If you’re looking to get started with Google Ads to help grow your business, you’re in the right place.
These days, more sales are happening online than ever before. For that reason, it’s vital to make sure people can find your business online. And for many businesses, the best way to do that is with Google Ads.
In this article, Jim Hughes and Paul Miu share their key teachings from EWD's comprehensive Google Ads Fundamentals course.
Think about it this way: anytime you need something—whether it’s a local plumber or a new computer—what’s the first thing you do? If you’re like millions of people around the world, you start by Googling it.
That’s the beauty of Google Ads. It lets you ‘get in front of’ potential customers by showing ads just to people who are actively searching for your products or services. It’s like a machine: you put in money and work, and eventually leads & sales come out the other end.
This guide won’t turn you into a Google Ads master overnight, but it will teach you the fundamentals. By the end of this guide, you’ll know enough to set up your own campaign and start generating leads and sales for your business.
But before we proceed, there is one thing you need to do.
Determining Your Google Ads Goals
Before we start creating your new account, there are 2 related questions you’ll need to answer:
What’s your business goal?
The answer here is usually obvious: you probably want more leads or sales. But dig deeper than that and get more specific.
How many more leads or sales do you want (per month)? 10? 100? 1,000?
For which products & services?
Are these all new customers, or are some repeat purchases?
Don’t worry, this number can change as your business grows. But at the beginning, having a target in mind helps to set the right budget & expectations for your first campaign.
How much are you willing to pay to acquire a new lead or sale?
In other words, how much is a new lead or sale worth to you?
The amount you pay per lead/sale is an important metric that I’ll refer to throughout this entire guide. Usually it’s referred to as your CPA, which stands for cost per acquisition or cost per action.
Note: Ecommerce sites that sell a range of products should use Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) or even better, ROI or Profit. But we’ll stick with CPA for now for brevity.
CPA is an important number because it gives you a single metric that you can use to reliably measure how profitable your account is. If you know that your customers are worth just over $200 on average, then you can spend up to $200 to acquire a new customer (depending on your profit margins and so on).
We recommend specifying 2 CPAs: a maximum tolerable CPA and a target CPA. For instance, perhaps you can pay as much as $200 per lead (max tolerable CPA), but you prefer to pay more like $120 (target CPA). When you first get started, you’ll want to focus on hitting that maximum tolerable number. Once you do that, you can work on improving results until you hit that lower CPA.
At this point, you’ve decided on a target CPA and a target number of sales or leads per month. Now you can get an idea of how much money you’ll need to spend to reach that goal by simply multiplying those numbers together. If you want 10 leads per month, for instance, and you’re willing to pay up to $200 per lead, then the budget you need to reach your goal is:
Maximum Tolerable CPA x Total Desired Leads/Sales = Monthly Budget
$200 x 10 = $2,000/month
It’s Your Turn: Determine Your Goals
Before moving on, write down:
How many leads or sales you want per month
Your target CPA
The maximum tolerable CPA you can afford to pay
Now that you have those goals in mind, it’s time to get started building your first Google Ads campaign. We’ll approach the process in 6 steps. Follow along with this guide, in order, and you can have your first campaign up and running in as little as a few hours.
Part 1 – Messaging
First, let’s address the type of ads you should be using to start. Google has 4 main types of ads split across 2 main networks.
The Display Network allows you to place banner ads (usually a rectangular image) on millions of sites and apps. This also includes YouTube, where you can place both video ads and image ads and Gmail.
The Search Network allows you to place ads on the Google search results page. The Search page currently supports two main types of ads: search ads and shopping ads. Here’s what they look like:
Shopping Ads can also run across the top, like this:
Most people are better off starting with the Search Network – it’s the easiest way to learn the Google Ad ecosystem, so that’s what we’ll focus on in this guide. That means your ads will appear whenever someone searches for a keyword related to your product or service. (We’ll cover keywords and search terms in Part 2 of this guide).
We’ll break down the ad creation process into 2 steps.
Step 1: Determine Your Main Business Sections
First things first: you’ll want to get clear on the main thing(s) you sell. Each of those things needs a separate section in your Google Ads account.
