Types of google ads: How and when to use them

If you’re starting out, here’s some help for setting up your Google Ads account, this article is here to explore the types of Google ads, along with how and when to use them.

Article Info

April 17, 2024 19 mins

What we will cover

How many different types of Google ads are there?

There are currently nine types of Google Ads campaign, each encompassing different ad formats. The prerequisite (apart from budget and time to set them up) required to produce them ranges from text, images, products, video and various in-app types of content.

the various types of google ads campaigns

Within each campaign can be various subtypes of ad, making it a fairly daunting starting place for the eager enthusiast. Let’s try and explain where to start and how to best use each campaign.

Google Search campaign

What is it?

These are what we often think of when we imagine a Google Ad campaign. It’s the result that appears after we google something.

a type of google search ad

Over the years these have looked less and less like ads and now say “sponsored” above the paid listings.

How does it work?

You choose the keywords that you would like to be visible for, create the ad text and page link you want to send searchers to and assign a budget.

There are various placements up for grabs at different prices, your visibility comes down to your budget (each person that gets served an ad is an impression), and you use your budget when someone clicks on your ad (a click).

The better the keyword (ie lots of other people want it), and the better the position (ie at the top of search results), the more you will pay to bid on the click. When your budget is gone, the ads go too.

For brand awareness, you want lots of impressions (you can get thousands for a relatively small budget), but if you want new customers, you’ll want to measure clicks and then track how many of those clicks went on to buy/enquire from you (a conversion).

an example of the data on google ads dashboard

An example of a Google Ads dashboard measuring Impressions through to Conversions.

Types of Search Campaigns?

Google is trying to make these easier for small businesses to manage themselves, it is certainly easier for them to be setup nowadays, it will grab info from your website and do its best to understand what you’re selling once you put in your web address.

Conversion of customers has traditionally been a different story, with the same old ad being served over and over they would lose effectiveness. Agencies would spend time updating and tweaking the ad language to enhance performance, now however, it asks you to define a handful of headings and descriptions and then tries to match them, the ones that convert well it serves more frequently. This works better, but it can throw up some bonkers suggestions.

You can also change the Call To Action (CTA), so instead of clicking a link, you nudge people straight to the phone which can be useful for simple-to-understand services like the need for a plumber or electrician.

When is it best used?

In itself, a correctly set up Search campaign can change the sales prospects for a small businesses, so this should be the starting point for anyone looking to test the water.

The reason these are so successful is due to buying habits, we all reach for our phones to look for businesses and to buy things. Also, the fact that we can align search intent directly to the keywords we bid on, (which is much harder to rank organically for because the keywords are chosen by search engines), so, for example:

“digital marketing” – could be anyone researching the subject.

“digital marketing agency” – someone looking for a business like us.

“digital marketing agency Exeter” – someone looking near me.

“sustainable digital marketing agency” – someone looking for our niche.

The bottom two offer much greater grounds for converting into a customer because they have a stronger search intent to buy.

Google Shopping campaign

What is it?

Google shopping campaigns are the most common type of Google ad campaign we go to after setting up search ads. For e-commerce sites, sometimes we will try these first, and when you examine your buying behaviour you will know why.

an example of a type of google shopping campaign

These are the cards that sit at the top of Google, with a picture, price, rating and link to the website they come from.

The visual nature of these cards gives us the browsing experience of the category page of a website, whilst displaying the results from dozens of various websites.

How does it work?

These require a Google Merchant Centre feed, It’s easy to set up and most e-commerce platforms can pretty seamlessly connect and grab up-to-date relevant information about your product like images, prices and importantly, stock levels.

Search campaigns rely on groups of keywords focussed around products. Understanding keyword intent is going to help you maximise your budget for most types of Google ad campaigns you choose to do.

I’ll give an example like the above of someone working through some research before buying a new camera…

“digital camera” – Could be anyone researching cameras.

“best canon DSLR” – Closing in on a choice.

“Canon EOS 2000D” – Found the product, comparing prices.

When it comes to this type of ad, you’ll want to minimize your spend to just those closest to buying, so the more specific terms may be less searched but will perform better from a sales perspective.

