What is Google AdWords?
If you use the Internet at all, you've almost certainly seen Google AdWords, possibly without even realising it. When using Google Search or one of their search partners (known as the search network, AdWords Ads appear on the right-hand side of search results and occasionally at the very top of the page on the left. When looking at non-Google websites (known as the content network, AdWords Ads can appear virtually anywhere on the page and in different sizes and layouts but you'll usually see them labelled as 'Ads by Google' or 'Sponsored Links'.
The ads displayed when specific keywords are used in a search term (on the search network) or if a web page contains those keywords or appears relevant to them (on the content network). Various options are available within the AdWords system to control where and when the ads are shown and these options, combined with an appropriate keyword list and good ad text (copy) means advertisers can target their ads at exactly the right potential customers.
Why is AdWords better than conventional advertising?
With convential advertising, for example in newspapers or magazines, you pay for an ad to be placed in the publication but only a certain percentage of readers are actually potential customers. In effect you're paying for your ad to be shown to people who have no interest in buying your product.
With AdWords, you only pay when your ad is clicked (known as "Pay Per Click", or PPC) - and you pay only for that click at that time - and with tightly focused keywords and effective copy you can dramatically increase the likelihood that the click will lead to a sale. Effectively you're only paying when someone's interested, not all the time.
How much does it cost?
How much do you want it to cost? One of the key advantages of AdWords is that you can pay as much, or as little as you want. There is no 'lower' limit on how much you spend per month and each click can cost as little as $0.20 (sometimes even less) so if you just want to try AdWords by spending $10, you can.
My site is already on the web, why do I need AdWords?
Even if your site is already appearing in search results, it's almost certain that AdWords can improve your sales, even if you're #1 in the organic results. In fact some recent research suggests that for a "high commercial intent", paid advertising gets almost 2/3 of all clicks. If you're not appearing in search results then AdWords can get a link to your site on the first page of results tomorrow avoiding possibly years of waiting.
How can I tell if it's working?
Google provides all the tools you need to track what's happening with your ads. By using Google Analytics alongside your AdWords account, you can see where clicks are coming from, where the visitors go on your site, how long they stay and whether they end up buying (or reaching another goal such as a newsletter sign-up). With these tools you can measure the cost of AdWords directly against the value to your business, something very difficult to do with conventional advertising.
OK, I'm interested, what now?
Firstly, spend some time looking at the other pages on this site, then take a look at the Google resources linked in the top right of this page. Feel free to ask any questions you have on the forum - Cobnut is there and is a Google Top Contributor, one of only 10 on the planet - so you may well get an answer from us.
Take your time, don't rush into it, a poorly planned campaign can mean money down the drain and disillusionment. It is worth the effort and the time to get it right.