It’s now been a couple of decades since Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) changed the world of advertising forever. It was the first self-serve ad platform that actually worked — meaning that it kept all parties involved wanting more (the ad viewers, the advertisers, and the host company, Google). To say that it was groundbreaking would be an understatement. Before AdWords, advertising needed to be sold by sales reps over the phone or in person. Who could invent a system that was smart and flexible enough to take the sales reps out of the equation? Why, Google, of course. Who else?

Google Ads is a deeply complex platform, and it’s evolved tremendously over the years. It offers a diverse array of advertising options. But is it right to help you grow your business? The answer is a great big: MAYBE.

What Google Ads offers (In a nutshell)

Google Ads offers the opportunity for advertisers to gain exposure over its enormously popular platforms, as well as its extensive partnership network. For a fee (normally applied when someone clicks on or engages with an ad), advertisers can promote their products and/or services.

Since Google (and Google partner) platforms, channels, and properties are so diverse, the ad types and methods are also quite various. Here are some examples of how they’re different:

  • A search ad is triggered because someone used keywords to search for information.
  • A video ad is seen because someone wants to watch a different video but is shown a video ad sometime before, after, or during.
  • Display ads show next to content around the web and in mobile apps, such as next to news articles.
  • Discovery ads show in scrollable feeds that can be found on YouTube and in the Google Search app.

Those are some of the ad types and methods available through Google Ads. Next, let’s take a closer look at a few of the most popular campaign types.

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Search engine ads – Are they right for you?

Search engine ads are based on keywords. People use words to search, so ads are triggered (primarily) based on relevance. These ads offer the opportunity to promote products or services to the person looking for them – at the very moment when they are looking! This is unique in the history of advertising. There is some similarity to the old Yellow Pages we used to use, but search engines offer an easier, more direct, more specific, and definitely more portable method (if you have a smartphone).

Do search ads work? Absolutely. There’s no question that they work, and there’s a good chance that they could work for your business. The real question is about return on investment (ROI). How much would it cost in advertising dollars to get a paying customer; AND how much profit would be made from that paying customer? Those answers will determine your ROI, and if search ads make sense for your business.

One thing I’ve learned from managing campaigns for hundreds of businesses is that search ads are very good for some niches and very bad for others. These are the factors that tend make the biggest difference:

Competition (which affects cost per click) – If too many businesses are competing aggressively with high bids and high budgets for certain keywords, it raises the cost per click for everyone because it’s an auction-based system. As this happens, it gets increasingly difficult for any business to get enough return on investment. One example that comes to mind is the mortgage business. There are so many companies competing in searches related to mortgages that it gets very expensive. The cost per actual lead would undoubtedly be high. Would it be too high to get ROI? That’s the question. It gets tough. It helps to realize that every keyword is a marketplace all in itself. Some of those marketplaces get way up into bubble territory – and the bubble won’t pop unless enough competitors decide to stop trying so hard.

Clarity of Keywords – This factor is about luck and language. Some products or services can be described very simply and clearly, and almost everyone would use the same terms. Other products and services can be a problem for keyword targeting because there isn’t a clear, common word or phrase to describe them. Or it could be that the word or phrase has completely different meanings. This is funny, but I once had to search Google for something audio techs call a “butt plug,” which is an attachment that can turn a normal microphone into a wireless mic. As I found out on Google, there is an entirely different type of product called the same thing!

Commercial Intent – It’s important to consider if the keywords you’re targeting have commercial intent – meaning that they are intending to do business. I ran search ads for a comedian once who was looking for bookings. This was tricky because people do searches about comedians for many reasons – not just to hire one. Most searches are only to find information, not to try to do business. The keyword “apple pie recipe” is informational; “apple pie recipe book” has more commercial intent; “Where can I buy an apple pie recipe book” has even more. With some business types, it’s difficult to find the words that clarify commercial intent. With others, it can be easy.

The Volume of Searches – If you invent an amazing gadget that dispenses gumballs from the glove compartment of cars, search advertising might not help. It depends if enough people are searching words like “glove compartment gumball dispenser.” You can have a great product, low competition, clarity of keywords, and commercial intent, but if there aren’t enough people searching, that’s a problem. The ads won’t be seen much.

Display ads – Are they right for you?

Display ads can be created through Google ads that can be seen over a huge network. In fact, it’s the largest audience-reach advertising network on Earth, yet few people have ever heard of it. It’s called the Google Display Network (GDN).

The GDN is a network of millions of websites and thousands of mobile apps that partner with Google to show ads. It includes many large publishing companies, like Yahoo, the New York Times, CNN, and others. Why do they partner with Google? Because the GDN is a proven money maker. Whenever anyone clicks on an ad, both Google and the publisher (website or app owner) make money. The GDN also includes Google’s own high-traffic properties, like YouTube.

Almost everyone sees Google display ads on a regular basis. Advertisers have many options for how those ads are targeted, such as by gender, age bracket, parental status, household income, topics, placement, location area, and more. The ads show in various formats; Some are highly visual and others are plain text only.

Display ads work on a cost per click basis – although (unlike search) there is also an option to bid by CPM, which means cost per 1,000 impressions.

