Mastering Google Ads: Your Comprehensive Guide to Success

image of conceptual representation of digital ads

Starting a Google Ads campaign can feel like navigating a maze in the dark, full of twists, turns, and uncertainty. You may feel overwhelmed, wondering if you’ll ever get the hang of it, or if your hard-earned money will vanish into the abyss without generating results. We get it – the struggle is real.

But what if we told you that there’s a way to conquer the Google Ads labyrinth?

This Spark Launch Media guide offers exactly that: a clear roadmap that transforms the bewildering world of online advertising into a predictable path to growth.

Ready to dive in? Let’s unlock your business potential with Google Ads!

The Consumer Path to Purchase

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of using Google Ads, it’s crucial to understand why your Google Ads campaigns need to be structured in a certain way. This begins with “path-to-purchase models”, which is just the marketing-speak way of describing the steps that take place between the point that a consumer first becomes aware of a need, and the point that they finally fulfill that need by making a purchase.

You see, consumers rarely respond to an ad immediately. Their reactions and the time it takes them to act depend on how intensely they perceive a certain need — in other words, their position along the path-to-purchase journey. Different stages of the journey require different types of communication to resonate with the consumer effectively.

image representing Google's "messy middle" model of consumers' path to purchase
A representation of Google’s “Messy Middle” model

So, path-to-purchase models help marketers plan and execute campaigns that resonate with consumers at different stages of their buying journey. Various models exist, ranging from AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) to the “Messy Middle” model. While the Messy Middle model might be the closest to real-life consumer behavior, the AIC (Awareness, Interest, Conversion) model is a simplified version that most ad campaigns — including your Google ads campaign — are structured around.

For instance, when consumers haven’t even heard about your brand or product before, they’re unlikely to immediately make a purchase. Most people seek to gain some familiarity and trust before they’re willing to consider buying from a business. So, at this stage, your Google Ads campaign should focus on creating visibility for your brand — getting the word out, so that your audience has, at the very least, heard of your brand and know what it is that you offer.

As they move on to the interest stage, potential customers start to seek more information about your product or service. Accordingly, for consumers at this stage of the journey, your ads should provide relevant details, highlighting the benefits and features that set you apart from competitors.

image representing the AIDA funnel marketing model
Most campaigns are structured on the awareness-interest-conversion model, based on AIDA and the “marketing funnel” concept

When consumers reach the conversion stage, they are ready to make a purchase. Your ads should now emphasize incentives, such as limited-time offers, discounts, or trials, to motivate them to take action.

What this means for Google Ads campaigns is that at any given time, most businesses will have a few different sorts of ads — in terms of campaign type, location, segment, advertising message, and so on —  running concurrently, to cater to audiences at different stages of the purchase journey. By aligning your campaign with the AIC model, you greatly improve your odds of addressing consumers’ needs at each stage of their buying journey.

Setting Up Your Google Ads Campaign

Step 1. Set up Your Google Ads Account

First, visit and click “get started.” After setting up your account, Google will suggest a Smart campaign. However, customizing your campaigns will yield better results. So, ignore Google’s “Let’s get started” prompt and click the link below to switch to expert mode. Don’t worry; this guide has you covered.

image of Google Ads initial setup screen

On the next screen, you’ll be asked to choose your objective. We’ll do this later. For now, just click Create an account without a campaign.

Now you’ll be asked to confirm your business information. Make sure that the country, time zone, and currency settings are correct. You can decline the personalized campaign guidance if you wish (our experience with campaigns set up by “experts” from Google hasn’t been great — the way they set up campaigns is often very wasteful of your ad budget).

Click Continue, and then Explore to go to your Google Ads workspace’s overview screen.

Step 2. Create a New Campaign

Now, when you click New campaign, you’ll be asked to choose between seven different campaign objectives. A lot of people incorrectly believe that the objective type chosen here makes no difference to the campaign. This isn’t true. Choosing the appropriate objective will help algorithms that run your ads to optimize your campaign to your objectives.

