The Business Owner’s Guide to

Google AdWords

by Tim Kelsey

The internet leveled the playing field for businesses a long time ago. With Google Adwords, small business owners can reach a market of buyers that were not available before AdWords was launched. With proper management of an AdWords account, small businesses can get immediate ROI from their online advertising within their identified budget.

Top reasons for using Google AdWords include:

  • Immediate access to potential customers
  • Opportunity to reach multiple demographics/locations
  • Quantifiable results
  • Targeting keywords that you may not rank for organically

Google AdWords can be both a short term and long term strategy for a business owner. Special promotions may be used during holidays or special events, with ads specifically for seasonal products or services. AdWords also presents an opportunity for new brands who need to quickly get their names out there.

For a long term strategy, we advise clients to run targeted campaigns based on a buyer’s intention and send potential buyers to a dedicated landing page depending on their position in the buyer’s journey. For example, someone looking for New York City travel pages should land on a page specifically with those packages, not a page where all potential travel opportunities throughout the United States are listed.

Local businesses probably do not need a global campaign. With AdWords, as a small business owner, you can narrow down the radius to focus on the exact areas where you do business or even a single zip code. This reduce costs for small business marketing and enhances your ROI – both things that are of the utmost importance for small businesses with a limited marketing budget.

Campaign Setup

Keyword Research

Before advertising your business on Google, you first need a solid foundation which starts with keyword research.

A simple way to begin keyword research is to brainstorm about your business. What exactly is it that your business offers? Where do you offer it and to whom? How do customers refer to your business? Remember it may be a very different picture from what you describe in your marketing materials.

The more specific you can get about the different categories of your services or products, the easier it is to create tightly themed ad groups. Depending on what’s uncovered in your research, you will likely have multiple campaigns and ad groups when it comes time to set up your account.

Let’s review some best practices and common mistakes for keywords research.

Common Mistakes with Keyword Research

Using only the Google Keyword Planner for research

The Google Keyword Planner is a fantastic tool for keyword research but it comes with limitations. Many people use this tool as their only way of discovering related keywords to include in their campaigns.

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The limitation of this tool is that it doesn’t create new keywords. It only shows keywords that are related to your identified keyword. Furthermore, the Google Keyword Planner (GKP) is a very popular tool, so if you only use the keywords discovered through it, everyone else using the tool will be targeting the same keywords making them more expensive to bid on.

This doesn’t mean you should not use GKP, but it shouldn’t be the only way that you create your keywords. Please note you must have an AdWords account to use this tool, but you do not need to have campaigns running to use it. You can create an AdWords account and not even enter your budget. Simply creating it is all you need to take advantage of the tool.

There are other tools available - some free and some paid. Here are a few that are worth checking out:

Using keywords that are too broad

You want to attract potential customers - not everyone. Otherwise, you’ll be paying for clicks that won’t convert. If you are selling vacation packages only for New York City, then you do not want to promote “vacation packages” in general. With that keyword phrase, you could receive ad clicks from people searching for travel packages all over the world, not just those searching for NYC vacations.

Also, “vacation packages” results in significant competition with more advertisers, raising your costs while potentially attracting searchers who do not want what you are selling.

Forgetting to Refine

Determining a long list of keywords isn’t enough. You also need to refine them based on data on how often they are searched for and the level of competition from other advertisers. If the competition is too high, it may not be worth it to add to your campaign.

Not Relating to Customers

The reality is that you have to put yourself into the shoes of your customers. What search queries are people likely to use when typing into a search box that would bring them to your website? This is a reminder that customers may not see your business the same way you do.

Regardless of what’s listed in your business mission statement, your customers may have a totally different way of talking about what you offer. Ask your internal sales and support team for phrases customers use when discussing your business. Once you understand this, you will be closer to finding keywords that produce results.

