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Google Search Ads: From Basics To Best Practices

Evan Oliver
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You’re a busy marketer who needs to get more leads and conversions. Your research shows that there’s a ton of search volume for topics related to your company.

So how do you capture that search traffic and start getting results—especially if you can’t afford to wait for long-term efforts like search engine optimization (SEO)?

In this article we’ll cover the fundamentals of Google search ads, including how much they cost, why you should use them, and how to set up a campaign so you can start getting results.

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    Search ads are keyword-driven digital ads. The search term a user enters determines which ads appear on the search engine results page (SERP).

    These ads can appear across Google’s Search Network. They can display at the top, at the bottom, or next to search results on:

    • Google Search
    • Google Play
    • Google Maps
    • Shopping tab
    • Search partners across thousands of other websites
    Google search ads
    Search ads are often the first results that appear on a SERP

    As an advertiser, you can choose from several paid search options, including text ads, responsive search ads, call-only ads, and dynamic search ads. The Search Network also supports Shopping ads for e-commerce retailers, which we’ll cover separately.

    Paid search is integral to a successful online advertising strategy. Here are just a few of the ways your business can benefit:

    Search ads are powerful because they reflect the intent of the user. They attract people who are actually searching for something you might sell, allowing you to leverage that interest and capture demand.

    Depending on the user’s intent and funnel stage, these ads have the potential to be expensive. But you can keep your costs in check with a smart strategy and an understanding of the value of paid search.

    You might be thinking: website clicks sound great, but I need more than that. Why would I use search ads?

    Website visits are a common goal for paid search. But this objective is far from the only option. These ads can also generate leads, sales, phone calls, and even in-person visits.

    Traditional advertising is designed to reach as many people as possible. That can lead to a lot of wasted ad spend.

    In contrast, search ads allow for more fine-tuned targeting. In addition to using keywords, you can target potential customers based on demographics, interests, purchase intent, website signals, and remarketing data.

    With search, you don’t have to spend thousands or even hundreds of dollars per month. You can start small and scale up when you begin to see the results you want.

    You can set daily budgets to get high-level control over how much you spend. If you want to increase, decrease, or even pause your ad spend, you can do so at a moment’s notice.

    Google Ads is a pay-per-click (PPC) platform which means you pay when users interact with your ads. Here's how it works in five simple steps:

    1. You create an ad that targets a specific keyword
    2. You place a bid ($$$) telling Google how much you're willing to pay for that ad to appear when someone searches for that keyword
    3. When someone searches for that keyword, you and everyone else bidding on that keyword enter into an ad auction
    4. Depending on your quality score and Ad Rank (i.e. who has the most relevant ad, landing page, and performance), Google determines which ad to show and where (either four sponsored spots at the top of search results or four after the tenth organic result)

    Since Google uses an auction system for search ads, there’s no standard price for a campaign. To estimate costs for your search campaign and find average cost per click (CPC) for your keywords, use Google Keyword Planner.

    Factors like bid caps and your ads’ quality score affect whether you win the auction. The cost depends on factors like how competitive the keyword is and the conversion you want to achieve.

    For smaller advertisers with typical needs, the Google Ads platform is free to set up. Agencies and big businesses may need a paid enterprise-level solution like Search Ads 360, which has a customized monthly cost.

    You can set up an ad campaign in just a few minutes. Start by opening your Google Ads account and following the steps below.

    Google Ads new campaign
    You can choose from Sales, Leads, or Website Traffic campaign goals

    Click the blue plus icon to create a new Google Ads campaign. Then choose a campaign goal and select Search for the campaign type. Search ads are compatible with Sales, Leads, and Website Traffic objectives.

    Decide on a daily budget and choose a bidding strategy. Start with one of Google’s recommended smart bidding strategies, such as Conversions. Once you gather data, you can optimize your ad spend by setting a target cost per action (CPA) or switching to a manual bidding strategy.