The table below gives you a complete overview of the different objectives, the types of campaigns available with each one, and the stages of the consumer purchase journey that they’re best suited to.

ObjectiveCampaign TypeBest Suited ForPurchase Journey Phase
App promotionAppBoost app downloads and user interaction by utilizing an automated campaign that displays ads in different formats.Awareness
Brand awareness & reachDisplay
Reach a broad audience using diverse ad formats and options for targeting and frequency. Familiarize customers with your offerings when launching a new product or extending your business to a fresh location.Interest
Performance Max
Entice your target audience to show interest in your products or services by subscribing to a newsletter or sharing their contact details.Awareness
Local store visits and promotionPerformance MaxRaise awareness about your brick-and-mortar store and inspire potential customers to drop by your establishment.Awareness
Product and brand considerationVideoPersuade prospects to contemplate your brand or products while researching or shopping for similar items.Interest
Performance Max
Attract audiences who have previously reached out to you or are on the verge of making a purchase decision, and stimulate sales or conversions from prospects prepared to take action.Conversion
Website trafficDisplay
Performance Max
Propel prospective customers to explore your website.Awareness
Google Ads Campaign Types versus Objectives

The 9 Different Google Ads Campaign Types and When to Use Them

(If you’re already familiar with the different campaign types, you can jump to the next section on configuring your campaign.

Display Campaigns

With display campaigns, you can captivate a pertinent audience using visually appealing ads as they navigate numerous websites, apps, and Google-owned platforms like YouTube, meeting your marketing goals. These campaigns are perfect for extending your reach and maintaining visibility beyond Google Search.

image showing example of Google Display Ad on Google Display Network
An example of a Display Ad on Google Display Network

Search Campaigns

Search campaigns consist of text ads displayed on search results, enabling you to connect with people as they search for the products and services you provide on Google.

image with example of Google Search ad
An example of a Search Ad on Google Search

Video Campaigns

Video campaigns allow you to showcase video ads on YouTube and other Google video partner websites. Some video campaign types aim to enhance brand awareness, while others focus on driving conversions or encouraging people to shop on your site.

image of a type of Google video ad
An example of a skippable in-stream ad — one of 6 different video formats available on Google Ads

Shopping Campaigns

These campaigns feature product listings that are ideal for retailers looking to promote their merchandise. Shopping ads can be found on search results and the Google Shopping tab. Store operators can also use local inventory ads to advertise products available at their physical stores.

image with example of shopping ad on Google search
An example of shopping ads on Google Search

Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max lets you run a single campaign across all the different types available with Google. In other words, a Performance Max campaign can simultaneously run ads in Display, Search, Shopping, Video, and App formats. In addition, Performance Max is now the only campaign type that lets you run local campaigns, which help drive potential customers to visit their physical stores.

Discovery Campaigns

Discovery campaigns let you display ads in several places, such as on YouTube (in the feed), in the Gmail  promotions tab, and in the Google app feed (on smartphones). As the name suggests, it’s a campaign type that’s ideal for when you want new people to discover your business (i.e., the Awareness and Interest phases of the purchase journey).

image with example of Discovery ads in Gmail
An example of Discovery ads in Gmail

App Campaigns

App campaigns are designed to help you discover new app users and boost sales within your app. This campaign type leverages information from your app to automatically optimize ads across Search, Play, YouTube, Discover, and more than 3 million websites and apps.

image of App ads on Google search and Play store
An example of App ads in Google Search and Play store. Source.

Things To Do and Hotel Campaigns

These are two relatively new campaign types that are specific to the travel industry. Ads for hotels, tours, attractions, and other travel activities can be configured through these campaigns, and are displayed primarily on Google Search.