For example, if you’re a women’s clothing store you might sell shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, and purses. If you’re a law firm, you might offer family law, criminal law, and property law. And so on.
It’s important to create separate sections for different parts of your business like this, because each section will need its own ads.
Think about: if you search Google for “divorce lawyer near me,” are you going to respond to an ad that talks about property law? Or one that focuses specifically on divorce lawyers?
You’d be much more likely to respond to the second ad, because it’s more relevant.
Relevance is critical in Google Ads.
Step 2: Write Your Ad Copy For Each Business Section
Once you figure out your primary business sections, you can start writing ads for each section. The goods news is that Search Ads are text-only, so you don’t have to worry about creating image or video assets. All you need is some compelling marketing copy.
The components of a Google Text Ad are:
2-3 Headlines (up to 30 characters). Your headlines will be the most visible parts of your ad, so put some thought into them. Just keep in mind that Google can mix and match headlines, so make sure each one can stand alone. In other words, don’t try to string multiple headlines together to form a longer phrase.
Some common points to include here are:
Your business name
The main thing you want to tell people
Why you are better or different than your competitors
Exactly what it is that you offer
1-2 Descriptions (up to 90 characters). Your descriptions are longer, so you have more room to showcase what you do. Feel free to go into some more detail about what your business provides and why your product or service is valuable. You should always try to include a call-to-action such as “Buy Now” or “Call to Book a Consultation”.
Here’s how these sections look in a real ad:
There are a number of rules about what you can and can’t say in a Google Ad. You can read more about them here, but here are some of the common issues that people run into:
You can’t use exclamation points in the headlines
You can’t say “Click Here” as your call-to-action
You can’t add a phone number in the ad text (though you can add your phone number through what’s known as a call extension)
It’s Your Turn: Write Your First Ads
First, create a list of the different business sections or product types that you sell (such as shirts, pants, shoes; or criminal law, family law, divorce law, etc.).
Then for each section, I want you to write 2 text ads. And remember, each ad consists of 2-3 headlines and 1-2 descriptions.
Why are you writing 2 ads? Because the best way to improve your ads is to run more than one at a time to see which one works better. Your ads will improve over time as you learn more about what kind of messages get the best click-through rate (CTR).
When you’re doing this, try to put yourself in your potential customers’ shoes. What are they going to be thinking about? What do they care about? What are they really looking for?
Go ahead and write your ads and then we’ll start adding keywords to your account.
Part 2 – Targeting
For search ads, Google uses keywords to decide who to show your ad to. If a keyword in your account matches the search term that a user types in, then your ad may be eligible to show to that person.
I know this terminology can be confusing, so let’s clarify what those things mean.
A search term is a word or phrase that a person types into Google. For instance, if you go to Google and type in, “best men’s running shoes,” that phrase is the search term (also called a ‘search query’).
A keyword is a word or phrase that you add to your Google Ads account. For instance, you might add “best running shoes for men” as a keyword.
There are some specifics regarding keyword match types, which you don’t need to get into just yet. For now, the important thing to understand is that if your keyword is similar to the search term, then your ad can show for that search.
In this example, “best men’s running shoes” is pretty close to “best running shoes for men,” so your ad would probably be eligible to show for this search.
2 Main Types of Keywords
Generally speaking, advertisers break down their keywords into 2 main groups:
Branded keywords are those that contain your business name. For example, “Coke” is a branded search for Coca-Cola.
Non-branded keywords are those that don’t contain your business name. For example, “diet soda” might be a non-branded search for Coca-Cola.
Branded keywords are easy—you usually need just a few of them. Deciding which non-branded keywords to use can be trickier.
How Many Non-Branded Keywords Do You Need?
This is one of the most common questions I get. For starters: you do NOT need to copy and paste huge lists of keywords into your account. In fact, doing that will probably result in wasted money on searches that aren’t relevant to your business.
Keep in mind, it’s impossible to think of every possible search query. After all, there are brand-new, unique searches being made every single day in Google. So you don’t need to try and think of every possible keyword. Instead, you want to start with the most relevant terms people will type in when searching for your product or service.
