Google Ads is one of the most essential tools for marketers today. We’ve put together this complete guide to help you launch your own Google Ads campaigns.

Here, you’ll find:

Since its inception, Google has dominated the digital realm, handling over 70% of all online searches.

This guide dives into Google Ads, the affordable gateway to billions of potential customers, outlining the basics, campaign types, and best practices to maximize return on investment (ROI).

What is Google Ads?

Google Ads is a PPC advertising platform that allows brands to buy ads across the Google network — most notably the Google Search Network, where advertisers bid to appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) based on keywords their target audience searches for.

HawkSEM: SERP features - ads

Google Ads in search results about internet companies. (via Google)

Within your Google Ads campaign, you can create customized ads for both desktop and mobile, showing up right when your most promising potential customers are looking for you.

Google Ads also offers comprehensive reporting to help you analyze, improve, and optimize your ads for future campaigns.

How to set up Google Ads campaigns

Ready to take the leap and set up your first Google Ads campaign? We’ll help you get started with a quick step-by-step guide.

A note first, though: Here, we’re discussing the process of setting up a Search campaign. While much of the process is the same regardless of which campaign type you choose, there may be some differences if you select another campaign type.

1. First, head to ads.google.com to set up your Google ads account

After your account is up and running, you can create a new campaign and select a goal. Some options for your campaign goals include Sales, Leads, or Website Traffic.

2. Choose your campaign settings

You’ll be able to specify the audience you’re targeting, how you want your budget to be spent, and the ad assets you want to include (like the ability to call your business or find your app directly from your ad).

3. Create your ad groups

Let’s say you sell women’s apparel. You might have one ad group named “Jeans” where you target relevant keywords like “boot cut jeans,” “stretchy jeans,” “high-waisted jeans,” and the like.

Your next ad group might be called “Sweatpants” and contain ads targeting keywords like “lounge pants,” “comfy sweatpants,” and “elastic sweatpants.”

Ad groups help you separate your Google Ads campaigns based on the specific terms your audience is searching for.

Your ad groups can be Standard (when you manually enter your keywords and create ads accordingly) or Dynamic (when Google crawls your website to target searches and create ads for you).

4. Create your ads

Keep your keywords in mind and utilize them in your headline and description. It’s best to create one or two responsive search ads for every ad group.

Once your PPC ads are complete, you can select your daily budget. Google will recommend some options for you, but you can opt to set a custom budget if you prefer.

And that’s it! Your ads should get approved within one business day and be live not long after. It’s not unheard of to start seeing results on the day your campaign launches, so don’t forget to keep an eye on your metrics through Google Analytics.

Google Ads campaigns: How they work

Google Ads simplifies the path to getting your ads in front of eager eyes, but like any journey, it involves a few steps.

Here’s the gist:

  1. You craft an advertisement
  2. Decide on a budget (your bid)
  3. Wait for the magic — clicks and conversions

Google Ads runs on a pay-per-action model, predominantly through cost-per-click (CPC). This means every time someone clicks on your ad, you pay a predetermined fee.

However, this fee isn’t static; it fluctuates based on various factors, such as

  • Competitiveness of your target keyword
  • Volume of searches it receives
  • Expected reach
  • Time of day or year

To navigate this dynamic pricing, you’ll set a “maximum bid” for each action you’re aiming for, whether that’s a click, a view, or any other defined goal. This bid caps what you’re willing to pay for that action, allowing you to control costs while competing for ad placement.

Google Ads is all about balancing your investment against the potential for visibility and engagement. By understanding and strategically managing your bids, you can optimize your ad spend for the best possible returns on your marketing efforts.

Starting with a low budget? Don’t worry

Google considers more than money when deciding who wins an ad auction.

Google uses a Quality Score, along with your bid amount, to determine your Ad Rank. Your Ad Rank defines where your ads will be placed. Even if your budget is low, you can get excellent ad placements with a high Quality Score.

hawksem article: google ads updates

Advertisers bid on the word or phrase in question, and the winning bidders will find their ads at the top of the Google search results page. (Image: Rawpixel)

Your Quality Score considers how relevant and high-quality your ad and landing page are. Google looks at factors like your click-through rate (CTR), keyword relevance, and user experience on your landing page.

