In theory Google Ads is great.
You create ads that bring you tons of wallet-out buyers to your online store.
It’s only when you actually start that you discover how hard it actually is to generate profits with Google Ads.
If you get past the rookie mistakes, there are a ton of more complex challenges waiting: high CPCs, stiff competition from giants like Amazon, mobile visitors that don’t convert, etc.
And you’ll have to come up with an approach to deal with each of them, usually a combo of different tactics.
But if that’s where you start, you’ll get stuck in the details making minor tweak after tweak.
To get good results from Google Ads you need to start with your strategy: who are your customers and how are you going to reach them.
In this article, I’ll show you how to think more strategically about Google Ads. More specifically how you can use the different types of advertising on the Google Ads platform in a killer mix.
As bonus with this article, I’ve created a worksheet to help you implement this Google Ads strategy for your own online store.
Your Playing Field
On Google Ads, knowing where to play means figuring out which campaign types you’ll be using.
There are four main campaign types: Search, Shopping, Display & Video campaigns.
Many people often have a preference for one over the other. Maybe they’ve used it before or they find that one delivers cheaper clicks.
But that’s the wrong way to go about it. Each of the campaign types can work for your business if you approach them the right way.
That’s because all these campaigns reach buyers are different stages of the funnel.
To map that funnel, I use a framework created by analytics mastermind Avinash Kaushik.
I like it because it keeps things simple while showing the various consideration stages:
- See – people are unaware of a problem & your solutions
- Think – people are aware of a problem & comparing solutions
- Do – people are actively looking to purchase
It can be used to map out all of your marketing activities, but in this article I’ll use it for Google Ads specifically.
The traffic at the Do stage is most likely to convert, so that’s where I usually start with new clients.
The Do Stage
People in this stage are closest to the money. They know they want/need something, have done their research (however brief) and are looking to purchase. They just aren’t sure who to buy form yet.
You can reach these people by looking at who shows the highest purchase intent.
That can be through the type of search queries, like specific product searches, they use or through their behaviour like browsing products on your site.
You can be pretty direct in your messaging. Because these people know what to buy, you can reinforce why they should buy from you. This means that you can send them directly to your product and category pages and generate sales.
A great analogy for this Do stage is that you’re harvesting the demand. The people you want to reach have already done their research and are ready to buy.
But that doesn’t mean that just showing up with ads is sufficient. There are plenty of factors why things might not work: price, product, trustworthiness of the site, shipping costs, delivery time and payment options, etc. All of these need to be to the customer’s liking before he or she will pull the trigger.
Types of campaigns
- Branded search campaigns: a search campaign that targets your brand name. These usually are the cheapest and most profitable campaigns.
- Competitor brand campaigns: a search campaign targeting your competitors brand. Guaranteed to annoy your competitors and doesn’t always work.
- Product brand search campaigns: if you’re selling other brands, you can borrow some of their brand power and run campaigns targeting searches for the brand/product/SKUs. These are often the most competitive keywords because you’re competing with other sites selling similar products. That’s something you will see in your conversion rate.
- Remarketing Lists for search ads or RLSA campaigns: allow you to target people that have been on your site, and are searching again in Google. You can simply use a bid adjustment for this specific audience in your regular search campaigns.
Similar to Search campaigns, you can also target brand and product brand search queries with specific Google Shopping campaigns.
- Branded shopping campaigns: these usually work if you’re a big brand. People would search for store name + product
- Product brand shopping campaigns: these are searches for products brands or actual products that you sell.
Remarketing campaigns target people that have been on the website before.
You can either show a static banner, these are the regular remarketing campaigns or the specific products a visitor was looking at, this is dynamic remarketing.
Here is a good example from Harrys:
The relevance of the latter really draws attention. These campaigns usually work well.
The Think Stage
In this stage you’re one step removed from the sale. You’ll attract people that know they have a problem or want something but they’re just not sure on the details yet.
Your goal with these campaigns is to get potential customers to engage with your brand and site. Perhaps that means singing up for your newsletter or checking out key pages on your site.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll never make sales from these campaigns, it’s just that the conversion rate will be low and the CPA high. So if you’re expecting the same results for your investment as in the Do stage, you’ll quickly get frustrated and cut these campaigns.
Your goal is to get people to your site and become part of their consideration list.
So later when they are ready to buy, your store will be a bit fresher in their mind. That can be because you’re sending them emails or because they see a remarketing banner.
The type of ads you create in this stage can vary widely.
For search, it still will be pretty straight forward because you put in your ad what people are searching for.
But it gets trickier with Display or YouTube campaigns. The people you’re reaching with those ads aren’t (at that moment) looking for your products.
So a banner or video that says: “Come check out our awesome products” won’t work.
You’ll need to interrupt what they are doing and try to grab their attention with a different offer or call to action.
And instead of sending traffic to product pages, you need alternatives that will be of interest and benefit your store and customers.
These are things like buying guides, product comparisons, newsletter signup, wish lists, etc.
Here is what that look like on a product detail page from Purple:
These red arrows point to things that are key in the Think stage.
The Reviews section can help with that.
The “Try in store” addresses the most common obstacle in people purchasing something like a mattress online: they want to try it first.
Trying to get visitors to do other things apart from buying might seem backwards.
But at this point you need to match the intent of your customer. If they want to explore all options, and you force them into 1 product, it simply is not going to work.
