Every Google Ads campaign type explained: Tips, features & targeting

25 mins read

LAST UPDATED 12th June 2024

PUBLISHED 3rd May 2022

Google Ads Campaign Types

Originally Published: 9th November 2017
Updated: 3rd May 2022

With businesses having made a big shift to focusing on their online presence over the last decade, getting increased visibility and a steady stream of organic traffic has become more of a battle than ever before.

SEO still plays a major part in any digital marketing strategy, but it’s become a necessity to put budget behind PPC advertising to ensure quicker short-term results. Google Ads, formerly known as Google AdWords, launched back in October 2000 initially offering businesses advertising space on Google Search results pages and partner sites.

Since then, Google’s offering has rapidly expanded. Advertising on search results pages is still a primary part of the service provided, although it’s seen major developments over the years, but it’s joined by new campaign types across multiple platforms.

Today, more than 80% of the revenue generated by Google’s parent company Alphabet comes from Google Ads alone, and with at least 87% of consumers starting their product or service buying process online, it’s a better time than ever to invest in PPC advertising.

Google Ads offers highly customisable campaigns, allowing advertisers to closely monitor and adjust how much they’re spending on advertising, directly target specific demographics, and make use of a huge network of websites to get maximum visibility for their business.

Read more: 8 PPC tools to improve & optimise your Google Ads campaign

Here’s an overview of the types of advertising available through Google, and what they can do for your business.

Google Search

On average, there are more than 63,000 searches on Google every second around the world. The huge demand for services and information means businesses want to be seen by this large potential customer base, but the battle to get to the top of results pages can be monumental.

While the vast amount of results are organically ranked by factors such as content relevance and website user experience, Google Search results have space for sponsored listings. The precise targeting options for these listings means advertisers can get their website in front of the most relevant users.

Specifically, Google Search campaigns are set up with a keyword list, meaning marketers can choose the search terms they want their ads to appear for in the results. They can then create responsive text ads, where they populate the campaign with multiple headlines and descriptions, from which Google will learn and use the most optimal combinations. When setting up a responsive search ad, advertisers can create the following elements:

  • A minimum of three headlines, consisting of up to 30 characters. 15 different headlines can be added to one ad setup.
  • 2-4 descriptions, with up to 90 characters in each.
  • A final URL – this being the URL of the webpage you want to send users to.
  • A display path, allowing you to decide how the URL is displayed on the ad. You can utilise two display path fields, each up to 15 characters.

Google Search advertising

Top Google Ads Search Tips

To help you get the most out of your Google Ads search advertising, we’ve put together some top tips, highlighting some of the key features to utilise on the platform for improving and optimising your campaign performance.

Make use of search extensions

There are multiple extension formats available for search ads, and you should use as many as possible if relevant, to help your ad stand out over competitors on results pages.

Callout and structured snippet extensions are great ways of adding additional information and selling points of your business. Up to ten callouts can be displayed under the description of an advert, each featuring up to 25 characters. These should be used for highlighting key information – things such as ‘Next Day Delivery’, and ‘Open On Sundays’.

Structured snippets allow you to create a list, although the type of list must be chosen from a pre-set shortlist, featuring options such as “Service catalog”, “Brands”, and “Types”.

Example of a structured snippet extension on a Google search ad

Other kinds of search extension are less about additional advertising points and more about providing extra opportunities for users to convert. Call extensions and lead form extensions are geared towards getting users to contact the business through the ad, while location extensions link up with Google My Business listings to provide directions to physical businesses, getting potential customers through the door.

Read more: Google Ads Search Extensions Explained: Increasing your PPC performance

Use the right keyword match types

With search advertising, you’ll be bidding for your advert to be triggered when someone searches for a specific keyword. Keywords can be set up with different match types. For example, an exact match keyword means your ads will only show to users who search for your exact terms. Phrase match means ads will display when someone uses a search term that includes your keyword, while broad match has a much wider scope, allowing your ads to show for related, but not identical search terms.

These match types can mean your ad can sometimes appear on irrelevant search terms, and if users click them, you’ll be wasting your budget. Exact match can be very limiting and tricky to manage though, which means it’s sometimes best to risk the irrelevant keywords by using phrase or broad match. You can combat the issue with negative keywords, however.

Check your search terms & add negative keywords

As part of optimising a campaign, you should browse the search term report that shows how users have come across your ads. If any irrelevant terms show up, add them to your negative keyword list.