In short, the more relevant and useful your ad is to your audience, the higher your Quality Score will be.

Google Ads terms you need to know

Understanding these terms will not only enhance your comprehension of the strategies discussed but also empower you to navigate the platform more effectively and make informed decisions.

  • Ad Extensions: Enhancements that expand your ad with additional information, giving potential customers more reasons to choose your business.
  • Ad Group: A container for your ads and keywords that share a common theme, making it easier to manage and optimize your campaigns.
  • AdRank: Determines your ad’s placement on the search results page based on your bid amount and the quality of your ad.
  • Bidding: The process of setting the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a click on your ad. Google Ads uses this bid in the ad auction to determine your ad’s visibility.
  • Campaign Type: The choice of where your ads will appear and the format they’ll take, such as Search, Display, Video, or Shopping campaigns.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of people who click on your ad after seeing it, indicating the effectiveness of your ad in capturing interest.
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of clicks that result in a desired action, such as a purchase or sign-up, highlighting the effectiveness of your ad in achieving your business goals.
  • Display Network: A group of more than two million websites, videos, and apps where your ads can appear, reaching people beyond the Google Search results page.
  • Impression: Counts each time your ad is shown on a search result page or other site on the Google Network, giving you insight into the visibility of your ad.
  • Audience Segments: Groups of users categorized by specific interests, demographics, or behaviors, helping you target your ads more effectively.
  • Keywords: Words or phrases relevant to your business that trigger your ad to appear when people search for those terms or visit relevant websites.
  • PPC (Pay-Per-Click): An advertising model in which advertisers pay a fee each time one of their ads is clicked, directly linking cost to performance.
  • Quality Score: A metric that measures the quality and relevance of your ads and keywords, affecting your ads’ placement and cost per click.
  • Cost per Click (CPC): The actual price you pay for each click on your ads, which can vary depending on the competition and your Quality Score.

What are the different bidding options?

Each bidding strategy can be used for different goals, whether you’re focused on maximizing clicks, impressions, or specific types of engagement.

Here are the three main bidding options for Google Ads:

1. Cost-per-click (CPC)

This is the most common bidding option. You pay only when someone clicks on your ad. It’s ideal if your main goal is to drive traffic to your website. For instance, if you set a max bid of $2 for a click, but the cost for that click rises above $2.55, your ad won’t be displayed. But, if your bid were $2.56, you’d be in the running for that ad placement.

2. Cost-per-mille (CPM)

With CPM, or cost per thousand impressions, you pay based on how many times your ad is shown, not on how many times it’s clicked. This method is suitable for increasing brand awareness, as you’re paying for visibility, not direct action.

3. Cost-per-engagement (CPE)

This option lets you pay only when users take a specific action with your ad, such as signing up for a newsletter or watching a video. It’s useful for ads aiming to increase engagement or specific conversions beyond just clicks.

When setting up your ads, you can choose to let Google optimize your bids by setting a daily budget, which can be a more straightforward and often more effective strategy for beginners.

For example, with a $1,000 total budget, you could opt for a daily spend of $33 over 30 days or $66 over 14 days, depending on your campaign’s duration and goals.

This approach allows you to manage your overall advertising costs while still competing effectively for ad placements.

It’s important to understand the difference between your campaign’s overall budget and the maximum bid you set for individual actions. This distinction allows for more granular control over your spending and ad performance.

What are the different campaign types?

