The Complete Guide to Google Ads

Whether you’re brand new to PPC or a seasoned paid media professional, the continual adaptation to new features, policies, and platform changes is a never-ending process.

In this guide, we’ll be focusing on Google Ads, the most widely-used PPC platform and covering the following fundamentals:

  1. Introduction
    1. How the Auction Works
    2. The Structure of a Google Ads Account
    3. Metrics
    4. Managing Your Account
  2. Beyond the Basics
    1. Campaign Types
    2. Search Network Campaign Settings
    3. Display Network Campaign Settings
    4. Ad Extensions
    5. How to Start Optimizing Your Account
  3. Becoming an Expert
    1. Prospecting Audiences
    2. Remarketing Audiences
    3. Advanced Metrics and Features
    4. Automated Rules and Reports
  4. Bonus Content
    1. Conversion Tracking Definitions
    2. Attribution Models

1. Introduction

1.1 How the Auction Works

PPC stands for pay-per-click. You may also see it referred to as cost-per-click (CPC) or more broadly as search engine marketing (SEM). This advertising model charges an advertiser when their text, image, or video ad is clicked on one of Google’s network of sites.

Text ads are distinguished in several ways from organic listings in the search engine results page (SERP). First, ads are identified by an “Ad” label (see the first listing in the screenshot below). They are also located at the top, side, or bottom of the SERP. Google Ads uses an auction to decide which ads show in the SERP and the order in which they’re shown.

When it comes to the auction, competitors bid on their chosen keywords within Google Ads. Keywords correspond to search queries, or put simply,  the phrases users are searching for in Google.

When a user searches in Google, an auction runs between all the advertisers bidding for the corresponding keyword. The winning ads are then displayed based on their resultant ad rank. 

Ad rank is calculated from a combination of the bid set by the advertiser (maximum cost per click) and the Quality Score of the ad. Quality Score is calculated by Google and takes into account lots of different factors.

When a user searches and sees an ad on Google and doesn’t click on it, the advertiser is made aware of the impression. However, no charges are made until someone clicks on the ad.

Quality Score

It’s beneficial to Google that users have the best experience possible, that means a consistent user experience from the search in Google to the clicked through to the landing page visited. The greater the cohesion of these three elements the more likely you are to be rewarded by Google with a high Quality Score. Quality Score also takes into account the likes of predicated click-through rate and historical Google Ads performance.

1.2 The Structure of a Google Ads Account


The highest-level grouping is the campaign. Campaigns have their own settings that include location, language, ad type, device targeting, budget, and more. Each campaign should revolve around business goals and customer actions (called conversions). 

The campaign settings will vary based on the network you’re advertising on (Search Network, Shopping, Display Network, App, Video) – will go into this in more detail later in the guide.

Ad Groups

Ad groups are contained within each campaign and contain a group of ads.

You can have multiple keywords and multiple ads within an ad group, but advertisers have no control over which ad shows for which keyword within one ad group. In order to keep ad relevance and Quality Score high, it’s advisable to keep your ad groups limited to a small number of keywords tailored to a common theme.


Keywords sit in ad groups and come in three match types: broad, phrase, and exact. 

  • Broad match keywords have no punctuation
    • red shoes
  • Modified broad keywords use the “+” modifier
    • +red +shoes
  • Phrase match keywords are enclosed in “ ”
    • “red shoes”
  • Exact match keywords are enclosed in [ ]
    • [red shoes]

The difference between match types:

You can view the search queries that triggered your ads from the search query report within Google Ads via the keyword tab. 

Negative Keywords

Negative keywords stop your ads from showing for any queries for which you do not want to match with. They can be added at the ad group, campaign, or account level.

For example, the broad keyword “red shoes” may trigger an ad for the search query “red heels”. If your business only stocks trainrs, you can then apply an exact match keyword [red heels] as a negative to prevent future searches of red heels from triggering your ads. 


This is the standard format for a text ad on desktop and mobile:

Text Ads have character length limitations. 

The headlines are what you see at the top of the ad, in blue. These should be tailored to the ad group theme and keywords. Keep in mind, between each headline is “|”, a vertical pipe.  

