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Types of Google Ads: Ad Formats, Campaign Types & Best Practices for 2022

Table of Contents

Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) is one of the two largest ad channels (along with Facebook + Instagram). 

It’s also one of the most consistently profitable channels for businesses.

  • Google ads generate an 8:1 ROI: Every $1 spent on Google ads generates $8 in profits. And according to Google, that's being conservative.
  • Ads drive results quickly: Pay per click (PPC) ads generate 2x more visitors than SEO, which means you can grow your business faster.

There are many different goals, campaign types, and ad formats within the Google ads platform. If you're new to the ecosystem and trying to figure out the best ad strategy for your business, it might not be so obvious how all these pieces fit together. 

In this post, we'll help you figure out exactly what type of Google ads are right for your business. 

At Demand Curve, we've helped countless businesses run profitable Google ads campaigns across multiple verticals. We've learned the intricacies of each ad type, and throughout this article, we'll provide context around what works and what doesn't.

But first, let's clarify a few key terms:

  • Campaign goal: The high-level business objective you're trying to achieve via Google advertising. Campaign goals include sales, leads, web traffic, brand awareness, product/brand consideration, and app promotion.
  • Campaign type: The particular strategy you'll use to execute on your campaign goal. For example, you might run a Shopping campaign to generate sales for your ecommerce company. Or if your goal is B2B lead generation, you might run a Search campaign targeting profitable industry keywords (e.g., SEO agency Austin Texas).
  • Ad type: A specific ad format that's available based on your chosen campaign type and goal. In a Shopping campaign, you might test different ad types (e.g., text ads, responsive display ads, or product ads) to determine which format generates the most profitable ROI.

Putting it all together, the campaign goal is your business objective. Campaign type is the strategy. And ad formats are the individual tactics (ad units) you'll use to execute that strategy.

This article will walk you through each campaign type and ad format.

By the end, you'll know which types of Google ad campaigns align with your marketing goals. That way, when you're ready to build your first campaign, you'll know exactly how to get started.

An overview of all 9 types of Google ads campaigns

Google ads typically show up in two places:

  • Google Search Network (GSN): The primary ad network. Advertisers bid on search terms and pay for ad placements in Google's search engine results pages (SERP). If you've ever seen a sponsored ad at the top of Google, that's a Search ad. We'll cover the different formats in the next section.
  • Google Display Network (GDN): Display ads are separate from Google search. They're visual, not text-based, and serve on other Google properties like YouTube and Gmail, as well as non-Google websites all over the internet. You know those distracting banner ads atop most websites? Those are Google Display ads. There are several types, which we'll cover shortly.

Here are all nine campaign types and where they appear:

  1. Search: Text ads on the SERP
  2. Display: Media-rich ads on websites
  3. Video: Video ads on YouTube
  4. Shopping: Product ads on Google
  5. App: Mobile app-specific ads on many channels
  6. Local: Search ads that drive traffic to a physical location
  7. Smart: Automated and simplified campaign builder
  8. Performance Max: An AI-driven, all-in-one campaign builder.
  9. Discovery: Native-looking image ads across Google's feed placements

Quick heads up: Performance Max is the newest campaign type in the Google ads lineup. As of July 2022, Performance Max will entirely replace Local and Smart campaigns. We'll talk about this more in the Performance Max section.

As we explained in the intro, the campaign type you choose depends on your marketing goal. Here are some common ones:

  • Lead generation
  • Sales
  • Website traffic
  • Awareness
  • App promotion

Once you have a goal and campaign type in mind, you can then narrow in on the specific types of Google ads to reach your objective.

Let’s dive into each.

1. Search campaigns: target people searching for your products

There are 3.5 billion searches on Google every day.

Search ads let companies and products buy the top slot on Google.

search ad examples

For the most part, organic search results still get the majority of clicks. But for high-commercial intent searches, such as searches including the word “buy,” paid ads actually get twice as many clicks (65%) as organic results do.

Search ads are an absolute “must-test” for almost any business. You're more likely to use a Search campaign than any other campaign in this list.

What are Search ads best for?

Search ads are meant to target terms and phrases people type into Google search. This is called intent-based targeting. You’re marketing to people who show intent and interest in your product (by searching for something related to it).

With this in mind, Search ads work best for:

  • Brands, products, and categories that people already know and understand: To benefit from Search ads, people must be performing searches related to your product or service. If you're creating a new category or sell a unique product that most people haven't heard of before, your ads probably won't perform well. Search ads work because they enable businesses to capitalize on active searches for familiar goods and services.
  • People with high purchasing intent: If people are looking to make a purchase and are just looking for the best option, they're the ideal person to hit with a Search ad because they are searching for the solution your product provides.‌ You can target people looking for terms like “best X” or “buy X,” or even your competitors’ names, to intercept people with high intent.
  • Capturing people from other ad channels: When someone clicks or sees an ad on Facebook, they often end up googling (either immediately or a few hours or days later) the name of your brand/product or your product category to find similar products or reviews.

