’ll have a better chance of finding and hiring a professional who will take your business to the next level.

 What is a paid search specialist?

A paid search specialist manages PPC advertising and SEM by creating, testing, and optimizing marketing campaigns. They handle data analysis, content and advertising strategy, advertising budget, and more. 

Anyone with a computer can use a self-service ad platform, but you hire a paid search specialist to help you create and optimize your ads more efficiently.

They use their expertise to help you improve your campaigns towards your KPIs, perform keyword research, execute multiple ad campaigns and tests, and ensure that your marketing dollars stretch as far as possible.

“It’s a highly sought-after role because of the unique skills and experience required to master PPC,” says HawkSEM CEO Sam Yadegar. “A paid search specialist needs to be data-driven and analytical but also creative and with an in-depth understanding of user experience and psychology.”

They need to know who they’re targeting and what visitors are looking for, create the perfect landing pages and ad variations, meticulously monitor results, and prune underperforming ads. 

 What do paid search specialists do?

Paid search specialists have quite a few responsibilities, and their role is critical to the digital presence of a modern-day business. 

What, specifically, do they do all day?

  1. Answer and manage email (and other lines of communication)
  2. Research and refine keyword lists
  3. Help develop and guide overall marketing strategies
  4. Keep up with industry changes in search engine marketing (SEM)
  5. Build, test, and optimize PPC advertisements
  6. Analyze data from analytics apps and build reports

 1. Answer and manage email (and other lines of communication)

Paid search specialists can sometimes be the leaders of the digital marketing wing of a company. They may be high-level employees guiding the overall marketing strategy, or they may be mid-level employees working as the paid search leaders under a marketing director.

Manage Email and Communication

One thing is true of any paid search specialist: they are a master of communication. They have to take guidance from C-levels and executives about the company’s overall direction.

They have to work with organic search specialists, content creators, web developers, graphic designers, and other marketing team members. These tasks require excellent communication skills and experience working with a broader marketing team.

A large part of a paid search specialist’s day-to-day operations is spent answering and sending emails, talking to fellow team members, managers, or clients directly, and presenting reports to the decision-makers in their company.

 2. Research and refine keyword lists

Keywords are the heart and soul of online marketing. They drive organic content creation, search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, and paid search advertising. 

Keyword lists need to be relevant, precise, and organized.  

Google Keyword Planner

A paid search strategist needs to know how to perform keyword research using various tools, from Google search to enterprise-grade research tools. They need to analyze the keywords to determine important factors such as:

  • Search volume
  • The value of those searches and their relevance to the business and its products
  • Existing coverage in organic and paid marketing
  • Competition for the keyword in both organic and paid channels (this is especially important for ecommerce)
  • Search intent and which stage the searcher is at in the buyer journey

They also need to understand negative keywords and how to build and use a list of them to optimize paid advertising. Google Ads takes some liberties with keyword variations, and while they get a lot of them right, some can be a big drain on your ad budget. 

Since your keyword list guides a company’s marketing, they are living documents that need constant maintenance to sustain relevance.

This, of course, means familiarity with spreadsheets and project management tools.

 3. Help develop and guide overall marketing strategies

In many companies, a paid search specialist is a leading role in the marketing team. They may be a guiding light for the entire company’s marketing efforts, with some input from the executive team. 

Alternatively, they work with the organic marketing team and together lead the business’s overall strategy.

An excellent paid search specialist has at least an advisory role. They have the data on keyword volume and performance pulled from PPC tools, and as such, their input is invaluable for a company’s campaign performance.

Paid vs Organic

(Image: Rawpixel)

For example, if an ad group isn’t converting as well as they had hoped, they may work with the content team to create a page on that topic instead and focus on SEO initiatives.

Conversely, if a valuable and high-converting topic is challenging to rank organically, it may be a good candidate for a new ad variation. 

 4. Keep up with industry changes in search engine marketing (SEM)

Paid search is only as effective as the specialist’s ability to optimize for the current environment. 

SEM (an umbrella term that can include PPC and SEO) is constantly changing. Between changing competition and changing rules within their marketing channels, the specialist must:

  • Stay current on upcoming changes to the tools and programs they use — like the addition of a new feature or capability
  • Keep an eye on SEM blogs, trends and shifts
  • Monitor major players in paid search and ensure compliance with changing rules
  • Continuing education, whether acquiring certifications, self-study courses, books, or hands-on experiments with new strategies

Entities like Google dominate the PPC space, so it’s crucial to monitor their announcements regarding their paid ad platforms.

It’s also valuable for your paid search specialist to keep up to date on what tools are available. 

Powerful tools like ConversionIQ are an essential part of expert paid search management, and knowing how to use them is essential.

 5. Build, test, and optimize PPC advertisements

Theory can be helpful, but a paid search specialist must be able to put that theory into practice. 

By using keyword lists, marketing copy, and direction from the company or client, a paid search specialist must be able to build PPC campaigns on the channels the company uses, from Google Ads to Bing Ads to Facebook Ads and more.

With all their disparate rules and systems, any paid advertising network is a potential venue for value from the paid search specialist.