Step 3. Configure Your Google Ads Campaign

In this guide, we’ll focus on Search campaigns, and we’ve chosen the website traffic objective. Once you choose an objective and campaign type, you’ll want to give your campaign a meaningful name that reflects the campaign objective, type, constituent ad groups, and any other pertinent information based on how you’ve structured your campaigns.

Which brings us to…

How to Structure Your Google Ads Account

Within your Google Ads account, you can set up multiple campaigns. The hierarchy goes as follows:

  • Google Ads account
    • Campaign
      • Ad Group
        • Keywords
          • Ad 01, Ad 02, Ad 03…

Exactly how you choose to organize your ads, keywords, ad groups, and campaigns depends a great deal on the nature of your business, product, service, and marketing strategy. For instance, you could choose to organize your campaigns  based on product, store location, campaign type, and so on. Similarly, ad groups could also be structured based on product, customer segment, promotion, etc, etc.

image of account and campaign structure in Google Ads
Recommended ranges for divvying up ad groups, keywords, ads, and landing pages

Structuring your campaign isn’t just a matter of staying organized or deciding what goes where; the structure you choose has very real effects when it comes to campaign efficiency, cost, and performance.

To find the ideal structure for your business and objectives, we recommend working backwards from the product / service you’re looking to advertise, and the audience segments you’re trying to pitch it to.

As an example, if you’re advertising a backpack to different audiences, such as college students, motorcyclists, and frequent flyers, you might need different ad groups for each segment, even though the product is the same.

An important rule to keep in mind is that your landing page should be highly relevant to your ad and your audience. If the landing page’s relevance is not immediately obvious (i.e., in less than 3 seconds) to the user (“Is this what I was looking for? Is this what I need?”), they’re likely to bounce off your page. In addition to burning your campaign budget on wasted clicks and impressions, this also degrades your campaign’s Quality Score, which ends up costing you even more money.

At this point, you might be wondering:

But Why do I Need Ad Groups? What if I Need Just One Ad?

Even if you’re only advertising a single product or service to just one type of audience, remember that not all the people who see your ad will be at the same stage of the purchase journey. Therefore, it’s sound campaign design to ensure that you have, at the very least, three ad groups that map to the different stages of the journey (or funnel), with each ad group containing two to three ads.

Without experimenting with at least these many different ad variants and groups, you won’t be able to effectively optimize your ads and improve your return on advertising spend (ROAS).

The table below summarizes the most important settings to keep in mind when structuring your campaigns.

Account-level settingsAccount name
Billing info
Time zone
Accounts status
Message reporting
Call reporting
Linked accounts
Campaign-level settingsCampaign name
Campaign Type
Bidding strategy
Ad schedule
Ad rotation
Frequency capping
Ad-group-level settingsAd group name
Ad-group-level bid
Targeting method
Bid adjustments
Ad rotation
Keyword-level settingsKeyword text
Match type
Keyword-level bid
Ad-level settingsHeadlines
Display path
Final URL
Google Ads account hierarchy and settings

Set Your Network, Location, Language, and Audiences

Google likes to recommend that you include Google Display Network for your ad placements, regardless of your campaign objective. Don’t do this unless your campaign or ad group is specifically intended for building awareness and interest. Conversion campaigns, especially for search ads, don’t perform as well on the Display Network, regardless of Google’s claims.

For location, start with a very narrowly defined location, like a neighborhood or a city. Most businesses should not target a whole country (especially not if they’re just getting started with Google Ads). Even if you run an ecommerce business that ships nationwide, it’s a good idea to identify the top few cities with the biggest market or highest demand for your products, and start there.

This will lead to much better campaign performance, as it helps you:

  • avoid spreading your budget thin across the entire country
  • avoid competing with too many businesses at the same time
  • reduce the likelihood of random, unrelated search trend spikes wasting your budget (for instance, briefly trending memes or news events that get people to search for keywords related to yours, but will lead to bad conversion rates as they’re not actually looking to buy your product or service)
  • track campaign performance more accurately at a city-level, thereby improving ROAS by optimizing individual cities / campaign regions

For location targeting, ensure that you choose “Presence”, not “Presence or interest”, or “Search interest”.