How many keywords is that? In general, somewhere between half a dozen and 25 keywords is usually sufficient for each of the business sections you decided on in Part 1. If you’re ambitious you might add up to 50 each.
So for example, if your store sells shirts, shoes, and pants for men, you’ll need somewhere around 6-25 keywords for each of those categories. The beginning of your list might look something like this:
And so on.
Notice that most of these keywords are 2-4 words long. Single-word keywords, like “shirts” or “pants,” are usually too general to be effective. If someone searches for “pants,” you don’t know if they’re looking for men’s pants, women’s pants, dress pants, sweatpants, jeans, and so on. You’ll get much better performance using longer, more specific keywords.
It’s Your Turn: Brainstorm Your Starting Keywords
Brainstorm a list of up to 50 keywords for each section of your business, including both branded and non-branded searches. And enter those into your Workbook.
Don’t overcomplicate this process. You don’t need any fancy tools to come up with a list of keywords. The only tool I would recommend at this point, if you want to use a tool at all, is Google’s Keyword Planner. This is a free tool available inside of Google Ads that you can find by clicking on Tools, then Keyword Planner:
It can help give you new ideas for keywords that might not have occurred to you. A word of warning, though: don’t go too far down the rabbit hole here. Just use your head and start with the most obvious keywords, and that will get you 80-90% of the way there.
If you’re a local business, you may want to add a few relevant phrases such as “near me” and the name of your city. People will often add a local modifier for searches such as, “Chicago plumber” or “locksmiths in London.”
And if you’re unsure about a keyword, just go to Google and type it in! If you see ads from businesses similar to yours, that’s a sign that the keyword is probably a good one.
Part 3 – Bidding
The auction works like this:
Everyone in the auction has a certain bid—a certain amount of money they’re willing to pay if someone clicks on their ad. The higher your bid, the more likely it is that your ad will show up in a high position. If your bid is too low, your ad might not show up at all.
How Much Should You Bid?
The amount you need to bid will depend greatly on how competitive your industry is. Some industries, like insurance, can cost over $50 per click; while other industries, like dry cleaning, can cost less than a dollar. It all depends on how much other companies are bidding for the same keywords.
If everyone else is bidding $25 and you bid $1, your ads will never show. If you raise that bid to $25, then your ad will show and you’ll start to get impressions and clicks. If you double that bid to $50, then you’ll start getting even more traffic—but it will be more expensive.
Generally, your goal should be to appear among the first 4 ads at the top of the screen. Those ads get the majority of traffic. Few people scroll to the bottom of the page, and even fewer ever click to see the second or third page of results.
Keep in mind, you don’t actually pay anything unless the person searching clicks on your ad. And you won’t necessarily pay your maximum bid, either. If you bid $5 on a keyword, and someone clicks on your ad, you may spend only $4.15. Again, it depends on your competitors’ bids & some other factors.
One way to get an idea of how competitive your keywords are is to use the Keyword Planner that I mentioned in Part 2. For each keyword, it will list an estimated CPC that will at least give you a ballpark figure.
My recommendation, when you’re just getting started, is to begin with what seems like an average bid. Then when you start to get some data on how well the bids are working, you can adjust from there.
Why Are Bids Important?
Since your bid determines how much you’re willing to pay for each visitor, it can have a huge impact on the profitability of your campaigns. This is why your bids are one of the most important levers you can pull in your Google Ads account.
A low bid means you pay less for each click (AKA each visitor), but you’ll get fewer visitors in total. Raising your bid will cost more, but you’ll have the potential to show up more often and get more visitors that you can convert into leads and sales. Don’t raise that bid too high, though, or else you’ll end up paying so much that you end up losing money on each new customer.
It’s a balancing act. Your job is to adjust your bids over time to maximize profit. Sometimes that will mean increasing your bids so you get more traffic, and other times it might mean decreasing bids to save money.
Different Ways to Set Your Bids
There are a few ways to set your bids. First of all, you have the option to set bids manually or you can use automated bidding (which lets the Google algorithm set your bids for you).
When you’re just starting, I recommend you use manual bidding for several reasons. For one thing, the algorithm needs data in order to find the patterns it will need to make an intelligent decision on how much to bid. If you let the machine set your bids without having any data first, it could do some wild and crazy things that end up costing you money.
