Google Ads Smart Campaigns are one of the easiest ways to dip your feet in the world of PPC and digital marketing.
If you’re a busy small business owner that wants to know if Google Ads could work for your business, getting started is easy.
And that’s why Smart Campaigns still have a place in Google Ads.
But what exactly are Google Ads Smart Campaigns?
What can you do with them, and are the results as good as normal Google Ads Campaigns?
Here’s everything you need to know about Smart Campaigns, how to use them, and if you should use them for your own business.
Running a Google ads campaign is not a simple task.
You have to master all kinds of things.
For example, you have to learn keywords, negative keywords, targeting, custom audiences, ad extensions, geo-targeting, determining when to bid and when not to bid, etc.
I could go on and on and on.
But when you’re running a small business where your job description fits every role, it’s almost impossible to find the time.
And hiring an outside PPC agency can be expensive.
Google Ads Smart Campaigns are here for you.
What are Google Ads Smart Campaigns?
To adequately explain what Smart Campaigns are and the role they serve in the Google Ads suite, we have to start from the beginning.
Google released AdWords Express to the public in 2011 intending to simplify their original, sophisticated platform into a more intuitive way to advertise with Google.
Mainly, the idea was to automate and simplify everything.
With regular Google Ads, you have countless factors you need to control.
From bidding to keyword research, ad creation and more. It’s like a full-time job to run a single account to its maximum potential.
Even the overall Google Ads dashboard can be overwhelming to a new user:
But that’s where Smart Campaigns come in.
Where Did AdWords Express Go?
If you’re wondering where AdWords Express went, don’t worry, it still exists.
In 2019, Google made it a part of the Google Ads suite and renamed the section “Smart Campaigns.”
Instead of a separate dashboard and URL, you now have to create Smart Campaigns by creating a new Google Ads campaign, and selecting “Smart” as the campaign type.
But that doesn’t mean the actual user experience has changed.
Smart Campaigns still maintain the simple user experience, and it is much easier to navigate for someone who either (1) has limited time and resources or (2) little to no experience with pay per click advertising.
Beyond being simplified, Smart Campaigns still help businesses leverage ads on Google properties to drive sales.
Just like with any advertising, to benefit from ads, you have to sell products or services, whether through a local brick and mortar store or online store.
If you choose a Smart Campaign, it probably won’t even take you 15 minutes to get started.
Where do your ads show?
Using Smart Campaigns, you can showcase ads for your business on the search network, mobile device targeting, Google Maps, and even Google website partners.
So, what are the benefits? Why should a small business use Smart Campaigns?
Why Should You Use Google Ads Smart Campaigns?
Smart Campaigns get a pretty bad rap.
Expert PPC marketers and agencies single it out as pointless and a waste of time/money.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Smart Campaigns is still a great ad product for small businesses with small budgets that lack technical knowledge.
A Much Simpler Dashboard and Reports
Smart Campaigns have a much, much simpler interface than regular campaigns. The campaign overview gives you everything a PPC beginner needs to know, at a glance.
At the top, you can see your ad preview, a breakdown of your company info, and the goal of your campaign. Then you see impressions, clicks, and the amount spent.
If you scroll down, you can see the five main metrics that a Smart Campaign reports on:
The main report shows impressions, clicks, ad spend, conversions, and map actions. Since the campaign goal of this campaign was “Calls,” it shows “Call clicks” instead of regular conversions.
The main ad settings, you can find at the bottom of the very same page.
Here you can control your budget, location targeting, and your business category and information. (The business category and information helps Google automatically target relevant keywords for your business.)
Save Time on Setting Up and Optimizing Campaigns
Smart Campaigns aren’t more primitive in their targeting options than regular campaigns. The main difference is that Google’s algorithm handles most of the advanced decisions.
So because of the simplified options, you spend a lot less time on the platform to ensure that it’s running smoothly.
The most significant benefit of Smart Campaigns is that they target and optimize themselves.
Google fully automates the experience, creating ads based on your website and your Google My Business profile. They consistently optimize and tweak based on best practices.
Of course, you can edit the text of these ads by clicking the “Edit ad” link below your ad preview.
Once it develops the ads, Google picks the best placements depending on your business type.
For example, if you are running ads for your local business, they will automatically target audiences searching in your area or show your ads directly on Google Maps listings.
The entire selling point of Smart Campaigns is #SimplifiedAcquisition.
Compared to regular campaigns, you don’t have to manage dozens of tools, reports, and bidding modifications to find success. (But there are downsides to not having that access as well, more on that later.)
If ease of use is a concern to you, meaning you are relatively new to the PPC space, Smart Campaigns are a fantastic starting point.
It allows you to have some control over your account without overwhelming you with too many features.
Setting up your first campaign and ad takes only 15 minutes to do, whereas it could take you hours, if not days, to do it on a regular Google Ads account.