These campaigns give you the option to set these up as Low, Medium & High priority keywords – bidding cost will vary depending on their nature.

Two types of Shopping Campaigns

Product shopping ads are the common ads you’re expecting to see, they are the card layout with the product image and price. Local inventory ads are useful for collections, they will highlight products in local shops inviting them to “pickup in store”.

store pickup example

When is it best used?

Obviously, it is limited to those with a shopping feed, so e-commerce websites are a prerequisite. Because of this though there are some clever benefits, you can set goals around your Return On Ad Spend (ROAS).

This gives you the opportunity to define a percentage return, for example if I set it at 200%. Along with the price of the product, Google can then adjust bids in order to hit your target – Super useful if you have high ticket items where the cost per click may be quite high.

Display campaign

What is it?

These are often what people refer to when they say they “are being chased around the web”. It’s because they are employed through Google’s Display Network (GDN), which is basically any website creating a specificly sized banner space and offering it up for Google to fill it with an image.

an example of a display banner ad on a popular newspaper website

We are used to seeing banners on busy information websites with adverts in them

Because of this, it can feel like we are seeing the same ads even when we are browsing different websites and feel a little “followed”.

On the flipside, they can be hugely valuable for brand awareness, as (unlike a search campaign) they generally have less clicks and far more impressions (people that see them).

How does it work?

You get to design something visual for these, there’s lots of banner sizes you can design for, which can prove expensive if you want them to be high quality and hire a graphic designer, they will also only be as good as the imagery you have to work with, so a photoshoot to get a batch of quality imagery is worth considering too.

It’s possible to animate them which can grab attention, tell a story or create a quality impact for your brand. So they are quite different from the more transactional nature of Search and Shopping ads.

Linking this with other campaigns can be an effective way of putting ads in front of the eyeballs that have already shown an interest in the things you’re selling, more on this remarketing technique a little later.

Types of Display Campaigns?

Like the previous types of campaigns, Google is trying to automate some of the ongoing tweaking required for those that are “ad blind”, by choosing high-performing images and offering up variations.

In terms of the design, if you want to have a go, the best display ads will normally resemble a display ad that you would see on a billboard, they contain:

  • A catchy image, often human faces to grab attention and show the customer that is them they are after.
  • An emotive or challenging headline and
  • A CTA button to click and find out more (actually the button isn’t really a button, its all part of the same clickable image).

an example of a google display ad from disney

Less is more when trying to grab attention, use faces as we are evolutionarily wired to see and prioritise them.

When is it best used?

In remarketing campaigns to “follow up” with those who have seen your other ads.

You also have some demographic and contextual choices with there are placed as theres a certain amount of information Google holds in the CDN about the websites they are served upon. For example, a healthy dog food brand could favour placement on a popular vet’s website.

These types of Google ads are generally broader than Search campaigns with much higher visibility, this is great from a brand awareness angle but less effective in terms of converting new sales or enquiries.

Video campaign

What is it?

Video campaigns operate much like Display campaigns, where you compete for your video to appear on targeted spots across YouTube or the internet for particular audiences.

YouTube is often forgotten as a search engine in its own right (currently the 2nd highest behind Google), in terms of the advert, users are expecting an easy-to-digest, wow-creating video (but it can get across complex content in a short space of time), making this a good avenue for brands or services that are new or unique to the market and have no search volume to bid upon.

an example of a youtube video google advert

An example of good branding with the product and brand name in the first second of the advert itself, as well as a branded, overlaid Call To Action (CTA) to take me to their website

How does it work?

You create your video ad, select various keywords or topics to join in with and when YouTube throws an add to a user it may be yours if you have crossed their palm with gold.

The success of these campaigns is really in how good your video production is, you have a few seconds to grab someone from a prearranged interaction with something they came here for.

Types of Video Campaigns?

There are lots of types of Google ads when it comes to video, the one you will likely be most familiar with is the 5 seconds that hijack the start of the YouTube video we actually want to watch – it goes without saying that the first few seconds of these ad types is critical in order to grab attention.

There’s also “bumper” ads that appear during and between videos, and non-skipable 15-second ads, giving you quite a lot of versatility.

