There are 7 main types of Google Ads campaigns. Here’s what to know about each, how our experts use them, when to use which, and how they can drive results.

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 Google Ads campaign types (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. 

7 Google Ads campaign types

  1. Search campaigns
  2. Display campaigns
  3. Video ad campaigns
  4. Shopping campaigns
  5. App campaigns
  6. Demand gen campaigns
  7. Performance max 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. 

1. Search campaigns

Search ad campaigns use text ads to reach potential buyers. Those ads are based on keyword bidding and show up right at the moment when people are actively searching for a product or service. They appear above the organic Google 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

So, why run ads in the Search network? 

Put simply, Google 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. 

Back in the summer of 2022, Google sunset expanded text ads in favor of responsive search ads, or RSAs. 

With RSAs, you create multiple headlines and descriptions. From there, Google will test different combinations to see what resonates best to improve campaign performance.

As the search engine itself reports, “Responsive search ads let you create an ad that adapts to show more relevant messages to your customers.”

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

 2. 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. That means a proper, strategic image ad might just mean your next sale or lead. 

Google display ads entice shoppers by combining text and images to capture the attention of potential customers via the Google Display Network 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. 

 3. Video ad campaigns

Video content is a hugely powerful marketing tool.

Not only that, 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 .

So why not make your ad into a video? 

Display Ad

With video ad campaigns, your video appears on the YouTube video platform 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. 

Video ad campaigns can be in the form of:

  • Skippable in-stream ads
  • In-feed ads
  • Non-skippable in-stream ads
  • Bumper ads
  • Outstream ads

 4. Shopping campaigns

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

Google 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

To create these ads, you need to have Google Merchant Center set up so you can keep your product feed and campaigns organized and updated. After all, the last thing you want is to promote a product that’s out of stock or with an incorrect price.

 5. App campaigns

Specific though it may be, app campaigns are highly effective if you have an app. This campaign type allows you to promote an app via placements across that vast Google ecosystem we talked about, including its app store, Google Play. 

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 ads are super easy to create and manage. 

 6. Demand Gen campaigns

Discovery campaigns helped potential customers, ahem, discover your offerings through targeted, visual-centric ads. As of November 2023, Discovery ads have been “upgraded” (Google’s word) to Deman Gen ad campaigns. 

In early 2024, all Discovery campaigns will upgrade to Demand Gen campaigns if you or your Google rep hasn’t already done so. Google announced this change in late summer 2023.

Similar to Discovery campaigns, Deman Gen campaigns help marketers deliver visually appealing, personalized ad experiences.

With Deman Gen campaigns, you have access to the billions of people who view Google’s various feeds on platforms like YouTube, Gmail, and Discover (a Google Search feature that shows content relevant to a searcher’s perceived interests).

Not only are these ads customizable and personalized, but they’re especially beneficial for social media advertisers looking to leverage multiple formats for their campaigns.

Pro tip: Google suggests using as many assets as possible to maximize the reach of your Demand Gen campaign. 

 7. Performance Max campaigns

Performance Max (also called PMax) is one of the newest campaign types 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 Google Ads campaign types that target keywords or audiences, Performance Max campaigns focus on predetermined conversion goals and audience signals. Essentially, you give Google a goal and cues to which audiences it should look for, 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. Once you understand 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. 

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

Not only that, but while the search engine hasn’t officially announced a sunsetting of dynamic search ads, they do recommend upgrading these campaigns to PMax. This means that a sunset could be on the horizon.

The difference between SEO and PPC

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 relevant 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.

Why understanding Google Ads campaign types matters

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced marketer, the nuances of the different campaign types above can be a bit overwhelming. But by taking in each type one by one, you can get a full picture of what Google offers.

“It’s important to understand which campaign type can serve a specific purpose so you understand how to execute it and what the potential outcomes may be,” says Rachel Corak, associate director of search engine marketing at HawkSEM.

“Second, it’s important to understand the nuances of the different campaign types so that you can ensure you’re structuring things optimally and not missing important settings during the configuration.”

Lastly, she adds that it’s important for marketers at all stages to stay up to date on the different campaign types – as she puts it, “things tend to change frequently in the Google world.”

Building a successful PPC strategy with different Google Ads campaign types

As 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 it’s 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.

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. 

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, “most campaign types potentially have their place in a brand’s marketing mix, but choosing which ones to allocate ad spend toward ultimately comes down to factors like budget, audiences, and goals,” says Corak.

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 and campaign settings for each new campaign. 

Once your campaign 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.

This post has been updated and was originally published in October 2022.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's senior content marketing manager. Through more than a decade of professional writing and editing experience, she creates SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of reading, yoga, new vegetarian recipes, and paper planners.