Having paid Search ads increases your presence as they do these searches, increasing the likelihood of getting their sale instead of your competitors. Display and YouTube ads mostly lead to conversions from people seeing the ad and later googling the product — and not direct clicks on the ad.

Anatomy of a Search ad

All Search ads are text-based. Here's an example of a Search ad targeting the keywords "growth marketing course":

bell curve search ad

As you can see, the ad is all text. The ad:

  • Includes the brand/product name for brand recognition: Bell Curve
  • Repeats the keyword ("growth marketing course") in the text
  • Explains exactly what the product is—an online growth marketing course
  • Entices users to click using social proof ("YC-trusted growth experts"), and the opportunity to grow their business or get a better paying job
  • Qualifies traffic. On Google, you pay per ad click. So your ad must discourage people from clicking if your product is not relevant to them. People who want an in-person experience are discouraged from clicking because the course is "online"

For a Search ad, you can configure the following variables:

anatomy of a search ad
  1. Final URL: The landing page you want the person to go to when they click your ad.
  2. Headline 1 (max 30 characters): You will want one variation that displays your company name. We recommend doing: “{{Business/Product Name}} – {{Keywords}}” You want to tell people immediately who you are and what you’re offering them. 
  3. Headline 2 and beyond (max 30 characters): Displays directly after Headline 1 with a | separating them. This should be a major value prop or social proof. 
  4. Descriptions (max 90 characters): Longer form description of the product adjusted for ad group keywords. Can often be a variation of the main headline. For example, "A CRM that works in Gmail. Simple yet powerful. Try for free today." or "Powerful yet easy to use. Try for free and get up and running within minutes." Google will often show 2 descriptions simultaneously, so you'll want each option to be different as much as possible (e.g. pitching different value props).
  5. Path (max 15 characters): Add a lowercase re-use of the ad group or campaign name if it's reasonable to do so (don’t put “competitors,” for example). Example: demandcurve.com/course

That's the basic anatomy of a text ad—the bread and butter of every Search campaign you'll run. Here are a few variations:

Types of Search ads

Need help running your Google Ads? We've run Google Ads for 100+ startups. Check out Ad Labs.

Responsive Search ads

With Responsive Search Ads, you'll insert multiple copy variations of all the variables we listed above (e.g., different headlines, descriptions, etc.). Google will dynamically test different combinations of those assets to find out which one performs best. 

Tip: If you're going to use Responsive Search ads, make sure your assets are complementary and can be shown in any order.

Branded Search ads

Bidding on branded terms is valuable to increase brand recognition and exposure, especially for new businesses that haven't yet established an organic presence online. 

And even if you do rank organically for branded searches, branded Search ads are ideal, because they give the searcher twice as many opportunities to go to your site.

For example, mParticle is a leading customer data platform (CDP), yet they still bid on branded keywords. 

As you can see, mParticle takes up the top two positions in the SERP.

search ad versus organic listing

Running a branded Search campaign can also give you valuable insights into how your audience searches for your brand. For example, the search term "mParticle vs. segment" is a potential marketing opportunity mParticle can run as a piece of content explaining how they're different from their competitors.

Call-Only ads

This ad type makes sense if you generate leads or sales for your business over phone calls. Brick and mortar stores and professional service businesses commonly use call-only ads to get a quote, schedule appointments, consultations, or job requests.

Call-only ads typically work best for older demographics. If a company's audience is older, there's a good chance they'll prefer calling to get a quote versus having to figure out filling out a form on their phone.

When a user clicks a call ad on mobile, the ad places a call directly to you from the SERP. From there, it's up to you to convert those calls. 

Insight: Set your keywords for call-only ads to target high-intent searchers who are looking for quick answers and have no time to research. 

If you include your searchers' location in the copy, conversion rates go up. For example, if you're a San Francisco-based towing company, include that in your copy. Searchers are more likely to click your ad if their car breaks down in San Francisco.

call-only search ad example

Text ads with extensions

Ad extensions are optional add-ons that Google can display along with your Search ads. Almost always use them. How and when Google chooses to show them, however, is a complete mystery 🤔

text ad with extensions

Ad extensions are helpful for a few reasons:

  • More information: They add more information to your ad, allowing you to pitch the product multiple ways and qualify (screen out) people better before they click.
  • Greater surface area: They make your ad larger, dominating more of the search results area above the fold.

Add as many ad extensions to your ads as possible. They’ve almost always improved the performance of Search campaigns for our clients.