The description lines should describe the benefits, any selling points, and a call to action.

An ad format depends on your campaign type, ad network, and business goals. There’s actually lots of different types of ad available:

  • Text
  • Responsive
  • Static Image aka Display
  • App
  • Shopping
  • Showcase Shopping
  • Video
  • Call-Only

The final URLof your ad needs to target your landing page and may contain tracking parameters. 

Example Display url:

Example URL with tracking:

We recommend having at least three ads in an ad group, there are two primary benefits to this:

  1. The auction algorithm has more ad variations to consider when determining your Ad Rank
  2. You can run ad copy testing within the ad group and improve the quality of your ads over time

1.3 Metrics

Common search metrics you need to know:

  • Clicks: When a user clicks your ad, regardless if they visit your site or not
  • Impressions: How often your ad is shown on the search results page
  • Conversions: An event counted when someone takes action you defined as a Goal
  • Conversion Value: A set value associated with your chosen conversions (usually used by eCommerce companies tracking revenue associated with a sale)

Conversions are counted based on an action defined in Google Ads and can be tracked at the MCC level, account level, and/or campaign level.  Actions which could assigned as a conversion include the following:

  • Website events
  • App installs
  • Phone Calls
  • Imported Google Analytics goals
  • Offline conversions 

By default, Google shows all conversions in the “Conversions” column at the campaign level. 

Other Metrics

CTR = Click-through-rate =  (clicks)  /  (impressions)

CPC = Cost per click = (cost) / (clicks)

CPA = Cost per conversion (acquisition)  = (cost) / (conversions)

Conversion rate = (conversions) / (clicks)

1.4 Managing Your Account

One of the first tests of managing an account is getting used to the interface. Get comfortable flipping through your account and adjusting the date ranges, graphs, and metrics. This is going to be your first line of defense in monitoring account performance. 

Anytime you see significant spikes or dips or even a long running trend, pull a Basic Report (pre-built) and look at the change history page. This page keeps a record of all the changes in your account whether they were new ads, keywords, adjusted bids or budgets, as well as when you paused and enabled certain elements.

You’ll find that you can make any adjustment needed through the interface, although this brings up two potential problems.

  1. Anything done through the interface can be instantly applied.
  2. Scale, while possible via bulk sheets, can pose challenges.

Excel, Google Sheets, and Google Ads Editor are good for previewing and building campaigns, ads, etc. prior to implementation within the Google Ads interface.

Google Ads Editor

Google Ads Editor is a free piece of Google software. It allows you to download a copy of your account into the program interface. You can then tweak and apply changes to the account without them going live, or make changes when you are not connected to the internet. When you are ready to implement your changes, simply click a button to post the changes in your account.

You can also download just about anything from Google Ads in an Excel format like .csv or .xlsx. You can then use Excel to apply custom formulas for bid changes or to build completely new ad groups and keywords. Once you’ve finished your work in Excel, you can directly insert your spreadsheet into Google Ads Editor and load the changes, or upload through the shared library in Google Ads.

Account Analysis Tools

When it comes to analyzing your account, you have many options including:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Data Studio
  • Google Sheets
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Power BI

Working in Excel or Google sheets offers you flexibility to manipulate the data as needed. The most common techniques you can use are functions and pivot tables. Functions allow you to use logic to manipulate and analyze data. For example, you can bid down by 10% on all keywords not hitting your CPA goal and bid up by 10% for any keyword under your CPA goal. This would be a long task through the editor, but takes just minutes in Excel.

2. Beyond the Basics 

It’s time to explore more technical details of a Google Ads account including:

  • Campaign types
  • Campaigns settings
  • Ad extensions
  • How to start optimizing your account

Each of these elements will become a critical aspect of developing a comprehensive and uniquely tailored strategy.  

2.1 Campaign Types

Search Campaigns

Your ads will only appear on the Google search results page and search partner sites (if you’re opted into the Search Network).

Ad formats: 

  • Text
  • Responsive
  • Dynamic
  • Call

Search Network with Display Expansion Campaigns

Your ads will appear on the Google search results page, search partner sites, and the Google Display Network sites. For most users, it’s recommended to avoid using this campaign type. Budgeting and targeting control is improved when each campaign is designed specifically for its intended network.