Google offers quite a lot of personalization when it comes to creating your campaign. There are nine campaign types to choose from:

  1. Search: Your typical Google Ad. This option lets you create text ads that are effective at driving sales and leads.
  2. Display: Display ads include both text and visual elements that stick in readers’ minds and are visually engaging. Ads appear on the Google Display Network and can reach across 35 million websites and apps!
  3. Video: Video ad campaigns are displayed on YouTube and other video-based websites, helping to boost overall brand awareness.
  4. App: Use this ad type to increase sales within your app and to drive installs from new users.
  5. Local: These ads are targeted at local customers to drive business to your brick-and-mortar business location.
  6. Smart: Smart campaigns let you enter some basic information and a few ads, while Google takes care of optimization and targeting.
  7. Shopping: Shopping ads display images and links to your product inventory with detailed and engaging listings.
  8. Performance Max: The newest type of Google Ad campaign, Performance Max, automatically optimizes your campaign based on your specific conversion goals.
  9. Discovery: This campaign type lets you create highly personalized ads that achieve a broad reach and engagement.

We asked HawkSEM’s lead strategist, Chloe Derse, how you choose which campaign type to use.

“The type of campaign you choose depends on your goal,” she says.

“For an ecommerce company, PMax and Shopping campaigns are great places to start. If you want to increase awareness, you should consider display and video ads. And if you want to meet your potential customers when they’re searching online, search ads would be a great choice.”

What ad formats should I use?

The ad formats available to you will depend on the campaign type you build.

Here are the different ad formats you can choose from:

  • Search Ads: These are text-based ads that appear on Google search results pages. Ideal for driving relevant traffic to your website, search ads are best for targeting users actively searching for specific search terms that center around products or services like yours.
  • Display Ads: Display ads can include images and text and appear across Google’s vast Display Network, including websites and apps. They’re excellent for building brand awareness and retargeting users who have previously interacted with your website.
  • Video Ads: Running on YouTube and other video platforms within Google’s network, video ads are powerful tools for engaging users with compelling visual stories. They’re particularly effective for brand awareness and engagement.
  • Shopping Ads: These ads showcase your products directly in search results and on Google Shopping. Shopping ads include a photo, title, price, and store name, making them highly effective for retailers looking to drive sales.
  • App Ads: Designed to promote app installs, app ads can appear across Google’s Search Network, Display Network, Google Play, and YouTube. They’re automatically optimized to help you find the app users most likely to complete your desired action, like making a purchase or achieving a level in a game.
  • Local Ads: Local ads help drive foot traffic to physical store locations by showing ads to users who are nearby and searching for relevant products or services.
  • Smart Ads: Smart ads simplify the ad creation process by using machine learning to optimize your ads across Google’s platforms, making them a good choice for businesses with limited marketing resources.

How to choose the right type of Google Ads campaign

Over time, your business might dabble in all nine types of Google Ads campaigns. But how can you choose the one you should start with?

Start by considering how much time you want to spend creating your ads and managing your campaigns.

Search campaigns are quick and easy to set up, and these text-only ads don’t take as long to create as an ad with more visual elements.

Smart campaigns are great time-savers, too, since Google handles most of the hard work for you. Keep in mind, though, that the trade-off with spending less time managing a Smart Campaign is the lack of control over performance.

HawkSEM display ad on ESPN website

Display Ad on ESPN website

If it’s important for your searcher to see images of your products in response to their search queries, then a Display campaign may be a good option.

Display ads are visually engaging and memorable, encouraging viewers to take action now and into the future. On top of that, remarketing to past leads with Display ads is easy (and important), so you might find yourself using this campaign down the road if you’re not using it now.

Video campaigns are great for expanding your reach, as they can appear on YouTube and other popular websites. The visual nature of video sticks in the minds of viewers and can help drive conversions more quickly than other campaign types.

The caveat, though, is that you have to spend time making your videos.

If you have an app, an App campaign is an obvious choice. Your ad will be optimized across three million websites and apps, helping to spread the word about your company and drive installs and engagement.

But Google Ads don’t have to just drive online traffic.

If you want to bring more customers into your brick-and-mortar location, run a Local campaign. You can advertise your online store and your in-store selections, promote events and sales, and provide key information like your business location and hours. Google Shopping campaigns can go hand in hand with Local campaigns if your business sells both online and in-store.

If you’ve already toyed with Google Ads in the past and want to take the experience to the next level, consider Performance Max.

A Performance Max (PMax) campaign lets you access the entire Google Ads inventory in one campaign and use Google’s automation technologies to handle bidding, budgeting, creatives, and more. Due to the automated nature of Performance Max, it might seem like the ideal choice to stay more or less hands-off.

