The Easy Beginner's Guide to Google Ads
Updated: Apr 26
My last digital post dove into how content marketing and your Google Ads strategy should always be related, but I forgot to define one key component – what exactly are Google Ads?
Surely you’ve seen them before.
Google Ads are the advertisements you see below your search box when you enter a search query in Google. But, they can also be those banner ads that follow you around after you got sucked into Amazon.com or those quick ads that interrupt your YouTube video or even those fashion ads for clothes that seem to perfectly match your style.
Nevertheless, they’re everywhere. One million businesses use it, and it’s the No. 1 revenue source for Google at around $60 billion annually, accounting for around 97 percent of Google’s total revenue (or around $1 for every $3 spent on online advertising). Needless to say, if you’re hoping to start digital advertising, Google Ads is basically the hammer of your digital advertising toolbox. It’s critical.
Perhaps you’re a small business owner trying to compete with the big brand names across the street or you’re just trying to create brand awareness for your business opening. Maybe you’re trying to increase leads for your business or gain attention for a particular product on your e-commerce site.
Possibly, you majored in humanities and you decided a career change is necessary to achieve your career goals. No – just me? Well then.
Lucky for you, you’ve stumbled upon a great Google Ads 101 guide to learn best practices to tackle strategy and understand the navigation behind what can be a difficult platform to learn. As with any online advertising platform, you cannot determine effectiveness unless you have a baseline of data to calculate your return on investment (ROI).
It’s easy to spend thousands of dollars on campaigns for hundreds of nonrelevant clicks and not receive a dime back as far as sales, readership or whatever your goal might be.
Regardless of your goals though, Google Ads is an excellent introduction to the world of online advertising. It’s a behemoth, garnering nearly 250 million clicks per day and 30 billion impressions per day accroding to data from 2012. Unsure about those words I just used? Before we dig in deeper, let’s define a few terms that will be explained further throughout this guide.
Clicks – Each time a person clicks on your ad. Unique clicks stands for the number of individual clicks by users
Impressions – The number of times your ad appears on a website (Display Network) or a search query (Search Network)
Click-through-rate (CTR) – The percentage rate of clicks on ads to impressions
Conversions – A lead, download, sale, or whatever action you want visitors to take on your site
Keywords – The word or phrase searched for that leads to your ad
Keyword bid – How much a user is willing to bid for an ad to appear when a keyword is searched
Quality Score – A metric used to determine your ad’s relevance to a search query
Ad Rank – Quality score times your maximum keyword bid
There are numerous ad types – though we’ll detail search ads specifically in this post. Google offers search, display, shopping, and video ad campaign. Each ad campaign type comes with its advantages, but ultimately it’s up to the advertiser to understand what his or her goal is and how that relates to the advertising campaign. What do I mean by that?
Let’s say your goal is to drive a mass amount of relevant traffic to your website for pennies on the dollar. Try a display campaign. Perhaps you’re hoping to garner form fills on you website for a certain product. Give a search campaign targeted towards specific search queries a shot. Are you a local store trying to expand your customer base some? Are you willing to delve in e-commerce? Start up a shopping campaign. The point is there are numerous types of campaigns you can create on Google to solve common marketing problems that small businesses face. Below, you’ll find the main types of Google campaigns you can choose from when starting up a Google Ads account. We’ll dive into more complicated campaigns (universal app and search with display select at a later date).
Search Network - These ads appear when Google users search for terms or phrases that are relevant to your keywords.
Display Network - These are banner ads (photo ads) that appear on sites that searches may visit. The targeting of these ads are based upon your selection of sites and/or site categories related to the demographic you’d like to see these ads.
Shopping - These ads promote local or online inventory for retail businesses and are different than search and display ads, showcasing a photo, price, store names and more.
Video - These ads allow Google Ads users to display video content/ads on YouTube and sites within the Display network.
Quality Score + Ad Ranking:
A common question by all beginner digital advertisers and business owners is how does Google vet ads? How are non-relevant or spammy ads weeded out from the ads that might benefit searchers? Google’s quality score does the trick.
SEO/SEM expert Neil Patel may define quality score best when he says, “This is a metric based on the experience that the user has on your landing page, the relevancy of your website and your actual ad.”
This is a good time to mention that while Google is an advertisement-dominant platform, their No. 1 responsibility and focus will always be the searcher – not you. That means if your ad fails to resonate with your audience, don’t expect to garner quality clicks or engagement. Let’s break it down.
All Google searches start the same way, with a Google search query utilizing keywords chosen by the searcher. Each of the keywords and ads is eligible to receive a quality score, ranking ads on a 1-10 scale.
In order to master pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, quality score is a great starting point. Not only does it serve as a primary determinant of ad rank during the ad auction process, but it also plays a key role in how much each click is going to cost you down the road. So what determines quality score? Outside of Google employees, there is no perfect formula to mastering Quality Score, but there are ways to improve it. Focus on relevancy, account history and the landing page experience.
How specific is your keyword to your service or product? There is a big difference between “brown shoes” and “men's suede desert brown boots”. The more specific you are to your product or service, the more relevant the ad will be for your searcher.
What has the CTR been for your ads in the past? On Google AdWords, every campaign counts. Don’t sleep on a campaign thinking it won’t affect you in the long run.
