We created this guide to help you set up a Google Ads campaign that converts. Learn how to use purchase-intent keywords, accurate budgeting, precise audience segments, and expert-mode campaigns so your campaigns bring in revenue.

Here, you’ll find an in-depth guide on how to launch a Google Ads campaign, including:

  1. How to set up a Google Ads campaign in Expert Mode
  2. How to set up a Google Ads campaign in Smart Mode
  3. What is a Google Ads optimization score?
  4. How to get the most out of a Google Ads campaign

Step one to tap into a wider audience? Set up a Google Ads campaign. Seriously, the ad platform reaches 80% of online users through search and display ads and offers brands an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 spent.

But if you’re brand new to Google Ads, the structure and setup can feel a bit daunting.

So, we sought expertise from Steven Gantzer, senior SEM manager and growth marketing extraordinaire at HawkSEM. Below, he walks through Google Ads campaign structure, initial steps, and ways to optimize campaigns for even more revenue.

google ads campaign collaboration

We’re gonna be real with you: We much prefer Expert Mode over Smart Mode. (Image: Adobe Stock)

1. How to set up a Google Ads campaign in Expert Mode

You can set up a Google Ads campaign in two different modes: Expert and Smart Mode. The two differ based on the level of detail you can see and control within the account, and we’ll cover both in this guide.

Gantzer says expert mode campaigns offer ideal customization potential:

“Advertisers have full access to the full range of Google Ads features and campaign types,” says Gantzer. “If there’s something you want to see, change, or manage, you can probably do that in Expert with enough digging.”

Here are the steps to set up a campaign in Expert Mode:

  1. Add basic business information
  2. Choose your objective
  3. Choose a campaign type
  4. Pick a bidding strategy
  5. Select locations and languages
  6. Narrow down your target audiences
  7. Add keyword targets
  8. Create your ad copy
  9. Optimize your landing page
  10. Determine your budget
  11. Set up conversion tracking

1. Add basic business information

Google Ads automatically kick-starts your campaign in Smart Mode. To switch over to Expert Mode, navigate to the Google Ads sign-up page and click “Start Now.” Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Switch to Expert Mode.”

It’ll prompt you to add your business name (it’s optional) and your website URL (also optional). Then, you can click “Next.”

Now, Google may pull business details from your website and your Google Business Profile (if it’s attached to the email you used). You can edit your phone number and remove the Google Business Profile account if you prefer not to use it. You can also link mobile apps and YouTube channels during these steps.

2. Choose your objective

What do you want your Google Ads campaign to achieve? Sure, more sales is an obvious choice, but keep in mind, that’s only one of many campaign goals you can set.

You can choose from a few different campaign objectives, like:

  • Sales: Subscription, add to cart, higher order values
  • Leads: Newsletter signups, form submissions, phone calls
  • Website traffic: Clicks, page views
  • Product and brand consideration: Specific product promotion
  • Brand awareness and reach: More audiences, branded keywords
  • Local store visits and promotions: Offline (in-store) conversions and leads
  • App promotion: App installs, interactions, free trials
  • No objective: Campaigns without a specific goal

Here’s what that looks like in Google Ads:

Set up new campaign expert mode

3. Choose a campaign type

Reflect on your offerings and the most effective ways to market them. This brainstorm will help inform your campaign type. After you pick a goal, Google will also suggest the campaign type that aligns best with it.

Your campaign type options include:

  • Search: Text ads to target audiences based on keywords. They appear above the search results and at subsequent intervals throughout the search engine results page (SERP).
  • Video: Appear on YouTube and Google Partner websites and apps.
  • Performance Max: Most versatile of Google’s campaigns and YouTube, Gmail, Search, Display, and across the Google Partner sites.
  • Display: Image and video ads that appear on various website banners and sidebars as you browse the web.
  • App: App campaigns let you promote your app all across Google.
  • Discovery: Ads appear on YouTube, Gmail, Discover, and other Google properties so that users who are unfamiliar with your brand can discover you.

google ads campaign type

While search and display network campaigns suit all businesses, Gantzer says certain campaign types are better for certain businesses than others:

“For ecommerce companies, shopping campaigns and Performance Max campaigns are great ways to get individual products in front of users and drive sales, especially direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales,” says Gantzer.

“For shorter sales cycles or increased awareness, display prospecting and video ads are also great if you can create some compelling content to hook someone’s attention quickly.”

