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Google Ads is the No. 1 paid advertising platform on the planet, allowing businesses to reach a vast audience of potential customers.
The Google Display Network (GDN), which comprises more than 2 million websites, videos, and apps, reaches over 90% of all internet users worldwide—and nearly 65% of those users are reached on a daily basis.
Put simply, Google Ads is the strongest marketing tool you have at your disposal, which makes getting it right all the more important when it comes to growing and scaling your business. The catch?
I have seen evidence of this over and over again with Solutions 8 clients who followed Google’s instructions to the letter but still weren’t seeing the results they wanted from their campaigns.
Full disclosure: My team and I learned the hard way, too. Which is to say we did a lot of things that didn’t work before we found the things that did. And that’s how I came to know the four key campaign types that almost every advertiser should be running (but most are not).
At Solutions 8, we build four key campaigns for every single client.
I call them “exploratory campaigns” because they give you a sense of where your market exists: where the traffic is, where the searches are, what your competition is, and what’s working and not working. Those four campaigns are:
I’ll discuss each one in detail below, but before I do, here is one of the most important takeaways of this article and what I always tell clients up front—especially if we’re in the early stages of building their campaigns: Right now you’re paying for data.
What does that mean?
In the beginning, you are not paying for customers, leads, or purchases; you are running these campaigns in order to determine what is actually going to work, and then you can begin to retool your strategy according to what you’ve determined is working. So, if you launch your campaigns thinking you’re going to be wildly successful with Google Ads and hit every one of your goals right off the bat… you’re going to be disappointed.
Not everything is going to work. But that’s okay! In fact, it’s exactly why we run these exploratory campaigns.
So let’s jump in, starting with the campaign I get the most pushback on: Brand.
This campaign bids specifically on your business name and brand keywords or phrases.
Now, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Why would I pay for those clicks? I would get that traffic regardless of whether or not I’m bidding on it.” And while there is some merit to that objection, there are also a couple of things at work here. Hear me out.
The first and most important thing I want to point out is: You are not guaranteed that traffic. If you look at organic search results these days, you’ll notice that they’re more than halfway down the page—pushed out of the way by ads, maps, suggestions, and maybe even a video or two. Which means that between someone typing in a search term and your organic result appearing, a lot can happen.
The nice thing about branded phrases is that you’re the most relevant result, so you’re virtually guaranteed the first position (as long as you’re doing it correctly). This makes protecting your brand really, really important.
As you become more successful at Google Ads, more people are going to bid on your brand, so it’s important to protect your brand from competitors—and yes, people will bid on your brand. I know this because it’s one of our standard operating procedures when building Competitor campaigns (we’ll get to those next). When we see a new competitor enter the ecosystem, regardless of how big they are, Solutions 8 will at least examine them to see if we need to include them in our Competitive campaign. And because other people will do the same, you need to protect your campaign from other people stealing your clicks.
The other reason you want to run brand campaigns is for data continuity. When somebody clicks through organically, Google has something called the “not provided provision” which means they are not showing you over 50% of your data. You can go in right now and check this for yourself; for whatever reason, 51% or more of your data is logged under “not provided.” So, in terms of trying to track things like conversion paths, where your traffic is coming from, where people are going, and so on, organic traffic puts you at a disadvantage. But when you pay for that traffic, all of that information lives under the Google Ads ecosystem and you have full visibility.
Finally, running a Brand campaign is cheap. You’re usually paying just a couple bucks (and sometimes less than a dollar) per click, so it really doesn’t make sense to not bid on your brand.
Another thing worth noting is that your branded searches will begin to increase as your Google campaigns improve; we see this time and again. That’s because people are seeing your brand all the time—through display, through remarketing, etc. Running a Brand campaign ensures that the people who are looking for you will find you quickly… and go where you want them to go to continue the sales journey.
Next up: the General campaign.
This is the campaign most people think of when they think of running Google Ads. Here, people are searching for your offer or relevant pivots (more on that in just a sec) or trying to solve a specific problem. This is where your short- and long-tail keyphrases come into play, and it’s where we direct the majority of your ad spend. Incidentally, it’s likely where you will waste the majority of your ad spend in the beginning, because again—many of these approaches won’t work. Remember, you’re paying for data, which means you’re paying to learn.
