A fox in the snow

Hywel Thomas /

December 6, 2018

Google Ads for Dummies

Here's a rundown of the pros and cons of using Google Ads for small businesses

A long time ago I bought a book on advertising in Adwords. It had over 500 pages and it took me two months to read. It was a slog.

Since then I have been running Google Ad campaigns for all and sundry. It’s been an interesting journey and I thought it was time I put down my thoughts in writing for anyone who has been considering using it but hasn’t yet plucked up the courage...

The first thing I’d say is that it works. It works if you run it properly, the blindingly obvious counter-argument is that it doesn’t if you don’t.

The problem is, like a lot of things in life, you have to be competent to run a campaign and most small businesses don’t have the money, skill or inclination to spend time trying to work out how it works. This is a shame because it is a powerful tool in your marketing armoury – more powerful than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and just about every social app out there.

There are plenty of videos on how to set up an account with Google Ads, so I don’t intend to cover that, instead I would like to provide you with the reasons why you should consider the system and, quite possibly, why you shouldn’t.

Before we start, here’s a quick rundown of the terms I’ll be using

GA - Google Ads - the old Google Adwords

Ad - The ad that appears on the results page of Google.

Search term - (AKA keyword) – the phrase used by a visitor to instruct GA to show your ad. (If you are a plumber it might be “water leak Bradford”.) A search term can have a bid price determined by the bid strategy or just set by you – so “water leak Bradford” might be 89p.

Budget - How much money you are prepared to spend per day.

Campaign - The top level of any Google Ad work. Here you tell GA about your budget, bidding strategy, location, audiences and more.

Adgroup - One level down from a Campaign. An Adgroup contains the ads that appear in results page.

Bid - The amount of money you, or GA, decide is the price to pay for a click on your website.

Quality score - The score (out of 10) that Google applies to search term which measures the potential, and actual, success of your ad.

Should I use Google Ads?

Pros Cons
GA allows you to measure the success of a campaign by providing info on ‘conversions’ – i.e. the number of time a visitor has filled in a form or called you.
Useful, but some of them mean adding code to your website, skills you might not possess.
GA allows you to slice and dice the results any way you like. Which is handy because there can be a lot of it.
GA measures Click Through Rate (CTR) – the rate at which visitors click on your ads when they are shown. This shows the usefulness of your ads to the user in relation to what he is looking for.
It also affects your Quality Score and the price you pay for your ads.
GA provides you a mass of data to help you find the perfect ad, search terms and approach to hone your campaigns.
And you’ll have to spend money to discover what it is.
Google constantly come up with new ways of doing things. Google constantly come up with new ways of doing things.
Google offer a simplified version of Ads called AdWords' Express. Which offers very little granular control over your advertising.
Google provides you with free phone support. Which is not very good. (Don’t remind me about the six different and contradictory answers I received over Dynamic Search Ads)
Google shows you what people actually type in to find your services, not ‘what you think’ they will type in; it deals in the real world. But you won’t know what works until you try it. (Or 'spend money' as it's also known.)
Google wants you to get clicks. You want sales.
It brings visitors to your website. It costs you money and visitors won’t necessarily buy anything.
It’ll make you sales if correctly run. It won’t if it isn’t.
It’s easy to start or pause campaigns TRUE
It’s relatively easy to understand once you get the hang of it. Google are very poor at user experience – they use unintuitive and complicated interfaces. It’s a struggle.
Keyword Planner is a helpful tool which provides a wide range of alternative keywords for your campaign. This is true; it is helpful, but it can also get you using terms which may not work; something you won’t know until you try them - and spend money.
The more you ‘bid’ for a search term, the higher up on the results page your ad will appear – it’s ‘position’. Generally true, but your ad, your landing page, your website speed, the CTR will also affect your position.
The search terms that you create come in several formats. Which is complicated. Do you use quotes or the addition sign or nothing?
There are a wide range of ad types.
There are a wide range of ad types. (17 in fact)
There are a wide variety of features that allow you to improve your results based on their success. Many of them simply don’t work. (e.g. Responsive Search Ads IMHO)
You attach a ‘bid’ price to all your relevant search terms. Which might not bring you visitors.
You can add extra text and links to your ads using ‘Extensions’ TRUE
You can direct any search term used to a particular page on your website. (the ‘landing page’) Cool if you are able to produce fast changes to your website to accommodate search terms.
You can easily control your budget. TRUE
You can link your campaigns to Google Analytics which shows a lot more detail on your campaigns and goals. Sometimes useful.
You can reduce your bid rates by selecting ‘long tail terms’ – in other words search terms visitors rarely use. Google gets the arse with you and downgrades terms which bring few results.
You can target your ads at particular locations. Which nearly works.
You can target your campaign to the demographic and audience characteristics of your audience. And you may be wrong. (Like a dating agency where you rule out red heads only to find your greatest love is a red head…)
Your ad can be guaranteed to be at the top of the search results. It’ll cost yer.

Don’t forget, at the end of the day, Google are a commercial operation and want to encourage you to spend money; they are less worried about whether it actually works for you.


Despite my misgivings about GA, I believe it’s worth trying – even for a few months – it can transform your business. But you must bear one thing in mind:

Google receive most of their advertising income from medium to large companies, companies that either have the money and skills to do the work themselves or can afford to outsource the work to a specialist company. So, if you are a small company, you have a choice:

  • Learn GA and run the campaign yourself.
  • Employ or get an employee to do the work.
  • Outsource the work to a specialist.

Each option will cost you either time or money and the problem with employing an outside company is that you will need to pay (usually) a monthly charge to look after your campaign – and if that company gets lazy, you will see your ad budget spent without increasing your sales.

Let’s look at your options:

Run the campaign yourself

  • You need to be comfortable with technology. (I don’t mean mending computers, I mean understanding the basics of spreadsheets and pushing buttons)
  • You must be patient – GA has a tendency to frustrate.
  • Read up all you can about how it works before you start a campaign.
  • Kick things off with a) a low budget and b) a stop date. (I recommend a month)
  • Start off with a small number of Adgroups and search terms – don’t go overboard.
  • Start with text ads and call-only ads.
  • Set the search term bids manually – don’t let GA decide what the price should be. (But look at GAs bid price recommendations.)
  • Analyse the results regularly.
  • Add terms and Adgroups when the results come in.
  • Measure conversions – send the code to your web guy so calls/form fills can be recorded as conversions.
  • Create Adgroups for the best performing search terms – visitors are more likely to turn into customers if your ad provides them with what they are specifically looking for.
  • Create landing pages on your website for the best performing search terms.

Employ someone to do the work

  • Make sure they are comfortable with GA – or they can cover the areas outlined above.
  • Check their work on a regular basis.
  • Be clear on budgets, stop dates and reviews.
  • Measure success. Check sales over the period you are running the campaign – and check where they came from.
  • Be clear on your expectations. If you decide to spend £100 a month for six months and your expectation is £3,000 worth of sales, then stick to it.

Outsource the work

As above, but check customer reviews (on Google, Trustpilot etc) before asking a company to help and make sure you are comfortable with them. Make them understand that you will use them for as long as they produce results. Don’t sign any long-term contracts – always test first.

Final Word

A small website, especially when it’s new will never show on search results, Google Ads is a good way of getting there.

A wise old businessman I met a few years ago said: “I get a third of my business from current customers, a third from marketing and a third from AdWords.”

If you don’t try it, you’ll never know. Good luck.

Hywel Thomas web designer

Author: Hywel Thomas
Web Design and Google Ads person
Email: hi@zigger.co.uk
Tel: 07875 096483