Ad formats: 

  • Text
  • Image

Display Campaigns

Your ads will appear on the Google Display Network.

Ad formats: 

  • Image
  • Responsive Image
  • Video

Shopping Campaigns

Shopping campaigns are used to advertise the products in your Google Merchant Center account. Your ads will appear on the Google search results page.

Ad formats: 

Video Campaigns 

Reach your audience through the world’s second largest search engine, Youtube.

Ad formats:

  • Skippable in-stream
  • Non-skippable in-stream
  • Video discovery
  • Bumper 
  • Masthead
  • Outstream

App Campaigns

Drive app installs across Google’s networks.

Ad formats:

  • Video (must be hosted on YouTube)
  • Image
  • HTML5

Smart Campaigns

Smart campaigns are Google Ads’ solution for small business owners. The set-up is quick and maintenance is minimal. 

Set-up includes:

  1. Choose a budget
  2. Give Google a few keyword themes
  3. Write an ad

Google will manage the rest of the optimizations over time. 

Discovery Campaigns

Drive engagement with new audiences with a combination of your best ad assets, including logos, images, headlines, descriptions, call-to-actions. Google will serve your ads across the following channels:

  • YouTube Home feed
  • Watch Next feed
  • Gmail Promotions tab
  • Gmail Social tab
  • Discover feed on Google

In this guide we’ll be going looking at the two key campaign types, Search and Display, in further detail.

2.2 Search Network Campaign Settings

For search campaigns, you have the option of opting into the Google Search Partner Network. This means that your ads will show on non-Google sites related to the user’s search, as well as Google Maps, Google Video, and other Google properties. Campaigns are opted into search partners by default, so if you want to opt out you’ll have to uncheck the box that says “Include Google search partners.” Often search partners can yield productive, supplementary inventory. To access this information, simply segment by Network (with search partners):


For daily budgets, keep in mind that Google Ads maintains daily budgets over the course of 30 days. On an individual day, a given campaign is allowed to spend up to twice the daily budget if performance indicates value in doing so. Google Ads will then correct itself by under-spending on a lower performing day to offset days with increased budget. 

It’s incredibly important for brands with fluctuating PPC budgets to use campaign budget trackers and budget pacing tools to ensure the monthly, quarterly, and/or annual budget isn’t surpassed.


Google segments performance by four device categories: desktop, mobile, tablet and TV screen. You can set different bid adjustments for each device type. You can view all the usual performance statistics segmented by these devices and make an adjustment if necessary. Modifiers can go from -100% to +900% and be set at the campaign and ad group levels.


This is where you specify where you want your ads to show (or not show). You can set bid adjustments for certain cities, regions, or countries or exclude them altogether. You can select how Google will dictate a user’s location in the advanced location options.

The default setting drives a larger reach and is the first listed option: people in, or who show interest in, your targeted locations. Select “People in or regularly in your targeted locations” if the immediate location of your audience is relevant to your product or service.


Here you’ll specify what language(s) you want to target. To determine a user’s language, Google looks at a user’s Google language setting or the language of the search query, currently viewed page, or recently viewed pages on the display network.

Bid Strategy

Beyond manual bidding, Google Ads offers a series of automated (smart) bidding options that are increasingly improving in effectiveness. The current options are: 

  • Target CPA (cost-per-acquisition): Sets bids to get the most conversions possible while reaching your average cost-per-acquisition (CPA) goal.
  • Target ROAS (return-on-ad-spend): Sets bids to help you get the most conversion value while maintaining your target return on ad spend (ROAS).
  • Maximize clicks: Sets bids to help you get the most clicks within your budget.
  • Maximize conversions: Sets bids to help you get the most conversions within your budget.
  • Maximize conversion value: Sets bids based on the conversion value that you want to maximize.
  • Target impression share: Sets bids with the goal of showing your ad on the absolute top of the page, on the top of the page, or anywhere on the page of Google search results.
  • Enhanced CPC (cost-per-click): Adjusts your manual bids up or down to help you increase conversions.

