If you’re a small business looking to advertise on Google, you may be considering Google Ads (formerly Adwords) vs Smart Ads (formerly AdWords Express). Google ads can be a great way to drive traffic to your website. They display next to search results related to keywords that you set up ahead of time.
You might also be aware that Google recently rolled out a new version of Google Ads, the system by which you run ads on Google, called Smart Campaigns (formerly AdWords Express). Though definitely easier to use than default Google Ads, Smart Campaigns take some important choices out of your hands that you might not be aware of.
Below we explain how Google Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising works and then provide a breakdown of the differences between Google Ads and Smart Campaigns.
How Google Ads Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Online Advertising Works
Essentially, Google Ads is a giant clearinghouse of keywords you can bid on. When you create an ad, you’re prompted to enter keywords that are specific to your industry so that when users search for those keywords on Google, your ad pops up. When users click on your ad, they’re redirected to a specific link, typically a landing page for your company’s website. Google Ads can help you get exposure for your business, especially if it’s relatively new and is not showing up as high on search results as you’d like it to.
You only pay when people click on your ad (hence the term “Pay-Per-Click”). Depending on your industry keywords range from $1 per click to $50 or more per click, but the average is around $1-$2.
Why Smart Campaigns Are Seductive
What is described above as a relatively simple process is actually fairly complicated. If you’ve never run a PPC campaign before, you might find yourself quickly overwhelmed by all the metrics you need to pay attention to:
- Cost-Per-Click (CPC): The average price you’ll pay for each click on an ad.
- Budget: Your daily budget for ad spending.
- Click-Through-Rate (CTR): The rate at which users are clicking your ad, compared to how many times your ad displays.
- Keyword matching: There are actually 4 different types of keywords you can target in Google Ads: broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, and exact match. Google Ads default to broad match, but that option is often the least effective route.
In addition to paying attention to these metrics, it’s important to keep an eye on how they change over time, probably on a daily, or at least semi-daily, basis.
Because many small businesses don’t have the time or expertise to run successful Google Ads campaigns, Google created Adwords Express to automate this process (and then eventually rolled AdWords Express into Google Ads as Smart Campaigns).
AdWords vs AdWords Express
On the surface, the two products seem comparable:
From this table created by Google, it would even appear that you’re getting more from AdWords Express/Smart Campaigns. After all, you get automated management and a solution if you don’t have a website. All you seem to miss out on is ads on other related websites and advanced ad formats. Where’s the bad?
Like most automated systems, however, Smart Campaigns simply aren’t there yet when it comes to managing your ads.
We recently ran an experiment. Because we wanted to be able to steer clients toward Google Ads or Smart Campaigns, we ran an ad as a Smart Campaign for a month and then ran the same ad in as a fully optimized Google Ad. Here’s what happened:
- Our Cost-Per-Click (CPC) dropped by over 2000%: You read that correctly. The same ad running on AdWords cost 2000% less per click than it did on AdWords Express.
- Budget: We kept the budget the same to ensure reliability of the experiment.
- Click-Through-Rate (CTR): At the same time that our cost for running our ads went down, our average clicks went up by 800%.
What Happened? Keyword Matching
Remember when we said that there are 4 different types of keywords you can target when running a Google ad? And remember when we said that broad keyword matching was typically the least effective method? Well, what that table above doesn’t tell you is that Smart Campaigns default to broad matching.
The reason this makes a difference is that there are such things as “negative keywords.” Negative keywords are so-called because they negatively impact the likelihood of your ad displaying. This is often because they’re too general.
Consider the following keywords for example:
- custom wordpress websites
“Websites” would be a negative keyword for us, because we only specialize in WordPress websites, so people clicking on our ad from the keyword website might get frustrated if they want a website built in some other technology, such as Joomla! or Drupal. “Custom wordpress websites” is a much better keyword for us because it more accurately describes what we do.
Because you don’t have full control over what keywords your ad is matched with in Smart Campaigns, you might find yourself paying more for worse results than you would with Google Ads.
The Winner in the AdWords (Google Ads) vs AdWords Express (Smart Campaigns) Debate? Google Ads by a Mile
Based on our experiment and some other research we’ve done lately, we will definitely be recommending to our clients that they take the time to learn the full version of Google Ads or hire a consultant to run ads for them in that platform. PPC advertising is simply too complex to outsource key decisions to technology at this point. Perhaps in the future we’ll run our experiment again to see if Smart Campaigns has improved.