Setting up some Google Ads can be a great way to kickstart your online sales and website traffic, especially if you're a new business and don't have a strong SEO foundation. As any new advertiser or small business owner will attest, setting up and managing Google PPC (pay per click) ads can be quite complex. This makes the "automagic" Google Ads Express (formerly AdWords Express) option that much more tempting. But can it really work for your business?

In this post, we'll dive into the key differences between Google Ads Express and the full powered, normal Google Ads platform.

Caveat: In this post, we'll talk about "meaningful" clicks to your website. This refers to users who are potential customers looking for your product/service, opposed to random users who may be looking for something else and landed on your site accidentally.

1. What's the difference anyway?

Google offers two versions of their Google Ads software/website to set up and manage your campaigns: the original, full featured Google Ads, and the simpler Google Ads Express. In short, Ads Express is a stripped down version of the search giant's normal ad management tool, designed for beginners who have no expertise in setting up and managing PPC campaigns. The Express platform tries to make this job easier by automating the creation of new ad text, selection of keywords you want to target, etc. However, this simplification has downsides, as we'll detail below.

2. Target customers? Think again.

Location targeting in google ads
Location Targeting in Google Ads Express

A critical part of any successful PPC advertising campaign is targeting the right customers, especially if you are a service business or retailer that only ships to specific countries or areas. Ads Express lets you set the target region for customers (e.g. USA, a specific state, or even specific cities), but by default it uses these more as guidelines. It will show your ad to users in these regions, but also to users who have recently searched for or previously traveled to the region. For example, if you're a shoe store in NYC and set New York, NY as your target region, your ad may show to someone in Tokyo who recently searched for something related to New York (e.g. hotels, tourist attractions) on Google. Unless you ship internationally to Tokyo, you'll probably end up wasting some clicks on users that you can't service.

3. Okay, but at least I can set the keywords I want, right?

Spoiler alert: No! Google Ads Express will let you put in keywords (aka "search phrases") to target for your ad, and even helps you think of ideas with an automatic suggestion tool. But, it will also add new keywords to your campaign every day automatically from its keyword bot, and these keywords are often irrelevant. Let's say you're a tax attorney in Chicago. You might start a new campaign with a few keywords like "tax attorney in chicago", "IL tax attorney", and "chicago tax lawyer". Great start! But, the next day when you log into Ads Express, you may find the Ads Express bot has added "Illinois sales tax" and "chicago criminal defense lawyer" to your target keywords list. Not going to help you land new clients!

You can turn off keywords you don't want to target by clicking "MANAGE ALL" in the Search Phrases widget of your Ads Express dashboard, but unfortunately the system will continue to add more every day, and you can bet they will become less and less relevant over time. These irrelevant keywords will cost you expensive clicks with no hope of converting customers.

Google profits off of these irrelevant keywords & clicks since most advertisers don't realize this is happening and increase their ad spend to increase the flow of meaningful customers they get. They aren't incentivized to improve the quality of the keywords that they automatically add.

4. What is Broad Matching and why should I care?

When it comes to setting keywords to target with your campaign, there are three main types:

  • Broad Match, the default type, shows your ad on similar/related searches. For example, the keyword chicago electrician may also show your ad if someone searches chicago electrical contractor but additionally chicago power company, obviously not helpful for your business.
  • Phrase Match, which is when your keyword only shows to people searching for close variances, pluralizations etc. (e.g. chicago electrician and chicago electricians). For most companies, this is the best way to target the right users, but does require adding a lot of keywords and variances to your campaign.
  • Exact Match, which shows only if users search for the exact keyword and spelling you enter.

It's no coincidence that Broad Match is the default for Google Ads, and Ads Express uses Broad Match only, and doesn't allow you to change the setting. This means Google has the most flexibility in deciding which searches to show your ad for, and often those are irrelevant ones. In our own experiment, we created PPC ads for the keyword los angeles dentist and found out that Google was showing our ad to people looking for los angeles dental school and los angeles dentists salary.

Again, Google isn't incentivized to show your ad to the most relevant users. Rather, they show it to the broadest set possible, so they can capture some extra clicks which you are paying for!

5. What are Negative Keywords and why should I care?

There is a fourth kind of keyword... Negative keywords are words that you don't want your ad showing for. In our dentist example above (section 4), we would likely want to specify school and salary as negative keywords so our ad doesn't show to dental students or job seekers.

With Ads Express, you can't set up negative keywords. This means fewer guard rails to prevent your ad from showing to irrelevant searchers.

6. What are Ad Extensions and can I get some?

google ppc ad extensions
Google Ad Extensions

Ad Extensions are the little bonus links you can show under your ad. There are numerous types of extensions which you can read about here in the Google Ads documentation. According to Google, "[extensions] typically increase an ad's click-through-rate by several percentage points." They are a proven way to make you stand out from competitors in search results and increase meaningful clicks to your website.

Google Ads Express does not allow you to create Ad Extensions. You're stuck with the most basic ad format with no flair :(


Unfortunately, most experts agree Ads Express is not an efficient way to spend your marketing budget. A recent study by BrightLocal found that 88% of small businesses and SEO companies say Ads Express is less effective than the full featured Ads standard platform.

At Shore3, we strongly recommend using the full Google Ads platform for your campaigns. If you're overwhelmed by the learning curve or need some help migrating over from Ads Express to the full Ads platform, get in touch. We're happy to answer simple questions for free or provide a consultation and estimate for more complex projects.

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