For example, if you were setting up ads for an optician, you might have added “new glasses” as a broad match keyword. Without realising, your ads could then show to people searching for “wine glasses”. You’d then need to add “wine” as a negative keyword to filter this out in future.

Google Shopping

Google Shopping is an ideal advertising tool for businesses that operate an ecommerce website. While a search campaign is still beneficial to these businesses, specifically for advertising product ranges and special offers, a shopping campaign enables you to easily advertise all of your individual products.

Google Shopping campaigns are set up using a shopping feed. The shopping feed compiles all necessary information about your products in one place, including item titles, costs, descriptions and featured images. Usually, a shopping feed will be created on your website, and will automatically update as you add new products, or make changes to existing ones. It will also keep track of stock levels, meaning you won’t lose money advertising out of stock products.

The shopping feed is submitted to the Google Merchant Center platform, which processes your data. Merchant Center will show you how many of your products have been successfully submitted, and will also flag up any errors with your data, such as missing key information, or products that go against Google’s terms.

Once your products have gone through the approval process on Merchant Center, they’ll sync up with Google Ads to be used in your Shopping campaigns. By enabling advertising for your submitted products, they’ll be eligible to appear in multiple places on Google. Quite commonly, if a user performs a search for a product, shopping ads will appear at the top of the results page, in the form of visual product listings, including an image of the product, pricing, and other key information. On desktop sessions, these results can appear on the right-hand side of results, typically when search ads take up the top space.

Example of Google Shopping listings appearing on search results

Shopping ads can also appear with more detail under the ‘Shopping’ tab of results. While the main search results pick out a few key product listings to display, the shopping tab acts more like an ecommerce site, listing all relevant advertised products, and allowing users to filter results by characteristics such as price range, category, brand and colour. If multiple advertisers are listing the exact same product, Google Shopping can list them together with a comparison of prices.

Example of advertising on the Google Shopping tab

Much like Google Search campaigns, there are additional features that can be enabled to make your products stand out amongst others. If you want to advertise a discount code or a sale, promotions can be enabled on Merchant Center – this means your products will be highlighted as being on sale on shopping listings, with information on how much potential customers can save, and details on eligibility and usage terms.

Google Display

Display advertising is one of the more visual and wide-reaching advertising mediums that Google offers, with the ability to push graphic banner ads to millions of spaces across the internet.

The Google Display Network is a vast selection of millions of opted-in websites and apps, as well as Google’s own sites including YouTube and Gmail. It’s estimated that the properties within the network have a global reach of more than 90% of total internet users, a huge potential market to put your ads in front of.

There are multiple types of ad formats available within Google Display campaigns, with the three main types being:

Responsive Display Ads: Google’s most automated ad type, perfect for those without design experience, looking to launch as quickly as possible. This type of ad allows users to upload their individual assets – this includes visual assets such as images, videos and logos, and copy in the form of headlines and descriptions, much like search ads.

Google will then combine the assets to automatically create full ads, and the way they’ve been created means they can be quickly adjusted to fit all possible ad space dimensions.

Image Ads: For those who want more control over the design of their ads, you can simply upload ads in the form of images.

For this, the advertiser would create the ads in the program of their choice (eg. Photoshop), ensuring they suit their branding requirements and marketing messaging. They can then upload these images directly into Google Ads, where they will appear on Google Display Network properties.

Google Display banner ads

There is a downside to this approach though – the ads won’t be automatically responsive, meaning you’ll need to create multiple versions of each ad to fit the large amount of different possible ad sizes. If you don’t do this, your ads will be greatly limited as to where they can appear. Read more about Google’s uploaded display ad specifications to check your ads meet the requirements.

HTML5 Ads: These ads go through a similar process as image ads – you’ll need to make them yourself ensuring they meet size requirements, and then upload them directly to Google.

However, the actual ad format is very different. Instead of uploading a JPEG or PNG format image, you’ll be uploading HTML5 files to Google Ads. The process of creating these ads is rather more complex than that of the other formats. The benefit of HTML5 ads is that you can create more eye-catching, interactive content. The format of the ads allows you to animate your design, enabling you to increase the amount of messaging in your ad, as well as make it more memorable and vivid. You can also include interactivity in the form of features such as hover effects when a user interacts with an element such as a button.