Additional tips for keyword research

Review the Search Console

Once upon a time, there was great keyword data available in Google Analytics. Once Google switched to secure search, the keywords previously available now display as “not provided” to the frustration of searcher marketers everywhere. Fortunately, you can see search queries through the Search Console, another free tool offered by Google.

With Search Console, you can see the actual search queries that people typed to get to your site organically, meaning in the free Google search results. When you examine these words, you may discover new ones to add to your AdWords campaign.

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Reviewing this information can ensure that you are using the correct keywords within your campaigns based upon what people are really using in order to find you. Check this on a regular basis as part of your ongoing keywords discovery work.

Competitive Keyword Research

Although you do not want to do exactly the same thing as your competitors because your business is unique, it is still helpful to know how they approach their AdWords campaigns. Some things to research include:

  • Which keywords your competitors are bidding on
  • Which keywords your competitors are bidding on
  • What ad copy they’re using
  • What their landing pages looks like
  • What their average monthly budget is
  • When/If they make changes to their campaigns

Competitor research is not a one-time process. They may not target the keywords you are targeting this month, but that can change next month or the month after that.

Even if you don’t have the budget to compete with them, knowing the keywords that they are using and how often they change their campaigns can help you to make adjustments to your own so that you can be competitive. SEMrush, mentioned above, is one of the many tools available to help you with this research.

Include Negative Keywords

Negative Keywords are keywords or phrases that you don’t want your ads to appear on. If your NYC vacations are geared towards those on a budget, you would not want your ad to display for the phrase “NYC luxury vacations”. Searchers using luxury are looking for something high-end so your options would not appeal to them. By making “luxury” a negative keyword, your ad will never display when that word is utilized in a search query.

One way to find these keywords is by using the autocomplete built-in to Google.com. Start typing your keyword, and view the list of keywords suggested by Google. Go through the alphabet so that you can see the different words that pop up next to your primary keyword. A thorough search may include “vacation a”, “vacation b”, etc. In this example, a quick search on “vacation a” suggests the phrase “vacation all-inclusive”. “Vacation b” includes the result “vacation by yourself”.

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Add all the keywords that are not relevant to your business to a negative keyword list in AdWords. You may also want to perform this exercise with Ubersuggest to see if negative keywords come up that were not suggested through Google. The negative keyword list lets you apply all negative keywords to all campaigns rather than adding one negative keyword at a time when a new campaign is created.

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Once your AdWords campaigns are running, check the search terms report to see the exact words that were used to find your ads. Even when you spend time in the beginning to exclude irrelevant search terms, there still may be words people use that did not come up in your original brainstorming. If the search terms report reveals irrelevant terms, add them to your negative keyword list so you do not continue paying for keywords that are not profitable for your business.

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Once you have a strong list of keywords, your AdWords campaigns are going to be more effective. This will help you to drive more traffic to your site, increase your sales, and improve your bottom line.

Develop a Good Account Structure

When it comes to your AdWords account structure, there are almost as many strategies as there are users. Although there's no perfect structure and no one-size-fits-all, there are still best practices to employ to have the most control over your budget, to manage and modify your campaigns effortlessly, and also to determine which ads result in the most profitable conversions.

There are multiple components to an account, with the primary pieces being campaigns, ad groups, ads and keywords. Campaigns are the highest level where you determine the budget, languages, locations, networks (Search or Display), and devices.

The ad groups are where you include your ads and keywords. Although the full budget is set at the campaign level, you can set bids for the entire group or the individual keywords. The reason to bid by keyword is if you have specific keywords that are more profitable than others and want to invest more money into just a few.

Remember the principles mentioned earlier regarding tightly themed ad groups. Your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and ads should be specific based on relevant landing pages on your website.

Define your target audience

Your target audience is critical as it is going to help you determine who you are selling to and was introduced above when we discussed personas. These are some of the things you may want to know about your audience:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Income
  • Hobbies & interests
  • What they want to accomplish
  • Things they are challenged by
  • How badly they need your solution
  • How they search for your products and services

Campaign Settings

Let’s continue with the example of NYC vacation packages and a travel company that has family-friendly vacations as well as weekend bachelor parties. These should be two separate campaigns. If family vacation packages are 80% of your market and only 20% is bachelor parties, you can allocate your budget accordingly with most going into the family vacations campaign.