And lastly, when choosing audience segments, you “Observation” rather than manual targeting. In observation mode, define the demographics as tightly as possible, but add as many relevant affinity and in-market segments as you can think of. This will help Google’s algorithm find relevant people who might be interested in your ad, who are closely related to the types of people you’ve included.

Observation mode often outperforms manual targeting, and it isn’t uncommon to discover audiences outside of your chosen segments, with a better response rate. If you have very clear reasons for not wanting your campaign displayed to certain audience types, you can always specify those as exclusions.

Determine Your Scheduling

Ad scheduling involves restricting your campaigns to run only on selected days and times. An obvious example is if you’re running a campaign to drive visits to your store, it might make sense to display your ads only when your store is open.

But even for other types of businesses, like an ecommerce or SaaS business that runs 24/7, it turns out that certain days of the week and times of day tend to perform better. If you don’t have any historical data, there’s no way of knowing when this might be (do NOT just guess; guesses on how we expect users might behave often turn out to be very different from how users actually behave).

Without data to optimize scheduling, it’s best to let your campaign run 24/7, and come back in a few days or weeks when there’s enough data to start optimizing your schedule.

Never forget to set an end date. Campaigns must always, ALWAYS have an end date. Typically, an end date 3 to 4 weeks away is a good idea when you’re just getting started — you can always extend it later, and doing so will encourage you to take a look at the performance and see how you can optimize your campaign.

Keep in mind that campaigns run based on the time zone your account is set to. If you’re running campaigns in multiple time zones, you’ll need to structure your campaigns to be specific to individual time zones, so that you can apply scheduling restrictions to each timezone.

Step 4. Choose Your Keywords

Keywords research for PPC campaigns is a very broad subject, and a comprehensive explanation of keyword selection is beyond the scope of this guide. That said, there are two critical things to understand about keywords when you’re just getting started: match type and user intent.

The table below offers an easy overview of the different match types and how they work.

Match TypeWhat It MeansExample: Your KeywordExample: Match Keywords
Exact matchSearches that match the meaning of your keyword.[pdf to ppt converter]pdf to powerpoint,
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Phrase matchSearches that contain your keyword or similar meanings. Includes exact match keywords.“pdf to ppt converter”how to turn pdf into powerpoint,
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Broad matchYour keyword and other queries that are broadly related to your keyword. Includes exact match and phrase match keywords.pdf to ppt converterppt to pdf converter,
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Keyword match types in Google Ads

On new campaigns, it’s best to start with exact match and phrase match keywords, and avoid broad matches initially. Over time, as you filter out keywords that don’t work very well and add them to your negative keywords list, you’ll get a better idea of what to avoid, at which point you can experiment with broad match to discover new keywords that might work well.

As for intent, there are four types, as explained in the table below.

Keyword IntentWhat It MeansTypically ContainsExample
NavigationalSearches to find a websitewebsite nameyourbrand official website,
yourbrand fb page
InformationalSearches to find answers to specific questionshow to, why, where, what, does, can, etccan you edit pdf in powerpoint,
how to export to ppt from adobe pdf reader,
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CommercialSearches to research a product or servicebrand name, product name, product feature, comparison, best, review, etcyourbrand pdf converter,
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TransactionalSearches looking to complete a purchase or actioncheap, discount, promo code, for under $, download, etcpdf converter free download,
yourbrand pdf converter promo code
The four different keyword intent types

Conventional wisdom holds that it’s best to target commercial and transactional intent keywords, but that depends on your campaign objectives and your product / service. For instance, many SaaS businesses choose to target informational keywords because these still make sense for their business model.

