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The Ultimate Google Ads 101 Guide for Small Business

Updated: May 2

Google Ads 101 for Small Business

This blog is part of a content series helping small businesses to get set up for digital marketing best practice.

You’ll find a guide for each of the major channels that are consistently used amongst each of my clients.

I will be releasing a guide per week.

One key area of focus is Google Ads, and rightly so. If you’re selling online then there’s a high chance that you’ve considered running some Google Ads. I mean, why not, it’s the fast train to the top of Google!

Oh, and everything below can also be used for Bing. Bing!? Yes, people do use Bing and it’s about half the price of Google Ads.

So, let’s get started.


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What are the different types of Google Ads and which ones are right for me?

Okay, so let’s start from the top. Google Ads these days is more than just search ads (that’s why they changed the name from AdWords).

So, what are the different types of Google Ads?

  • Search: This is what you may typically appreciate Google Ads to be. These are the ads that appear at the top of the Google results (like this).

  • Shopping: These are the ads where you can see the product image, title, reviews and price within a small tile, typically at the top of the results or to the right hand side (like this).

  • Display: These are the banner ads that you normally see on other websites (like this).

  • Gmail: These are the ads that you see within your Gmail app within the promotions tab (like this).

  • Google Maps Ads: These are the ads within Google Maps results, typically used for local searches (like this).

  • YouTube: These are the ads that you see before you watch a video on YouTube.

Now, each of these types of ads serve a different purpose. For some businesses it may be in your best interest to run all of these, while for other businesses it just wouldn’t make sense.

Which Google Ads are right for my small business?

So, now you know that there are various types of Google Ads that you can run. Let’s talk about what you should consider for each of these ad types and why you should use them.

If you’re an eCommerce business and you have no budgetary constraints and have creative assets for all formats, then it is very possible that you should be running almost all forms of ads.

But, if you’re a local restaurant then it wouldn’t make sense to run a Shopping ad. Because, well, you’re not selling products.

Let’s dive into each in a bit more detail and what you could be using each for.


Search ads are based on intent. That is, someone is entering a query into Google as they are searching for an answer or a result. This query might be to buy a product or service, to answer a question or to find a brand. Let’s split it into these categories (intent, brand):

  • Intent: This is when someone is searching for something that they are seeking - for example a product or service. Let’s say “men’s running shoes” (search page here). On this page, there are ads from a variety of brands that are attempting to capture people that are looking for the item of men’s running shoes. Those brands have placed ads on the keyword ‘men’s running shoes’.

  • Brand: Brand is a search where a user is searching for a specific brand. For example, Nike (search page here). In this instance, Nike is running an ad on their own brand name. This is considered ‘brand protection’ and helps Nike to capture the Google Search audience before they click anywhere else. This tends to be quite a cost effective ad as there would be limited competitors to bid on a brand keyword. There is nothing stopping a competitor bidding on your brand keyword, but if you don’t protect it, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to competitors grabbing it.

There are also Smart Search Ads, which works based on you telling Google of a few keywords that you would like to target and Google then reading your website and generating a bunch of keywords to target based on its AI. This sounds great, but from real world testing I’d say that smart search isn’t quite there yet for me and is not in use with any of my clients.


Shopping ads are also based on intent and they also exist on the Google search results page. That is, they appear when you search for a product that you can buy online. Google Shopping ads work by hooking directly into your online store or reading an excel file to populate your product list. To qualify for Google Shopping you will need a few different elements (product name, image, price, shipping policy and details). This list of requirements essentially speaks to one key business type - eCommerce. Google Shopping is incredibly easy to set up as it is mostly based on connecting directly to your online store and placing your products on Google. But, there are two different types of Shopping ads.

  1. Standard Shopping: Standard shopping ads appear only on the Shopping location on the search results page.

  2. Smart Shopping: Smart Shopping ads appear where standard shopping ads do, but also appear in Display and Gmail. They are automatically populated with products and editing these ads are out of your control. Google will display the products that it believes the audience will be interested in through the Display and Gmail channels. Over the last few months I have transitioned all of my clients over to Smart Shopping as it has shown to drive a better return on investment.


Display ads should be used for only a few specific purposes. If you are looking to drive sales, avert your eyes. Display ads very rarely drive sales and less often are they cost effective. So, why would you use display ads?