You can also think of this in the reverse. If bachelor party weekends are a small percentage of your revenue, but you want to build that part of your business, perhaps you would put 80% of your advertising budget into it and only 20% in the family vacation ads if that’s already a steady and profitable niche for you. With separate campaigns, you are able to manage your budget by these different goals - appealing to families and appealing to bachelor parties.

The two primary networks on Google are the Search Network and the Display Network. The Search Network is what people are most familiar with when it comes to AdWords. These are the ads display when someone searches on Google.com. The Display Network is made up of partner sites on Google and reaches 90% of internet users.

Although Google offers an option to combine these two networks, we recommend that clients advertise on these separately. With Google.com, people generally go to it with a plan: they know the type of service, product or even company name they want to find. On the Display Network, people are looking around and doing some research, not necessarily with an intent to buy.

Download our step by step guide and campaign planning spreadsheet for setting up your AdWords Campaign

These are some of our best practices for designing campaigns regardless of which network you use for your ads:

  • Divide your products or services by campaign to make your structure more organized, and therefore more effective. This is also easier to navigate and provides better budget management over each product.
  • In which geographical locations would you like your ads to appear? Are most of your NYC vacation packages purchase by those in the northeast? If so, target those specific states in your campaign.
  • Consider using both brand names and generic names: A website that offers a number of brand-name products could discover that keywords attached to brand names convert more than generic product descriptions. It is the same with services. If your travel group is a well known brand for NYC vacation packages, bid on your own brand name for campaigns. You may rank well organically for your brand name if you are well known, but competitors may try to capitalize on that by using your brand name in their ads so it’s good to bid on it as well.
  • It may be profitable to include a strategy for dealing with seasonality. Are your NYC packages popular around Christmas? If so, you can create a campaign that starts November first and ends the day after Christmas. With this strategy, you would use different ad copy specifically related to the Christmas season and utilize keywords promoting travel this time of the year. With campaign scheduling, you do not have to remember to start and end the campaign on specific days.

Ad Groups

An ad group consists of one or more ads which target the same keywords. Keeping your ad groups concise will improve the overall quality of your campaigns and improve your conversion rates.

A best practice is to start with two ads in every group with only a minor change between the two such as the call-to-action. Over time, see how these ads perform against each other. After you have enough data to make a decision about the best performer, pause the ad that does not perform well. Make a copy of the ad that did well and include a minor change to the duplicate ad. Give some time here to test performance and make appropriate changes.

When it comes to keywords for each group, start with 5-15 for each group. Too many keywords can make your ad group too broad, resulting in poor performance and messy data.

If you feel there are many more than 15 keywords that are relevant to an ad group, it could mean your initial ad group is too broad and needs to be broken up into two separate ad groups.

Keywords

Remember that keywords are grouped by theme with relevant ads. Keywords are what you bid on and search terms are the actual words searchers type in the Google.com search screen.

Thinking in terms of themes demonstrates you are aware which of your keywords are relevant and that you’ve segmented your ad groups correctly. This has an impact on the quality score and ad ranking determined by Google.

Your keywords should be made up of different types, with an emphasis on phrase, broad modified, and exact match types. Broad keyword types are exactly that: broad. A broad keyword could be “vacation”. Clearly that opens the door to an almost unlimited number of searches.

If instead, your keyword was the phrase +nyc +vacation, you are still being fairly broad in your search but are telling Google you only want your ad to display when the searcher uses the term nyc and the term vacation. These two words can be typed into the search box in any order and with any other words.

A Phrase Match could be “nyc vacations”. Use of the quotation marks indicates to Google that you only want your ad to display when people type nyc vacations specifically in that order but there can be a word before nyc and a word after vacations.