Targeting is another unique feature with Smart Campaigns.
Instead of fudging with custom audiences, IF functions, remarketing, and diverse targeting metrics, you can let Google do the work for you.
Based on your business’s location or category, Smart Campaigns target users in your area who have the highest propensity to purchase.
You don’t even have to lift a finger to get accurate audience targeting – a task that generally takes months of refining to master.
If you still want control over which keywords you target, you do have the option to manage which search phrases or keywords you target or exclude from your campaigns:
You can access these options by clicking the “Manage All” link in the “Search Phrases” section of the overview.
From here, you can enable or disable any search phrases that the Google algorithm thinks is relevant to your business. You can change this setting with the button in the “Status” column.
Giving you control over the basics and automating the rest, Smart Campaigns are compelling.
If you are looking for simplicity on your end with results for your bottom line, you should consider Smart Campaigns over the full Google Ads experience.
But what about the potential downsides?
The Downsides of Smart Campaigns
On the surface, Smart Campaigns look incredibly compelling. It might even be hard to understand why everybody doesn’t use them.
Spend less time to achieve great results and a return on investment.
Sounds promising, right?
But not so fast.
Access to Less Data
The simple dashboard and reporting come with an undeniable downside: you have access to less data.
Just because you spend less time, that doesn’t automatically make it the best choice for a business.
When it comes to PPC, more information is almost always better.
Making informed decisions for your business requires data.
And unfortunately, the Google Ads Smart Campaign interface doesn’t give you as much access to or control over your data.
It’s meant to be simple and easy to use for a small business owner looking to get a bit more recognition on local search or Google Maps.
But these upsides can become downsides fast.
First off, most advertisers quickly outgrow the platform. Within just a few weeks, it likely won’t be enough for you to get maximum benefits from PPC.
Smart Campaigns are an excellent testing platform to see how well you can get by with PPC, but it’s nowhere close to perfect.
In fact, in a recent study by BrightLocal, the majority of PPC marketers surveyed stated that regular Google Ads campaigns were much more effective than Smart Campaigns (AdWords Express in the Graphic):
A whopping 77% said that regular campaigns were more effective.
Because simplicity can be helpful for busy business owners, but it doesn’t provide them with tools that are integral to success on Google Ads.
Less Control of Where Your Ads Show
With Smart Campaigns, you sign over targeting to the Google algorithm. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it gives you a lot less control over where your ads show up.
Negative keywords are a great feature that lets you ensure you don’t waste money showing ads for the wrong search terms.
Negative keywords help you filter out the junk keywords that cost you money. For example, let’s imagine you were getting clicks for “used car dealership,” but you only lease new vehicles.
These clicks would likely result in almost no conversions and tons of wasted money.
Negative keywords allow you to filter those out.
While you can somewhat do this in Smart Campaigns by checking and unchecking search phrases, it’s not specific enough, as even simple match types can massively impact negative keywords.
For example, if you want to eliminate the word free from your keywords and not anything else, you’d need to enter it with quotes (“free”) to ensure that any search with that word is eliminated.
With a maximum 40-mile radius for user-targeting, your options for expanding your business are limited, too. If you open up a store somewhere else in the city, you have to create a new campaign from scratch, instead of just adding the location.
Another issue is ad placements. While Smart Campaigns has most of the same placements as regular campaigns, you can’t decide where you showcase your ads.
Meaning you have little control over customizing ads to each placement, likely resulting in lower conversion rates. (And more money spent on advertising.)
Overall, Smart Campaign downsides are closely related to their upsides.
Simplicity, automation, and time-saving features are great. Nobody is arguing against that. But they also limit your potential for optimization and success.
Who Can Reap the Biggest Rewards from Google Ads Smart Campaigns?
Google Smart Campaigns are designed for local businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence.
You have to register your business with Google My Business and get listed on Google Maps even to get a Smart Campaign started.
But, why would you choose Smart Campaigns over the full Google Ads experience even if you are a local business?
The group that can benefit the most from Smart Campaigns tend to tick off these boxes:
- Small business with local presence
- Low advertising budget
- No marketing staff
- No money for consultants/agencies
- Owner/staff is too busy to learn how to run standard Google Ads effectively
The truth is Smart Campaigns are tailor-made for a small business with only a couple of employees. If you have your hands full with the day-to-day but could use a couple of extra customers, Smart Campaigns might be for you.
It’s meant for the business owner who wears multiple hats, running everything from sales, finances, marketing to deliverables.
If you don’t have three to five hours a week to dedicate to Google Ads management, Smart Campaigns will generate traffic (both online and offline) for your business without the hassle.
If you are interested in building up your PPC strategy to become a massive part of your customer acquisition strategy, then you’ll likely have to branch out from Smart Campaigns in the long run.