  1. Brand Awareness / Reach: Display ads are a very, very cost effective way to reach a large audience. They are by far the most affordable form of online advertising for the purpose of impressions and reach. If you want people to know about your brand, display ads are a good way to get in front of them. Just make sure that you’ve got your brand(ing) smack bang in their face!

  2. Promotions: If you’re running a sale or another promotion, display ads can be a good place to get traffic. Normally, people don’t really click on display ads because they’re on the internet for another purpose (e.g. doing a speed test or reading an article). But, if you have a juicy AF offer then you may just entice them to click through.

  3. Retargeting: Display is a great, cost effective way to retarget your website visitors. You can do this with Smart Shopping (for eCommerce brands) or with designed assets.


These ads will only be shown by people who are looking at the promotions tab on Gmail. Learn more about what that is here. Essentially, these ads will be shown to people who are looking for a deal or looking to buy something. This is your opportunity to get them while they’re looking to buy.


These ads are shown to people who are looking for something local. For example, searching for ‘best coffee near me’. If you run a cafe and have epic coffee, then this is your time to shine. If you’re not local, then look away!


If you’re thinking about advertising on YouTube you better have an epic video. Your video should ideally get your key message and brand across within 5 seconds (before the user can skip). Thereafter, go forth and run for as long you like to get the message across. I find YouTube is best for brand awareness and retargeting advertisements (particularly with key messaging in the consideration phase). As this is a video platform, you will need to ensure that you have epic creative that fits the part - otherwise, don’t even think about it. Because this is YouTube you will have the ability to advertise to people that are watching content that are specific to what you offer. For example, you could advertise your gardening supplies on a ‘how to trim hedges’ video or you could advertise a gaming chair on YouTube’s massive library of gaming videos.

What do I need to make sure I get right with Google Ads?

In this section I will focus on search ads, as these have the most levers you can pull to get the most out of them.


Keyword Set Up - If you’re just starting out with Google Search Ads, it’s good to start with broad match (while constantly checking your search terms and adding to negative keywords) and make your way through to phrase and exact match. But, what do each of these mean? Google does a really good job of explaining in their help article - About keyword matching options and in the below infographic.

So, here’s how I like to do it.

  • Add Broad Match keywords to your campaign and regularly monitor your Search Terms and add irrelevant keywords to your negative keyword list. Broad match keywords will mean that you will appear on Google search for terms that are related to the term you put in. This means that some of the terms that you appear for will be irrelevant to your business. You should make sure to add these terms to your negative keyword list so that your ads are no longer appearing for these irrelevant keywords. At the same time, you will be appearing for relevant keywords, which you should add to your keyword targeting list.

  • After a month, run through your search terms and convert relevant search terms to ‘Phrase Match’. This will further refine your search campaign with keywords that are most likely relevant to your business. Repeat the same process above with Search Terms and Negative Keywords.

  • After another month, run through your search terms and convert relevant search terms to ‘Exact Match’. This will make your search terms laser focused on what is truly relevant to your business.

Throughout the above process you should always sort keywords based on what is relevant to your business, conversions / clicks.


Dynamic Search Ads are a great way to find out what your audience is likely looking for. Basically, Google will crawl your website and it will dynamically create ads based on the content of your website pages. For example, if you have a page about “women’s sneakers” it will make an ad for you. This takes all the guesswork out of it, but puts all control in Google’s hands.

These ads tend to be cheaper to run than your usual ads and tend to uncover some hidden gems. One of my clients discovered that their online skincare quiz was getting a tonne of traffic from DSA ads. They hadn’t directed any traffic to that page for a year and here it was racking up new traffic and sales.

So, what did they do? They’ve made a new search campaign that focuses on quizzes. The lesson? Take the learnings from Google’s automation and apply your magic hands to it.


This is a simple way for any eCommerce business to start advertising. With just a few button clicks you will have your products shown through Shopping.

Hot tip: you are able to include / exclude certain items. Once you start running your ads, discover which products are generating a positive return on investment. Exclude the others and see your dollars become laser focused. At the same time, consider testing those same products in search ads and see which gives you a higher return.