Also, manual bidding helps give you a better understanding of how the bidding process works. You’ll know what’s going on under the hood, so to speak. And if you decide to use automated bidding later on, and something breaks, you’ll be better equipped to fix it.
If you take my advice and use manual bidding, you have one additional decision to make: should you set your bids at the ad group level, or the keyword level? (We’ll talk about what ad groups are in Part 4.)
For example, let’s say you have a “Property Lawyer” section of your business with 35 keywords in it. You can choose a separate bid for each keyword or you can choose 1 bid to apply to all 35 of your “Property Lawyer” keywords.
At this point, I recommend setting your bids at the ad group level. It’s much easier to manage and simpler to get started.
Some Important Abbreviations
Here are some common bid-related abbreviations you’ll need to know to run a Google Ads account:
CPC stands for cost per click. It’s the average amount of money you pay for each person who clicks on your ad to visit your website. Your CPC is primarily a function of your bids.
CPA stands for cost per acquisition, or cost per action. This is how much it costs you to generate a lead or sale. You don’t get to choose your CPA in Google Ads. Instead, it’s a function of your cost per click and your conversion rate. For instance, if your CPC is $1 and you have a 2% conversion rate, then your CPA will average out to $50.
ROAS stands for return on ad spend. This is simply your revenue divided by your ad costs. For instance, if you spend $100 on Google Ads and generate $145 in revenue, your ROAS is 1.45. This means that for every dollar you spent, you generated $1.45 in revenue.
It’s Your Turn: Decide On Your Bids
Go through each section of your business and determine how much to bid for each one. Remember that your bid is the maximum amount of money you’ll spend for 1 click from a visitor searching for those keywords. Again use your workbook to keep track of your thoughts.
Part 4 – Structure & Settings
Inside your account, you can have 1 or more campaigns. Think of a campaign as a container. Generally, you want each campaign to group similar things. For instance, branded keywords and non-branded keywords should be in separate campaigns.
(Incidentally, your branded campaign is the easiest one to get right—so it’s the campaign I recommend creating first.)
Inside each campaign, you’ll add 1 or more ad groups. An ad group is a different kind of container—one that contains its own ads, keywords, and bids.
Here’s a visual breakdown that might help clarify this structure:
Up until now, we’ve talked about the different “sections” of your business. For example: shirts, shoes, and pants for a clothing store; or family law, criminal law, and property law for a law firm. Each of those sections is going to become an ad group (most likely, inside your non-branded campaign).
And if you’ve been following along, you already have everything you need to create those ad groups:
In Part 1, you wrote ads for each ad group.
In Part 2, you brainstormed keywords for each ad group.
In Part 3, you decided on a bid for each ad group.
All that’s left at this point is to take the work you’ve done and actually set up your campaigns & ad groups!
A Few Important Settings
Let’s talk about some of the more important settings in your account (note you won’t see these until you’ve built at least one campaign):
Geography. This determines the physical locations where your ads will show. This area could be as small as a single zip code, or as big as multiple countries. I’d recommend starting small here and targeting your local city or state.
To access this setting, open the settings panel on the left-hand side. Click “More,” then “Locations,” then “Targeted”:
Network. As I mentioned earlier, Google has 2 primary networks: Search and Display. In this guide, we’re focusing on the Search network.
You’ll also see the option to expand your reach to the Search Partner Network. This allows other sites to display your search ads. This can get messy and complicated, so I recommend turning it off for now.
Billing. In order to run your ads, you’ll need to enter a credit card. At first, Google will charge you for every $250 in charges you accumulate. Over time, you can increase that threshold to $500 and then $1,000. To access your billing settings, just click this button in the top right:
Budget. This is where you tell Google how much money you want to spend. You’ll have to set a separate daily budget for each campaign. To do so, navigate to the Campaigns screen (which you can do on the left-hand side). There should be a column called “Budget,” like this:
Keep in mind that Google may spend more or less than this amount on any given day, but they won’t go over your budget over the course of a month. If your daily budget is $100, Google may spend $80 tomorrow and $120 the day after. But over a month, they won’t spend more than $100 times 30.4 (the average number of days in a month), or $3,040.
