Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 14 , 2022

Whether you’re a PPC beginner or need a little help navigating the latest changes to the platform, understanding the different Google Ads campaign types (and how they work) is a great place to start.

Here you’ll find:

  • A brief introduction to digital advertising and Google Ads
  • How Google Ads uses machine learning to determine which ads to display
  • The different types of Google Ads campaigns (and when and why to use them)
  • The role of Ad Groups within your PPC campaign

Digital advertising accounts for more than 60% of total ad revenue in the United States. 

And in that arena, the almighty Google reigns supreme. 

According to survey results published in July, Google is the most widely used search engine in the world, enjoying a whopping 83% of the global search market and boasting more than 9 billion searches every day. 

With a reach that impressive, it comes as no surprise that their paid advertising platform, Google Ads, is the top choice among marketers who want to bring in high-quality leads to boost revenue and drive growth. 

But before we dive into the different types of Google Ads campaigns and when to run them, let’s back up a bit and look at how paid search fits into the big picture of digital advertising. 

What is digital advertising?

Digital advertising, as the name implies, is any advertising that relies on the internet to promote a product or service. 

Think of the video ads that pop up on YouTube before you can watch the latest movie trailer or the ads that appear as you’re scrolling through your social media feed. Even the product emails in your inbox are an example of digital advertising. 

Side note: While the two terms are often used interchangeably, digital advertising focuses primarily on sales, whereas digital marketing is a broader term that focuses more on consumer behavior and psychology. 

With people across the globe now spending more time online than ever before, savvy marketers understand the substantial power of reaching their potential audience(s) where they’re most likely to be found: staring at a screen. 

Beneath the digital advertising umbrella you will also find search engine marketing (SEM), which comprises both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising—or paid search. 

The difference between SEO and PPC

SEO Vs. PPC

PPC and SEO: What’s the difference? (Image: Pexels)

Together, SEO and PPC play an important role in increasing both reach and revenue for your business. But while the former targets unpaid traffic through key website optimization strategies, the latter targets paid traffic. 

PPC ads are based on keywords, meaning your ad will only appear if someone types in a specific keyword or key phrase that relates to your product or service. You then pay per click, which is why keyword research is so important. 

When you know which keywords will likely resonate with your potential customers and entice them to view your ads, you have a better chance of scoring more clicks, and as a result more sales. 

It may sound simple, but there is actually an enormous amount of strategy involved in creating and optimizing PPC campaigns, especially when technology is continually evolving and platforms like Google Ads continue to add new tools and capabilities.

Building a successful PPC campaign with Google Ads

As we mentioned above, Google Ads is Google’s own paid advertising platform. 

Launched in October 2000 as Google AdWords, it has since expanded in scope and capability to become a multibillion-dollar tool that allows advertisers to build, launch, and optimize online ad campaigns to grow and scale their businesses. 

Google Ads works by strategically placing your ads in front of those consumers it thinks will be most interested in buying. How does it do that? Easy. Google knows everything about you.

Okay, maybe not everything — but pretty darn close. 

Because where do you go when you have a question or need a specific product or service? 

Yep, Google. 

And guess what? The Google ecosystem is massive, encompassing everything from the Google search engine to Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Android, and countless other apps and products you may not even realize are owned by Google. 

Bottom line: Google takes all of that information from all of those sources and uses it to help businesses connect with consumers more effectively. 

Google Ads is, in a nutshell, machine learning at its finest. 

Here’s how it works (the super simple version):

  • Someone types a search term into Google.
  • Google takes that inquiry and gathers all of the available ads with keywords that match that search term, weeding out those with parameters that may not apply (such as location restrictions). 
  • Google then determines which ad takes the top spot on the search engine results page (SERP) based on Ad Rank. 

According to Google, “Ad Rank is a combination of your bid, ad quality, the Ad Rank thresholds, the context of the person’s search, and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.” You can read more about Ad Rank and the Google ad auction here

The really wild thing is that all of this happens in a split second, every single time someone types a query into the field — which makes choosing the right campaign type all the more important.

The different types of Google Ads campaigns

You will need to set up a Google Ads account if you want to run Google Ads. After that, a few things will determine the best Google Ads campaign type(s) for your advertising needs. 

These include your marketing goals (e.g., increase sales, drive website traffic and phone calls, boost brand awareness); your brand strategy (i.e., how you want to achieve those goals); your ad spend budget; and the amount of time and energy you are willing to invest in campaign management

Pro tip: Not a single campaign type is “set-it-and-forget-it” inside Google Ads. Building, managing, and optimizing a PPC campaign is a full-time job; if you don’t have the bandwidth, you may want to consider hiring an experienced PPC agency.

Once you have a pretty good idea about your goals, brand strategy, budget, and availability, you can begin to narrow down which campaign type works best for your business. 