Just like the Google Display Network for banners, YouTube will also serve the ads to other websites, it will just be on mute to start with and encourage the user to interact with it. There are settings to tweak the placement of Ads, but be warned with this advertising type, Google has the option to override them in its small print.

Consideration should also be given to the types of ad campaign and the devices you choose to show them on, for example you can create a video that encourages action with a button overlay, this will work well on some devices, but won’t be shown on some TV’s.

When is it best used?

Complex offerings or the occasion where there is little search volumes for more standard ads. These can also be useful for organisations that have functioning Search and Display campaigns and are looking to branch into YouTube, and of course those brands that are well placed solely on YouTube like famous individuals or influencers.

Be aware that creating video can be expensive, and tweaking adverts is again expensive if you have go back to a videographer to create different cuts (unlike the campaigns above where Google will try and mix it up for you).

Performance Max (P-Max) Campaigns

What is it?

As I mentioned earlier, Google is moving towards trying to automate as much as possible, P-Max is a relatively new type of google ad campaign, basically, it will take all your assets and display them in whatever way it sees fit, so it could be a Search ad, a display ad, a YouTube ad or a local search ad.

pmax campaigns can be a mix of any of Googles ad types

P-Max campaigns can be a mix of any of Google’s ad types, it can even create you a video

This is relatively hands-off as you go through a series of steps to tell Google what you wish to achieve and its machine learning cogs will start whirring to work out the best placements to try and then the best-performing ads.

How does it work?

We’ve seen Google get better at creating text ads, measuring the results and going again iteratively. Amazingly, Google will now create video ads for YouTube for you, they are often quite simple images with nice transitional text overlays, if you don’t give a Performance Max campaign a video, be aware, it will make one for you, be sure to quality check it.

For this reason, the more content you can bring to the party, the better chance you will have of this being successful. If you have a Merchant Center Feed it will grab your products, try to support that with lifestyle imagery for the best results.

Be honest and focussed about your goals and try to set up the best tracking you can, this will enable the machine learning to measure and test better.

Because e-commerce sites can track the sale and the value of the sale it makes them an excellent contender for P-Max, lead generation websites with assumptive data can be trickier to get working.

Types of P-Max Campaigns?

All the ads!

The key to producing quality ads is having plenty of content lined up, we don’t often start with a PMax campaign because of this and due to the unknown nature of what Google is going to do, however we have had some outstanding results.

When is it best used?

E-commerce sites are great candidates, like I mentioned above with the shopping campaigns, the e-commerce process and data that Google can access give it lots of potential to refine the adverts. When we add human interactions into the sales process, it removes data points and dilutes the potential from the campaigns.

Google Local Services Ads (LSA)

What is it?

These Ads are set up through a separate Local Services account. They are primarily for local searches to gain visibility and appear in a section above the Search ads for localised searches.

an example of Local search advertising for a plumber

An example of Local search advertising for a plumber, these come with a “Google guarantee”.

The main difference between this and the campaigns listed above is that you pay per lead, not click. Google is trying to connect the right enquiry with the right customer, this is why it works well with well-known, localised services we expect to buy from tradesmen.

How does it work?

You’ll need to set up a different account from the normal google ads one, choose from a limited selection of industries, and within that supply your specialisms.

You can also become “Google Guaranteed”, which means Google will protect customers who enquire and don’t have a good experience with their own cash.

To get verified, be prepared to be screened by Google, you’ll be prompted to upload various insurance documents.

The ads design is deliberately similar to the Google My Business (GMB) listings, which if you haven’t already set up and optimised, then you should do so. But it is separate, you will need to create your new profile, and it’s best to be honest about how far you are willing to travel for the leads you are going to pay for.

Types of Local Service Ads?

There is only space for 3 LSAs for any search, so in order to earn priority for search terms you will need a high ranking. Looking after your leads and creating customers is the best way to do this because it will give you positive reviews in return.

Be sure to respond quickly to leads, do a good job and encourage a review on the platform. It’s worth noting that when you stop advertising these reviews will disappear with your paid account and not count towards your GMB profile.

When is it best used?

For the specified categories of business that can be listed it is a path to the top of Google, these are majoritively trades but there is also a scattering of high street industries like accountants and estate agents.

