A Beginner’s Guide to Google Ads

A Beginner’s Guide to Google Ads

When it comes to building a solid digital marketing strategy for a client, PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns are a tactic that is always on our “considered” list. Google Ads is perhaps the best known PPC platform, so we’re taking a look at how you can take advantage of this agile tool. From choosing what kind of Google Ad campaign to run to assessing your efforts after it’s underway, we’ll give you an overview of the process from start to finish.  

Why Google Ads?

For starters, it’s helpful to outline what falls under the umbrella of “Google Ads.” The most commonly understood iteration is the Search ads feature, where brands can bid on specific keywords on Google Search to capture that traffic in real-time. Here, you’re harnessing the power of Google’s search engine—which processes nearly 40,000 searches a second—to attract targeted traffic or activity.

Google Display ads are the visual component to Search’s text-only format. With a Display campaign, your brand can share key visuals on websites across the internet, with targeting that includes both keyword-based (what users had previously searched for) or contextual (what kinds of sites they’re searching on).

There are other variations within Google Ads, but Search and Display are the best starting points for anyone looking to begin using the platform. And much like Facebook ad campaigns, Google Ads are generally very user-friendly. Setting up a campaign requires attention to detail and some patience, but it doesn’t require a ton of technical know-how to execute.

Finally, a major advantage to Google Ads is that there is no minimum required spend for any campaign. Whether you want to run a $100 campaign for a week or a $2,000 campaign for a month, you have equal access to all of Google Ad’s tools. The overall strength and spend of your campaign will depend on a few factors (to be discussed later), but there is virtually no barrier to entry—making it a great place to explore adding more digital elements to your marketing mix.

Choosing a Campaign

When you begin to create a new Google Ads campaign, you’re presented with a few different choices. Here, it’s important to make your decision based on what stage of the Buyer’s Journey you’re trying to target. Whether you’re going for Awareness-, Consideration- or Decision-level users, you’ve got a campaign type that will help you meet your goals.

Various Google Ads campaign types

Now, it might be tempting to start with enticing options like campaigns for “Sales” or “Leads.” But depending on the size or nature of your brand or the audience you’re targeting, it might be best to start at the top of the funnel and work your way down. ​“Brand Awareness and Reach” campaigns will deliver the most amount of impressions and viewers, whereas a “Website Traffic” campaign will help you generate more website visits—which you can later retarget in a Sales or Leads campaign.

So regardless of what kind of campaign you choose, just make sure it lines up with your overall goals. You can’t expect to start by generating valuable sales leads if you’re a new player in the digital space, and you might be wasting ad dollars by simply generating impressions if you’re an established presence.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

We’ve written about the importance of defining what campaign “success” looks like before you launch—Google Ads is no different. Again, your KPIs should always match up with the kind of campaign you’re running. Starting with impressions and ending with conversions, there is a wide range of data your Google Ads will generate to help you measure your KPIs. The reporting dashboard within Google Ads is easily customizable to show the key metrics that are important to you, but it may take some poking and prodding to get the configuration that’s best for you.

Building the Campaign Framework

There are a few items you’ll want to have in place before you begin building out your individual ads. Without them, you’ll likely find yourself scrambling once the campaign gets underway:

  • Research and Build Your Keyword List: Using tools like Google’s Keyword Planner (located inside Google Ads) will allow you to find out where your opportunities lie. This is where you’ll want to distinguish between your short- and long-tail keywords—e.g. bidding on “B2B marketing” versus “B2B marketing automation manufacturing.” Google Ads provides a lot of detailed information about search trends and activity, giving you some idea of how obtainable or expensive specific keywords may be.
  • Plan Out Your Budget: As previously mentioned, you can spend as little or as much as you want on Google Ads. Once you’ve got a keyword list and objective in mind, you can zero-in on a budget. You’ll also want to consider geography in your budgeting, as the broader your geographic targeting, the more expensive your campaign will be. We always recommend starting in a small, targeted location and expanding as your influence or presence grows.
  • Set Up Back-End Tracking: Though you might not yet be ready to track conversions or sales quite yet, it’s always a good idea to get your website back-end tracking in place. Using the Google Ads “pixel,” you can begin collecting audience info that will later allow you to retarget previous website visitors. This can be accomplished directly through your website or another Google tool called Tag Manager.
  • Build a Landing Page: Though not explicitly required, a landing page tailored to your Google Ads objective can make a huge difference in campaign performance. In the Awareness stage, more generic landing pages may suffice for simply generating impressions and clicks. However, once you’ve moved into the Consideration and Decision stages, you’ll need to have a best practices-informed landing page unique to that campaign in place.