HTML5 ads can be created using various software options, but one of the most common choices is Google’s own ‘Web Designer’ app, for which Google has created several YouTube tutorials that can get you started:

Targeting Options

While Google Search is all about keywords, and serving ads to users as they’re searching for the service or product you’re promoting, Google Display is a little broader, with various options for putting your ads in front of people.

When setting up a display campaign, you are given multiple targeting options to ensure you’re reaching the right audience to get you the results you need. These options include:

Audience Segments: This is one of the best ways of utilising the information Google stores about its users. It automatically segments people based on their online activity, placing them into categories regarding their interests and purchase intentions.

Some users are placed into ‘affinity’ categories, usually made up of those who’ve recently been searching for broader, more industry/sector-specific terms.You can also find users who are in “in-market” categories. These are users who’ve been searching for more specific things such as an actual product or service.

Demographics: One of the more simple types of targeting, this allows you to include/exclude users who don’t meet your target audience with regards to segments such as gender or age.

There are four categories of demographic that you can use in your marketing. Gender, age (not specific age, but age ranges), parental status (if you want to specifically target parents or those without children), and household income (not the actual salary, but where users rank in terms of the average earner – you can choose ‘top 10%’ for example.)

Google Ads targeting options

Keywords: If you prefer the Google Search targeting methods, you can use them in a similar way on Google Display. In much the same way you’d target users on search results pages, you can do your keyword research to get a list of terms related to your advertised products and services.

Once you’ve done this, you can use your keyword list on Google Display in two different ways. You can put your ads in front of users who’ve recently searched for those terms, or who Google believes would be interested in them based on their recent activity. The second option is to only display your ads on websites and apps that are related to those keywords, therefore targeting the content rather than the audience.

Topics: Again, this type of targeting is more about the ad placement than the audience type. You can choose relevant options from a list of topics, and Google will display your ads on websites and apps that fit into those categories.

The options include categories and subcategories that enable you to be as broad or narrow as you’d like to be with your targeting. For example, if you were advertising ‘carpets’, you could select the ‘Rugs & Carpets’ subcategory, or go for something a bit wider-reaching like the ‘Home Furnishings’ parent category.

Placements: Probably the most specific option on the list, placement targeting allows you to select the exact websites you’d like your ads to appear on. You can either search for the sites you have in mind or enter the URLs as a list, with Google also the app versions of any selected sites in their targeting.

You can also use ‘Audience Manager’ to create new audience segments. This is the place to go to set up any remarketing options, with Google Ads able to link up to any Analytics accounts to create new audiences of users who have recently visited your website or carried out other relevant actions such as adding a product to a basket but not completing a purchase, if you have an ecommerce website.

Video Advertising

Google’s video campaigns are primarily made for advertising on YouTube, although can reach viewers elsewhere on the web.

The types of advertising on YouTube have evolved heavily over the past few years, with the options now being more versatile than ever before.

When creating a video campaign on Google Ads, you’re given five set-up options:

  • Non-skippable in-stream
  • Outstream
  • Drive conversions
  • Ad sequence
  • Custom video campaign

Of course, the custom option gives you the most control over your campaign, with this setup allowing you to choose your targeting, ad types, placements and more.

Google Ads YouTube Advertising

Video Targeting

The targeting options on video campaigns are very similar to those on Google Display. Audience demographics and segments allow you to target the right users, while keywords, topics and placements allow you to choose the content you want your video advertising to appear on.

Video Ad Formats

Once you’ve chosen your campaign targeting methods and uploaded your video content, you can choose the ways your advertising will appear.

The different video formats include:

  • Skippable in-stream: These are adverts that appear before, during or after YouTube videos. While users can skip past them after 5 seconds, they also have the option to continue watching, something more likely to happen if your ads are both engaging and relevant to the viewer.