While each of these bid strategies can be executed at the campaign level, keep in mind that bid strategies can be run across campaigns.

Delivery Method

There are two options for delivery method:

  • Standard: Show ads evenly over time (Standard is the only delivery option available for Search campaigns, Shopping campaigns, and shared budgets)
  • Accelerated: Show ads as quickly as reasonably possible

Ad Rotation

Ad rotation dictates which ad Google will show at any particular time. 

There are 2 options available: “Optimize: Prefer best performing ads” and  “Do not optimize: Rotate ads indefinitely.” 

The second option allows for even ad rotation, which is better for ad testing.

2.3 Display Network Campaign Settings

Display campaigns offer an excellent opportunity to engage with top of the funnel traffic at an efficient price using image ads. In order to reach this traffic, you’ll need to incorporate at least one of the following targeting methods:

Display Keywords

Google uses keywords as contextual targeting to display your ads on sites with relevant content. 


Here you can view the websites that Google has automatically displayed your ads on, or you can create managed placements (websites that you specify).


Topics refer to the theme of a website. You choose which topics you want to target, and Google does the rest.

When looking to engage with a new audience via display, it is often best to layer a handful of these targeting opportunities in each ad group. One option within this network is Smart Display Campaigns. These campaigns offer a simple, yet advanced solution to broaden your reach while maintaining relevant traffic. Smart Display Campaigns automate and optimize targeting, bidding, and ads through machine learning.

2.4 Ad Extensions

Ad Extensions will show with your ad depending on position, ad rank, and what other ad extensions you’ve enabled. Extensions are valuable because they take up more real estate on the search results page, and provide users with more information about your site.


Sitelinks allow you to show additional links to your site below your ad. Consider this a chance to move your audience further down the funnel with additional landing page options and ad copy.


Callouts quickly relay major benefits or features of your service.

Structured Snippets

Structured snippets give advertisers the chance to describe the features of a specific product or share the range of products or services their business offers.

Call Extensions

These allow your users to click-to-call from their mobile phones.

Lead Form Extensions

Attach a lead form directly to a search or TrueView for Action ad, eliminating the users’ need to click through to the website. For this extension, you must create the following:

  • Extension
  • Lead Form
  • Submission Message

Location Extensions

If your business has a physical location or storefront, you can use location extensions to display their address. Location extensions are displayed to users who are near or are searching about the location of your business. If you have multiple locations, you can easily add multiple location extensions, which will show to users depending on their locations.

Affiliate Location Extensions

For businesses that sell through other stockists, affiliate location extensions help you reach consumers when they are deciding what and where to buy.

App Extensions

Link to your mobile or tablet app from your text ads.

Promotion Extensions

Show details regarding special sales and offers within your ads.

Price Extensions 

Price extensions are a useful way of providing users with exact pricing information.

2.5 How to Start Optimizing Your Account

So far, this guide has covered the basic settings and features of Google Ads. Next, we’ll cover some basic Google Ads optimizations that you’ll be making in your accounts.

The Search Query Report

Search query reports are used to analyze what search terms are triggering your ads. This can be useful in a few ways:

  • To ensure that only relevant traffic is coming in by adding negative keywords
  • To identify new keywords to add to your account

To analyze search queries, download them into an Excel file. Then filter or sort by cost, conversions, and impressions to identify the search queries that are driving traffic, conversions, and brand awareness. 

Bid & Budget Optimizations

Bids and budgets are usually adjusted on a weekly basis. Campaign budgets are used to allocate overall monthly budgets, and bids are used to efficiently spend your budget on the keyword level. That said, many advertisers are now adopting Google’s automated bid methods which require little to no keyword-level bid changes. 

Audience Insights

Google Ads provides tons of audience insights to help brands determine the best use of ad budget. 

Within the Audiences tab, advertisers can review how all of the different audience list types are performing, across all campaigns and ad groups. For audiences with great conversion rates, consider using bid adjustments to bid higher on that campaign. For audiences with high cost and low conversion rates, consider adding negative bid adjustments.

For an aggregated view of audience metrics, download your audience data into an Excel sheet, including all ad groups and campaigns. Then, use pivot tables to aggregate data for one audience, across all campaigns within a network.