You can choose from the following ad extensions:

  • Sitelink: Sitelink extensions add links to different pages on your site. They’re accompanied by titles and descriptions of 30 characters each.
  • Callout: These are a few 25-character-max pieces of text that describe the product, its value props, and any additional information.
  • Structured snippet: Structured snippets are lists of up to 10 items featuring the products/services/styles/brands you offer.
  • Price: Price extensions let you highlight the specific products and pricing tiers that your business offers. They appear as up to 8 “cards” directly below your text ads and include a heading, a short description, and the price. Clicking one of these cards links directly to the page of your choice. This can be the product page, the pricing page, or the same or different landing page.
  • Promotion: These extensions let you highlight promotions (either temporary or permanent) directly in your Search ad.
  • Call: The call extension, not to be confused with callout extensions, add your company’s phone numbers directly to the ad, allowing people to call you directly. You can even track call conversions and force call extensions to only show up on mobile devices (where people can call immediately).
  • Message: Message extensions are similar to call extensions. They allow users to send a text message by clicking the ad extension. You can set both the “CTA” text and the default message of the SMS.
  • Location: Location extensions are for businesses with physical locations who want their Google Maps information to be added to their Search ads. To add a location extension, you have to have a Google My Business account with all the information filled out. Then you select the exact location in Google Ads to add it.
  • Affiliate location: If your product is available in major affiliate retailers, such as 7-Eleven, the Apple Store, Pottery Barn, or Whole Foods (and hundreds of others), you can add that info right in the ad. This lets people know they can buy it in a store near them.
  • App extensions: These extensions allow people to see and be linked to your mobile app in the App Store or Google Play Stores directly.

Note: Search ad extensions aren't always guaranteed to show, so if you want searchers to take a specific action, you might consider a dedicated campaign to drive that desired action (e.g., a Call-Only ad campaign, Local campaign, or a Shopping campaign).

Dynamic Search ads

Dynamic Search ads are similar to Responsive Search ads, only instead of using assets you provide (e.g., headlines, copy, etc.) Google pulls content directly from your website. 

When someone performs a search that's relevant to your product or service, Google Ads will dynamically generate an ad with a clear headline for the most relevant page on your site.

The downside:

  • They don’t handle change very well: Dynamic Search ads aren't worth it if your website frequently changes (e.g., products go in and out of stock regularly, or you change your prices often).
  • They work best for simple websites: They also don't work well if you have a confusing or poorly-structured/written website. Remember, Google pulls content from your site to produce headlines for your creatives, and decides which searches are good matches for the page. To make these work, your site should be logical, with copy and design you're happy with.

Search ads limit how creative you can be and force you to be very succinct with your copy. Layer in the fact that you need to tailor your ad copy to the relevant keyword and include your business name, and you’re left with stating what the product is, and maybe one or two of its benefits. That’s about it.

With this in mind, the goal of your ad is to entice searchers enough to click by ensuring them that your product will solve their problem. Your landing page is in charge of selling it to them.

2. Display campaigns: drive brand awareness

Display ads are banners, images, and video ads that appear across websites, videos, and apps in the Google Display Network (GDN).

display ad example

As you can see, Display ads are much more visual than Search ads. They also appear more widely across different types of content.

Display ads Search ads
Format Static images, animations, interactive content Text
Appear on Websites, videos, and apps in the Google Display Network Search engine results

The truth is, most people tend to ignore Display ads or view them as annoying clickbait. Display ads are intrusive by design. So it's no surprise that the click-through rate across all industries is abysmal—less than 1%. 

However, CTR doesn’t fully represent the impact of display ads. While most people don’t click on them, some who see your ad will Google your product and visit your site later. They might even purchase without ever clicking your ad, known as a view-through conversion.

What are they best for?

Display ads generally work best for:

  • Brand awareness: They’re very cheap compared to search ads, making it easy to get your ads in front of more people.
  • Remarketing: Because of their appearance, display ads visually remind people about your product and encourage them to convert.
  • Companies with design resources: You’ll have an advantage in creating and experimenting with your ads. 

Unlike Search ads, which appear when someone is searching for something specific, Display ads appear while someone is browsing content online or in an app. For this reason, Display ad audiences have lower intent—they don't necessarily want to buy something right away. But done well, display ads can leave a lasting impression on users, planting the seed for action later on.

Should my company use Google Display ads?

Display ads aren't a significant driver of growth for most companies. If you're wondering how they might fit into your ads mix, think of them instead as a growth accelerant that can complement other channels, especially Search ads.

Exception: Google Display ads make a lot of sense for highly competitive industries with an expensive cost per click (CPC), like insurance and online education. For businesses in these niches, Display ads can significantly lower cost per lead (CPL) and cost per acquisition (CPA). 

To decide whether Display ads make sense for your business, consider:

  1. What are your goals? Display ads work best for companies that want to increase brand awareness or remarket to familiar users. Quickly converting new users into paying customers isn’t their biggest priority. 
  2. Is your product visually appealing? Considering how visual Display ads are, it’s usually easier to create quality ads for products that are interesting to look at.
  3. What design resources do you have? Display ads perform best when they look sharp. So quality design resources, like an in-house design team or the budget to outsource, can give you an advantage in creating attractive ads.
  4. Are you in a highly competitive niche? Companies in competitive industries with an expensive average CPC usually benefit more from Display ads. The revenue made from pricier products and services significantly outweighs the CAC and advertising cost.

As we’ve mentioned, Display ads can be cost-effective at improving other channels’ performance, like Search ads. For starters, we recommend pairing them with search ads in an 80/20 or 90/10 split and tweaking this over time to lower CPA.