The most narrow search is Exact Match. If you used [nyc family vacations], you not only indicate the order to Google, but also are saying you do not want the ad to display if people have words before nyc or after vacations. So while the number of searches will clearly decline, it also results in much less money spent on ads because the audience is very targeted.

Ad Tips

Ads describe your product or service along with the action you want a searcher to perform after clicking on your ad. The ad copy - or description - should include some of the keywords from your ad group, is written to appeal to consumers and tells them what to expect when they click through to your website’s landing page.

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Here are some tips for a well written ad:

  • Identify the unique features and benefits of your offering. Make it clear why people should consider you and not your competition.
  • Use attention getting headlines. With Google’s recently launched Expanded Text Ads, you have even more opportunity to get people’s attention.
  • Make a clear offer. Do you have free shipping? After hours support? Include things like promotions, prices, and exclusives in your ad.
  • Aim to include at least one keyword in the headline and/or description of your ad.
  • Use numbers when you can back it up. Do you have a 99.9% uptime with your software? Are you #1 in your industry?
  • Send visitors to a landing page that supports what you state in your ad. Equally important to the words on the page is the load time. If the page does not load, customers will leave your site and go to a competitor.
  • Use powerful verbs in your call-to-action, such as order, sign up, or call today to invite them to do something now.
  • Check your ad copy for typographical and grammatical mistakes. Operating ads with errors impacts trustworthiness and hurts your credibility.
  • Choose "rotate evenly" for your ads so Google can determine which ones performs better and show the better performing more often.
  • Test, test, and test again! Your initial ads may not be top performers. You will want to modify along the way.

Conversion Tracking

A click on an ad does not automatically mean revenue for your business, especially with service based businesses. Businesses that provide a professional service may ask a prospective client to fill out a form about services and completion of the form is considered a conversion for the purpose of AdWords. Whether the conversion is the form completion, a purchase or any other action that may generate revenue, you want to track it.

To monitor conversions from AdWords, the conversion tracking code should be placed in the thank-you or confirmation page the site user sees after converting. Although clicking on an ad and arriving on the landing page is important, what people do once they arrive is what really matters.

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Once you begin receiving conversion data, you can make adjustments, such as editing underperforming keywords or writing a stronger call-to-action on the actual landing page. As a result, you will reduce wasteful spending, receive more quality clicks, and improve your return on investment.

Google Analytics is another tool to help you track conversions through the use of goals. If someone completes a form on your website requesting information and upon completion of the form, they are taken to a URL that includes /thank-you-form.html, then that portion of the URL can be created as a destination goal in Google Analytics. These goals can then be imported into Google AdWords and counted as conversions.

Landing Pages

The landing pages used in your ads are what draws in a potential lead or drives them away. Well designed pages create continuity in the user experience and help establish trust.

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If a number people click on your ad and visit your landing page, yet do not convert, it could indicate a problem with your landing page. If you see this happening in your account, follow some of our recommendations below to improve conversions dramatically.

  • Be very clear about what you have to offer and what you want in return. Too many options on a single page can be confuse visitors. People also want to immediately know the desired action. Is to download something? Fill out a form?
  • Have a single compelling headline that immediately gets someone’s interest.
  • Highlight the primary benefits that might appeal to a potential consumer.
  • Highlight the primary benefits that might appeal to a potential consumer.
  • Include testimonials that provide social proof for your offer.
  • Remove any information that is not directly related to the ad and the action you want from the user.
  • Use an image that is clearly related to the product or service mentioned on the landing page. Do not use any stock images.
  • Use the “five second rule”. That is the maximum amount of time you have to get a searcher’s attention before they look elsewhere for what they need.
  • Request only the minimum amount of information in your landing page form. Although you may want their phone numbers, are names and email addresses enough? Each additional field added to your form decreases the likelihood of people not completing it.
  • Include clear privacy policies to build trust and assure visitors you will not use their information beyond what is listed on the site.
  • Be consistent with your brand. The colors, images, and copy on your landing page should consistent with your overall company brand.

