Google Ads is arguably one of the most misunderstood platforms for paid advertising. Many business owners promote their wares with sponsored posts on social media sites like Facebook, but underutilize Google Ads, despite the unique opportunity it offers to advertise their products and services directly to people actively searching for them.
Google puts a large breadth of advertising tools at your fingertips. It also gives you access to users of the world’s two largest search engines—Google and YouTube, respectively—and a network of millions of websites to advertise on.
Unfortunately, Google Ads has a complicated interface and a steep learning curve. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up targeting too broad of an audience and spending money without turning a profit.
But everyone has to start somewhere, and whether you plan on managing your own Google advertising or outsourcing it to an expert, it’s best to begin by learning the necessary terminology and knowing not only the campaign and ad types available to you, but what you can realistically expect from them. That way, you’ll understand exactly what the platform can do for you.
Why use the Google Ads platform?Google Ads has a lot in common with many other paid advertising platforms. With it, you can:
1. Search adsConsumers generally use search engines—unlike social media—with a specific intent in mind: to search for answers, get solutions to their problems, or find specific products or services. This makes Google a powerful marketing channel for a variety of businesses.
You can inform how you advertise on Google based on the average volume of monthly searches for a given query, the estimated cost you would pay per click, and other data Google makes readily available. You can run search ads that promote your products and services directly in the search results of a specific query and even narrow your targeting to users in a certain geographical area.
Say you’re selling plant-based protein powder. More than 200,000 people search for “protein powder” on Google every month, but there are far fewer searches for “vegan protein powder.” Google will let you bid (more on this below) to advertise your brand on both of these phrases individually, but the more specific search term likely will convert better because it’s more relevant to your product.
You can create text ads, which display in search results marked with the word “Ad” in a small box, or Google Shopping ads, which surface key purchasing information, such as product photos, prices, and ratings—something that makes them perfect for many ecommerce brands. You can see both text and Shopping ads in action below.
2. Google Display NetworkYou can also advertise your products or services to potential customers through the Google Display Network.
Display advertising gives you the option to reach people outside of Google’s search engine results, through text, image, and video banner displays that appear as users browse the web, use apps, or watch videos.
While many advertisers turn to Facebook for their display advertising, Google is also a viable option.
The Google Display Network reaches 90% of all internet users around the world and consists of ad space on more than 2 million sites and 650,000 apps. Visit any news site and you’re likely to see Google display ads at the top, in the sidebar, or even throughout the content itself.
3. YouTube adsThe Google Ads platform also lets you advertise on YouTube, which is owned by Google. Technically, YouTube is just one site in the Google Display Network but, measured on its own, it is the third most-visited site on the web, after Google and Facebook. Users watch more than one billion hours of YouTube videos a day. That makes for a lot of opportunities to engage potential customers.
You’re probably familiar with the pre-roll ads that play before YouTube videos, but there are also banner and overlay options.
As you can see, Google offers a variety of ad types. But before you choose between text, image, or video, you need to understand where your ads will be shown and who will see them.
How the Google Ads auction worksMany of the campaign types available through Google Ads operate on an auction system. Advertisers compete for a position or “rank” on the search engine results pages by bidding (usually) on clicks.
The amount you bid and how you set up your keywords will determine your placement in relation to other bidders. However, the highest bidder doesn’t necessarily win the top spot; relevancy is also a determining factor.
Google wants to show ads that are useful and relevant to its users, and you want to advertise to relevant users who are searching for your business or terms related to what you’re selling. So Google assigns an Ad Rank based on various factors, such as the relevance of your ad copy and ad format to the keywords you’re buying, the webpage you’re sending visitors to, and more.
As an advertiser, the more relevant your business is to the terms you’re buying, and the more relevant your ad messaging is to users searching for those terms and the page you’re sending them to, the cheaper it will be for you to rank for that traffic.
Before you dive headfirst into the world of Google Ads—or hire a professional to manage your marketing on the platform—there are some key concepts and campaign types you’ll need to understand.
Google Ads terms and conceptsPaid marketing—Google Ads in particular—comes with its own vocabulary of terms and concepts. Here’s a glossary you can reference if you encounter a term you’re unsure of:
Paid marketing terms to learn
Keep in mind there will always be trade-offs and other dependances to consider. For example, certain campaign types sacrifice segmentation—bundling various audiences together, making it hard to isolate specific high-performing groups—but will be easier to set up yourself or through an app or integration with Shopify.
Other campaign types might be harder to execute successfully, requiring more manual set up and ongoing optimization, especially if certain audiences or keywords are highly competitive. These campaigns will require more technical expertise, time, and money.