Step 5. Write Your Ads

Ad copy is one of the most important and yet most neglected aspects of campaign performance. The challenge is that while many of the other aspects of a campaign are easy to measure in objective terms, evaluating copy is not as straightforward.

Here are the most important points to make your Google Ads copy more effective:

  • Focus on the benefit of the benefit. You’ve probably heard about how it’s important to focus on the benefits of your product or service, rather than its features. For instance, instead of focusing on a  feature, like “personalized fitness programs”, a gym brand might focus on the benefit: “custom workouts=faster results”. Or they could use, “Rock that swimsuit in 8 weeks”. See? Benefit of the benefit.
  • Keep ads current. Use timely information in your ad copy, such as the number of customers you’ve serviced recently, to increase click-through and conversion rates.
  • Be specific. Incorporate precise figures in your ad copy to enhance credibility and attract more clicks. “327 styles” is more compelling than “300+ styles”.
  • Keep it personal. Use customer-centric language, such as “you,” to resonate with your audience and emphasize the benefits of your offering. Avoid focusing too much on your business or brand (“We’re award-winning”, “We care”, etc, etc) except where absolutely essential.
  • Use all the asset types possible. Sitelinks, callouts, promotions, prices, call (phone numbers), structured snippets — use as many of the relevant extensions as you can. Your ads will do a lot better when they’re not just a headline and description.

Ads for other campaign types may require additional assets such as images and videos. Follow the same principles for your messaging through those mediums as well.

Step 6. Set Your Campaign Budget

Do NOT use Google’s “recommended” automated bidding when you’re just getting started with a campaign, unless:

  • Your campaign is not constrained by budget (translated: you have plenty of money to spend on this campaign)
  • Your targeting is broad (multiple cities, states, or nation-wide), with audience segments that aren’t too restrictive
  • You have robust conversion tracking already implemented on your site / app

If all of these aren’t yet true for you, it’s much better to set your maximum bids manually, and only use automated bidding once you have enough data to know what specific ad-spend-wasting factors to insulate against in your campaign setup.

But how do you figure out the right budget for your campaign?

Well, start with your target margin on each sale. For instance, if you’re selling jackets for $200 each, you might decide that you’d like to make $40 in profit on each sale. A good rule of thumb is to allocate a conversion cost of around the same amount — in this case, about $40 per sale.

The next step is to figure out your conversion rate. If you have historical data, you’ll already have this, but if you don’t, you can either find benchmarks for your industry, or start with a target conversion rate of 1 percent.

Now, multiply your conversion cost to the conversion rate, to determine your maximum cost per click. 

cost per conversion x conversion rate = maximum cost per click

In this case:$40 per conversion x 1 percent conversion rate = $0.40 maximum cost per click.

Benchmark this figure against Google’s average keyword bid data. If you find that Google’s averages are significantly higher — say, by a factor of 1.5x or more — you might have to revisit your product pricing and marketing allocation.

To set your maximum cost per click, navigate to the Bidding tab via the side panel links.

Once it’s a fairly close match, multiply the cost per conversion to your monthly sales target for this channel, to arrive at your monthly campaign budget.

cost per conversion x target monthly conversions = monthly campaign budget

Let’s say your target is to sell 50 jackets every month through Google Ads. So:

$40 cost per conversion x 50 sales per month = $2,000 monthly budget

Divide this monthly budget by 30.4 (the average number of days in a month) to arrive at your maximum daily budget.

All of this is just a starting point. As your campaign runs and accrues data, you’re going to want to improve this so that you overperform on all of these metrics and improve your margins.

Step 7: Publish and Optimize, Optimize, Optimize

Review your settings and take your campaign live! Congratulations are in order, but your work is far from done. You still need to review and optimize your campaign on an ongoing basis. Allow a week or two for your campaign to gather enough data, and then clean up low-performing keywords, ads, and ad groups.

Need a hand with Google Ads set up or management? Let our pros at SparkLaunch help you, with PPC campaigns that deliver incredible results.