Paying per lead is nice compared to most types of Google ads that prefer to charge per click, but you will need to commit time to these enquiries and keep an average 3* rating to keep your account active, which means you need to prioritise it if you’re going to do it.

Other ads

It is worth noting that there are other Ads available like App, Discovery and the constantly evolving Smart campaigns. These can be quite niche (like Apps, where you need to be selling an App) and are rarely used by us for small businesses because the budget is normally better employed to ramp up good-performing campaigns.

The evolution of Google ads is tending towards making Ads easier for the end user to set up themselves (instead of the dependence on agencies) and using machine learning to tweak and manage these campaigns in a way that Agencies used to.

Be wary of Google representatives who seem to go through phases of quite hard selling to our clients, being critical of accounts that have been set up with (Google’s own) best practices in mind, and giving out sketchy advice along the way.

That said, for now, these campaigns still take a lot of knowledge and time to set up and manage effectively and when you are trusting hundreds or thousands of pounds of ad spend every month it’s still something lots of organisations don’t want to gamble with.

What type of Google Ad is the best?

Every business will have a slightly different campaign mix, there isn’t one specific campaign that will work best, the simplest place to start is with search campaigns, you only need to add a website and some words.

If you want to have a go at setting up a Search Campaign then it may be worth spending some time understanding keywords and the Google Keyword Planner. Here’s a few of our top tips to get started…



If you have an e-commerce site, then shopping campaigns are a no-brainer due to the visual nature of them.

If you are a business that serves local customers within the selected categories, then Local Service Ads would be a good go-to next.

From there, it will depend on the content you have, but a quality lifestyle photoshoot will help with PMax campaigns creating videos, as well as display ads.

And the most expensive content to create will be quality videos for YouTube advertising.

Threading ads together with retargeting

The key to helping Google perform better is all about tracking and being able to feed back into your campaigns. This is dependent on the various external systems you use for your business, like your website, CRM & Adwords all talking to each other.

When starting out most forms of advertising work by putting ads in front of any eyeballs that have an interest in the things you’re selling. The difference with retargeting, also known as remarketing, is that adverts only appear in front of those who have already visited your site, but haven’t brought anything, this is often tracked through cookies and fed back to Google.

Although this means that the potential audience is much smaller, it also means that the potential for ROI is greater. While traditional forms of advertising offer a ROI of around 2% for e-commerce, for retargeting it’s an impressive 98%.

As a type of Google ad, a retargeting technique works because it reaches people who have already expressed an interest with your store, but who were just window shopping. Reports suggest that on average 90% of visitors leave e-commerce sites without buying anything.

Setting up a funnel with conversion tracking

As with any advertising you may do online it’s essential to set goals so you don’t end up wasting money – the two major goals for any retargeting campaign should be awareness and conversions.

Awareness campaigns really just lay the groundwork for conversions. Because you’re targeting people who have only briefly engaged with a brand, and haven’t left any contact information, the aim is to make them aware of your products, services, and share announcements with them. Doing this will increase impressions and engagement – both of which should be seen as successes.

Conversion campaigns on the other hand are all about turning visitors who have already given over their details, but not yet made a purchase, or have viewed specific product pages. Users who have looked at specific products can be targeted with more specific ads, increasing the chances of conversion.

e-commerce websites give you a real headstart here, as the data collected can contain the customer journey through to the checkout and capture the value, and also where potential customers left – meaning Google can continue to serve adverts to aid conversion.

Lead generation is trickier because it is dependent on the accuracy of a 3rd party system and its ability to feed various data back to Google to help it understand where the customer is on the journey.

When to use Retargeting

Retargeting is just one form of advertising, and best suited for increasing conversions. It’s definitely not something that should be used in isolation and works best when used along with more familiar advertising tools like AdWords.

Retargeting doesn’t drive people to your site, it recaptures people who have already visited then left. This means it’s important to run campaigns that bring in visitors as well.

If you have any questions about how retargeting can benefit your business get in touch with Vu’s team of e-commerce experts. We can guide you through the initial steps and help you chose the best platforms for your retargeting goals.

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