Want to launch display ads but not sure of the best approach for your startup? Our agency can help. Our experts have grown 1000s of startups with paid ads, we'll test and optimize your ads for you to ensure they're profitable.

Types of Display ads

Display ads come in a variety of sizes.

You can find more details from Google here, but the most common dimensions are:

  • 1200 x 1200 (square)
  • 1200 x 628 (landscape)
  • 300 x 250 (medium rectangle)
  • 336 x 280 (large rectangle)
  • 728 x 90 (leaderboard banner)
  • 160 x 600 (wide skyscraper)
  • 320 x 50 (mobile leaderboard)

Beyond sizing, there are also a few different types of Display ads: Responsive, Static, and Dynamic.

Responsive ads Static ads Dynamic ads
Format Google mixes copy and images for optimal performance No accompanying ad text, but you can use HTML Mix of Responsive and Static ads
Best for Companies without design resources Companies with design resources that want more control Companies selling a wide range of products

We'll dive into each of the ad types below. In most cases, however, we (and Google) recommend responsive ads, but if you have the resources to create static ads, they’re worth testing—especially if you want more control over your display ads.

Responsive Display ads

With Responsive ads, you set multiple images, videos, headlines, and descriptions. Then Google mixes and matches them to find the best performing combinations (just like Responsive Search ads).

Here's an example:

responsive display ad examples

Because of their flexibility, we advise creating at least one Responsive Display ad for each of your ad groups. Take advantage of Google’s optimization by inputting the maximum number of headlines and descriptions to see what combinations are most effective. 

The downside is that Responsive ads will appear in formats that don't look good. See the extremely narrow but tall ad with the tiny image above. If your brand cares a lot about design, it might be best to use Static ads instead.

Static Display ads

Static ads are fixed images that you upload to Google. They’re not accompanied by any ad text and they don’t change sizes, shapes, or content—so these ads are only shown in placements that are their exact size. But they can use HTML5, meaning rich media features like video, audio, and being able to expand or float. 

Here are some examples made by Allbirds:

Allbirds static display ads
Source: Moat

Static ads offer more control over how your ads look and behave. You can optimize them directly rather than leaving them in the hands of Google’s algorithms.

The downside:

  • Static ads show in fewer places. (Responsive ads get wider coverage with only two image sizes.)
  • You have to create these different image sizes yourself manually. 

Because no ad text goes along with static ads, you must directly insert text into your ad image. Keep it to a minimum to ensure legibility and prevent clutter, especially for smaller banner sizes.

Dynamic Display ads

Dynamic ads allow you to use both static and responsive ads, and are best for companies selling a wide range of products. Without dynamic ads, you’d have to manually create ads for each product.

How dynamic ads work: 

  • You connect your ad group to a “data feed” that gives Google a list of your products, plus their meta details like title, description, price, image, and URL.
  • Google creates display ads using this information.

Setting up the data feed depends on your type of business and the platform you’re using. Learn more about how to set up a data feed here.

Here’s an example of how these ads might look from the ecommerce shop Tea Drops.

dynamic display ad examples

With Dynamic ads, you can add short text snippets to highlight specific items and grab people’s attention. Tea Drops does this to remarket to old visitors, pointing out trending items and items that have dropped in price.

Dynamic ads tend to work better if your products have some image variety. In the example above, Tea Drops’ products feel unique and distinct. Compare that to this ad from Victory Hangers—the images seem to blur together because they’re so similar.

dynamic ads example 2

3. Video ad campaigns: target audiences on YouTube

YouTube is an attention magnet. After Google, it’s the second most visited website globally, with 2.3 billion people worldwide using it daily. 

YouTube ad campaigns can be very lucrative, but only if you can create compelling video ads.

Take a look at this ad from Monday.com, for example.

It’s been watched more than 18 million times and received comments like “Ingenious!” No doubt more people know and remember Monday.com because of this entertaining ad. 

What are they best for?

A significant advantage of YouTube ads is the amount of control advertisers have over targeting (where your ads appear and the people who see them).

Broadly speaking, you can target based on audience (who you want to reach) and content (where you want ads to appear).

Thanks to their visual format and targeting options, YouTube ads are best for:

  • Remarketing
  • Brand awareness
  • Marketing aesthetic products

The main downside is having deep creative resources and strategy to make video ads work. From our experience, we see strongest results among companies that already produce video content or have the resources to start, and familiar brands and products.

Types of Video ad formats

Your YouTube ad strategy will depend on what type of ad you choose. Because of length and format differences, each type has unique strengths and weaknesses. 

Type Length Best For
In-stream skippable 12 seconds to 6 minutes Remarketing
In-stream non-skippable 15-20 seconds, depending on the region Brand awareness
Bumper 6 seconds Brand awareness, remarketing, mobile devices
Video discovery No requirements Remarketing

In-stream skippable and non-skippable ads

These ads play in the video stream before, during, or after regular YouTube content. There are two types:

  • Skippable: These videos run anywhere from 12 seconds to 6 minutes long, and viewers can skip after 5 seconds. They’re low-risk in that brands are only charged when viewers watch for at least 30 seconds (or the full duration if it’s shorter than 30 seconds) or if they interact with it. In other words, your budget is only spent on interested viewers.
  • Non-skippable: Depending on regional standards, these run for as long as 15 or 20 seconds and can’t be skipped by viewers. Unlike skippable ads, this format charges companies per 1,000 impressions (known as CPM).