For this reason, any ranges or estimates given here are meant to serve as guidelines. Your actual cost per click or expected return will depend on many variables, such as how well your website converts, your average order value, and how much scale there is for a certain type of keyword or audience.
We’ll outline each campaign type according to the following information:
Not all businesses will be able to take advantage of all campaign types, and some of the more competitive campaigns often require a lot of human capital and time to manage. They can also be expensive, especially in the beginning.
Note: Since Bing and Yahoo! share similar features with Google, many of the campaign types below can also be run on those platforms.
The Google Ads playbook: 13 campaign types1. Branded search
You might not think to bid on your own brand name, especially if your site already appears organically at the top of search results, but doing so lets you promote specific information (using Google’s ad extensions) and set the exact page where you want people to land. It also protects you from competitors who might bid on your name or other branded keywords.
CPCs for branded search generally will be lower than for any other search campaign, since your URL and your ads will be highly relevant to users who search for you. At the same time, be wary of your ad appearing for similar but irrelevant keywords. In the example of Apple advertising iPhones, you would exclude keywords such as “apple picking” or “apple cider,” or even “how to update my Apple iPhone” and narrow your targeting using the appropriate keyword match types and negative keywords.
Since your ceiling for sales from branded search depends on how many people are actually looking for you, branded search campaigns can complement brand awareness campaigns. A pop-up shop or a viral Facebook video, for example, can translate into more searches for your brand name.
Ease of implementation: This type of campaign can be hard to implement if you’re not familiar with search engine marketing. Agency or in-house resources may be required. However, branded search isn’t that labor-intensive to manage, so make this a priority if you can.
2. Non-branded search (generic)
The goal of this campaign is driving new visitors and new customers to your site as efficiently as possible. But these campaigns can also have a positive ROAS for advertisers and a massive amount of potential scale.
Keep in mind that the true value of a customer is not their initial purchase but their lifetime of purchases from your brand.
Ease of implementation: As with all search campaign types, this one can be difficult. These campaigns require a lot of human resources to manage and test your creative and landing pages, plus a lot of money to drive results. It’s best to hire help to ensure these campaigns are managed correctly.
3. Non-branded search (niche)
If your business and products are a fit for niche marketing, then this campaign type is worth exploring. Niche marketing, even outside of the context of Google Ads, gives brands a much easier time of getting traffic and, potentially, a positive ROI, because it offers a specific audience that’s easier to identify and focus on.
Niche non-branded search often is lumped together with generic non-branded search. But, for the reasons given above, it makes sense to segment this traffic in its own campaign and discuss it separately.
If you sell third-party products, you can also apply this campaign type by bidding on the specific branded keywords associated with them. When buying these keywords, you can even use these brand names in your ad creative as long as you link directly to a landing page that has those products visible.
Ease of implementation: Similar to other search campaigns, this campaign type isn’t easy to undertake and will require appropriate resources to set up and maintain. If you don’t understand keyword match types and how to build and optimize search campaigns, ads, and landing pages, we would recommend hiring an expert who does (more on that later).
4. Competitor search
Stealing traffic from your largest direct competitors’ keywords sounds like a smart strategy, but it can also be a relatively expensive one because, in this case, you, a competing brand, aren’t the most relevant thing searchers want to see.
Typically, this strategy is employed by brands that can justify the higher costs of acquiring a new customer who might have a relatively higher average order value or lifetime value. Otherwise, you may experience little success with this strategy.
If a brand isn’t buying its own traffic or doesn’t have a lot of brand loyalty among its customers, and if your product is an equal or better alternative, this could actually be a very profitable campaign for you.
(Part of the reason we highly recommend buying your own branded terms is to prevent this type of disruption from a competitor.)
Note: You shouldn't use dynamic keyword insertion in ads when buying your competitor's branded keywords, nor can you use their name in your ads if you don't sell their product on the page you drive traffic to.
Ease of implementation: As with all search campaigns, this one is not easy to do and could be very expensive. You would want resources dedicated to managing this.
5. Google Shopping (branded)
In terms of new customer acquisition as an ecommerce business, this is at the top of your list of campaigns to try.
Users who specifically search for your brand are more likely to convert, so if you’re able to set up branded Shopping as a separate campaign, you can maximize your traffic from this source and be able to budget more effectively. Otherwise, Shopping campaigns will include both branded and non-branded traffic by default.
Without a segmented campaign strategy, there will always be more non-branded than branded traffic, and the majority of your budget will likely be spent on non-branded terms that are less likely to convert. That’s why, if you can (and have the traffic to take advantage of it), it’s worth separating branded traffic into its own Shopping campaign.
