4.5 How campaigns work

What is a Google Ads search campaign – fundamentally?

A search campaign is a set of instructions you are giving to Google that determine who should see your ads, which ads to show, and how much you pay. That is all any search campaign does; no matter how complex a set of features are being used.

Campaign features can get so complex that this clarity often gets lost. But even relatively new users can understand any campaign IF they remember that campaigns only determine those three things.

Campaigns have four parts that work together

Campaigns have essentially four sets of information at work that determine what is going to happen when you run that campaign. Getting all four to work together is the goal.

  • Settings: determine what time your ad runs and on what devices.
  • Locations: decide what city or zip code will see your ads.
  • Keywords: decide what search terms you will match up on.
  • Ads/Extensions: determine what ads the customer will actually see.

How these four parts work together – or don’t

We could show you lots of examples of how well these elements can work together. But that wouldn’t really tell you how important it is that they do. Instead, let’s imagine what happens when you DON’T have these four elements working in harmony.

  • If you’re showing an ad that doesn’t match with the keywords then nobody will click on it and you’re wasting impressions. This leads to lower click through rate (CTR) and that results in much higher cost per click (CPC)
  • If you’re showing an ad that was designed to work on a desktop to a user on a mobile phone (where it will wrap and lose a lot of it’s messaging) you’re either wasting the impression or wasting the click.
  • If your call-only campaign is running on sunday when there’s nobody to take the customer call, you’re wasting a customer. And a click.

Small input changes can yield large changes in the results

Any golfer who’s suddenly decided to change some “small” part of their swing (usually mid-backswing) can attest to the shockingly large effect that can have on the results of their swing. (Always carry a few extra golf balls).

Golf jokes aside, that’s a lot like changing things in search marketing campaigns. Seemingly small changes can yield LARGE differences in your results. So putting Ads to work becomes a challenge to try combinations and learn what works.

  • An ad that doesn’t work at 9am might work perfectly at 9pm.
  • An ad that never gets clicked on a desktop might yield a large number of phone calls on mobile
  • An ad that works well in Nashville might not work at all in Memphis.

Try lots of combinations

Please do not think that the people looking for your business at 9am behave the same as the ones who look at 9pm. Please don’t think that the word “value” means the same thing to your customer as the word “cheap” (even though Google might treat them as equivalent).

There are a lot of potential combinations of elements you can put in a Google Ads search campaign and you really have to try them out to see what will work.

Maybe your customers want you to show the price. Maybe they don’t. Maybe your customers like to do mobile searches at 3am? On the weekend? Maybe they type in their zip code with their search. Maybe your website is too slow on the phone. Maybe your people don’t answer the calls from mobile visitors fast enough.

“Settings” are a critical element

There is a tendency to run all devices or all hours together. You need to resist that. Try very specific combinations. We recommend never mixing mobile and desktop. Mobile searches are different from desktop searches. Some things are bought on mobile devices. Some aren’t. Some businesses want phone calls. Some do not benefit from phone calls. Don’t assume that mobile and desktop searches behave the same.

The point is, you are much better off starting with specific devices, hours, and bids and seeing how well they work. If you want to run both mobile and desktop, create separate campaigns (something the QS makes very easy).

Advanced features don’t help – in the beginning

Google Ads has dozens of advanced features like: sitelinks, automated bidding, audiences, and remarketing lists can improve performance. These features can enhance performance for campaigns that are already performing well.

However, using advanced features – before you understand which combinations of keywords, ads, locations and settings work well – will make it impossible to zero in on that base of success you need to establish.

The trick is to keep it simple and not to start using more complex features until you get the fundamentals right.

Here are some examples of where you would be better off NOT using advanced features until you have established which keywords, ads, and settings are really working for your particular business.

  • If you create four different ads and want to understand which one really works well, it isn’t going to help to have Google “automatically” turn off the ads that get fewer clicks before you can see which ones will actually get more customers (conversions).
  • If you have ten keywords in your campaign and you want to understand which ones really work, it isn’t going to help If you are using “automated bidding” to dynamically change the bidding before you can see which ones will actually get more customers (conversions).
  • If you are trying to understand which keyword/ad combinations work well, it isn’t going to help if you use sitelinks to take your visitors to one of 4 different landing pages.


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