Sometimes in-stream ads come with a banner ad at the top right of the screen. Even if users can skip the video, the banner ad remains.

Bumper ads

Running at 6 seconds or less, bumper ads can’t be skipped and only appear before a YouTube video. And like non-skippable in-stream ads, bumper ads are paid for on a CPM basis. 

This format can work as a standalone ad campaign, but Google recommends pairing bumpers with longer in-stream ads—great for remarketing. Bumper ads are also ideal for mobile devices when users are watching content on the go. 

The challenge with this type of video ad is making them compelling within their short time frame. Here’s a good example from Hefty.

Video Discovery ads

Video discovery ads are the least intrusive ad format on YouTube because they don’t interrupt users’ video-watching experience. Instead, they look like regular organic videos on YouTube, but are marked by yellow ad tags.

discovery ad example

They appear across desktop and mobile but are mostly delivered on mobile:

  • YouTube search results
  • Under recommended videos on a video’s watch page
  • YouTube’s mobile app homepage

4. Shopping campaigns: promote products to audiences who are ready to buy

Shopping campaigns are essential for ecommerce businesses, but there are several requirements to get started. Here are the steps in a nutshell:

  1. Create a Google Merchant Center account
  2. Link your Merchant Center account with your Google Ads account
  3. Link your product database with Google Merchant Center
  4. Wait several days for the products to sync and be approved
  5. Create the Shopping campaign in Google Ads, choose the Merchant Center account to pull from, filter the products as necessary
  6. Optimize in Google Ads and your product data

Although it requires several days and several platforms, once approved, there’s very little to be done with actually creating or managing Shopping campaigns within Google.

For more specifics, check out Google's documentation.

What are Shopping ads?

These are Shopping ads:

shopping ad shoe examples

Shopping ads show your products directly in Google search results (next to both paid and organic search results).

When people click on a product in the ad, it takes them directly to the corresponding product page on your website.

Product ads are significantly more enticing than a simple text Search ad; we’ve gotten CACs as low as $6 through Shopping ads.

For some of our ecommerce clients, Shopping campaigns make up the vast majority of their marketing budget and a significant portion of their recurring revenue across all channels.

But they’re only available for two types of products: 

  • Physical ecommerce products and
  • Single purchase software

Why Google Shopping ads are worth considering

Shopping ads have lower CACs for a few reasons:

  • Higher intent terms: Shopping ads focus on higher intent terms like 'buy women’s jeans'. Visitors from Shopping ads are often ready to buy and are looking for the best product.
  • Visitors have self-selected: Shopping ads show more product information; visitors already know your product’s price, name, ratings, and appearance when they hit your site. With Search and Display ads, visitors are often going in blind and may realize quickly that the product is too expensive or not to their tastes and bounce. Not as good (but still sometimes profitable).
  • Ads discourage the wrong type of customer from clicking: Since Shopping ads have more product information than a typical ad, people who don’t like or can’t afford your product won’t click the ad. If it's not for them, they won't waste their time or your money on a click—and you only pay per ad click with Shopping ads, so you’re not wasting money.

How Shopping ads work

Shopping ads are very different from the other types of Google ads.

In fact, Shopping ads require minimal additional setup or management beyond the initial requirements. Like Dynamic ads, Google pulls all the product data it needs from your Google Merchant Center (GMC) account.

GMC sits between your eCommerce platform (like Shopify) and Google Ads. It takes in all your product data, passes it through Google’s review process (to make sure you’re not selling drugs, promoting harm, or marketing scammy growth courses), and sends the data to Google Ads in a format it understands.

Most of the work will be preparing and sending your product data to GMC. When you first add a new product, it takes 3-5 business days to have your products reviewed and approved by Google.

Once these products are approved in GMC, you're off to the races. 

Here's a run-down of what you can and can't control with Shopping ad campaigns:

What you can control within Shopping ads

  • Locations
  • Devices
  • Bid strategy (Target ROAS, for example)
  • Per-product CPC bids
  • Campaign budget
  • Negative keywords
  • Ad schedule (time of day and day of the week)
  • Remarketing lists

What you cannot control

  • Keywords
  • Demographic targeting like age, gender, parental status, or household income
  • Interest, Topic, or Placement targeting
  • Final URL

How does Google determine whose ads to show?

When determining whose ads to show in the auction (i.e., yours versus a competitor's) and in what SERP position, Google first looks at all ads that match the search, then prioritizes each ad's position based on a combination of bid, ad quality, and search intent. These factors contribute to your overall Ad Rank

High-quality, high-relevance ads are generally rewarded with higher positions in the search results.