4. Pick a bidding strategy

Time for the nuts and bolts of your campaign. This is where you adjust various details and settings to best reach and convert your audience.

First on your list? Bidding. Here, you’ll decide how much you’re willing to pay for your clicks. You can pick from various automated bidding strategies or set your bids manually:

Since Google Ads is auction-based, bidding is everything. It dictates whether your ad is eligible to show or not, so it’s important to get this right if you want people to see your ads.

There are two options for bidding: automated and manual.

You’ll be asked what you want bids to focus on. The options are:

  • Conversions
  • Conversion value
  • Clicks
  • Impression share

Automated bidding (Smart Bidding)

This option allows Google to dynamically adjust bids based on signals identified by their machine learning (ML) algorithms. These adjustments happen automatically and in real-time, unlike manual bidding.

You can set a maximum cost per click (CPC) and cost per acquisition (CPA). Or, you can have Google automatically modify bids based on conversions and their value.
Want more control over bidding? No sweat.

Manual bidding

Manual bidding puts you in full command of your campaign. You set bid adjustments and choose keyword bids, among other aspects. While this option gives you more control over your ad budget, it demands a more attentive, hands-on approach.

In this mode, you can also set a target cost per action. This means your bids should reflect an average cost per customer action (usually a click, but could also be a newsletter signup or form fill-out).

5. Select locations and languages

Where is your audience located? Maybe it’s San Francisco, California? Raleigh, North Carolina? Or perhaps more specific neighborhoods in each city?

These are the locations you want to target with your ads. You can target regions, countries, states, and cities. You can also use a ZIP code or radius. But remember, the larger the area you target, the larger the budget required.

Under location options, you’ll find choices related to where people are in relation to your business: presence or search interest.

If you want people to be physically present in the area you’re targeting, choose “Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations.” This is an ideal option for businesses with physical locations that want to target local traffic. For example, someone who searches “lawyer near me” while in San Francisco.

Now, let’s say someone searches “San Francisco lawyer,” but they’re not physically in San Francisco. You can choose “Search interest: People searching for your targeted locations” to allow people outside your target area to see your ads.

Next, consider your target audience’s language. Even international audiences might search for products and services in English — despite their browser settings being in their native language.

However, there’s an argument to be made for targeting all languages to broaden your audience. Search Engine Journal dives into targeting specific language speakers in and outside their home countries with this article.

6. Narrow down your target audiences

Audience segments consist of people who are in the market for or have an affinity for certain things. Here, you can search for audiences that fit your customer persona. These segments will help you find potential customers actively seeking your product or service.

Common audience segments include:

  • Specific interests
  • Demographics
  • Audiences who have visited your website homepage
  • Existing customers

Pro tip: Keep this on “Observation,” as switching to “Targeting” restricts who you show ads to, only allowing them to appear for those who search your keywords and match your audience segments.

7. Add keyword targets

Keywords are terms or phrases that your audience types into Google’s search bar. When you bid on keywords on your Google Ads campaign, you increase your chance to appear in your audience’s search results for those specific queries.

Pro tip: Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to start with keyword research.

Your audience always has a motivation behind queries on the Google Search Network. Pay-per-click (PPC) ads leverage purchase or decision intent, which means audiences type keywords with the intent to buy. However, they might also look for keywords based on a desire to learn more about a topic (known as informational intent).

Of course, you’ll want your ads to capture your ideal customer, but Gantzer says it can sometimes be a challenge. How does he improve the odds? With high-intent keywords.
For example, keywords comprise two pieces: the root and modifier. If you were to target “digital advertising,” you’d more likely capture higher quality leads with a modifier, like adding “services” or “agency” to the keyword. Gantzer elaborates:

“Targeting just ‘digital advertising’ would point you to any number of search results from people wanting a definition, guides on how to do it themselves, and plenty more (try it yourself and Google that, you probably won’t get many great results),” says Gantzer.

“But by adding agency or services at the end, the intent becomes more clear that the searcher is looking for a professional that offers advertising services.”

Remember to add keyword match types when you add your keywords. Google uses “ “ for phrase match keywords and [ ] for exact match keywords. For more on broad match and other keyword types, check out this guide.

8. Create your ad copy

Time to get creative! Start brainstorming the copy for your ads. Your goal is to entice your audience enough to click your ad, meaning you need to communicate your product value persuasively and concisely. Remember to keep your copy tight, on-brand, and engaging, with storytelling elements and a persuasive call to action (CTA).

