Google Ads Basics: A Guide to Setting Up Your First Google Ads Campaign

Google Ads are to online marketing what the “pizza move” is to beginner skiers—once you get the hang of the basics, you’ll start seeing results straight away (and likely be keen to learn more, more, more). But that initial learning curve can be a little daunting, especially if you’re still learning about online marketing in general, and all the tactics, tools, and strategies that come with it.

Since Google is basically synonymous with the Internet, Google Ads are worth getting friendly with. Not only will they get your business, product, or offerings in front of a lot more of the right eyeballs, they can help build good credit within the Google ecosystem to bolster your organic ranking efforts.

But you’ve gotta crawl before you can walk, so I put together a step-by-step guide to creating and setting up your first Google Ads. Full disclosure—I’m pretty new to setting up Google Ads myself, in the interest of taking a genuine, no-foolin’ beginner’s approach. I’ve also included all of the awesome resources I used in my research at the bottom of the post, so you can explore advanced strategies at your leisure. Now let’s tackle this bunny hill together. 

Why Should I Use Google Ads?

Google Ads put your offers in front of a super-targeted audience that is—in many cases—actively looking for exactly what you’re offering. Beyond the pay-to-play power of advertising your business on the world’s most-used search engine, Google Ads can be your portal to building a high Quality Score that reflects on your business overall.

Quality Score is a measurement of relevance through an assessment of click-through rate, ad relevance, and landing pages experience. It’s a way for Google to calculate which advertisers are creating honest, well-targeted, and useful ads versus ones that are… not.

You know those clickbaity, keyword-dense ads that send you to a mystery website or page with a million different products? Their Quality Scores are probably in the pooper—and that sh*t has consequences, like:

  • Which ads are eligible to run
  • How eligible ads are ranked in search results
  • CPC (cost-per-click) you’ll pay as an advertiser

What Google’s really looking at is the experience you’re providing to people searching for those keywords. Your Quality Score gets better the more relevant your keywords are to your offer, the more targeted your ad messaging is, and the better your landing page matches your ad—so visitors get exactly what they’re expecting when they click through. This also translates to increased ad opportunities, higher ad rankings, lower costs-per-click, and more return on your ad spend. 

Expert tip from Andrew Miller, Co-Founder of Workshop Digital: “Ad relevance is extremely important but don’t underestimate visitors’ experience on landing pages. Advertisers can improve Quality Score by creating landing pages that load quickly, look great on mobile devices, and provide users with a sense of trust that their data will be protected.

I recommend running all landing pages through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to find opportunities to speed things up. Be sure to test your landing pages and website on a variety of devices and operating systems to make sure all visitors can get what they need. Finally, make your privacy policy and data protection policies are transparent and visible.”

Terms to Know

  • Pay-per-click (PPC): The general term for paid online advertising, in which you’re paying by the number of clicks on your ad.
  • AdRank: A value assigned to your ad position in relation to other ads. Essentially, when there are several ads showing up at the top of a search engine results page, this is where you show up in the queue.
  • Bidding: The highest amount you’re willing to pay for an ad click.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): The number of clicks your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown, as a percentage.
  • Cost-per-click (CPC): What each individual ad click costs.
  • Conversion rate: The average number of conversions on your ad, as a percentage. A conversion is the action you want visitors to take after they’ve clicked the ad—a sale, call, signup, etc.
  • Keywords: Words or phrases describing your product or service that you choose to help determine when and where your ad can appear.
  • Quality Score: Google’s assessment of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages.
  • Search volume: The number of searches expected for a keyword within a certain time period.

What Type of Ads Can I Run With Google?

In the spirit of tackling the basics, we’ll just be covering Search Network ads in this post. But there are several options to explore with the world of Google Advertising.

Search Network: Text ads shown next to search results when a query is typed into Google.

Display Network: Visual ads shown to prospective customers wherever they may be on the Internet (relevant websites, blogs, etc.) within the Google Display Network.

Video: Video ads shown on YouTube and other video partner websites.

Search Network with Display: You guessed it—a combination of search and display ads. 

Shopping: Designed for physical products, these ads are shown at the top of search results and give detailed descriptions of your item.

Universal App: Promotes your app across Google Play, YouTube, Google Display Network, and Google Search.

Ad Extensions: A feature that shows extra information about your business, like a phone number, address, store rating, or additional website links.

Remarketing: Displays your ad to people who’ve visited your site already, wherever they may be—like the Display Network—by using cookies.

Which Keywords Should I Bid on?