Let’s start with Search campaigns

Search campaigns use text ads to reach potential buyers. Those ads show up right at the moment when people are actively searching for a product or service, and they appear above the organic search results on the SERP. 

You can spot them by looking for the word “Ad” in small letters to the left of the URL. Here’s an example:

Text Ad

Why run ads in the Search network? The good news is Search ads are relatively easy to set up and a great way to drive traffic to your website, which should result in more leads and increased sales. 

Looking for something a little flashier? Let’s talk Display campaigns and the display network

Entice shoppers with Display campaigns 

People like pretty pictures… and who can blame them? 

The right images have a way of grabbing (and holding) the viewer’s attention — and when those images are attached to an ad? That might just mean your next sale or lead. 

Display ads combine text and images to capture the attention of potential customers as they browse the internet. These ads typically include product and/or lifestyle images with a clear and prominent call to action (CTA), such as a “Buy now” link that leads to a product page on your website. 

Display Ad

Use display ads when you want your ad to stand out and engage with your target audience(s). This type of ad campaign can be used to increase brand awareness as well as drive leads and sales. 

It is also an excellent way to “retouch” people who have already viewed your ads and/or visited your website. This is referred to as remarketing, and it goes something like this: “Hey, we saw you looking at this lamp. Wanna come back and buy it? Click here!” (Okay, maybe not those exact words, but you get the idea.)

Fun fact: Display ads may also contain animated text as well as GIFs and videos. 

Next up: Video ad campaigns 

To put it simply, video is where it’s at. 

Not only is video a hugely powerful marketing tool, but research shows that a growing majority of internet users are more likely to watch a video than read an article, email, infographic, or any other type of content with, ya know, a lot of words

So why not make your ad into a video? 

Display Ad

With video ad campaigns, your video appears on YouTube and other Google video partner websites to encourage people to take action. Because they have the ability to reach a broader audience, video ads are especially effective at increasing brand awareness and helping businesses reach new, untapped markets. 

Cha-ching.

Which brings us to Shopping campaigns

Got a product you want to sell? Create a Shopping campaign.

Shopping ads are essentially product listing ads that combine text and images to encourage people to buy. They appear on the SERP and in the Google Shopping tab, making it easy for shoppers to quickly find your product without scrolling endlessly through page after page of search results.

Shopping Ad

Got an app? Promote it with an App campaign 

Specific though it may be, this campaign type is highly effective if you have an app and want to promote it across that vast Google ecosystem we talked about. In other words, if you want as many people as possible to learn about — and install — your mobile app, an App campaign is the way to go. 

Bonus: App campaigns are super easy to create and manage. 

The newcomer: Performance Max

Performance Max is the newest campaign type available through Google Ads, introduced in 2021 — and boy, has it been shaking things up. 

In fact, while some advertisers sing the praises of Performance Max, others complain that the campaign type is too limiting and takes away all of their control. 

But from what we’ve seen, running a successful Performance Max campaign is like managing any good relationship: The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. 

Why it’s different: 

Unlike most other campaign types that are keyword based, Performance Max campaigns focus on predetermined conversion goals. Essentially, you give Google a goal, then provide it with all  the creative assets tied to that goal (think ad copy, images, videos, etc.). 

Then — hold onto your boots — Google automatically creates your ads and displays them across all of its channels, strategically searching for audiences that match that goal to bring in more sales and boost conversions. (And, news flash, those audiences may not be who you thought they were.) 

The Performance Max campaign is essentially multiple PPC campaign types all rolled into one. And once you understand the nuances of how it works, it will likely be a game changer for your business — broadening your customer base and increasing conversions by optimizing performance in real time. 

Worth noting: Two previously offered Google Ads campaign types, Smart Shopping and Local campaigns, were automatically upgraded to Performance Max campaigns recently and are no longer available.

A quick word about Ad Groups

Every Google Ads campaign is made up of Ad Groups. An Ad Group is a cluster of ads that share a similar theme within your broader product base. 

So, for example, if you sell pet supplies, you could have one Ad Group for pet food, one for pet toys, one for pet leashes and accessories, and so on and so forth. 

Attached to each Ad Group will be a keyword list that helps Google determine when to show those ads based on what search terms (i.e. search queries) are being used.  

Pro tip: The secret to creating the most effective ad groups is knowing who you are targeting and what they’re looking for — then matching your keywords to their specific wants and needs.

The takeaway

At the end of the day, building and managing a successful Google Ads campaign is all about knowing who your audience is so you can set clear and specific conversion goals for each new campaign

Once your goals are set, you can shift your focus toward optimization. For example, using regular reporting metrics to hone in on your keyword lists (including negative keywords), create more thoughtful and compelling ad copy, as well as landing page copy.

You may also play with your budget and bidding strategies as time goes on; for example, we generally suggest starting with manual cost per click (CPC), but this can shift as you learn more about your campaigns.

The optimization opportunities to increase those conversions are endless! So, if you need a hand from the experts, give us a shout.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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