Incorporate at least three headlines and a minimum of two descriptions. Also, enter a final URL for the landing page where you want people to end up after they click your ad.

9. Optimize your landing page

An effective ad is just the start. Once your potential customer clicks on your ad, they expect a continuation of that stellar experience. If your ads have a good click-through rate (CTR) but suffer from a low conversion rate, it might signal a need to improve your landing page.

Your landing page should align with the content in your ad. But beyond alignment, you can up the ante with striking visuals, a relevant lead form, and persuasive CTAs. Don’t forget to create different landing pages for every single ad. The same landing page template for all campaigns will skyrocket your bounce rate, and we don’t want that.

Ad and landing page copy might not always resonate with your audience. The best way to know if your copy is effective? A/B test individual elements to see what converts more.

Pro tip: Our guide to effective landing pages has some expert ideas for inspiration.

10. Determine your budget

The last step before billing is to choose a budget. This will depend on many factors, but a budget of $25 a day is usually a good start. You can see the estimated performance for your keywords on the right and use that as a gauge. And remember, this budget isn’t set in stone — you can change it anytime. Pick a starting place now and reassess as you go.

But what if you aren’t seeing conversions? Gantzer walks through a few options:

  • Ineffective keywords: “The first thing we look for is wasted ad spend on certain keywords, and either digging into the search terms report to add negative keywords, which would ideally lead to more money spent on better queries,” says Gantzer.
  • Look at intent: “If any of the queries are not worthwhile, search engines may see the intent behind a keyword differently than you, and it’s best to pause the keyword so more of your money goes to keywords with better queries,” he adds.
  • Reduce ad schedule: “If you’re a B2B SaaS company, you probably don’t do much business on weekends, so by pausing Saturday and Sunday, you can still spend $1,000/week, but now you have $200/day ($1,000/5) to work with instead of $142.85/day ($1,000/7),” explains Gantzer.

Now, it’s time to measure your ads’ true value and effectiveness.

11. Set up conversion tracking

Conversion tracking is your tool to pinpoint exactly how many customers or leads you’ve acquired.

Ideally, you’ll have Google Analytics set up on your website to track your traffic, goals, and other metrics. You need to link your Google Analytics account with your Google Ads account to get the most comprehensive data.

Tracking, analytics, and reporting for multiple channels and new campaigns becomes much easier once you link your accounts. It centralizes all your data in one platform to help you create the best campaigns possible.

One easy way to do this? HawkSEM’s ConversionIQ platform, a proprietary tool that allows you to gather the best insights from all of your marketing channels.

Every aspect of your ads – from creative to keywords – should be tested and improved over time. A successful Google Ads campaign can always be optimized and improved as you learn more about your audiences and what performs well with them.

Monitor conversions over time and use A/B testing to discover the most successful ad strategies that work for your audience.

Prefer a simplified approach? Gantzer says Smart Mode is ideal for beginners and time-pressed marketers.

2. How to set up a Google Ads campaign in Smart Mode

Smart Mode campaigns are more automated and allow Google to do most of the heavy lifting for you.

“All campaigns in Smart Mode are set up as Smart campaigns, meaning advertisers choose business goals and where they want to advertise,” explains Gantzer. “Then, Google uses AI to deliver ads across Google’s various properties.”

Because Smart Mode is so streamlined, the steps are straightforward.

Here’s a quick rundown of Smart Mode campaign setup:

  • Set up your Google Ads account: Add business details like your website URL and name, or link your Google Business Profile.
  • Choose your advertising goal: Choose a goal to either increase calls, sales, in-store visits, or YouTube views and engagement.
  • Add keyword themes: Pick general topics, and Google will suggest keywords accordingly.
  • Create your ad: Google can suggest ad copy based on your goals and keywords.
  • Pick location targets: Use a postal code or select geographical regions.
  • Set a daily budget: Decide how much you want to spend per day, and Google will bid and target based on your budget.
  • Add your payment method: Choose your preferred types of payments and voila, you’re done!

Notice how you don’t need to select detailed or custom audience segments, bidding strategies, or campaign types. These are all items that can optimize your campaign, but Smart Mode prioritizes convenience and ease over the most optimal results.

That said, Smart Mode can be a double-edged sword.

While it’s easier to set up (especially for small businesses), it tends to fall short in terms of revenue potential. You miss out on custom targeting options and specific bidding strategies that can capture more of your audience. Because of this, our PPC experts always opt for Expert Mode.