Why not build the General campaign first? Good question. Basically, the Brand campaign is easier to build, and it allows us to teach the core concepts of Google Ads to our clients. It’s a friendlier environment, so to speak, kind of like keeping the training wheels on your bike until you feel comfortable with the mechanics of things. Then, once those core concepts are learned, we carry them through to the General campaign, which is typically more robust and allows you to scale your marketing efforts by tapping into Google’s massive volume.
Now we come to the Competitor campaign. (Spoiler alert: It’s not exactly what you think.)
Yes, this is where we’ll target your direct competitors, but it’s also where we will learn how to target your alternatives.
Here’s an example I like to use: If you are Southwest Airlines, your direct competitors will be other airlines, obviously. But an alternative will be something like Greyhound bus. Likewise, if you sell something that alleviates headaches, such as a drug or a supplement, your alternatives could be anything from massage therapists to acupuncturists to people selling light therapy products or heating pads.
Targeting alternatives may sound a little sneaky, but it’s actually a perfectly ethical (and highly effective) way to redirect traffic by positioning your product as the solution people need.
Bottom line: It’s really important that you learn to be expansive in your Competitor campaign because this will enable you to reach for traffic that you might not have pursued otherwise. We call these pivots, by the way: If someone’s searching for this and we can steer them toward that, it’s a pivot. Pivots don’t necessarily always work, but when they do they can be very powerful, so it’s definitely something worth exploring.
Last but not least, we build the Retargeting campaign.
Retargeting (also called remarketing) is the campaign we use to bring people back to your site who have already been there and seen or heard your messaging.
News flash: Traffic is expensive. So, if you’re just putting yourself in front of somebody one time and they walk away and don’t buy from you, that puts you at a massive disadvantage—so much so that your campaign may not work without retargeting. That’s actually how it is in my business; our cost per lead without retargeting would be around $450, but running a Retargeting campaign cuts that cost in half, to about $225. Sure, it’s possible we could still be profitable without Retargeting, but adding this campaign takes the pressure off.
There’s an old marketing guideline from the 1930s called the rule of 7, which implies that it takes seven impressions—that is, seven times hearing or seeing your brand message—before a customer is ready to buy from you. You could easily double or triple that amount today, considering how frequently internet (and especially social media) users are inundated with brand messaging throughout the day. That’s why a Retargeting campaign is so important.
Ninety-eight percent of your traffic is not going to convert on their first visit, so this campaign helps you stay in front of prospects, reinforce your brand, and maximize your conversions. It also delivers the highest ROI; however, it’s important to point out that without the other three campaign types, your results will dry up in weeks (if not days).
Google Ads is a powerful marketing tool, but it is absolutely critical that businesses invest the time and effort into getting it right. Implementing these four campaign types will help you get one step closer to hitting your target goals and scaling your business… but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. My Google Ads Mastery workshop will show you how to launch and scale a four-stage Google Ads campaign that’s profitable to cold audiences—even if you’ve failed at Google Ads in the past. You can view the full workshop agenda and register here.
Happy campaign building!
Kasim Aslam is the founder and CEO of Solutions 8, one of the world’s top ranked Google Ads agencies.
Recipient of the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association’s 2017 TIM Award for Person of the Year, Kasim was also named one of the Top 50 Digital Marketing Thought Leaders in the United States by The University of Missouri in 2020.
Kasim was hand-selected as the Traffic Coach for DigitalMarketer.com’s ELITE coaching program by their executive team. He is also the co-host of the long-running podcast, Perpetual Traffic.
His book, The 7 Critical Principles of Effective Digital Marketing, was featured as one of the Top 100 Digital Marketing Books of All Time by Book Authority.
Kasim helped launch the National Association of Child Helplines (NAACH) and worked with the United States Army, Intel, as well as a Gates Foundation-funded nonprofit, a 54,000 member PPO, the largest privately owned bank in the United States, and an Academy Award-contending documentary.
He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife and two sons.