Google Campaigns Are Not Only Keywords

When prospects talk to me about doing a Google ad campaign, they generally are referring to the ads that show up when people Search specific words on But there are multiple Google ad campaign types available. Below I describe some key features of different ones.

Google Search

This is based on keywords and these ads are shown on It’s geared towards people who search for something specific, whether it’s a brand or a problem that they need to solve. Most of the time this is a good campaign for everyone to run. 

However there are a few clients where I’m not currently running this type. One case is when the key words are so expensive. Some companies have money to burn on ads; others have a  limited budget. So if we’re looking at keywords that are going to cost upwards of $30+ dollars, then a search campaign may not be the best route. 

Another case is with niche Industries with exceptionally low keyword volumes. In this case, I rely more heavily on Google’s machine learning with audience based solutions but may run those in conjunction with a keyword campaign.

One more situation is when a client has not budgeted much for management time. Some of the more automated campaigns take less time to manage, but they also result in a loss of control.


Discovery campaigns reach people when they’re in Gmail, YouTube or the Google app. Rather than keywords, you target these campaigns based on an in-market, interest or custom audience. Since these ads are in user feeds instead of, it will not reach those who are actively searching. Because of this, selecting the right audience is key. 

Since these are visually engaging, you want to have some strong images  Like other campaigns that are not keyword-based, they don’t require as much time since you’re not monitoring for money-burners, such as search queries to add to a negative keyword list. This is a slightly more effective approach for the top of the funnel than the standard display campaigns.

Smart Search

With Smart Search campaigns, you’re putting Google in charge which makes some advertisers wary. They don’t trust Google to target the right audience and it’s hard to get detailed data on performance since it has limited analytics reports. 

Instead of keywords, you use keyword themes which I find helpful for niche campaigns or when the search volume is low. You can include negative themes to rule out searches. This is a time savings from exhaustive keyword research.

When there’s enough budget, I often run these in conjunction with traditional Search campaigns to ensure I’m capturing enough traffic. If I see conversions and low costs, I will keep it running even without the granular reports. Other times, I use it as a temporary solution while my standard Search term builds momentum.

Smart Display

Many of my clients hate Display Campaigns because of the low click-through rate and conversions. But because Display campaigns are often fairly cheap, they are great for awareness.

A Smart Display campaign is slightly different so you need to understand the difference when you talk about “Display Campaigns.” With a Smart Display campaign, you provide the ad copy, images, and budget. Google does it’s magic to combine them in a way they believe will lead to conversions. This campaign type tends to convert more often than a standard display and paying for conversions instead of clicks is very cool.

What I hate is not being about to exclude mobile apps like I can with other campaign types through the Ads Editor. I am convinced the majority of clicks on mobile ads are either by 5-year olds or accidental clicks by careless thumbs.

What’s also frustrating with this one is that there’s a little too much voodoo behind it. I have a client account that meets all the criteria for a Smart DIsplay campaign where we could pay based on conversions. However, there’s no option to pay based on conversions when I go to set it up. Based on a call with Google support, the account  is eligible but that option is not available yet but will be soon. I sound like I’m making this up but this is a true story.

Standard Display

When people talk about “Display Campaigns”, they are likely speaking about standard Display campaigns. You have control with your ads, targeting and bidding with this campaign type and you can exclude those blasted mobile app placements through Ads Editor. Some people also choose Standard Display because they run it in the same campaign as Search but don’t do this. Run Search and Display ads separately.

Beyond having more control, this is a great way to target both prospects and previous site visitors at a low cost. But remember to speak to prospects and sit visitors differently with separate ad copy. For campaigns where the goal is to reach new people rather than reconnect with people who already know you, exclude your website visitor list.

Video Campaigns

I’ve encouraged more clients to run video campaigns based on the results I’ve seen and the amount of traffic. Even the most boring products are getting some good results. Videos need to be short (less than a minute); the call-to-action needs to be shown early-on in the clip in case people don’t make it to the end. 

To make it even more confusing, there are multiple audience types you can use with your campaigns. You can either target them, meaning you only want your ads to show for people who are in those audiences. Or you can add them as an observation audience, meaning you aren’t targeting just them but you want to see how a specific audience type performs so you can bid up or down. Be liberal with your observation audiences since that does not impact campaign performance. Here’s a quick overview of audience types available with Google Ads.

  • Content – based on identified topics or specific websites.
  • Affinity – behaviors as determined by browsing habits.
  • In-market – behavior that indicates someone is close to making a purchase.
  • Demographics – age, gender, parental status.
  • Life events – bought a home, getting married.
  • Customer match – based on your 1st party email list. (Note: the matching on this can be low. If you’re considering it, upload a list to see what kind of match there is before going through the work of developing a strategy and campaign for this audience.)
  • Similar – people who look like an audience you defined, good for broadening reach.
  • Custom intent – an audience you create that’s searching certain URLs or keywords.
  • Custom affinity – an audience you create based on their interests.

This should be enough to help you understand that Google Ads means more than just keyword based campaigns on Consider the other campaign types based on your campaign goals.

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