Example of skippaple in-stream video advertising on YouTube

  • Non-skippable in-stream: These are very similar, once again appearing before, during or after YouTube videos. While skippable ads have longer runtimes if users don’t skip after five seconds, non-skippable ads are capped at 15 seconds in length, of which users must watch the entirety. As such, it’s key that your message is short, snappy and memorable, getting your USPs across within the short length of time available.
  • In-feed: While the first two options force users to watch your ads as part of the other content they are viewing, the point of an in-feed ad is to get users to choose to watch. Your video will appear as a sponsored listing in YouTube search results, and next to other videos in the ‘recommended’ section.
  • Bumper: Similar to the non-skippable in-stream ads, these bumper ads appear before, during or after YouTube videos, and are both non-skippable but capped at six seconds in length. It’s a very short amount of time to advertise in, so you need to ensure your content is well created and optimised for this.
  • Outstream: These ads only appear on mobile devices, and display on Google partner sites (but not YouTube), in similar positions to Google Display ads. Here, your video will automatically play on mute, with users able to tap the ad to unmute and properly watch.
  • Masthead: One of the biggest YouTube advertising options, a masthead ad is perfect for putting your product or service in front of a large-scale audience on a short-term basis. It typically displays on the YouTube homepage, with a large advertising space and an auto-playing video. It’s the only campaign type that can’t be set up yourself – in fact, you can only advertise using this method by purchasing the ad space from a Google sales representative.

App Advertising

If you’re advertising an app, rather than a product or service, this campaign type is for you.

There are three key aims for an app advertising campaign – you’d use this method of advertising to drive installs of your app, encourage in-app actions, or build up a pre-launch list of registered users.

App Installations

This type of campaign is designed to get new users to install your Android or iOS app. The bidding and targeting is fully automated by Google, although some manual optimisation can be done.

Example of app install advertising on Google Play

App Engagement

This campaign is aimed at users who have already downloaded your app and instead encourages them to open the app and perform a specific action, such as an in-app purchase. While app installation campaigns increase the total number of app users, this one specifically increases your rate of active, engaged users.

App Pre-Registration

If you’re launching a new app or game on Google Play and want to build up excitement in advance, this campaign type advertises your new release with the aim of getting users to pre-register. On your release date, these pre-registered users will either be notified with a reminder to install, or on some eligible devices, will actually have the app automatically downloaded and installed.

Example of app pre-registration advertising on Google Play

All of these ad types have wide-reaching placements, with app advertisements able to appear in similar ways to Google Search, Display, and Video campaigns. Google Play will also display your ads, with sponsored listings appearing within search results for relevant terms, in the ‘related apps’ sections of other app listings, and on the homepage within the ‘suggested for you’ section.

Local Advertising

This type of campaign is being phased out later in 2022, with elements of this being incorporated within the new ‘Performance Max’ campaign type.

Local advertising campaigns are connected to Google My Business listings, the handy tool that works almost like a directory. Google My Business listings are where you’ll find reviews and ratings for companies on Google search results pages, as well as other key information such as contact details and addresses. These listings are also integrated into Google Maps – if you click on a business’s name on a map, you’ll see their My Business listing, with an option to get directions to their location.

Read more: Optimising your Google My Business Listing: The ultimate guide

Sponsored listings on Google Maps

The Google Ads local advertising campaign type uses these features, but with the option to get more visibility than competitors by putting some budget into it. On some types of Google Search, users will be given results from Google Maps, showcasing relevant businesses within the area the user is searching from (or looking for information about). Local advertising campaigns allow you to boost your Google My Business listing to the top of these results, with the same concept applying to searches made directly on Google Maps.

You can optimise your campaign to encourage users to visit your physical business location, click the ‘get directions’ button or make a phone call from your business listing.

Discovery Campaigns

Discovery campaigns are one of the more automated methods of advertising through Google, and put your ads in front of users utilising Google’s services.

Discovery campaigns work in a similar way to Google Display ads, only with your media appearing in different ad spaces, such as on YouTube, Gmail and the Google ‘discover’ feed.

One of the key differences between Discovery and Display is the method of optimisation. When setting up a display campaign, you can choose to focus on conversions of all type, or viewable impressions. On Discovery, your campaign is automatically geared towards conversions, of which you can only focus on one type of action.

For example, if you had conversion tracking set up for online sales, contact form submissions and phone calls, you’d have to choose just one of those events as the target goal for your discovery campaign.

After selecting your conversion goal, and inputting other standard information such as language, location and budget, you’ll be taken to the targeting sections. Here, you can build an audience for your ads, using similar options to other campaign types such as Video and Display.

Again, you can use audience segments to target users based on their interests, life events and demographics, and can also utilise information about their online activity, with this including search history, visited websites and downloaded apps.