Ease of implementation: Shopping campaigns generally are easier to set up than search. To create a working product feed Google can pull from, you either can install Google channel for Shopify or set things up manually in the Google merchant center. You’ll need to create individual campaigns for branded and non-branded traffic, apply negative keywords, and prioritize keywords to exclude your ads from displaying for certain queries to isolate branded search traffic.
6. Google Shopping (non-branded)
Non-branded shopping campaigns work similarly to non-branded search campaigns. If you have the budget, they are something that almost always makes sense for ecommerce businesses to try.
If you don’t have any branded products, a normal shopping campaign essentially will be a 100% non-branded campaign.
Ease of implementation: Separating out branded and non-branded traffic requires a bit of set up, but once done you can have separate non-branded Shopping campaigns and dedicate a specific budget for each.
7. Retargeting (text, banner, video)
Retargeting is a strategy that lets you continue to reach these visitors off-site, often at a lower cost, to bring them back to your site through different, more specific messaging.
Retargeting is a powerful feature that helps you turn first-time visitors into return visitors and, ultimately, into first-time buyers. It can also be used to generate repeat purchases by advertising to existing customers. For example. you can apply retargeting to YouTube with video ads for users who have visited your site. This makes a stronger second impression and can be very powerful if bundled into an existing strategy.
Unlike with the other display campaign types covered above, where your ads appear matters less since you’re targeting specific users that will recognize your brand no matter what site it appears on.
However, maximizing your retargeting efforts will involve a lot of additional segmenting based on users who have more recently visited your site, explored your product pages, or abandoned their carts. Simply targeting all users who have been to your site in the past 30 days might result in you reaching buyers without any intention of purchasing.
Similar to how there can be a wide range of search terms to consider for non-branded search, how you target a user who saw a specific product and added it to their cart in the past 24 hours will be different than a user that was on your homepage 40 days ago. Your expectations should vary accordingly.
Ease of implementation: This type of campaign isn’t too difficult to set up if you know how to create negative audiences and load ads and targeting into Google Ads. However, you will want to dedicate resources to maintain it, since the goal with retargeting is to create a profitable mechanism you can use to convert past visitors into customers. Also, If you want to use YouTube retargeting for video ads, you'll need your own channel with video assets uploaded to YouTube.
8. Display ads (topics and interests)
While you have a few targeting options at your disposal here, the broadest will be based on topics and interests, which can range anywhere from autos and vehicles to travel to home and garden.
With topic-based targeting, your ad will be served on any of the sites belonging to that category in the Display Network. With interest-based targeting, your ads will be shown to users who have recently started researching those topics using sites in the Display Network.
If you’re considering these types of display campaigns on Facebook, it might make sense to put some of your ad testing budget into Google’s equivalent.
Ease of implementation: Setting up a display campaign is relatively straightforward, but you’ll need to exclude certain keywords and placements (using negative keywords and negative placements) to really optimize its effectiveness.
9. Display ads (contextual)
The majority of a user’s time online is spent consuming and engaging with content, not searching on Google. Because of that, getting in front of users as they engage with content relevant to your product or service is always a potentially viable approach to test and measure lift. While not necessarily a priority over higher intent search campaigns, the ability to showcase your ads (image, text, video, etc.) to potential users without having to pay unless they click is a great opportunity.
Contextual campaigns are a great way to start on the Display Network because they let Google show you niche sites that might be available for you to directly target your audience on.
Note: You can get contextual campaigns and the Display Network as a part of your other search campaigns. However, we would always advise turning the Display Network off for search campaigns and turning search off for display campaigns. They work very differently, and so should be separated and budgeted as such to give you more control over how much money is spent on what effort.
Ease of implementation: Generally, if you understand how to group a few contextually relevant keywords and set up an ad through Google, you could start running this campaign. It’s not as hard as search ads, though there’s also no app or direct integration to automate set up.
9. Display ads (managed placement)
Typically, you would execute this type of campaign after identifying the specific website placements that were effective in your contextual or topic/interest display campaigns.
Ease of implementation: Generally, this is an easier campaign to set up if you have some experience and can navigate around the Google Ads platform.
10. Google Smart Shopping
This campaign type chooses which products to advertise, how much to bid, who to target, and which creative to show. Shopify’s integration with Google Shopping lets you pull your products and product feeds automatically into these campaigns—you can even launch directly from Shopify using Marketing in Shopify.