Building Your Ads

For ads running on the Google Search network, you’ll need to do a little bit of copywriting. Much like you would for a Facebook ad, you’ll want a few catchy, relevant headlines and a bit of descriptive copy. Also like Facebook, you’ll want to run a few different ad variations, and Google Ads will automatically show the best performing version the most often.

Google Display ads and Search ad (middle right)

It’s important to remember that whatever copy you end up using should relate back to your landing page copy—otherwise you’ll get dinged for a bad user experience, which will affect your Google Ads performance. Here, you can also create mobile-only “call ads” designed to generate calls when seen on a mobile device, or a new tool called “Responsive Search Ads.” With these, you can enter 10 or more headlines and Google will automatically serve the most relevant headline according to each search.

For Display ads, this is where your visual branding can come into play. Google has a wide array of sizes and display types for this kind of campaign, so again you’ll want to provide a multitude of options and let Google automatically rotate through the best performing placements. Much like a billboard, Display ads will often only be seen for a brief time, so you to need to communicate your message clearly and succinctly. Make sure you’ve got a clear CTA (call to action) and don’t try to cram too much text into any ad.

Assessing Your Campaign

When it comes to any new Google Ads campaign, there is one simple mantra we love to preach: “Patience.” While, yes, Google Ads does often produce more immediate and short-term results than a long-term strategy like SEO, it’s important to give your campaign enough time to generate actionable data.

To that end, we often recommend allowing a campaign to run for two to four weeks (closer to four if you can stand it!) before you make any big changes or draw any conclusions. Google Ads often builds on itself, “learning” as the campaign progresses, so not allowing the algorithm’s black magic to do its thing can really inhibit campaign optimization.

(This is not to say don’t check the campaign in that period: simply resist the urge to tweak and adjust).

When you have hit that four-week mark, you’ll want to do a deep dive on the analytics Google Ads provides. That includes:

  • Checking your campaign KPIs and comparing to your own internal and external benchmarks
  • Analyzing the “Search Terms” that are triggering ads to show (and removing irrelevant queries as “negative keywords” or adding relevant ones as new keywords)
  • See which ads are performing the best
  • Reassess your bidding strategy: would you benefit from an automated strategy or do you have target cost-per-clicks or cost-per-acquisitions you’re looking to hit?

And with that, you’re ready to start poking around the wide world that is Google Ads. Take your time, pay close attention and don’t get frustrated too quickly. We’re just scratching the surface of this powerful tool here, but this post should give you enough to know if Google Ads is right for your digital marketing strategy.

Defining Your Campaign Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Defining Your Campaign Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

At the start of any campaign, it’s critical to outline what kinds of metrics are most important to establish your definition of “success.” That definition will vary quite a bit, depending on the size, scope and goals of your campaign. But by making a clear distinction as to what your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are, you will have a better ability to judge your campaign’s progress as it is underway and once it’s completed. KPIs tend to differ based on what phase of the “buyer’s journey” your campaign is targeting, so let’s take a look at a few key examples for each of those three phases.

Phase One: Awareness

The base unit for any campaign, Impressions measure how many times your campaign creative was seen. Whether that is a Facebook ad or a banner ad, Impressions give you a sense of the overall exposure of your campaign. Higher Impressions are particularly important in an Awareness-phase campaign, where your primary goal is generating interest and knowledge of your brand. The Cost Per 1,000 Impressions (CPM) metric gives you a sense of how expensive or inexpensive those eyeballs were. 

Related to Impressions is the measurement of Reach, which counts the unique total number of people who saw your creative. Reach will always be a lower number than Impressions, as campaigns often serve your ads to the same people between 2-4 times. An important way of looking at Reach is thinking of how many people were potentially in your audience, and what percentage of them did you actually reach?

If your campaign creative features video of any kind, total Video Views is another important metric for the Awareness phase. Much like Impressions, they are a measure of how many times your videos were seen. In addition to Video Views, statistics like Average Percentage Watched or Total 100% Completions (the names for these metrics might vary from platform-to-platform) are good ones to consider, too.