The ad creation part of the process is similar to that of a responsive display ad. You can’t upload a completed design – instead, you supply individual elements which Google will choose from using machine learning to find the optimal combination. The assets you can supply are:

  • Final URL – the page on your website you want to send users to.
  • Images – you can upload up to 20 images for use in your discovery ads. This can include photography from your business, and simple graphics you’ve created for your marketing. You can also choose from a wide selection of stock photography, which Google provides access to for free.
  • Headlines – up to five headlines with a maximum of 40 characters each.
  • Descriptions – up to five descriptions with a maximum of 90 characters each.
  • Business name – how you want your business name to be displayed, with a maximum of 25 characters available.
  • Call to action text – By default, this is automated, but you can also select from a list of options such as “Learn More”, “Download” and “Shop Now”, with this appearing on the ads main button.

Smart Campaigns

One of Google’s newer innovations, this is a simplified way of setting up advertising across Google Search, other Google sites, and partner properties.

This campaign is aimed at Google Ads beginners, typically those who want to do their marketing in-house and are taking their first steps into online advertising.

When setting up a smart campaign, you’ll be given a choice of three goals – calls to your business, visits to your storefront, and actions on your website. Once you’ve selected your goal, you’ll be able to sync your campaign up with your Google My Business profile, pulling through your key business information.

You’ll then be asked where you want users to be sent to after clicking your ads, with the choice being your Google business listing or a specific page on your website. After choosing your destination, you’ll be given the opportunity to write your ad, with Google pre-populating your headlines and descriptions with information from your website – this is editable though, and it’s recommended you write your own copy.

Finally, Google will suggest some “keyword themes” for you to select, with your ads then showing up on searches relevant to these.

If you’ve had some experience with Google Ads already, it’s recommended you manually set up a search campaign yourself. While a smart campaign goes through similar options, they’re heavily simplified and take away a lot of additional control you get from running a standard campaign.

Performance Max

Performance Max is Google’s newest campaign type and has been brought in as a new combined advertising approach, allowing users to run search, display, shopping and video advertising all from one place.

It’s set up in a similar way to smart campaigns, giving users simplified options to create their targeting and advertising, with Google automating a lot of the bidding and optimisation processes.

There are a couple of new additional features available on Performance Max campaigns.

Final URL expansion

Usually, during campaign set-up, you’ll provide a URL that you want users to be sent to when clicking your ads. Final URL expansion is a new feature that enables you to automatically widen your approach.

When this feature is switched on, Google will choose additional pages from your website to send users to, based on their search terms, with the intention of increasing your conversion rate. In combination with this, they’ll also automatically adjust your ad copy to suit the landing page selection and user search.

Audience signal

Audience signal is the main way of setting up your targeting on a Performance Max campaign.

The process involves you providing Google with some information about your target audience, in the form of segments (again looking at interests based on search activity and visited sites), demographics, life events, and your own data (comprised of users who’ve previously interacted with your business).

Once you’ve done this, Performance Max will use your provided audience signals to expand your reach to users they believe are similar, and likely to convert.

Performance Max Assets

Once you’ve selected your settings and set up your targeting, you can upload and create your advertising assets. As with other smart campaign types and responsive ads, Performance Max allows you to compile various assets which will then be automatically combined and displayed to users, with Google’s machine learning picking the best combinations based on performance over time.

The assets you can use for Performance Max campaigns are:

  • Final URL: The page you want users to be sent to when they click your ads. If you have ‘URL Expansion’ switched on, users may be sent to other pages based on their search intent.
  • Images: Up to 15
  • Logos: Up to 5
  • Videos: Up to 5; If you don’t have any videos, Google may create some automatically based on your existing assets.
  • Headlines: Up to 5, with a 30-character limit
  • Long Headlines: Up to 5, with a 90-character limit
  • Descriptions: Up to 5, with a 60-character limit
  • Call to action: The main call to action for your ads, which will be highlighted in button form for certain ad types/placements. You can select ‘automated’ to allow Google to choose the best option for you, or select from a list that includes choices such as ‘learn more’ and ‘get quote’.
  • Business name: Up to 25 characters
  • Display path: For your search ads, you can choose how you want your URL to display, with two 15-character paths available to customise.

Pixel Kicks is an official Google Partner, specialising in Search, Shopping and Display advertising, and also certified and experienced in App and Video advertising.

Unsure what campaign types are best for your business, and need a helping hand creating a bespoke advertising strategy for your business? Whether you’re looking to take your first steps into online advertising, or need someone to revitalise and overhaul your existing campaigns, our team could be what you’re looking for.

Contact us today for more information about what we do, and how we can help your business.

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