Your performance here will depend on how many users search for your brand, products, product categories, or branded keywords. The amount of retargeting you can do and the branded traffic you can drive through Shopping ads also depends on the search volume for your branded keywords and the size of your retargeting audience (i.e. how many people have visited your site already).
Ease of implementation: Smart Shopping represents a very easy way to get involved with Google advertising, whether with Shopping or retargeting ads. If you see success, there may be a greater opportunity to transition to a more segmented manual campaign strategy in the future.
Marketing in Shopify: Grow your business with Facebook and Google Ads
Marketing in Shopify is a new place to help you create, launch, and measure campaigns. We’ve streamlined the process to make running a successful Facebook carousel ad or Google Smart Shopping campaign easier than ever.
Run your first campaign on Shopify11. CRM (search, YouTube, Gmail)
This audience is highly qualified, so you can expect a great ROI if you execute your campaign properly. The one caveat is that you need to have an established customer base (i.e. thousands of emails), so this approach will not work for newer merchants.
These are hyper-targeted campaigns that leverage the information you have about your customers in your CRM. You can extend specific messaging to different segments of customers, targeting placements in Gmail, YouTube, or search.
About Customer Match Rate: Not every email you upload will match with Google’s database. For example, if you upload a list with 4,000 emails, Google may only be able to match 2,000 of them. Gmail addresses are more likely to have a match, but you can expect a sizable portion of your list won’t be targetable.
Ease of implementation: Not only do you need an established customer base to execute this campaign, you would also need the knowledge and experience to segment your list to speak to different customers differently If you have those elements, navigating Google Ads to upload your seed list and set up your ad types is pretty manageable and well-documented online.
12. Similar audiences
Google Ads is able to take similar interests shared from your seed audience and match your ads to target other users on the Google Display Network who also share those interests..
Ease of implementation: We recommend trying intent-based campaigns first, but if you’re trying similar audiences on Facebook, this might also serve as a viable option to test and review performance.
13. Dynamic search ads
There’s no out of the box segmentation in this campaign so, like other campaigns that bundle together your traffic, we don’t recommend this as something to keep forever and scale but rather as a starting point to eventually segment manually as you gather performance data.
Ease of implementation: This is a great quick and easy way to get a search campaign online. However, while it’s easy to implement, there’s a large possibility dynamic search campaigns will contain irrelevant keywords that are on your site but that you would never manually buy to gain traffic.
Budgeting: always-on vs. testing campaignsWith any form of paid marketing, budgeting is an essential consideration that raises many questions. How should you set your budget? How long should you test a campaign/ad? How can you even tell if a campaign is achieving its intended purpose?
To answer these questions, you need to understand the two main categories of campaigns you’ll be running.
Always-on campaigns focus on profitability and high potential sales from shoppers who show intent to buy your brand/product/service. These are campaigns you’ll want to run continuously to capture your lowest hanging fruit. They include:
For example, if you have only $10 a day to spend on marketing (or a fixed budget that you could spend 100% of), an always-on campaign might be the best use of that money—unless you have specific customer acquisition or awareness goals on which that money would be better spent.
Beyond converting your warmest audiences, you can also spend money to drive new customers to your site or drive awareness about your products/services to a specific audience.
That’s what testing/flexible campaigns focus on—driving new customer acquisition, awareness, and engagement with your site and products. They include:
If you’re managing your own Google ads, be mindful of your level of expertise with all of the above. You can get set up quickly with Google Smart Shopping or dynamic search campaigns to get you started, and then reassess what is best for your brand based on all the possible options and best practices explained above.
This always-on vs testing approach to budgeting can also be applied to other forms of paid marketing, from Facebook to influencer marketing campaigns, to decide how much budget to allocate and where.
How to hire help to manage your Google AdsIf you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Many entrepreneurs who can’t afford the time or money it would take to successfully learn and manage their own Google advertising, outsource it to agencies or experts who specialize in paid advertising.
Here are some things to keep in mind when outsourcing your Google Ads:
Final thoughtsWe won’t sugarcoat it—succeeding with Google Ads isn’t easy. There’s a lot of nuance to each ad campaign type, with even more campaign types and variations that weren’t explicitly covered above, not to mention attribution, which is a key topic for another article.
But the Google Ads platform has benefits for any ecommerce business willing to figure out how to advertise to its massive user base based on search intent and a variety of other targeting options and placements.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what’s possible on the Google Ads platform, what to expect from the different campaign types available, and how they can work together with the rest of your marketing engine.
Whether you invest the time and money into learning how to run your own campaigns, or lean on an agency's or expert's services, getting to know the platform and your options is a great first step in the right direction.
This post was originally published by Shopify Blog.