Beyond audience lists, factors like location, device, time of day (ad schedule), age, gender, parental status, and household income are likely to be defining characteristics of your target audience. Location, device, and ad schedule all have their own tabs on the left navigation in Google Ads. Each of the other characteristics are found under the Demographics tab within Google Ads.

3. Becoming an Expert

After successfully navigating the setup of a Google Ads account and the initial round of settings, optimizations, and expansions, the time has come to not only manage your account, but to really identify how your account will flourish. By the end of this section you’ll learn: 

  1. Prospecting Audiences
  2. Remarketing Audiences
  3. Optimizing Remarketing Audiences
  4. Advanced Metrics and Features
  5. Automated Rules and Reports

3.1 Prospecting Audiences

Interests & Habits (Affinity)

Google uses the data it collects from users’ search history to bucket them into broad interest groups that can be targeted with Display, Search, or Video campaigns.

Examples include:

  • Avid News Readers
  • Do-It-Yourselfers
  • Fast Food Cravers

In-Market & Life Events

Google uses search history to estimate if users are in-the-market for certain products or services or if they’re anticipating a big life event. In-market audiences can be used with Display, Search, or Video campaigns. Life event targeting can be used only with Display campaigns.

Examples of in-market audiences include:

  • Corporate Event Planning
  • Mobile Phone Accessories
  • Tax Preparation Services & Software

Examples of Life Events include:

  • Graduating from college
  • Moving homes
  • Getting married

Custom Audiences

Custom audiences allow advertisers to use combinations of keywords, URLs and apps to describe an audience. Google interprets the chosen data points to ultimately come up with a new custom audience. These audiences will be focused on one of the following objectives:

  • Reach
  • Consideration
  • Performance

3.2 Remarketing Audiences

Remarketing allows businesses to continually engage with an audience who has already been to their website. This means that the individual is not only more familiar with the brand, but they have also begun the process of identifying if your product or service is meeting their needs. 

Due to the specificity of the targeting, remarketing efforts tend to yield lower costs-per-clicks as well as higher conversion rates. Those who click through a remarketing ad are often individuals who are further along in the buying cycle.

There’s a lot to say about remarketing, so we wrote a dedicated remarketing guide.

3.3 Advanced Metrics and Features

At this point, your account should be divided into a structure that drives your overarching PPC goals. While such segmentation is imperative for successful account management, additional metrics and features help increase efficiency of your ad spend.

Cross-Device Attribution 

In a world where mobile & tablet traffic account for well over 50% of online traffic (, the acknowledgement of multi-device and multi-channel interactions is crucial. Cross-device attribution refers to the way in which Google is able to track users’ interaction with your site across multiple devices and avenues of exposure, such as emails, direct, paid, and organic searches.

In the Google Ads interface, advertisers can analyze cross-device conversions by adding the column “Cross Device Conv” to the Campaign, Ad Group, or Keywords tab.

All Conversions

All Conv. includes all tracked conversions in the Google Ads account, including those which are NOT being tracked in the regular Conv. column (the difference being whether “Include In Conversions” is checked in the settings for each conversion). 

All Conv. also includes:

  • Calls from tablet and computer users
  • Store visits
  • Floodlight conversions

Generally, this metric can shed light on campaigns that might be driving more conversions than just the conversion they’re optimized for.

Conversion Action Sets

By default, Google shows all conversions in the “Conversions” column at the campaign level. Google also uses all conversion types when it comes to automated bidding strategies, unless an advertiser is using conversion action sets. 

Conversion action sets allow advertisers to segment conversion types and optimize around each set. For example, users who make a purchase may be considered  tier 1 conversions. Users who fill out a contact us form or sign up for the email newsletter may be considered tier 2. Conversion action sets can be created by clicking the “Conversion Action Sets” tab.

3.4 Automated Rules and Reports

When working on accounts with thousands of moving parts, efficiency is of the utmost importance. As you become more familiar with the workings of your PPC account, you may begin to identify processes or optimizations that could be just as successfully implemented through automation.

