An Introduction to Google Ads: A Beginner’s Guide

If you’ve ever spent any time at all on Google, you’ll have heard of Google Ads. If you’re a business, you may have considered using them or tried them out for yourself.

Google Ads can be a bit overwhelming at first, and it can be hard to know how to take the first step. But don’t worry: the basics can be picked up by anyone with a little time and patience. This beginner’s guide to Google Ads will help you set up your first ad and more.

Table of Contents

What is Google Ads?

Ad results on Google Search - beginner's guide to google ads

Google Ads is the most widely used Pay Per Click (PPC) platform in the world. You create an advert and set your budget and Google Ads displays it to users who are likely to be interested. The ads can show up in a number of places including on Google itself, across Google products such as YouTube and Gmail, and on Google Search Partner sites like Amazon.

Setting Up Your Account

If you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to create one. You can find instructions for doing this here. Setting up an account is completely free. You don’t pay anything until you start running ads.


Google Ads is an auction. Bids are made on keywords and, each time a user searches that keyword, or one similar to it, Google runs the auction and displays the winning ads.

But the winning ads aren’t necessarily the ones from the advertiser that has the highest bid. Google also considers the relevance of your ad, measured by a Quality Score.

The advantage of this method is that you can get excellent value for money while only showing your adverts to relevant people. In many other forms of advertising, you pay money to be seen by anyone and everyone, regardless of their interest in your product or service. With Google Ads, you only show up for those people who are likely to have an interest in what you’re promoting.

There are a limited number of advertising slots available – some more prominent than others – so it’s important to give your ads the best chance at winning an auction. The more successful your ad, the more likely Google is to place it in the most desirable slots.

Quality Score is calculated by Google based on how relevant it deems your advertisement and landing page to be to the keywords you are bidding on. It then assigns you a mark between 1 and 10 – 10 being very relevant, and 1 being not relevant at all.

During the auction, Google multiplies your Quality Score by your maximum cost per click (Max CPC – how much you’re willing to pay when someone clicks on your ad). It then assigns an overall score.

For example:

  • Takeaway A has a Max CPC of 40p and a Quality Score of 3 = a score of 120.
  • Takeaway B has a Max CPC of 30p and a Quality Score of 9 = a score of 270.

Takeaway B will get the better advertising slot, because their overall score is better.

If, on the other hand, Takeaway A has a Max CPC of £1 (100p), their overall score would be 300, and so they would receive the top spot.

So, as you can see, focusing on a high Quality Score not only means that searchers are more likely to be interested in your ad, it’s also more cost effective.

Campaigns and Ad Groups

A Google Ads account is split into Campaigns, which are broken further down into Ad Groups, which are again broken down into Ads. You can have multiple Campaigns and multiple Ad Groups depending on your requirements and strategy.


A Campaign is where you set your budget and apply settings that will be relevant to all the Ad Sets in that Campaign. The settings include such things as location (where your ad will show up), language, ad type, and device targeting (which devices your ads are shown on).

This is where you adjust your settings with a focus on your overall advertising goal and the actions you want customers to take.

Campaign types

At Campaign level, you set your budget and apply settings that will be relevant to all the Ad Sets in that Campaign. The settings include location (where your ad will show up), language, ad type, and device targeting (which devices your ads show on).

This is where you adjust your settings with a focus on your overall advertising goal and the actions you want customers to take.

Performance Max (pMax) Use AI and machine learning to design and present the best possible ads in a number of formats and across multiple platforms. It’s almost entirely automated, so easy to set up for a beginner.

Search Text-only and show up in Google Search. You can also opt to have these show on Google Partner sites by selecting Search Network during set up.

Display These ads make use of image and video and are shown on Google partner sites and Google-owned properties such as YouTube.

Smart These are a particularly good option for small business owners. You choose some basic information such as budget and business goals and then Google ads does the rest, monitoring the ads and adjusting them to get the best results.

Shopping ads on Google

Shopping Showcase your products with an image and basic info on the Google search page. Also allows you to showcase stock in a physical store rather than just online.

Video Adverts on YouTube and other video sites. Can display before, during or after a video.

AppPromote your app and encourage downloads. These ads extract information from your app to create adverts.

Discovery / Demand Gen Allows mobile users to find content that is relevant to them, without necessarily searching for it. Google shows ads on platforms such as YouTube and Gmail to users whose activity suggests they’d be interested. As of October 2023, Discovery campaigns can be upgraded to Demand Gen, which allow the use of video.

Local Encourages viewers to visit a physical venue. Often seen on Google Maps, but also in other locations such as Search and YouTube.

Ad Groups

Ad Groups are containers for your actual ads (i.e. what will be seen by your target audience) and are where target keywords are selected (for eligible ads).

Although you can create your ads and select your target keywords, you can’t control which ad shows up for which keyword, so it’s important to include only a small number of themed keywords in every Ad Group. That way, you can design ads that are highly relevant and will gain you a high Quality Score.


Keywords are search words or phrases that cause your ads to show up when people enter them into search engines such as Google. When you choose keywords for your ads to show up against, this is called targeting.

Note: you can’t always select your own keywords. Certain Campaigns don’t allow you to choose these and instead use AI and machine learning to pick them on your behalf.