3. What is a Google Ads optimization score?

You may have seen this term being thrown around by other marketers or PPC pros. According to the search engine itself, your Google optimization score “is an estimate of how well your Google Ads account is set to perform.” Scores range from zero to 100.

Along with your optimization score, Google’s recommendations for how to optimize your ads will also appear. Optimization scores will only be available for these active campaign types:

  • Search
  • Display
  • Video
  • Discovery
  • Shopping
  • App
  • Performance Max (PMax)

4. How to get the most out of a Google Ads campaign

Alrighty — You’ve officially set up your Google Ads campaign. Congrats! Now, how do you ensure it keeps raking in those clicks and conversions? One word: optimize.

A profitable paid search campaign is made of many moving parts. While it’s a start, merely following the steps above won’t automatically translate to an endless wave of conversions. To truly harness their full potential, you’ll need to continually monitor and manage your campaigns.

Here are a few campaign settings and elements you’ll want to focus on:

  • Quality Score
  • Negative keywords
  • Competitor research
  • Ad extensions

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Improve your Quality Score

Your Quality Score determines where your ads rank. A higher score means better ad placements on the SERP. A low score means you’ll pay a higher CPC, and your ads will appear much lower in search results. In other words, fewer people will see your ads.

To maintain a high Quality Score, you should:

  • Create high-quality content
  • A/B test campaigns
  • Update keyword research regularly

Speaking of keywords?

Use negative keywords

You know which keywords you want to rank for, but have you thought of those you wouldn’t want on your list?

Add these to your negative keyword list, which Gantzer says prevents your ads from ranking in irrelevant results. For instance, if you want to target people looking for digital advertising services, you might exclude audiences seeking employment in that space with negative keywords like:

  • Digital advertising jobs
  • Digital advertising careers
  • Hiring digital advertising

“As advertising platforms continue to expand what is considered a close match to your keywords, managing and adding to these negative keywords becomes even more important,” highlights Gantzer.

Another example? Let’s say you run a salon where you cut hair, do manicures, and thread eyebrows. However, you don’t offer microblading, makeup services, or men’s haircuts. You can add those services to your negative keyword list so web traffic only comes from relevant audiences interested in your offerings.

Conduct competitor research

Notice a high competition spec on your favorite keywords? That’s because you’re not the only brand that wants to rank. Your competitors also run Google Ads moves, too, but the competition isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually an opportunity to learn more about your audience, keywords, and strategies that you can either avoid or harness.

Kickstart a competitor analysis with these tips:

  • Scour your competitors’ social media
  • Assess competitor keyword rankings
  • Examine audience engagement and sentiment

Use Google Ads ad extensions (now called assets)

Ad extensions are pieces of copy that refer audiences to additional information about your ads. They appear as links underneath your ad copy to various supplementary web pages, including:

  • Sitelinks – link to other places on your site
  • Location extensions – map view of your location
  • Structured snippets – amenities, services, brands, etc.
  • Price extensions – prices for products or services
  • Promotion extensions – special offers and deals
  • Image extensions – images that enhance your ads
  • Call extensions – allow audiences to call on mobile devices or see a number they can dial manually
  • App extensions – app download link
  • Callouts – benefits, new features, and more information
  • Affiliate location – list third-party retailers
  • Lead form – a form where users can submit their contact information

Use these extensions to add context to your ads and make them even more compelling.

The takeaway

Sure, it’s easy to set up a Google Ads campaign once you know all the steps. But that’s only half the battle.

It takes years of experience with keyword intent, audience shifts, and industry trends to understand how Google Ads works and how to make the most possible revenue from it. Plus, the metric analysis to maintain optimal performance could eat up weeks, even months in your marketing schedule.

The bright side? You don’t have to tackle your first Google Ads campaign solo. As a top-3% digital marketing agency, HawkSEM has Google Ads dialed in. Our SEO and PPC experts boast years of experience with campaign management for a wide range of client industries.

Partner with us today and join the ranks with an average of 4.5X ROI on ad campaigns.

This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2023.

Shire Lyon

Shire Lyon

Shire is a passionate writer and marketer with over eight years of experience as a writer and digital marketer. She's well-versed in SEO, PPC, and social media, helping businesses both big and small grow and scale. On her downtime, she enjoys hiking, cooking, gardening, reading, and sailing.