Here’s the thing: You will need to invest more time into the creation of assets and campaign optimization than you might with other campaign types. Performance Max campaigns use Audience Signals to group audiences together and deliver the most relevant ads. Each time a new group is created, it will require new assets from you. Though it may be a bit time-consuming, it’s also wildly effective.

How much do Google Ads cost?

The cost of Google Ads can vary widely based on several factors, with industry being one of the most significant influencers. Competitive industries, such as legal, accounting, and real estate, often see higher CPC and cost per lead (CPL) due to the high value of acquiring a new client.

For instance, in professional services, a new client could represent anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 in revenue, making even a $10 CPC a worthwhile investment.

Here’s a quick overview of average CPC by industry, highlighting how costs can differ:

  • Animals & Pets: $3.13
  • Apparel / Fashion & Jewelry: $2.72
  • Arts & Entertainment: $1.55
  • Attorneys & Legal Services: $9.21
  • Automotive — For Sale: $2.08
  • Automotive — Repair, Service & Parts: $3.06
  • Beauty & Personal Care: $2.89
  • Business Services: $5.47
  • Career & Employment: $3.78
  • Dentists & Dental Services: $6.69
  • Education & Instruction: $4.10
  • Finance & Insurance: $4.01
  • Furniture: $2.77
  • Health & Fitness: $4.18
  • Home & Home Improvement: $6.55
  • Industrial & Commercial: $4.35
  • Personal Services: $3.90
  • Physicians & Surgeons: $3.97
  • Real Estate: $1.55
  • Restaurants & Food: $1.95
  • Shopping, Collectibles & Gifts: $2.44
  • Sports & Recreation: $1.77
  • Travel: $1.63

What are the key elements that make for a successful Google Ads Campaign?

Running your first campaign in Google Ads might seem intimidating, but here are the key elements to consider to set you up for success.

1. Keywords

When you’re performing keyword research, be specific. Head to the Google Ads Keyword Planner and start looking for keywords. Remember that

keywords that are too broad will bring plenty of competition, which makes it harder for you to reach your target audience.

Long-tail keywords (specific search phrases instead of simple one-word terms) often have less competition and bring better results.

“Once you have a list, you can decide which keywords are most important to include,” Derse says. “You’ll have to take into consideration the average cost per click, the competition, and the monthly average search volume to decide if it is a keyword that you’d like to include.”

She adds that high volume, low competition keywords are ideal because this means there are a lot of searches for this keyword, but it’s not overly competitive (and therefore not expensive).

You may also want to bid on branded keywords like your business name or product name. Using branded campaigns can be useful in fighting the competition, getting low-cost conversions, and improving your impression share.

Match Types

Not all keywords are created equal. In addition to long- and short-tail keywords, you’ll also need to consider the match type of your keyword. Your main options are:

  • Broad match: Ads can appear on searches related to your keyword, even if the exact keyword does not appear in the search. This option gives you the widest range of matches.
  • Phrase match: Ads can appear on searches that are related to the meaning of your keyword, even if the phrase itself is different.
  • Exact match: Ads will only appear on searches containing your exact keyword, offering the narrowest matches.

When you’re deciding on your keywords, don’t forget about negative keywords. Negative keywords are words or phrases that, when entered by a user, will not trigger your ad.

For instance, let’s say you sell designer shoes. You might opt for negative keywords like “sneakers,” “work boots,” or “tennis shoes” since you don’t sell those items.

2. Ad copy

You’re sure to create plenty of Search ads, so you’ll want to make them as effective as possible. Your copy should be focused on the benefits you can provide to your customers and not on how wonderful your business is.

“It’s helpful to put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer,” says Derse. “Even if you’re creating a B2B ad, it’s still a person you’re trying to connect with.”

You can acknowledge their pain points, highlight benefits of your product, use visually striking imagery and interesting language in the ad to stand out.

3. Call to action (CTAs)

When people see your ads, they want to see the value you can provide them, so make it clear right away.