Don’t send yourself into a whirlwind trying to create every single form of display ads. The easiest way to get coverage is to set up one of each ad size. Visit the Google specification page (Uploaded display ads specifications) and click on the menu for ‘animated and non-animated ads’. Take one ad size for each section (4 in total) and you’ll have coverage. Then, expand and make more ads for the sections that are working for you.

Don’t expect Google Display to get sales for you (see above). Rather, use it for awareness, reach, retargeting and special promotions.

Tips for a successful Google Ads Campaign

Connect to Google Analytics

Link your Google Ads and Analytics (here’s how). This will mean that your main analytics tool will be speaking to your ads tool. This is helpful for conversion tracking (see next point) and for your ability to track your performance.

Setup Conversion Tracking

If you’re running Google Ads and don’t have conversion tracking set up then I am seriously worried for you. Outside of impressions and traffic, you won’t have a clue how your ads are performing. And, if you’re selling online, that is the single most important thing for you to know - sales figures.

My favourite way to set this up is to import Google Analytics Goals and Transactions (here’s how to do it). All you have to do is set up your goals and conversions in Google Analytics and then push them over to Google Ads. You’ll then be looking at the exact same conversions in each platform, making your data consistent.

Once you’ve got conversion tracking set up, you will be able to set up your Google Ads campaigns to focus on conversions instead of traffic. This means Google will be looking for conversions rather than just traffic (this is especially important for choosing helpful keywords and using the recommendations tab).

The Recommendations Tab

In all campaigns, Search and otherwise, the Recommendations tab is your friend. This is where Google’s AI robot will analyse your campaign and give you tips of how to improve it. Typically, the tips can be actioned with the click of a button. It is imperative that you have conversion tracking set up (unless all you care about is traffic) as otherwise the suggestions will be focused on something you may not care about (traffic).

Hint: A Google Account Strategist will probably email / call you incessantly to talk about your campaign. 9 times out of 10 all they want to do is to run you through the recommendations page. Save yourself some time and run through it yourself. Here’s how to find the tab.

Tools to use for Google Ads

There are many different Google Ads tools that exist and it can be confusing to wade your way through them and know which ones are actually relevant. Mostly, these tools will help you to understand what keywords you should target, how much search volume they receive and how much it costs to bid on them. For the purpose of this guide I will separate them into a few different categories - Platform Tools, Investigative Tools and Content Tools.

Platform Tools For keeping your listings up to date and reviewing historical performance.

By reviewing these tools you will be able to review past performance. That means that you’ll be able to see what queries your audience has searched to have either seen your listing or to have clicked on it (VERY helpful data!). If you’re getting a bunch of impressions for terms of interest but you’re not getting clicks, these can be important keywords to start bidding on. It means that while you’re not quite there yet organically, you’ll be driving paid clicks straight away.

Google Ads has its own tool called Keyword Planner. This is a great tool for helping you to choose which keywords are best. It is the best data, as it’s straight from the source - Google. You will need to enter the exact keywords that you would like to target and Google Ads will spit out a summary of how many searches and clicks you would expect to receive in the next month. Very handy for specific planning.

This is Google’s publicly available tool to browse around search interest over time. You can enter any terms and it will show you relative interest over time on a scale from 0-100 (0 being the least interest and 100 being the most). This can be helpful to understand new trends, or old ones that you may think are coming back.

Investigative Tools For researching search terms and their difficulty to bid on.

Okay, so you have an understanding of what you’re currently ranking for but you want to plan ahead and rank for new, high volume terms. By using one of the tools above you can search what other websites are ranking for or enter keyword strings that you would like to bid on. The tools will spit out a list of keywords, their search volume and their relative difficulty to big on. For a free and simple to use tool I recommend getting started with Ubersuggest.

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Happy marketing!


About the author, Josh Berg

I’ve worked with over 200 small businesses, spending thousands of hours analysing their performance to advise on digital marketing best practice.

Over the hours there have been several key recommendations that have been consistent for almost all of my clients. This guide is the product of this time and focuses on providing you with an actionable list of tactics to get your digital marketing basics set up.


Want help with this guide? Tap me on the shoulder.

I’m available for consultation to help you work through this guide, ensuring that you’re implementing with best practice advice and are set up for success.

Book a time in my calendar for 30 minutes or for 60 minutes or check out my plans.


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