(This is one of the most common mistakes with Facebook ads)
Because rather than showing a very commercial message, you’re grabbing the attention of people that might be interested.
Especially if you’ve chosen your placements well, you’ll see good results.
What’s important at this stage is to try and get to the financials as quickly as you can. The amount of traffic at the Think stage is a lot higher, so the overall cost of these campaigns can also be higher but that is compensated by the cost per click, which should be lower.
If you can’t convert visitors directly, try to get an idea of what micro conversions are worth to you:
- What’s an email subscriber worth?
- Someone creating an account on your store?
- A visitor that downloads your buying guide?
Types of campaigns
Unbranded search campaigns target people that show a slight purchase intent.
These are searches for the categories, problems or solutions. But these clicks can get expensive. So you need to make sure that your bidding strategy reflects the real value of these visitors.
Examples: “anti ageing cream”, “thin hair” or “vitamins for thin hair”.
The importance here is that you can back up the claim you make in your ads.
If a visitor searches and clicks on an ad that says: “Largest Selection Of Camping Tents. Browse now!” and you only have an organic, handmade $1000, 1-person tent, that visitor isn’t going to engage with your site whatsoever.
Unbranded shopping campaigns work very similar to search. Controlling your Shopping campaigns on a keyword level will also allow you to set correct bids to capture these searches, but not overpay for them.
Unbranded shopping queries can literally go down to $0.02 – $0.05, so you can attract tons of traffic with this setup.
With campaigns on the Display Network you’ll show banners with attractive offers to people on Google’s Network of 3rd party websites.
Here is an example from Outdoor Voices:
Display campaigns have a couple of different options on how to find the perfect audience:
- Google Ads criteria: geography, topics, interests, demographics, affinity, placements, etc.
- Similar audiences: allow you to target people that have similar characteristics with Remarketing audiences that you have in your account
- Customer Match: allows you to upload email lists and target these people. Since these are people familiar with your brand or store, the response rates on these campaigns will be a lot higher.
There are a couple of different YouTube video ad formats, but the basic idea is very similar: create something that’s worth interrupting people for.
This is the biggest hurdles for business wanting to start with YouTube ads. because it requires creativity to come up with something good, you can’t phone it in.
Keep in mind that your goal at this stage is to nudge people towards your brand. So it’s not a pure branding campaign (we’ll see that in the next stage) but an ad with a clear call to action.
The See Stage
Welcome to the big leagues.
You’re a couple of steps removed from making a sale. Heck, people at this stage might not even be thinking about buying something.
Increase brand awareness amongst your target audience.
To hit that goal you need to aim wide.
Even though people might not be looking for something specific, you are building up awareness/ credit for later.
Since there is no intent you’ll mainly target on location, demographic or interest based criteria.
The goal here isn’t to sell, it’s to introduce your brand and what you stand for to your customer.
Check out this video from Salomon:
Although a lot of Salomon products are featured in the video, no one is telling you to go out and buy ski equipment.
This is what brand awareness is all about. You try to connect with your customer over a feeling or something very practical.
In this case: connecting skiing with technology, implying that because of things like this they are an innovative brand.
The goal is that by the time the customer is in the market for the products you sell, he or she will consider you or recognise you from competitors.
There are many benefits to having a strong brand. With Google Search Ads a higher brand affinity translates into higher click through rates on all your campaigns.
Research by Wordstream revealed that people that see your ad and are familiar with your brand, are 2-3 times as likely to click on your ad vs your competitors.
So the investments you make in brand awareness today might result in a much higher CTR in a couple months or years time.
Investing in brand awareness campaigns is a long term play. You should have a solid foundation and PPC program before getting to this stage.
That’s because to do display and video campaigns right, they need to look good to stand out and make a difference. And that means spending money on production.
Types of campaigns
This is the first ever online banner. It’s from 1994 and had a CTR of 78% 😵
How can you achieve these same results today?
What was super effective 24 years ago, performs sub-par today. It’s called The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs and it happens consistently with every new medium.
So if people don’t click on your banners why invest in them?
As mentioned above, your banner should make people more familiar with your brand and what you stand for.
I like the ads that Quip has been putting out:
These type of display campaigns can work, but it isn’t easy. Especially for smaller brands.
So while the relevance of display is fading fast, video is picking up slack.
The Salomon video shows what you can achieve with a big production budget.
But it also works on a smaller budgets, like this ad from Poo Pourri:
Or go very low budget:
You wouldn’t guess it from the comment section, but people use YouTube to have a good time or to learn something.
So humour is very effective in creating good videos. Go with what makes you weird and different.
You won’t know if you’re succeeding by looking at your sales.
But you are interrupting people with your ads, so one thing you can measure is how effective you are in doing that.
Think of clicks, completed views, # new visits and changes in branded search volume. Even number of social followers or hashtags uses can be valuable to some brands.
If you’ve got a campaign that spends $20k or more, you can use another one of Google Ads’ features called Brand Lift. It’s basically a survey where they test the Ad recall of your ad and brand.
Applying the See-Think-Do Framework
If you’ve followed the break down of the different stages, I hope you discovered where you have some gaps in your Google Ads strategy.
Most stores will stick to campaigns in the Do stage, and that’s ok because you’ll spend your budget as efficiently as possible.
But do consider the other types of campaign as well, they will help you think about the infrastructure (content, creative assets, website features) that will make your business stronger in the long term.