You can use Google’s Keyword Planner to research keywords, discover new ones, and get estimated bids on ones you’re planning to go after. While you’ll need a Google Ads account to access the Keyword Planner, you don’t need to have any ads running yet. Signing up is totally free.

SEO expert Brian Dean has an excellent beginner’s guide to using the keyword planner. Check it out for thorough, step-by-step instructions to getting the most out of your keywords. But a few things to keep in mind when choosing:

  • Think of search intent, not simply descriptions. Put yourself in the mind of your customer—which terms would they be searching for that your product or service could be the solution to? For instance, if you’re selling grass skirts for cats, you may want to explore terms like “funny cat outfits” or “novelty cat clothing” (or “nearest hospital” for the eventual aftermath).
  • The more specific your offer, and the more specific your customer, the more specific your keywords should be. Say you’ve got a surplus of women’s Nike runners in size eight you need to sell. Your ad will likely be just what someone searching for “women’s size eight Nikes” or “women’s Nike running shoes on sale” is looking for. Note that getting too specific may narrow your search opportunities, so you’ll have to find the right balance between being super-targeted and using terms with enough search volume to get in front of people.
  • Bid on broader keywords if you want to reach more people. If your ad is more general, it can apply to more people and be relevant to a more general search. Keywords with higher search volume have tougher competition and can be pricier to bid on, though, so play around with broad keywords that are both relevant to your offer and give your ad a decent chance to be noticed.
  • If you’re into outsourcing to robots, Google offers a tool called Smart Bidding that uses machine learning to bid on keywords and optimize your ads for conversion.

Expert tip: “Keyword research is not a “set it and forget it” exercise. It’s a continual process of expansion (finding more keywords to test) and refinement (culling keywords that underperform) that requires attention on a regular basis.

Google Keyword Planner is great for medium-to-high volume keywords, but niche targets may require a little more digging: Google Search Console for organic search queries, interviews with current customers, sales teams, and industry experts, Competitive intelligence tools such as SEMRush or Spyfu, and Google Trends data.”

Setting Up Your First Ad

Once you’ve got your keywords sorted, you’re ready to set your ad up. 

Luckily, Google makes it a pretty straightforward process. You may already have completed some of these steps when you signed up to access the Keyword Planner. 

Step One

Log into Google Ads to enter your business name and the landing page you want to send your ad visitors to. For example, I’ve chosen to create an ad for the video recap page for our most recent Call to Action Conference for this example. (Shameless plug alert: the videos are free and have tons of expert marketing advice!)

The reason Google (and Unbounce, naturally) emphasizes using a landing page as your PPC ad destination instead of your homepage or website is because they’re inherently more targeted. They can be fully customized to match each ad, providing a more focused and relevant experience to the visitor with a single call to action. And, at its core, what makes Google happy—and Quality Scores and ad ROI go up—is relevance.

If you don’t have a landing page yet, we’re offering free use of the Unbounce platform to those in critical services like healthcare, education, nonprofits, and government for three months from your initial sign up date. Learn here how to get a professional landing page built, designed, and published in no time. For more tips, Landing Page Basics and the Conversion Resources Library have everything you need to know to create a high-converting page.   

Step Two

Select your conversion goal based on the call to action you’ve added to your landing page. In this case, we ask people to sign up for access to the CTAConf 2019 videos. The conversion goal is how you can really measure the success of your ad.

Step Three

Choose the location(s) you want your ad to appear in. The audience tally in the right corner will automatically adjust as you add and remove location options so you can gauge whether your audience size is too small to bother with, or too large to allow for an impact. 

The landing page I’m promoting is applicable to more than just British Columbians and Albertans, but for this particular ad I want to keep the audience at a manageable size and not go so broad that it shows to 50 million people at once and gobbles up my budget like a 2 am Big Mac.  

If you’re keen to take your geographic strategy a step further, WordStream’s Erin Bell has written a comprehensive guide to Google AdWords geotargeting

Expert tip: “The “perfect” audience is the right combination of quality (likelihood to convert) and quantity (number of potential customers), which will vary for each business. Consider your budgets and risk tolerance when selecting your target audiences.

If you have a smaller budget or are just getting started with Google Ads, I recommend starting with a very focused audience of your most likely customers. It is easy to spend more when you find a combination of keywords and locations that balance quality and quantity. It can be difficult to identify high-performing keywords and audiences if you cast too wide a net.”