Types of Shopping ad formats

Product Shopping ads

These are the standard Shopping ads—clicking an ad sends people directly to the product page.

shopping ads main example

Showcase Shopping ads

Showcase ads let you group related products and show them together in one ad. Google claims these are best to introduce your brand or business to new people.

In reality, they’re still relatively new and don’t show up as often as Product Shopping ads. We haven’t found them to get a meaningful number of eyeballs in practice.

Here's what they look like and how they work:

showcase shopping ad example
Source: Instapage

As you can see, clicking an ad opens up the “showcase,” which shows more information like site URL, description, and list of products with their complete product data. Clicking the products will take you to a product page.

So far, we've covered the four most common types of Google ads. 

  • Search
  • Display 
  • Video
  • Shopping 

The majority of you will focus on these four exclusively.

The next five campaign types are geared more towards specific businesses (App and Local), broad reach and awareness (Discovery), and new advertisers who want a simplified, automated way to run ads without having to learn the ins and outs of professional media buying (Smart and Performance Max campaigns).

For the most part, the following campaign types and formats build on what we've already learned so far.

5. App campaigns: drive app installs and engagement

App campaigns, previously Universal App Campaigns (UAC), are automated ads used to help drive mobile app installs and in-app conversions.

App campaigns are the obvious choice for companies that sell… apps. Unlike Search ad app extensions, App campaigns are purely dedicated to app promotion. 

And they're easier to set up. 

Google pulls information from your app and automatically creates ads in different formats depending on the network it'll appear on—Google Search and Display, Google Play, YouTube, Discover, and over 3 million sites and apps.

As you can see in the examples below, app ads are pretty simple. Logo, headline, description, and CTA. The format may vary slightly by platform, but they're all very similar.

app campaign placements
Source: Instapage

Here's how app ads look in the Google Play store:

google play store app ads

How do App ads work?

The main benefit of App ads is that you don't actually need to create ads.

Like Responsive ads or Dynamic ads, Google does this work for you.  All you have to do is provide your app's information, audience, and place your bid.

Two goals to choose from in App campaigns:

  • App installs: Get more app installs.
  • In-app actions: Re-engage existing users by driving in-app actions like downloading an update or purchasing an item. Use a deep link to send people to a specific page inside your app.

Both goals optimize ads according to your set bid. Install volume ads use a cost-per-install (CPI) pricing model, while in-app actions use cost-per-action (CPA). 

Before launching an In-app campaign, make sure to set up conversion tracking beforehand so Google can optimize for your conversion goals. Another important detail is that you need to have at least 10 users complete the target action every day to choose the In-app goal. 

Over time, Google will figure out the best-performing ad combinations and continue showing them to people.

App campaigns have a few advantages:  

  • Automated campaigns: You can get started fast, with minimal campaign management.
  • Minimal creative requirements: Google pulls assets directly from your App store listing. 

The downside:

  • No targeting, bidding, or placement control: This could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your situation. As we mentioned before, Google manages most campaign settings and optimizes according to your set goal and budget. If you want more precise targeting control, you're better off choosing a Display ad campaign.
  • 250k minimum app installs: If you're looking to run a remarketing App campaign, you'll need a minimum of 250k app installs.
  • Doesn't include the Apple app store: App ads serve on both Android and iOS devices, but if you want to promote your app on the Apple app store, you'll need to set up Apple Search Ads that run in tandem with your Google App campaigns.

6. Local campaigns: promote a physical location

Note: Local campaigns are upgrading to Performance Max in July (2022). 

46% of all Google searches are locally oriented. And conversion rates tend to be higher when people search for something locally (especially on mobile when people are on the go and looking for something immediately). 

Local campaigns appear on four networks:

  • Google Search: Users searching for terms relevant to your business and location. 
  • Display: Placements that are relevant to your business and location.
  • YouTube: Ads show underneath YouTube videos.
  • Google Maps: Users searching terms or business types in a local area.

With Local campaigns, Google uses information from your Google My Business profile (GMB) to determine:

  • Targeting
  • Geographical location
  • Keywords

Campaigns are mostly automated, but you can modify select settings like language, bid strategy, and average daily budget. From there, Google's machine learning AI will use radius targeting starting from your business location to determine who should see your ads.

Here's an example of a Local campaign with ads in Maps and Search:

local ad placements

And here's the GMB page for the same tax office:

Google My Business example

It's subtle, but as a user, you can tell which Map listings are ads because they use a square icon—or pin—not a round one:

Google Map ad versus organic listing


To create a Local campaign, your GMB profile needs to be linked to your ads account, filled out, and ready to go. And you'll need at least one active location or affiliate location extension in place before you can create a Local campaign.

Once you satisfy the requirements and you're able to create a Local campaign, all you have to do is set a daily budget and decide on a goal:

  • Direction clicks: Set the user's navigation to your location.
  • Click-to-call: Users discover your business and call directly on the phone. 
  • In-store visits: Tell people what you offer and how to find you.

How do Local ads work?

Location ads use radius targeting for the address listed on your GMB page and from local affiliate location extensions. Other factors that determine targeted radius include: industry vertical, population density, and existence of competitors. 