The two most significant advantages of advertising on the GDN are: large reach and reasonable costs.

The biggest drawback of advertising on the GDN is click fraud. Yes, activity that essentially scams money from advertisers. Here’s an explanation of why that happens: Both Google and its GDN partners make money from ad clicks. Let’s say you have a popular blog that gets traffic, and you partner with Google to show display ads. You make money when people click on ads that show on your blog, so you’d like to get as many clicks as possible. To make a long story short, corrupt practices take place that can record clicks from non-interested parties and/or robots, with the advertiser footing the bill. Google claims to take click fraud very seriously and has resources in place to detect and prevent it, but there is only so much it can do. Follow this link for more information about how Google fights click fraud:

Here are three reasons why you should consider advertising on the GDN:


  1. Branding – Get lots of low-cost impressions. You can choose to bid per click or per 1,000 impressions (CPM bidding).
  2. Managed Placements – To prevent most click fraud, you can choose the specific publisher sites, pages, and content that your ads should appear along with. You can even choose specific YouTube videos that you want your ads to appear with. (The opposite of Managed Placements is Automatic Placements, where Google decides where to place your ads based on the criteria of your targeting choices.)
  3. Remarketing – Far and away, the best use of GDN advertising is for remarketing. This is when previous visitors to your website can be targeted (with the help of browser cookies) to see your display ads. It’s a very focused and inexpensive way to stay top of mind with those who found your website. Every business that can use GDN remarketing probably should – but not all can. There are some restrictions based on privacy. For example, if your business is a cancer clinic, you won’t be able to remarket to people who visit your website because that’s tantamount to using cancer as a targeting method. Google doesn’t allow that, nor should they.

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Video ads – Are they right for you?

Video ads created through Google Ads can be seen on YouTube or other sites and platforms that partner with Google, including in the GDN.

One of the most appealing things about video ads is the low cost. It is very inexpensive to get a lot of exposure through video ads. Why? Because of the large amount of inventory available for ads: There are so many people watching so many videos online that there’s plenty of ad space (aka “inventory”) to go around. This keeps the cost low for everyone. It can get more expensive if you have a specific ad placement in mind. For example, if Taylor Swift puts a new music video on YouTube and you want your ad to show right before it, you can expect to pay more. The cost for the ad space will be related to the demand for that ad space.

Speaking of cost, Google has a CPV (cost per view) bidding system for video ads. Advertisers are charged by the view. A “view” is counted if a viewer watches more than 30 seconds of a video OR clicks the link to the advertiser’s website. If the video is less than 30 seconds, a view is counted if a viewer watches the entirety of the video. CPV applies for the skippable ad format.

For un-skippable ad formats, a Target CPM (cost per thousand impressions) bidding applies. Advertisers choose how much they are willing to pay per 1,000 views of their video ad.

Like display ads, video ads can be targeted in many ways, including location areas, demographics (age brackets, gender, parental status, and household income level); keywords or topics to instruct the system to place the ads around content that’s relevant to the certain subject matter; or specific placements, meaning precise websites, web pages, mobile apps, or specific YouTube videos.

Whether or not video ads are right for your business might depend on these questions:

  • Do you have a way to grab attention and interest through video ad content? (Ya know, like, “stand out”)
  • Could you benefit from the branding and repetitive exposure that video ads could provide for a low cost?
  • Do you have an offer that would draw leads by using the “call to action” button available for some video ad formats?

When in doubt, try it out! There is no substitute for testing.

Performance Max campaigns – Are they right for you?

Performance Max (PMAX) campaigns are a relatively new campaign type in Google Ads. Here are the essential qualities that define them:

  • They are the only campaign type that reaches all of Google’s ad platforms, networks, and channels – Search, YouTube, the GDN, Discover feeds, Google Maps, Gmail, etc.
  • They’re highly automated, so there aren’t many options or decisions to be made by the advertiser.
  • They incorporate a single targeting set, so ad groups aren’t a part of their structure (as they are in the other campaign types).
  • They’re built to accomplish conversion goals, such as sales, leads, or in-store visits.

When it comes to deciding which campaign types could be right for your business, the PMAX type has the biggest question mark next to it. It’s very automated, so you’d be trusting Google’s data and machine learning abilities to make it successful. That makes it more unpredictable – It could be fantastic or it could be horrible.

Consider using PMAX campaigns if you want to do a test that can be learned from; if you want the massive reach and exposure from all of Google’s ad channels; and/or if you have a well-defined and well-tracked conversion goal that will help the system learn and optimize.

Think bigger budget for this campaign type, and longer testing periods. You’re basically asking the system to make the right decisions for your ads, so it needs to go through a long learning process. It will test creative elements in various combinations in many different channel and placement locations.

In Summary

Google Ads offers a wide range of advertising options – probably more than you realized. To understand all the options thoroughly is no easy task. The learning curve is enormous. In fact, it’s hard not to see it as infinite – especially since Google makes thousands of changes to it every year (literally!).

To answer whether Google Ads is right for your business, the information in this article should be a big help. Understanding the purposes and opportunities of each campaign type is critical. I hope you now have a basis for how to consider those opportunities.