Google understands this need and has provided a thorough list of rules that may be used in your account. While this list is impressive, there are a few examples that are most frequently implemented and most easily applied across industries.

Automated Rules

If you find yourself making the same optimizations to your account on a regular basis, it may be time to create a rule to do it for you.

Rule Types

There are 12 kinds of rules available in Google Ads:

  1. Campaign
  2. Ad Group
  3. Keyword
  4. Ad
  5. Display Keyword
  6. Topic
  7. Placement
  8. Audience
  9. Age Range
  10. Gender
  11. Parental Status
  12. Income Range

Rule Example

In one scenario, you may offer promotions at certain times, such as holidays. In this example, the ads selected have been given Google Ads labels that indicate that they are promotional ads for Father’s Day.

In order to pause these ads automatically, the day after Father’s Day, go to:

Tools and Settings > Bulk Actions > Rules

Then add an Ad rule, based on the Father’s Day label you created. You have the ability to choose the exact time that the ads should pause.

The overall advantage to using automated rules in your Google Ads account is to take the daily, weekly, or monthly tasks you routinely run, and allow the interface to do them for you. This frees up your time while still generating the same outcome.

Automated Reports  

Automated reports are extremely simple to set up. 

In the Reports section of Google Ads, choose a Predefined Report or create a custom report. Once the report is complete, use the Schedule button to set up recurring reports.

4. Bonus Content

Within Google Ads, ensuring proper tracking is in place in order to properly report is extremely important. If you go to Measurement -> Conversions -> +Conversion – then you will get a code and you can begin placing tags on the site to assure proper conversion tracking and reporting. First, you need to know a number of conversion tracking definitions.

4.1 Conversion Tracking Definitions


The conversion value can be an arbitrary value that’s counted each time a conversion occurs or a value tied to the price of items purchased. (Connecting the dollar value of a product sold requires modifications to the basic Google Ads tracking tag). 


Assuring the count on each conversion value is set up properly is extremely important. ECommerce brands typically want to value each sale, so the Count setting would be set to “Every” conversion. For most Lead Gen brands, a new lead is only worth counting once, even if they fill out multiple forms, for example. In this case, set the Count to “One” conversion.

Conversion Window

The conversion window is typically set to 30 days, but for products or services that typically have a longer decision-making process, it is not uncommon to use 60- or 90-day windows.

 View-through conversions typically have a 1-day setting but also can be adjusted. This is normally used as a secondary metric to understand how many converters saw an ad, didn’t click, but converted on the site via another channel.  


The categories are fairly self-explanatory. More important is the fact that advertisers can choose to track multiple categories, but when it comes to the actual conversion count, decide not to count certain categories.

Categories include:


  • Purchase
  • Add to basket
  • Begin checkout
  • Subscribe


  • Contact
  • Submit Lead Form
  • Book Appointment
  • Sign-up
  • Request quote
  • Get directions
  • Outbound click


  • Page view
  • Other

Include in “Conversions”

This is where the previous note comes into play. Here is where advertisers select the main goals to include as conversions and assure that secondary goals are not included in the total conversions (ie: typically sales or leads are included and other goals are not).

4.2 Attribution Models

There’s one major key to reporting and tracking success – choosing an attribution model. Attribution models determine how Google gives conversion credit to each campaign. For example, some brands only care about the last clicked ad before a user converts. Those brands would use Last Click attribution.

The benefit of using a more complicated model, where multiple campaigns get credit for a conversion, is that advertisers can see which campaigns have influence over a conversion (even if those campaigns aren’t “closing the deal”) and can budget accordingly. This generally empowers advertisers to justify more ad spend on mid and upper funnel campaigns.

Google Ads provides the option to use any of the following attribution models:

  • Last click
  • First click
  • Linear
  • Time decay
  • Position-based
  • Data-driven

For a full guide to PPC attribution read our dedicated attribution guide.

There you have it! The 2020 Guide to Google Ads. Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of everything you could know in Google Ads, but it’s a good start. As the world of PPC constantly changes, there’s always something new to learn. So keep reading, keep experimenting, and make sure you are actively taking part in PPC communities, events, and resources. You’ll be an expert before you know it!