Here are a few best practices for Local campaigns:

  • Promote local products: If you sell products, connect a local product feed and promote your products across Search, YouTube and Display.
  • Use specific attributes: With Local Map ads, you can use specific attributes to highlight your most relevant features. For example, if you own a restaurant, you can select attributes like "Casual," "Takeaway," and "Takes Reservations" to draw in the specific customers you're looking to serve.
local ad restaurant example
  • Write location-specific copy: Including the name of the target area in your ad copy signals relevance. To resonate with users, reference area-specific landmarks, use relevant slang, or cultural references. 

What are they best for?

Broadly speaking, Local campaigns are meant to help physical businesses grow offline. They're best for:

  • Local businesses that want to drive in-store traffic
  • Service companies that want to generate leads in a specific location
  • Brick and mortar businesses with multiple locations

8. Smart campaigns: simplified campaign automation

When you start a fresh Google ads account, you'll notice two types of "modes" within the ad platform: Smart Mode and Expert Mode.

By default, every campaign you create starts you off in "Smart Mode" because it's an approachable way for novice advertisers to get their feet wet. 

Experienced advertisers typically switch to Expert Mode right away because it offers more control. 

Here's a side-by-side comparison:

smart mode versus expert mode

Technically, every campaign you run in Smart Mode is a Smart campaign. Smart Display, Smart Search, and Smart Shopping are all examples of individual Smart campaigns.

To make matters more confusing, Smart campaign is also a standalone campaign type. The difference is, in a Smart campaign, Google creates each of these campaigns for you automatically within a single dedicated campaign builder.

smart campaign type in Google ads

What is a Smart campaign?

A Smart campaign is an automated, simplified campaign builder that uses AI to decide everything from bidding strategies to keyword research, ad creation, targeting, network selection, and more. 

As a user, all you have to do is upload your assets and choose a goal, then let Google pick the best placements and formats depending on your business type and goals.

In short, a Smart campaign is an all-in-one automatic campaign builder.

To give you an idea of how hands-off the experience is, take a look at this side-by-side comparison between Smart campaigns and Search campaigns:

smart campaigns versus search campaigns

As you can see, most of the hands-on implementation has been relegated to Google's AI management. Not a bad thing for some.

What are Smart campaigns best for?

Ultimately, Smart campaigns are best for anyone who doesn't want to manage campaigns all by themselves, people who don't have enough time, resources, or sheer interest in learning a sophisticated marketing discipline. 

Here's what Smart campaigns are best for, more specifically:

  • New advertisers: If you have minimal experience with PPC ads, and want a simplified option that helps you get started quickly, Smart campaigns are a good choice. Smart campaigns are a good choice for simple businesses. Think: small professional service businesses or ecommerce brands with logical websites that sell familiar, easy-to-understand products.
  • Finding a baseline: If you're new to Google ads, Smart campaigns are a good way to test into the platform and find your ad performance baseline. Pick your advertising goal, set a budget, and evaluate your desired performance metrics in a week or two. You'll find out which campaign types are worth investing in and those that aren't.
  • Ecommerce businesses: Compared to standard Google Search ads or Shopping campaigns, Smart Shopping campaigns make it easier for ecom brands promote their products. In Smart Shopping campaigns, Google basically handles everything for you. You give it a country, a budget, a target ROAS (return on ad spend), and the products to sell, and it does everything else for you.
Overwhelmed? Let us run your Google Ads for you. Check out Ad Labs.

Types of Smart campaigns

There are three main types of Smart campaigns:

Smart Search

Smart Search is the automated version of a Search campaign, which we covered at the beginning. You need at least 100 conversions within the last 30 days to use this campaign type.

Smart Display

Again, the automated version of a Display campaign. The requirements to launch a Smart Display Campaign are similar to those for Smart Search Campaigns. The main difference between them is that, rather than needing to record a minimum of 100 conversions, you need at least 50.

Smart Shopping

Out of the three available Smart Campaigns, the criteria for Smart Shopping Campaigns are the most stringent, but if you meet the requirements, you can expect strong results. To launch this type of campaign, you must:

  • Own a Google Merchant Center account and a Google Ads account
  • Upload your product data feed to your Google Merchant account
  • Set up conversion tracking using values related to specific transactions
  • Enable dynamic remarketing by putting a remarketing tag on your company’s website
  • Have an audience that includes a minimum of 100 users

Reminder: Each of these campaign types can be created within the primary campaign type (i.e., Search, Display, or Shopping campaign). Smart campaigns combine all three into one simplified campaign builder. 

The downside:

  • Limited data visibility: With Smart campaigns, you can't pull back the curtain and see exactly what Google is optimizing. You can see performance results in your reporting, but you can't see specific insights into audience targeting, bidding, or optimization.
  • Less control over everything: Depending on your situation and experience, a lack of control could either be desirable or deeply frustrating.
  • No remarketing: Smart campaigns are for prospecting only; there's no option for remarketing.