If you’re running any kind of campaign with a social media component, Engagement is a great KPI to measure. That can be broken out any number of ways, including post Likes, Shares and Comments, as well as the overall sentiment of the interactions (positive, negative, indifferent). These will give you a sense of what the overall interest-level of your campaign was, with higher engagement metrics usually indicating relevant, enticing ad content and messaging. 

Phase Two: Consideration

Here, you’re looking at how many people actually clicked your ad once it appeared in their social media timeline or wherever your ads are being served. This gives you an idea of how compelling your creative messaging and visuals are, and which versions of your creative perhaps resonated best with your audience. (Side note: It’s always a good idea to run a few variations of creative in any digital campaign to test your messaging).

The Click-Through-Rate (CTR) is a ratio of total Impressions to total Clicks. This is good to keep an eye on when comparing creatives across different campaigns, as a campaign that has lower Impressions, but a better Click-Through-Rate might actually have more valuable messaging and visuals than a campaign with more impressions and more clicks but a lower CTR. There are also often many benchmarks for various industries with which you can measure your CTR to see how you stack up against other advertisers in your space.

One step beyond Clicks is Landing Page Views, which is somewhat of a Facebook-specific metric, but it can usually be calculated from other platforms, too. This looks at people who clicked your ads and then waited until the full landing page loaded after the fact. It’s a better measure than Clicks if you can get it, because it addresses more the strength of your landing page, as well as removing those accidental clicks that may have occurred during the campaign (especially if your campaign features a lot of mobile placements).

This measures the percentage of people who visited a specific landing page and left without interacting with the page. Essentially, it means they came, they saw, they left. Much like Landing Page Views, it can indicate how well-designed your Landing Page is. Average bounce rate benchmarks are between 40%-60%, so if you’re seeing results higher than that, it may be worth evaluating your Landing Page for potential drop-off points like load-time, irrelevant content, etc.

Phase Three: Decision

This is where some of the most relevant, impactful KPIs come into play. Whether you’re looking at website purchases, webinar sign-ups, mailing list subscribers or any other “conversion” event, those should be the focus of your Decision-phase campaign. Now, many times you might track Conversions within an Awareness or Consideration campaign, but those should not necessarily be your primary focus if you are targeting an audience that is not yet in the decision-making phase of their buyer’s journey.

Download our KPIs infographic below:

Infographic: The Key Elements of a Well-Built Website

Infographic: The Key Elements of a Well-Built Website

A few months ago, we put together a comprehensive list of our well-built website must-haves. If you haven’t seen that yet, we definitely recommend you check it out when you have some time to dive in.

But for those of who prefer a show-don’t-tell method (which, really, we’re in the same boat), we have translated that blog post into a shiny infographic.

So take a look and learn what a well-built website needs to capture the attention of your customers (and future customers). And if you’d like to download it, just click the button below for a free, hi-res PDF.​

Case Study: The New Madison at Adams Farm SEO & PPC Campaign

Case Study: The New Madison at Adams Farm SEO & PPC Campaign

The New Madison at Adams Farm is an apartment community just 15 minutes from our HQ in Greensboro, North Carolina. After our major creative overhaul of their brand (learn more about that here), our next step was to begin a concerted effort at driving more targeted traffic to their website. And, ultimately, we were looking to drive more leads for their sales team. Below we’ll break down the two key components of those efforts—SEO and PPC—and what kinds of results they’ve yielded. 


Search engine optimization is a critical part of any website redesign project we tackle. Without the right infrastructure behind it, a website’s beauty only goes skin-deep. Because of the crowded market of apartment complexes in Greensboro, we knew that SEO would play a part in The New Madison at Adams Farm’s long-term game when it comes to redirecting attention away from their local competitors.

By creating a targeted list of a dozen or so mid- to long-tail keywords the complex would like to rank for, we were able to begin the work of slowly but surely increasing the amount of organic traffic to the new website over time. Using the website’s internal CMS system, we deployed the target keywords in a tactical way throughout the site. Those keywords, coupled with a few key internal SEO tweaks (site speed, security, etc.), allowed us to set the new website up with the framework that would eventually start drawing more visitors over time.