Build Test and Optimize Ads

Running ads isn’t the end. 

A large part of the day-to-day work of a paid search specialist is in data analysis and split testing of every element of search ads, from the ad copy to the targeting to the landing pages and offers. Ads must be monitored, the data analyzed, and the ads tweaked to optimize them.

These responsibilities all fall under the banner of conversion rate optimization, and it’s essential if your business wants to manage your expenses and ensure that your ads are converting correctly and making the best use of your budget.

 6. Analyze data from analytics apps and build reports

Analytics isn’t just for making data-driven decisions for your PPC. It’s also critical for generating performance reports and reporting back to the people in charge, who make the overall marketing decisions. 

It’s not uncommon for a paid search specialist to deliver reports directly to account managers or directors, to influence their strategizing.

Google Ads PPC Dashboard

Modern web analytics software can do a lot for you, but it can’t do everything. A talented paid search specialist needs to know their way around a spreadsheet, know how to analyze data, and, more importantly, how to present data compellingly.

After all, it’s not always just about the numbers — it’s also about their context, logic, and presentation. 

 How to become a paid search specialist

If you’re interested in becoming a paid search specialist, the best thing you can do is learn the ins and outs of paid search. While there are some classes and even degrees you can earn these days, many companies don’t look for them specifically. Instead, it’s all about their years of experience and certifications.

The Google Ads certification set is of the most commonly sought-after certifications. These certifications suggest that an individual knows how Google Ads work and are a strong foundation for paid search.

Google Ad Certifications

Other valuable certifications include the Microsoft Ads certification, the Google Analytics certification, and third-party marketing certifications such as those offered by companies like HubSpot. Even though paid social media ads aren’t considered “paid search.” Facebook/Meta certifications are also valuable.

Candidates for paid search specialist positions can start their careers working for paid search agencies, work directly with small businesses to build their expertise, and even establish their own LLCs and market themselves as proof of their mastery over the medium.

The best way to learn is by doing, which is why certificates will only get you so far and why businesses looking to hire a paid search specialist are interested in hiring experienced experts.

 How to spot a good paid search specialist

Identifying an expert paid search specialist is no easy feat. Without knowing the industry, people can quickly become baffled by buzzwords and acronyms and distracted by data.  

First, you need to look in the right place. You can find paid search specialists in three ways:

  • Through job and career sites like Zippia, ZipRecruiter, Betterteam, Indeed, LinkedIn, and others
  • Through freelance hubs like Freelancer, Fiverr, and Upwork
  • By hiring an agency like HawkSEM

Choosing a venue also means deciding whether to work with a freelancer, contract an agency, or hire a part-time or full-time employee. The specific considerations will vary. 

You may also choose to work with a paid search services agency rather than a generic PPC-specific agency.

Example Job Listing

Of course, finding a paid search marketing specialist to fit your job description is just the first step. You’ll need to vet and interview them.

It’s a good idea to ask for case studies and data reports that show their skills in working with previous clients. You can ask about their analytical skills, outlook, and how they might fit with your company culture.

You can also ask about their history of working with companies in your industry.

 In particular, you want to find a PPC expert but also an expert in your industry. That means someone with a proven track record of optimizing return on ad spend and conversion rates. 

 Questions to ask a paid search specialist

Some questions to ask in the interview process include:

  • What metrics and KPIs do you use to make your decisions?
  • How do you measure and define success in paid search?
  • What tools do you use to manage your paid search campaigns?
  • What size of budgets have you managed in the past?
  • How do you handle A/B testing?
  • How do you usually work with organic search teams?
  • What are some methods you’ve implemented for conversion tracking?

These example questions just scratch the surface. 

When you’re putting someone in charge of a significant chunk of your overall marketing budget — and when their success or failure can make or break a season — you want to do your due diligence to ensure you get a high-quality paid search specialist on your side.

 Why your business needs a paid search specialist

Digital advertising and paid media make up a considerable part of modern-day business success. 

With data-backed decision-making and powerful tools, you can drive significant returns for your business by hiring a top-tier specialist, an individual expert, a team, or an agency.

An excellent paid search specialist can:

  • Grow year-over-year market share
  • Increase conversions by order of magnitude
  • Easily double lead volume and quality
  • Boost revenue across the board
  • Split test and improve your landing pages

Consider the results. While the specific results will vary depending on your starting point, a paid search specialist will quickly prove themselves invaluable. You’ll wonder how you ever survived without them.

The takeaway

Paid search is nothing new, and it’s not going away. Any business that fails to take advantage of paid search leaves money on the table. 

It may take some time to find the talent for your paid search specialist job (unless you click this handy “free consultation” link here), but once you do, they’re worth their weight in gold.

The Takeaway

The difference between hiring a talented paid search specialist and a rookie is often the cost and quality of your conversions.

Whether you want to become a paid search specialist, hire one to work with your existing marketing team, or outsource everything to a full-service agency, one thing is true. Paid search specialists are essential to ensure you’re squeezing the most amount of value from your advertising budget. 

This post has been updated and was originally published in October 2022.

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