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Google Ads: 101
Marketing Foundations

Google Ads: 101

Google Ads are a go-to for digital marketers in just about every industry, but you may be wondering: how many ad types are there? And more importantly, what do they look like and how do they work?

Our Digital Marketing team gets questions like these all the time, which is why we’ve put together this crash course to help you get familiar with all of the current options Google Ads has to offer and how to use each of them to make your digital marketing efforts smarter, savvier, and ultimately, more effective.

Google Ad Types

Some marketers tend to refer to any Google marketing efforts as “Google Ads.” While they’re technically not incorrect, lumping the nine distinctively different ad types Google currently has to offer into a single category is a surefire way to create unnecessary confusion for yourself, your teams, and most importantly, for your clients. 

Before we talk about some smart Google Ad strategies you might consider for your digital marketing efforts, let’s break down all nine ad types to get familiar with what they look like, how they work, and when to use them. 

1. Search Ads

Search Ad

Where: Google search results pages

Why: Best for promoting web pages and web content that uses targeted keywords

Search ads are text-based ads that look like typical link listings in a search engine results page (SERP). While they are subject to some of the same performance guidelines as organic links, these simple, text-based ads are one of the most direct options available when you’re looking to use your CPC budget to earn web traffic for pages related to target keywords.


2. Display Ads

Where: Found on millions of websites, apps, and other properties in Google’s display network

Why: Best for building awareness across platforms, focused on new markets

If you’ve ever Googled something one day only to find a convenient ad for it on a random website or social platform a few days later, it was probably a display ad. Display ads are visually oriented promotions that run on Google’s greater display network — which includes millions of websites and apps as well as connected Google properties like Gmail and YouTube. Display ads reach users with visual advertisements that are based on their recent Google searches. Those visual ads are then displayed across platforms, devices, and locations.


3. Shopping Ads

Where: Scattered throughout Google Shopping, SERPs, Images, Maps, and partner results

Why: Best for promoting physical products that are included in Google Merchant Center

Shopping ads are auto-populated ads that pull data from product feeds within the Google Merchant Center. They are different from Search ads because they are auto-populated, meaning advertisers don’t need to provide any original images or copy to use them. Using data from current Merchant Center feeds, Shopping ads present people with quick hits of basic product info, which may include things like price cuts, user ratings, brand names, selling points, and more.

4. Video Ads


Where: YouTube, placed before, during, or after YouTube uploads, in YouTube’s home and search feeds, and across the Google Partners Network

Why: Best for promoting video content or dynamic content geared towards highly engaged audiences

Video ads are true to their name, making them a rather straightforward option. Google Video ads are hosted on YouTube and that is largely where they are encountered by intended viewers, although some can be added to other spaces within Google’s video partners network. Video ads come in six different formats, which determine when and where the ad is played. These options range from skippable in-stream ads that play before, during, or after another video that is viewed, to masthead ads that are found at the top of a user’s YouTube home feed. 

5. App Ads

App Ad

Where: Google Play Store search results and suggestions, SERPs, YouTube feeds, Google Discover, and across the Search Partner Network.

Why: Best for promoting existing apps or teasing apps that are “coming soon” to Android platforms exclusively

For anyone selling or promoting an app, App ads are essentially the equivalent of Shopping ads. Advertisers only need to provide some basic text, set their language preferences, and establish a budget. Then, Google uses data from the app’s Play Store listing to automatically create and test different visual layouts and relevant keyword combos for ads that are auto-populated throughout Play Store search results and suggestions lists.

6. Discovery Ads

Discovery Ad

Where: Google’s Discover feed, YouTube homepages and Watch Next feeds, Gmail Promotion tabs

Why: Best for targeting purchase-ready users

Discover ads are geared toward Android and Apple users and are placed in Google’s Discovery feed. These ads are somewhat unique in that they rely on scalable, intent-targeted machine learning to cater ads to specific user feeds based on their search histories, app usage and preferences, and other online behavioral patterns. Discover ads also include multiple images, headlines, and descriptive copy options, allowing Google to test different iterations of an ad to place the most effective combinations possible in front of targeted individuals who are already browsing in these spaces. 

7. Local Service Ads

Local Services Ads

Where: Google Maps and SERPs

Why: Best for advertising geo-specific services or products to localized audiences

While Local Services ads aren’t part of the core Google Ads group, they are still an option Google Ad users have at their disposal and should be considered when marketing to localized audiences or promoting geo-specific offerings. As the name suggests, these ads connect customers within geo-specific audiences to products and services offered within those designated areas. Any localized advertisers can create ads within the Local Services Ad hub so long as they meet Google’s insurance, licensing, and background check requirements. 


8. Performance Max

Performance Max

Where: Across all Google advertising channels

Why: Used to create channel-agnostic ads that can be automatically optimized for audiences across Google ad properties

Performance Max launched in late 2021, and has since been referred to by Google as the future of their ad offerings. With its easy-to-use campaign setup features and its integration with Google AI machine learning models that optimize ad creation and performance, Performance Max offers several advantages over single-channel ad types. Mainly, it gives advertisers the ability to automate ad campaigns across all Google Ads properties simultaneously. Many of those single-ad channels, like Smart Shopping, have already been transitioned to Performance Max as of 2023.

9. Smart Ads

Smart Ad

Where: Google SERPs, Maps, Gmail, YouTube, and Search Partner sites

Why: Best used for goal-centric campaigns that prioritize conversion types over specific ad channels.

Smart Ads are a somewhat limited alternative to Performance Max. Instead of automating entire cross-platform campaigns using elements from a single source to create finished ads, Smart Ads use some of the same automation features while requiring a bit more of a hands-on approach. Smart Ads require advertisers to provide original copy images, or other creative assets and to set their own audience preferences, keywords, and bidding parameters. Then, Smart Ads allows Google to automatically display the resulting ads in a way that prioritizes specific conversion types over specific channels. Basically, Smart Ads offers the helpful automation tools that make Performance Max so useful but also allows them to create campaigns that are centralized around more specific goals, like driving more web traffic, getting more video views, or winning more localized leads. 

Building an Effective Google Ads Strategy

Getting familiar with all of the options Google Ads currently offers is a crucial first step toward building a solid strategy for your business — but that’s only the beginning. Google Ads, like most marketing tools, are constantly changing and evolving. So naturally, building a smart Google Ads strategy isn’t a “one and done” type of thing. 

Using Google Ads effectively and strategically requires constant attention, adaptability, and exploration. At the very least, it means having a dedicated team that’s willing to continuously monitor, test, and optimize your ad strategies to make them as efficient and impactful as possible. And, if you’re here today because you’ve been looking for help in that arena, CID’s digital marketing and strategy experts are ready to jump in your corner! 

Our teams are versed in the ins and outs of Google Ads so you don’t have to be. We’ll partner with you to tackle every aspect of your Google Ad initiatives – from building your ads account and developing a solid, strategic plan to dedicating the time, creativity, and attention it takes to execute and elevate your digital marketing efforts across the board. If you’re ready to take on your next digital marketing frontier, then we’re ready to provide the tools, plans, and oversight to help you make decisions that deliver results. 

Looking for more tactical tips or expert insights from the brain trust that makes up our Digital Marketing Strategy practice? Contact CID to get started!

All ad example images in this post via Zapier

Amy Klinkhammer

Amy Klinkhammer-Thomas

Copywriter & Content Specialist

"Bring in the Klinkhammer," they said...and we did! Amy is part of our award-winning marketing & strategy team where she writes for ads, email, the web, video and so much more. She also drinks too much coffee and spends too much time debating the Oxford comma.

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