Smart Campaigns are a great place to start if you are new to PPC, but it shouldn’t be how you run your campaigns forever.
5 Essential Tips for Success with Google Ads Smart Campaigns
If you decide to start your venture with Google Ads Smart Campaigns, here are five essential tips to guide your journey.
Tip #1: Start with a small budget.
Perhaps the most important aspect of your Smart Campaign is your budget.
Because Google pretty much controls everything else.
If you don’t set a budget and stick to it, you can expect that budget to go fast.
And since you have less access to reporting information, tracking back your return on investment isn’t as easy.
Unless you are using outside conversion tracking software, which is unlikely if you are using Smart Campaigns, it’s critical to start small.
Smart Campaigns are built to test the waters of PPC. If you want to invest thousands of dollars monthly into PPC or SEM, you should contact a local agency or marketing consultant.
Start by creating a small budget and work your way up to a comfortable budget based on your reported success in the dashboard.
Once you’ve done that, you can either consider increasing that budget or making the jump to the full Google Ads experience.
Tip #2: Schedule your ads with business hours.
You might not have much say over where, but thankfully you can control when your ads run.
For example, are your current business hours limited to 9-5? Do you only have people on phone lines from 1-5?
Depending on your business, ad scheduling can make a significant impact on how well users convert.
If you are running ads that drive phone calls after hours, those calls cost you money that you aren’t capitalizing on.
Using the new ad scheduling feature, be sure to set your ads to business hours or customize them on a day-to-day basis depending on your needs:
It doesn’t have to be uniform every day like in this example. If you have long working hours on some days, you can change the schedule to reflect that.
If the primary advertised way of contacting your business is an email form, you should consider running the ads 24/7. That way, you can tap into past-midnight impulse buyers, and people who work night shifts, etc.
Tip #3: Keep a keen eye on search phrases.
During the first few weeks of your smart campaign, make sure you keep a keen eye on search phrases in the dashboard.
These phrases control where your ads appear in Google Search, Google Maps, and on thousands of websites throughout the Google Display Network.
If you see any search terms that have low commercial intent (typically including the word “free” or “best”), make sure you disable those terms.
The users who search for those kinds of keywords are unlikely to purchase your products or services.
Click the button in the “Status” column to disable search terms for your smart campaign.
Tip #4: Use professional photos for your Google My Business listing
To get the full potential of Smart Campaigns, you need to have a Google My Business listing and connect it with your Google Ads account.
It allows your ad to show up in Google Maps results, and for searchers to ask for directions to your store.
Don’t rush through your profile to get it online ASAP. Take your time and fill it with professional photos instead.
As a local business, one of your most effective selling tools is how your business appears online. Your Google Maps profile is a big part of this, even more so if you are running a Google Ads Smart Campaign.
Follow New York’s Ritz Carlton’s example. Use professional photos to show off, and invite customers to come to visit your store.
Tip #5: Use outside call tracking software.
Call tracking is tough. It’s essentially taking an offline activity (phone calls) and turning it into online metrics.
And unfortunately for users, Google Ads doesn’t provide detailed call tracking.
In Google Ads, you can only see area codes, dates, times, and call durations:
While this can give you a generalized idea of conversions, it’s not foolproof.
Call length doesn’t necessarily ensure sales.
And just knowing the area code doesn’t help you track a conversion.
For instance, if you are a local business, the majority of your calls will be local.
Meaning all of those area codes in the verified calls report won’t tell you anything. You will have no clue which actual, full phone number converted and from what source or keyword.
This makes it nearly impossible to understand which calls were generated by ads and which weren’t.
Instead of banking on these vague reports, use an external call tracking software like CallRail. By connecting it directly to Google Ads, you can start tracking full phone calls in just a few minutes with features like free call recording.
When someone calls your business, CallRail will log their information into your dashboard. This includes information like phone numbers, full names, locations, keywords, and sources:
It gives you a clear picture of who converted and where the lead was generated.
Using an external call tracking software is essential to have better phone call tracking in Smart Campaigns and Google Ads campaigns in general.
Google Ads is an incredibly complex platform to adjust to, let alone to run a successful campaign.
The number of details that you have to be aware of to run a Google Ads account successfully is mind-boggling.
There are countless reports, dashboards, metrics, tools, and settings to use and analyze. More so than ever in 2019.
Enter: Google Ads Smart Campaigns (Formerly known as AdWords Express).
By simplifying your options and automating the process, you barely have to touch the platform to drive customers and sales.
Smart Campaigns automatically show ads to locals in your area to drive website visits, online sales, and offline store visits.
It’s a great, cheap way to bring in more sales.
If you are a local business that can’t afford an outside agency to run your Google Ads account, Smart Campaigns are for you.
What do you think? Are you using Google Ads Smart Campaigns already? Are they working for you? Or do you plan to give it a try? Let us know in the comments!