8. Performance Max: the future of Smart campaigns

Performance Max is the newest campaign type (released in late 2021). And as of 2022, Performance Max will be replacing Local campaigns and Smart campaigns altogether.

performance max campaign type

Performance Max is essentially a new and improved version of Smart campaign, with Local campaigns rolled into the mix. Like Smart campaigns, with Performance Max, Google generates ads dynamically, testing different combinations across different formats and networks, optimizing for the desired action. The main difference is that your ads can be served across more placements in more formats.

performance max placement options
Performance Max ad placements include: YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail, and Maps.

All you have to do is upload various assets appropriate for each placement option—everything Google could possibly need to create unique campaigns for every format (text, video, image, product feed).

After that, Google puts machine learning to work to show your ads to people who are most likely to convert.

What are they best for?

  • All-in-one campaign builder: Creating individual ad campaigns is difficult and time-consuming. Performance Max lets advertisers upload all their assets into one campaign builder, then lets Google figure out how to create ads in all kinds of different formats and placements. 
  • Conversion-focused: Performance Max is designed to find potential customers who are most likely to convert. Performance Max uses search and behavioral data to "predict" which users are most likely to convert on your ads.
  • Omni-channel coverage: Smart campaigns are valuable because they let advertisers promote across multiple platforms with minimal effort. Performance Max unlocks even more opportunities with the addition of YouTube, Maps, Discover, and Gmail.
  • Audience Signal: Performance Max introduced a new feature that lets advertisers upload a seed audience to help Google find more of your existing customers. In paid social, this is called a Lookalike audience. You're giving Google valuable user data to go and create a persona to find additional people. This speeds up the learning phase and helps Google spend your budget more efficiently (Google knows exactly who to target). 

The downside:

  • Limited channel-specific data: Google doesn't let you see complete performance data for individual campaigns. That means even if, say, a Video campaign on YouTube is performing well, you won't be able to see why it's performing well. In other words, you can see the results, but not the settings that produced those results. This makes it difficult to recreate that success on your own.
  • Limited bidding options: There are only two bidding strategies available in Performance Max campaigns: Max Conversion and Max Value.
  • Risk of cannibalizing other campaigns: Smart campaigns take priority over Standard campaigns. This means if Google is trying to decide which campaign to show an ad from, it’ll prefer Smart over Standard if they’re otherwise equally appropriate. Best to let Performance Max campaigns run solo so you don't risk the performance of other campaign types.

9. Discovery campaigns: native ads on content feeds

Discovery campaigns are similar to Display ads. They're designed to show visually engaging ads using the standard audience targeting. 

The difference is:

  1. Where your ads show
  2. The formats available to you

Discovery ads appear across the Google Display Network and serve on a few specific feeds: YouTube Home and Watch Next feeds, Gmail, and Discover in the Google search mobile app.

discovery ad placements

Here's an example of a YouTube Discovery ad from Nootropics Depot:

discovery ad example- nootropics depot

And here's an example of a Gmail Discovery ad:

gmail discovery ad example

When you click an ad in your inbox, it'll open up and show you the details on the offer from the brand.

gmail discovery ad example 2
Source: Hubspot

What are they best for?

Discovery ads are intended to show audiences what Google thinks they need, rather than waiting for people to search for it directly. Google learns from user behavior to anticipate their interests and serve relevant ads that look native to the platform they appear on.

In reality, Discovery ads are hardly different from Display ads—they just show up in different places. 

Here are the best use cases for Discovery ads:

  • Brand awareness: Like Display ads, Discovery ads necessarily interfere with the user experience. Since people will be scrolling when they see these ads, approach them the same way you would approach social ads: optimize for scroll-stopping visuals and compelling value propositions.
  • Remarketing: If your goal is leads or sales, start with remarketing Discovery ads. Conversion rates tend to be higher for remarketing Discovery ads than remarketing Display ads.
  • As a supplement to core campaigns: Display ads are worth considering as an alternative to Display ads. We've seen reports that they generate more clicks at a lower cost. Additionally, if you're having trouble hitting your CPA goal with other ad types, Discovery campaigns are worth testing.

Types of Discovery ads

Carousel ads

A carousel ad (a mainstay in paid social), is a series of single images or graphics users can click/tap through. Each ad can include 2-10 cards and must include a logo.

carousel ad example

Single image ads

Single image ads are similar to Responsive Display ads. Google uses assets you upload to create different formats and sizes, which respond according to the specific placement. They're also highly visual with minimal text. 

single image ad example

Ultimately, Discovery campaigns help advertisers access broad audiences with minimal effort to get started. Focus on quality creative assets that pique interest and get people to click to get the best results.

Every campaign type is a channel of its own

There are nine different campaign types under the Google ads label, but each one could be considered a channel of its own.  

To recap, the nine types of Google ad campaigns are:

  • Search ads
  • Display ads
  • Video ads
  • Shopping ads
  • App ads 
  • Local ads
  • Smart ads
  • Performance Max 
  • Discovery ads

To learn the strategies and growth tactics for Google ads and many more acquisition channels, consider signing up for our once-a-week newsletter.

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