An important question to consider at this point is:
What Should Your Budget Be?
In the long run, it depends on how much impact you want to have. As long as your campaigns are profitable, then the more money you spend, the more money you’ll make.
But your campaigns probably won’t be profitable right off the bat. They’ll probably lose money for a while, until you get your keywords, ads, and bids dialed in. For that reason, restrict your starting budget to an amount that you can afford to lose. You can always increase it later.
It’s Your Turn: Build Your First Campaign
At this point, you have all the building blocks. Now you just need to put them together. Navigate to the Campaigns tab and click the blue button:
Then click “New Campaign” and build your first campaign!
On the next screen, Google will ask for your campaign’s goal. In most cases, you will choose either Sales (if you’re an ecommerce store) or Leads (if you want to generate leads that you can close in person or over the phone).
Next, Google will ask what type of campaign you want to create. Choose “Search.”
You can ignore most of the settings that we didn’t talk about in this part of the guide, for now. Give your campaign a name, then start creating your ad groups. Remember that each ad group needs keywords, ads, and a bid.
Now, here’s one important piece of advice: pause your campaign until you set up your tracking.
Pausing your campaign is easy. Just go back to the Campaigns tab and click the green button next to each campaign, then click “Pause.”
This will stop your ads from running until we have some tracking in place.
Part 5 – Measurement & Data
But in order to get that data, you need to set up some tracking.
There are lots of different things you can track in Google Ads. For now, I recommend you keep it simple and focus on tracking 1 thing: people who fill out a form (for lead gen) or people who complete a purchase (for ecommerce).
In both cases, you’re tracking visits to a specific page: a thank-you page or order confirmation page.
To track those visits, you need to add a little piece of code to that confirmation page that will tell Google whenever someone visits that page. Google Ads will report those visits in the “Conversions” column. And you’ll be able to see exactly how many conversions were generated by each of your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and ads.
This is great information that can help you improve your results over time. For example: let’s say you have a “family lawyer” ad group and a “criminal lawyer” ad group. Both have spent approximately the same amount of money. But one has generated 8 conversions, and the other has 0. This information makes it pretty obvious which ad group is worth the money and which one isn’t.
To set up this tracking, click “Tools” then “Conversions” in the top-right:
On the next screen, click the big blue plus sign to create a new conversion. Then click “Website.”
Complete the process to create your website conversion. When you’re finished, Google Ads will give you a few options to install the tracking tag on your website:
If you’re familiar with how to edit code on your website, you can click “Install the tag yourself” and just paste the code snippet on the correct page.
Otherwise, you’ll probably want to click “Email the tag” and send it to your web developer.
When that’s done, you’ll be able to track conversions in Google Ads.
A Few Important Metrics To Know
Now that you’re tracking conversions, you’ll want to get familiar with the following metrics in Google Ads. They’re some of the most important values in your account.
Conversions. A conversion is any kind of goal that you’re tracking. It could be sales, web forms submitted, phone calls placed, and so on. The “conversions” column in Google Ads will simply show the total number of conversions tracked.
Cost/conv. This stands for “cost per conversion.” Remember when we talked about your CPA earlier in this guide? This is your CPA. It’s simply your cost divided by your number of conversions. So if you spent $1,000 and got 100 conversions, then your cost/conv is $10.
Conversion rate. This is the percentage of clicks that turned into a conversion. So if you got 1,000 clicks and 50 of them turned into a conversion, then your conversion rate is 5%.
It’s Your Turn: Set Up Tracking For Your Thank-You or Confirmation Page
Follow the directions in Part 5 to track visits to your confirmation page.
You can also feel free to enable (AKA unpause) your campaigns at this point, allowing your ads to show and to start gathering data.
Part 6 – Optimisation
At this point, if you’ve been following along, you’ve got everything set up. Your campaigns are live, and your ads are showing up for relevant searches. Hopefully, people are clicking on your ads and turning into leads and sales for your business.
But not everything in your campaign is going to work. Some things may work really well, and others…not so much.