Step Four

It’s keyword time. Add in the keywords and terms you want to target. Like it did with audience location size, Google will adjust your monthly reach potential as you add and subtract keywords. It’ll also suggest related keywords to boost your efforts, if needed. 

Step Five

Write your ad! The copy should mirror the messaging on your landing page to create the most cohesive ad experience possible, get those precious relevance points with the Google overlords, and most importantly, convert more click-throughs. Get tips on how to write the best, most compelling Google Ads copy here

Expert tip: “Every ad should reinforce the keywords or search intent, highlight your value propositions or differentiators, and include a strong call to action with an offer or incentive.

Try to identify where each searcher is in his/her journey. For example, are they able to articulate the problem(s) they are trying to solve? Are they already aware of solutions and/or brands that can help them? Are they aware of your brand? Your ad copy will likely need to change at each stage of the customer journey to move people closer to finding a solution to their problems.

You can also use Google’s Responsive Search Ads to provide multiple headlines and descriptions at one time. Google will automatically test and rotate the ad variations for you. With enough data, Google can start to optimize the ads to show the best combinations to each search.”

Step Six

Set your budget—or bid—to let Google know how much you’re willing to spend per day on your ad clicks. The amount of clicks that will get you depends on your cost-per-click, which depends on your keywords, audience size, and ad quality. Once you’ve gotten enough clicks to reach your daily spend limit, Google will stop showing your ad until the next day. You can take Google’s suggestions or enter a custom amount based on your budget allotment. 

Expert tip: “I always recommend a starting budget that allows you to buy at least 300-500 clicks. Cost Per Click (CPC) is going to vary depending on your industry and competitors so your budget should be high enough to afford this initial testing period.

The first 300-500 clicks will give you enough data to measure the outcomes (phone calls, transactions, lead form submissions, etc.), determine a baseline, and project ROI. If you are happy with the results from the first few hundred clicks, step up your budget in comfortable increments until you find a point of diminishing returns, then look for other keywords or audiences to continue your expansion. If the initial test does not meet your expectations, revisit your assumptions, change a variable, and test again.”

Once you hit “Next,” you’ll be taken to a page to review your Google Ad and campaign parameters. Then you’ll be asked to enter your payment information before finally submitting your ad.

You won’t be billed until after the ad has run its course, since Google won’t know how much your ad truly costs until all of the click-throughs are accounted for. Payments can be done automatically once the ad campaign is finished or as a monthly invoice. And be sure to grab your $150 USD ad credit for Google Ads first-timers.

Now you’re done! Well, almost. After you’ve submitted your ad, Google will process it and let you know whether it’s approved or denied. Don’t fret if it doesn’t go through the first time—you’ll be told exactly what needs fixing and be able to resubmit.

Optimizing Your Google Ads

Marketing never sleeps—there are always ways to tweak and experiment with ads to get the most conversions. Be sure to check on your campaigns and look for ways to optimize both your ads and their respective PPC landing pages to plug any conversion leaks and make the most of your ad spend.

A/B testing, which involves running multiple pages within the same campaign to test different messaging, design, and calls to action, is one of the most effective ways to see what’s resonating with your audience (and what’s not).

If you’re building Unbounce landing pages, Smart Traffic can also run these experiments for you, using machine learning to send visitors to the most relevant page variant based on individual attributes. Learn how to use Smart Traffic to convert more clicks with the almighty power of robots. 

Expert tip: “Some of the biggest wins come from helping your ad stand out from the crowd. Here are some easy ways to dress it up a bit:

1. Use as many ad extensions as possible to help your text ads stand out on a search results page. The most common ad extensions are “click to call” buttons/links, location/maps information, and sitelinks that highlight other content on your website. There are several others so be sure to test as many as possible.

2. Create mobile-specific ads to customize the experience for users on the move. This may include a different set of calls to action or offers. For example, offer driving directions or click to call/text options that minimize the number of clicks required to engage with you.

3. Promote a compelling offer that helps your ad stand out from others. Consumers are conditioned to look for discounts, free shipping, and fast delivery.”

Further Reading

I hope this was helpful to you in getting your first Google Ad out in the wild! There’s tons to learn, explore, and fiddle with as you become a Google Ads pro.

As promised, below are the resources I used to study up and link throughout this post to get you on your way there. Good luck and happy advertising!

default author image
About Hayley Mullen
Hayley is a former Copywriter on Unbounce's content team. When she's not rambling away, you'll find her watching the Real Housewives of Anywhere, eating a block of cheese as a meal, or petting strangers' dogs on the streets of Vancouver.
» More blog posts by Hayley Mullen