    Google Ads new campaign budget and bidding
    You can opt-out of the Google Display Network or Google partners

    Select targeting options, including locations, audiences, and languages. To create a search-only campaign, opt out of the Display Network. Otherwise, your ads will default to appearing across Google ad networks, which isn’t always an optimal use of your ad spend.

    Google Ads new campaign keywords and ads
    You can enter your website to get keyword ideas

    At the ad group level, add the keywords you want to target. Use separate sets of keywords for each ad group to make your campaigns more efficient and your targeting more relevant.

    Google Ads new campaign search ad elements
    You can include multiple versions of most search ad elements

    Create an ad by inputting the main elements: a headline, a description, and a display URL for the landing page. Note that Google Ads may combine multiple headlines and descriptions when serving your ad—so ensure they make sense together and independently. Then configure ad extensions to improve performance.

    Finally, review and launch your campaign. Google’s ad review process can take a couple days, so schedule in advance if possible. Once your campaign starts running, you can track metrics in your Google Ads dashboard.

    Creating this type of ad may seem simple at first. But optimizing campaigns can become complicated quickly. These best practices can help make your campaign as successful as possible.

    Every keyword has what’s known as a match type, and using the wrong one can make you lose out on a lot of potential results. Google search ads allow three keyword match types: broad match, phrase match, and exact match. You may also find it helpful to add negative keywords to avoid targeting irrelevant search terms.

    These ads have strict character limits for each element. Use them wisely by including as many characters as possible—up to 30 for each headline and up to 90 for each description. Create as many versions of each element so Google Ads can test out different combinations and serve the winning options more often.

    If you want to drive sales, calls, leads, or website visits, you have to monitor what happens after a user interacts with your ad. Set up Google Ads conversion tracking before launching a campaign so you can accurately gauge and optimize results.

    Search campaigns require regular monitoring to drive the best possible results over weeks, months, or even longer. Changing ads, ad groups, or campaigns more than once a week can prevent Google Ads from delivering efficiently. Instead, review and update your campaigns every couple of weeks, especially if you notice a dramatic change in cost or conversions.

    Are you ready to create more effective ads and improve your digital marketing strategy? Learn the basics of search targeting to ensure you’re reaching the ideal audience and optimizing your ad spend.

    Google provides a host of reporting tools to measure the effectiveness of your search campaigns.

    More specifically, you can measure KPIs like:

    • Return on ad spend (ROAS): How much revenue do you earn for every dollar you spend?
    • Cost per click (CPC): how much you pay for every click on your ad
    • Cost per conversion: how much it costs to complete a conversion goal that you set inside Google Ads, like a website submission or purchase.
    • Cost per acquisition (CPA): how much it costs to acquire an actual customer through Google Ads. E.g. Say you spend $10.00 to get 10 customers, that means your CPA is $1.

    Best of all: For B2B brands, using offline conversion tracking, you can sync your Google Ads with your CRM so you can automatically track how many visitors become customers.

    This allows you to measure the impact your Google Ads have on revenue, and gives you the ability to big on keywords that you know drive sales (not just clicks).

    With offline conversion tracking set up, you can also track the following in platform:

    • Cost per MQL (marketing qualified lead)
    • Cost per opportunity
    • Cost per closed/won

    Good news: we wrote 11 chapters worth of education solely on Google search ads, complete with over 50 deep-dove articles.

    To learn how to master Google search ads, keeping reading here: The Ultimate Guide To Google Ads Mastery.

    Chapter 2:
    Google Search Ads

    What You’ll Learn: Learn about keywords, match types, search terms, and quality scores so you can dominate search in no time.

    Chapter 3:
    Google Display Ads

    What You’ll Learn: Take advantage of cheaper clicks with unknown strategies many people don’t use when it comes to the Google Ads Display Network.

    Chapter 4:
    Google Shopping Ads

    What You’ll Learn: Get more people to buy from your store, increase your average order value, all while spending less on acquiring new customers.