That’s where optimisation comes into play. Optimisation is the process of making changes to improve your results and get more of the good, and less of the bad, over time.
There are all kinds of changes you can make:
Pause poor-performing ads and replace them with new ads
Decrease or increase bids depending on performance
Add new keywords or ad groups
Adjust settings based on location, time of day, or day of week
Pause keywords that aren’t working
Change or improving your landing pages
And so on
I use an optimisation framework called AdAID™, which stands for: Ask, Information, Do.
Ask. Optimisation always starts with a question. There’s a LOT of data available to you in Google. It’s easy to get lost in all the numbers. But if you start with a question in mind, it’s much easier to stay focused and find something valuable. Here are a few example questions for each of the major sections we’ve covered in this guide:
Messaging: Is one call-to-action working better than others? Are there specific features or benefits that are resonating better with your target market?
Targeting: Are your keywords working? Do you need to add or remove some? Do you need to add negative keywords for terms like “free” or “second-hand”? (We haven’t talked about negative keywords in this guide. They basically cause your ad NOT to show if someone searches for a word or phrase you don’t want to appear for. They’re a good way to cut out irrelevant searches and save money.)
Bidding: Should you increase or decrease your bids? Your daily budgets? Test an automated bidding strategy?
Structure & Setting: Do you need to add a new campaign or ad group for a new or different section of your business? Does it make sense to try out shopping, display, or video ads?
Measurement & Data: Is everything still tracking correctly? It’s not uncommon for tracking to break. For instance, you might create a new confirmation page and forget to add the tracking code to it. Or you may update a page and accidentally delete the tracking code.
Information. Data, by itself, isn’t useful—but you can turn that data into useful information. Usually this takes the form of some kind of picture or chart to give you a visual representation of your results. This makes it easier to spot trends and outliers. For instance, you may notice that your conversion rate is much lower (or higher) on weekends than on weekdays.
Over time, you can do this with third-party tools like Google Sheets or DataStudio. But for now, just make use of the graphs at the top of your Google Ads screen:
Do. Finally, insights are useless without action, so go and make changes in your account based on the information you found. Maybe you need to increase or decrease a bid, change your ad copy, add or delete a keyword, and so on.
Once that’s done, give your account a little more time to see how the new changes impact your performance. Pay particular attention to the effect your changes have on these important metrics:
Conversions, Cost/Conv, and Conversion Rate: Are your optimisations resulting in more conversions and/or more cost-effective conversions?
Cost: How much are you spending? How has that changed over time?
CTR (Click-through rate): What percentage of people are clicking on your ads?
Then, ask a new question and repeat the process all over again. Over time your results will continue to improve bit by bit. Eventually, your Google Ads account will become a well-oiled machine that consistently generates new leads and sales for your business.
If you’ve followed along with this guide, then congratulations are in order: you now have a working Google Ads account. It may not be setting your business on fire just yet, but be patient. With some time, care, and optimisation, your Google Ads account can become a tremendous asset to your business.
But it’s NOT something you can simply set and forget. In order for your account to stay profitable, it needs regular time and attention. So with that in mind, you have 2 choices on what you do from here:
Choice 1: Mastery. Invest more time into learning more about how to run Google Ads, so that you can pilot your account successfully on your own.
To do this, you’ll need to graduate to more advanced Google Ads topics. There are all kinds of courses and programs out there!
Choice 2: Agency. Hand off your account to someone who’s already a Google Ads expert so that you can focus on other parts of your business. This will cost extra money, but is a great way to ensure your campaign is in good hands.
Once again, you have a lot of options here—including my award-winning agency, EWD.
My main recommendation, if you choose to go with an agency, don’t sign a long-term contract. You should stay with an agency because they’re getting you results, not because you’re locked into a bad deal.
Some people prefer to hire an in-house expert to handle their Google Ads, rather than hiring an agency. Both approaches have their pros and cons. One significant downside of hiring an in-house Google Ads manager is that there’s a risk if they leave. But of course, you should do what’s best for your business.
Either way, it’s an investment of your time or your money. But it’s an investment that can pay off big-time once you have a Google Ads account that adds value and growth to your business for years to come.