Since the SEO project was completed in mid-September 2018, we have seen a marked increase in organic search traffic to the website. In that month, the site saw 505 visitors as a result of organic search results. Contrast that with May 2019, where the site had more than 3,700 organic search visits. That’s an increase of more than 600%. During that same period, we’ve also seen organic search visits account for 51% of all completed site conversions (phone calls & contact form responses), highlighting the importance of SEO to this project’s overall goals.

Organic Search Traffic, September 2018-May 2019


On the paid side, we knew that Google Ads would be a significant driver of traffic to the site while the organic SEO efforts began to take hold. Our Google Ads campaign implemented a three-part system to guide through the natural buyer’s journey from awareness to consideration to decision:

  • Search Network campaign using keyword targeting
  • Display Network campaign retargeting using website traffic
  • Call-Only campaign driving mobile users to call the sales office

With these three elements, we were able to reach our target audience at multiple touch-points. And the use of the Display Network campaign allowed us to take advantage of all the great photography and videography assets created during our first campaign. This Display campaign would primarily be an awareness-driver, helping increase our total ad impressions, while the Search Network and Call-Only campaigns did the conversion-focused heavy lifting.

Without getting too far into the weeds (or revealing our “special sauce”), we can see that the Google Ads campaign has been a very successful traffic and conversion driver for this property. Here are some of the key metrics from the campaign thus far:


2,622,423 total ad impressions


24,677 total ad clicks


Search Network CTR: 3.58%


390 total Conversions


Search Network Conversion Rate: 6.6%


846 total phone calls

What is Native Advertising?

What is Native Advertising?

In today’s digital advertising world, there are a lot of ways to share a message or generate clicks across the web. If you’ve dabbled in any digital advertising efforts in the last few years, you may have heard the term “native advertising” thrown around. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that it’s where over 60% of US digital display ad dollars are being spent. We wanted to take a moment to look at what’s meant by native advertising, what’s involved and what our perspective is on its place in a marketing plan. 

Native ads are essentially an ad placement formatted to fit the format of a publisher in a way that doesn’t scream, “I’m an ad!” A publisher can be any website, really, whether it’s The New York Times or your favorite fashion blog.

The ad’s distinction as paid content is more or less subtle depending on the placement and publisher’s preference. Generally speaking, a small text header saying “Sponsored Content” or “Recommended Content” is how you can tell.

“Hmm,” you might be thinking, “that sounds like a lot of the clickbait ads I see.”

And you’d be right! But not all native ads are clickbait and not all clickbait ads are in “native” ad positions. Any advertisement is an opportunity to trick or scam your audience—it’s up to you to avoid chasing those empty clicks through smart, tactical messaging and creative.

Native advertising opportunities can take many forms. Some can be like advertorials, or paid placement meant to look like editorial content, where you control the message at the cost of that extra credibility you get from the media outlet.

For example, we place native ads on behalf of one client within an industry magazine that begin as a link in their monthly digest e-Newsletter to subscribers. The links look like any other link to an article they’re featuring. When they click the link, though, they land on a page with an article featuring industry expertise written by our client. On the page itself, display ads are featured with only their brand, and a CTA at the bottom directs readers to visit their website or contact them for more info.

Native ad example, courtesy of our partners at StackAdapt.

The primary example of native advertising you’re likely to see could also be referred to as “in-read” advertising. When you’re scrolling through an article, an ad may appear—static, video or somewhere in-between—that feels like part of the website you’re visiting.

Native advertising isn’t about tricking anyone—it’s about tailoring the ad experience to make it less intrusive, more appealing and more targeted.

Sometimes advertisers get a little aggressive, sidestepping that native experience with automatic ad takeover, sound or other intrusive programming features. To keep it truly “native” and get the full benefit of this type of placement, we recommend you trust your targeting and keep your creative relevant. Don’t fall into the trap of digital ads that scream, “I’m an ad, please click me!” You may not get as many clicks, but the ones you do get will be more qualified and targeted. Also, your overall brand image will remain more positive if you don’t frustrate your potential audience. That way, they’ll be more likely to look you up later or be more receptive to the next ad of yours that they see.

If you take one thing away from this post it should be this: Native advertising isn’t about tricking anyone. It’s about tailoring the ad experience to make it less intrusive, more appealing and more targeted.

If you’d like to learn more, give our native ad above a click. 

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