Use specific CTAs, keep an eye on your Ad Strength, and make any necessary changes to improve this metric.

4. Asset types

Google Ads offers several asset types (sometimes called ad extensions) that you can include in your ads, so be sure to take advantage of them. You can use multiple asset types at once, which offers more value to your audience and improves your overall ad quality.

Consider adding images, site links, callouts, lead forms, and any other assets that make sense for your business.

5. Landing pages

When someone clicks on your ad, they’ll head to your landing page. Don’t focus so much on your ads that you neglect the user experience on the next page! Work on boosting on-page SEO to maximize organic traffic at the same time.

Your landing page should provide ample information for your target audience to see how you can help them. The page should be quick to load on both desktop and mobile, optimized for conversions, and simple to navigate.

6. Tracking

Beyond creating your ads, don’t forget to keep an eye on your metrics. You can ultimately choose your own metrics, but it’s helpful to track things like your conversion rate and cost-per-click (CPC).

Track how your ads perform and run A/B tests to find the content that converts best. Combine the reporting software within Google Ads with another resource, like our proprietary ConversionIQ technology, for an even deeper understanding of your results.

“Each type of campaign has corresponding metrics that you should focus on, so for example, a display campaign won’t have the same key metrics as a search campaign. It also depends on whether you are tracking revenue, “ explains Derse.

“Overall, the most important metrics to track are conversion value (revenue), conversion volume, return on ad spend (ROAS), and cost per conversion.”

Finally, here are some rapid-fire Google Ads best practices:

  • Create a negative keyword list to minimize irrelevant searches and wasted ad spend.
  • Experiment with several campaign types to extend your reach and compare results.
  • Ensure your ad copy is easy to read, compelling, and relatable to your audience.
  • Learn more about all of Google’s tools and services through Skillshop.
  • Once you’re more comfortable with the platform, stick with Google Ads Expert Mode.

5 tactics for Google Ads success

To truly make the most out of your Google Ads spend, consider these five strategic approaches:

1. Targeting refinement

Precisely define your audience by using Google Ads’ targeting capabilities. This includes demographic targeting, location targeting, and even targeting based on user behavior and interests. By narrowing down your audience, you can ensure that your ads are being seen by the individuals most likely to convert.

2. Optimize for Quality Score

Google’s Quality Score is a critical factor in determining the cost and effectiveness of your paid search campaigns. Focus on improving your Quality Score by enhancing the relevance of your keywords, ad copy, and landing pages. A higher Quality Score means lower costs and better ad positioning.

3. Implement smart bidding strategies

Embrace Google’s smart bidding options, such as Target CPA (Cost Per Acquisition), Target ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), and Maximize Conversions.

These automated strategies use machine learning to optimize your bids in real time, aiming to get the most value out of your budget. While setting them up, closely monitor their performance and make adjustments as needed to align with your campaign goals.

4. Use of ad extensions

Ad extensions enrich your ads with additional information, making them more useful to potential customers. This can include your business phone number, additional webpage links, product information, and more.

By using ad extensions, you can improve your ad’s visibility, click-through rate, and overall campaign performance.

5. Bid Strategy Adjustment

Keep an eye on your bidding strategies and adjust them based on the performance analytics. Whether you’re manually bidding or using automated options, tweaking your bids can help you find the sweet spot between budget and performance, ensuring that your ad spend is being used efficiently.

The takeaway

Running a successful Google Ads campaign isn’t rocket science. But it takes a hefty load of time and effort.

And while it’s entirely possible for a beginner to set up and run an effective Google Ads campaign, many opt for Google Ads campaign management from professionals. If you’d like some guidance or aren’t sure where to begin, consider working with an agency like HawkSEM.

Our team is here to help – whether you need to create a marketing campaign from scratch, get ideas for future strategies, or spend less time on marketing and invest more time back into the heart of your business.

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Alexandra Thompson

Alexandra Thompson

Alexandra Thompson has been in the content marketing world since 2017 and is a proud member of the Hawk writing team. When she's not writing, she's probably got her nose in a book or a Disney movie on TV.