Landing page experience:
What is your users’ website experience? You don’t have to be a professional web developer to build a functioning site, but a good front-end developer knows how to create a good landing experience. If users visit your site and bounce at a significantly high rate, Google perceives that as individuals having a poor experience on your website.
The significance of quality score is most apparent when we look at where your ad shows up on a search engine result page (SERP) and how it performs in an auction. Each time you place an ad on Google, you must identify how much you’re willing to pay for each click, acquisition or per impression with a maximum bid. We’ll dive deeper into budgeting tips later, but keep this top of mind. Google Ads is simply one giant auction, and the product being auctioned off is the placement of ads – i.e. Ad Rank.
Perhaps the most useful metric in the Google Ads interface is Ad Rank because it ultimately controls the visibility of your ad to those you want to see it. Ad Rank serves as the ultimate equalizer among Google Ads users, balancing the budget of heavy spenders with the skill of savvy, potentially low-budget, advertisers.
Ad Rank is simply the product of your Quality Score by the maximum bid you’re willing to pay for a click. For users running low-budget campaigns, this levels the playing field with those that have the bank accounts to make up for their lack of effort. Despite this, however, some industry advertising is just more expensive than others. Take this diagram from Wordstream accounting for cost per click (CPC) across the search and display networks. I hope you’re not working in the consumer services or legal industries, where clicks routinely cost nearly triple the average across all industries on the search network.
Even those of you working in e-commerce ($1.16 per click) and advocacy ($1.43 per click), the lowest industry CPCs, proper budgeting techniques are instrumental towards a sound PPC campaign strategy.
Contrary to popular belief, Google Ads doesn’t have to be expensive. Some advertisers just make it expensive due to their budgeting strategy. Every campaign is assigned its own budgeting strategy, and choosing a budget management system starts with one thing: your goals.
What are you trying to achieve with this campaign? Are you simply trying to gather impressions in an effort to rebrand your company? Do you want to drive traffic to a particular landing page on your website to read a content piece? Are you hoping users will commit a particular action on your website – like buy a product or fill out a form on gated content? Your goals dictate how to allocate your budget. Google Ads managers can choose from Manual CPC, Automatic CPC, Enhanced CPC, CPM Bidding and CPA Bidding strategies.
Enhanced CPC (Cost per click)
Don’t be fooled by marketing automation. This method takes all the hard work out of the budgeting process but can be costly, and become costly very quickly. Enhanced CPC relies on Google’s historical data to auto adjust bidding based on the campaign’s performance. If the campaign garners several clicks and seems to be performing well, Google will automatically increase the bid to increase performance. If the campaign is performing poorly, it will decrease the bid and save you money. Keep in mind that key indicator of performance is clicks, and even if your ads are receiving clicks from an individual with little to no intent, Google still might view this as a reason to increase bidding – inevitably wasting your budget faster than a fat kid chasing an ice cream truck.
Automatic CPC (Cost per click)
Quick question – how well does Google know your industry? Unless you’re a technology company, I’d venture to say very little. While this method can be helpful, proficient Google Ads users lean more towards setting their own budgets to drive certain results. Automatic CPC bidding focuses on garnering the most clicks, without really taking searchers’ intent into consideration. Sure, automatic CPC will be based upon your chosen keywords and ad groups, but it will not prioritize the keywords that produce the best results. Automation within Google Ads might be a good alternative if you’re taking a few days off and need your campaigns to run without too many hiccups, but for the long term, you might want to keep your hands on the steering wheel.
Manual CPC (Cost per click)
Manual CPC puts advertisers back in the pilot seat and allows all that keyword research you did before you started the campaign (which we will get to further down the road) to use. Think of it like this. If you have the knowledge to invest wisely in the stock market without spending a broker fee, would you do it? I’d say yes. Using this method, Google Ads managers control individual bids for individual keywords and ad groups. Manual CPC allows you to invest in the keywords or ad groups that offer the best outcomes for your business. One keyword is giving you triple the number of total conversions? Double the CPC. Another keyword has 0 clicks and over 1,000 impressions? Decrease the CPC by 50 percent or just pause the keyword all together. Control of the budget gives advertisers peace of mind, and Google Ads managers can plan further down the line without worrying about fluctuating CPC due to automated strategies.
CPM Bidding (Cost per thousand impressions)
Go ahead and throw this in the Display Network’s box of tricks. Rather than pay for conversions or clicks, you’re just trying to get a message out there. The key metric to keep an eye on when using CPM bidding is impressions. CPM bidding allows users to pay per one thousand impressions as opposed to cost per click. Keep in mind, CPM bidding is a great strategy to increase general awareness or for branding purposes – top of funnel marketing. However, if you’re hoping to gain conversions from this strategy, this might not be the best choice for you.
CPA Bidding (Cost per acquisition)
If you’re not taking advantage of conversions, then you’re not utilizing Google Ads correctly. Measuring conversions allows you to understand what techniques work and which ones don’t, and it also can be a key part of your bidding strategy. CPA stands for cost-per-action or cost-per-conversion. An action can be anything – from form fills to product purchases to email signups to phone calls. When using this strategy, Google will optimize your bid to ensure you get the lowest cost per acquisition possible. This is a helpful strategy to use if you already know a baseline for what your cost-per-conversion is. If you know a conversion typically costs around $5, work on methods to lower your cost per acquisition if possible.
Want to learn more? Coming up next, we’ll detail researching and keyword best practices as well as copywriting musts to ensure your ads are effective. Thanks for reading!