The Incomplete Guide to Google Ads Campaign Types

You read that correctly. This post does not cover every campaign type available in Google Ads. It’s not even a comprehensive description of each type. It’s more of a high level overview written primarily for my clients who break out into a sweat anytime they open their Google Ads account. This guide is a summary of different campaign types I’ve used, the rationale, and what I like or hate about them. So here we go….

Search Campaigns

Search Campaigns are what you usually think of when you hear “Google Ads”. These are the ads that show up in a search on They are dependent on keywords and can be ridiculously expensive if 1) you don’t know what you’re doing, or 2) you’re in a cost prohibitive industry. Even though they’re the gold standard for most advertisers, consider a different campaign type if you identify with 1) or 2) above.

Smart Campaigns

If you’re a newcomer who wants to run a Search Campaign on your own, this one is for you. It’s an easier version of Search Campaigns because it offers more automation. I run these occasionally in conjunction with Search Campaigns and have been pleasantly surprised. Instead of specific keywords, you focus on keyword themes. That’s good for simplicity, but bad for the relevant searches that can come up. Even though you’ll spend less time managing these than you do with Search, keep an eye on the words that trigger your ads. You can add irrelevant ones as “negative keyword themes.”

Display Campaigns

This is probably the second most well known campaign type and shows on most websites. Google says it this ad type can reach 90% of internet users. With Display ads, you can target keywords and specific types of audiences. These have changed quite a bit over the years, but I still have a meh/hate relationship with them. They are inexpensive for your name out there, but I don’t love them for conversions.

Like Search, or really any campaign type, these can easily be a money pit. One must-do is excluding mobile apps, or at least mobile app categories. (I suggest doing this with the Google Ads Editor). I don’t have hard data on this, but I still believe people click on ads in mobile apps by accident so I exclude them from my campaigns.

Video Campaigns

I have clients in what I would call “boring” industries, areas where I would never look for a video. But to my surprise, there seem to be people into boring stuff who are watching these clips. Great news for brands.

The targeting is similar to Display and videos are eligible for YouTube or other partner sites. If you have a short, halfway decent video, it’s worth trying a YouTube ad. By short, I mean 30 seconds and it has to get to the point quickly. Hold any sort of build-up for the season finale on a Netflix series.

If you’re creating videos, showing how your product works or what customers can expect from your service are great cases for video demonstrations. As you generate interest with YouTube users, you can build up your remarketing list for a low cost and show other ads to these same people later.

Discovery Campaigns

Discovery Campaigns show on YouTube, gmail, and the Discover feed (on tablets). These are highly automated which is good because they’re not much work to set up. They’re bad because reporting is limited. If a campaign isn’t doing well, I want to fix it, which Google doesn’t let me do with some campaign types.

The goal with Discovery Campaigns is conversions – like a form fill – so I do not recommend this campaign for branding or awareness. Include strong images – preferable with people in them – and decide the audience you want to target.

Performance Max Campaigns

A great campaign when it does well, not so great when it doesn’t for the same reason as Discovery Campaigns – limited reporting. These are highly automated and eligible to show up across networks: Search, Display, Shopping and Video. Your focus is on audiences again.

Try these, but keep a close on eye them, especially your asset performance. (An asset can be a headline, description, or image). If Google doesn’t like your assets, the campaign won’t do well. If performance declines, it may be worth trying a new PMax campaign with a different offering.


If you’re not knowledgeable in Google Ads, but want to run a campaign, start with a small Small Campaign. Even if you’re bleeding money, don’t put much into initially until you see how it performs.

If you sort of know what you’re doing and need to get your name out there, go with a Display or Video campaign.

After you’ve run the above campaigns for a while, then you can branch out to some of the others.

Although this is a whole different topic, you need some goals on your website that feed into Google Ads. That way, Google knows what a good click is from an ad. If that makes zero sense, reach out to a savvy digital marketer to help you get that set up.

And spend time learning about audiences and how to build them out. They are key to your ads success.

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