It’s important to choose keywords that are going to be relevant for your ads. If you’re advertising a takeaway and you use a keyword like ‘restaurant’, this isn’t relevant, because anyone searching that keyword is more likely to be looking for somewhere to sit in for a meal.

You should also try and find keywords that are used on a semi-regular to regular basis. If you target a keyword that no one ever actually searches, then your ad won’t be seen.

On the flip side, if you choose a very common keyword that lots of advertisers are targeting, you will either show up less, or have to pay more for a good position.

Like with Search Engine Optimisation, you may need to experiment a bit to find a good balance between popularity and relevance: make sure you do plenty of keyword research.

Once you have been running ads for a little while, you can see which searches trigger your ads by going to Keywords > Search terms (or, in some versions, Insights and reports > Search terms) in the Google Ads menu. By using this, you can narrow down your keywords and adjust them to get more effective results.

Keyword match types

When you select a keyword, you have the option to pick a match type. This identifies how exact you want Google to be when showing your ads.

Broad Match

Enter the keyword with no additional markers.

Google will take your ad and show it to people who search for your keyword, but also to people who are searching for similar keywords. These similar keywords may or may not include your target keyword.

For example, if you target ‘takeaway Cumbria’, your ad may be shown to people searching ‘takeaway Cumbria’, ‘takeaway pizza Cockermouth’, or ‘Chinese food Cumbria’.

This gives you the broadest range of possible views, but your ad may be shown in irrelevant searches and it will be more difficult to get a good Quality Score.

Phrase match keywords

Wrap your keyword with quotation marks: “takeaway pizza Cumbria”.

Google will show your ads to people searching the exact phrase, or phrases with a similar meaning. For example, an ad targeting ‘takeaway pizza Cumbria’ may show up for ‘best takeaway pizza Cumbria’ or ‘pizza delivery Cumbria’ but not for ‘italian restaurant Cumbria’.

By being more specific in the phrases you target you reduce your potential audience, but are more likely to present an ad that’s highly relevant to those who are searching. That should lead to a higher click through rate.

Exact match keywords

Wrap your keyword with square brackets: [takeaway pizza Cumbria].

Your ad will show for searches using that exact phrase, or for phrases with close variations or meaning the same thing. For example ‘takeout pizza cumbria’ but not ‘pepperoni pizza cumbria’.

This allows you to target users more closely, increasing your chances of a very relevant result. However, it can limit your audience, especially if you are using a phrase that doesn’t receive many hits.

Negative keywords

Negative keywords allow you to tell Google which searches you don’t want your ad to display for. You can use the same match types here, though it’s best to use exact matches and phrase matches.

An example of a negative keyword for ‘takeaway pizza Cumbria’ would be ‘takeaway kebab Cumbria’.


Breakdown of Google Ads results

Your ad is made up of several parts. What’s available to you will depend on the type of Campaign and the targeting you’ve chosen. And not all parts will show on every ad all of the time.

As you create the ad, Google will provide helpful information about what will show where and when.

The main sections of your ad are:

  • Headline 1 (30 characters)
  • Headline 2 (30 characters)
  • Headline 3 (30 characters)
  • Description 1 (90 characters)
  • Description 2 (90 characters)
  • Path 1 (15 characters)
  • Path 2 (15 characters)

You will also have other assets such as images and videos, depending on the type of ad, its placement, and your goals.

Ad formats

Depending on the campaign type, you will have different ad format options. Some of the most common include:

Text Text only ads that should include a call to action (CTA), a clear headline, and a brief description.

Image Utilises static images or GIFs in an ad space. Often seen on Google Partner websites.

Dynamic Give Google a selection of headlines, calls to action, and descriptions, and its AI will mix and match these when serving your ads in order to get the best results.

Video Use video to better engage your audience.

Landing Pages

A landing page is the first page a user sees when they click on your ad. To help your Quality Score, it’s important that these are highly relevant to your ad. For example, if you’re advertising your takeaway pizza products, it’s better to have a landing page that’s specifically about the types of pizza people can order, rather than your website homepage.


Metrics tell you how your ad is doing. It’s helpful to measure these, and Google Ads provides lots of information to help with monitoring. Some of the most commonly useful metrics are:

Cost Per Click (CPC) or Cost Per Engagement The number of clicks on your ad divided by your total spend. This is good for seeing how costly your ad is.

Impressions How many times your ad has been seen (but not necessarily clicked on)

Total Spend How much you’ve spent on your Campaign within a certain period.

Click Through Rate (CTR) or Interaction Rate The number of times people have clicked on your ad compared to how many impressions it has had. In general, the higher the CTR, the better.

Cost Per Conversion A conversion can be anything from buying a product to submitting a contact form, from making a phone call to downloading an app. You will need to define your conversions in order for Google to track them. The Cost Per Conversion tells you how much you spend for every person who converts.

Google Analytics

To dig even deeper into your metrics, connect your Google Ads account to Google Analytics. That way you can get more information about your audience, how they behave when they land on your website, and if there are any issues with the customer journey. Take a look at my guide to Google Analytics.


While Google Ads has many advanced features that require expert management and understanding, there’s also a lot you can do with the basic options. With so much flexibility, helpful metrics, and cost-effective options, Google Ads is a highly appealing option for any business interested in paid advertising.

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