Campaign Management

Creating solid campaigns are only the beginning and campaign management is one service our agency provides. If you prefer to self manage your AdWords account, perform campaign management steps on a regular basis to get the most for your AdWords budget. When doing your own management, you also need to stay current with changes Google makes to AdWords. Missing a key change can result in a drop in your ad rank and an increase in your costs.

Quality Score

Your keyword Quality Score is determined by Google and needs to be monitored to avoid overpaying for clicks. Highly relevant keywords coupled with relevant ads and landing pages will improve the overall quality score of your campaigns and allow you to get less expensive clicks than competitors who have a low Quality Score.

Monitor Costs

Monitor your campaigns on a daily basis for the first few weeks. You are checking your click-through-rate, costs, and ad performance. Refrain from changing your ads right away unless an ad is clearly performing poorly. You need some time to allow for any anomalies.

Check the Search Terms Report

As part of this monitoring, regularly check the search terms report to see people used and add irrelevant keywords to the negative keywords list while adding the relevant ones to existing or new ad groups.

Check Device Performance

Watch for performance by mobile devices vs desktop and make bid adjustments by device if needed. Significantly poor performance on a mobile device is a red flag that your website needs to be mobile friendly. Check this with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

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Review conversions by time of day

If you have a lot of clicks in the middle of the night with no conversions, you may be attracting an audience that is simply bored and doing some surfing compared to searchers that click from 9am to 5pm. In this case, you may want to schedule your ads for standard business hours if those are the clicks that result in conversions.

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Introduce new ad copy

Once a month (or more for high volume accounts) you should monitor your ad performance and replace poor performing ads with a new variation of the best performing one. This is why we recommend running two ads at the same time in each ad group.

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Compare conversions and costs

Check your conversions and cost per acquisition (CPA). Are you receiving enough conversions to justify running a campaign as-is or are modifications needed?

At least once a month, you should calculate your cost per acquisition by taking total ad spend for the month and dividing it by the number of conversions you received that month. This gives you the average amount you spent to get one conversion through your campaigns and is the first step in determining the ROI of your AdWords investment.

What’s considered a good CPA varies from business to business. You’ll need to consider how many of those conversions you generated turned into actual paying customers as well as the lifetime value of those customers to your business.

Final Tips

Tightly Themed Ad Groups

Don’t create only one campaign with too many keywords. When you go broad, instead of having tightly themed ad groups, you may pay for a lot of clicks that do not produce a good ROI, wasting your marketing budget.

Instead, use keywords that relate to a specific theme for each group. With the above example of an NYC vacation, good keywords may include common attractions in NYC rather than common tourist attractions throughout the whole country. You want a group that includes keywords related only to NYC and takes people to your NYC landing page. Depending on the business model, this could even be two separate groups: one for luxury trips and the other for budget vacations. Tighter groups produce better results.

Monitor Your Performance

Your AdWords performance has to be tracked. How are your keywords performing? Do searchers click on your ad? If you do not monitor performance, you don’t know what campaigns are working and which ones aren’t. You do not want to continue running a campaign that does not produce.

Apply your knowledge to Bing Ads

Although we talk specifically about AdWords in this post, do not ignore Bing. The traffic is there (on average 10 to 15% of Adwords volume) and the conversion rate can be very good. Bing users are often older and there is less competition that with AdWords. We often see less expensive clicks and cost per acquisition (CPA) for our clients running Bing Ads. And everything you do in AdWords can be imported into Bing so you are not starting from scratch.

Download our step by step guide and campaign planning spreadsheet for setting up your AdWords Campaign

Next Steps

For many businesses, outsourcing AdWords management is cost efficient. There are too many variables in place and constant changes that make it difficult for small businesses to stay current. A Google Certified agency will ensure you spend your budget wisely and get the best ROI.

If you’re considering an agency, ask if they have experience in your specific industry and the budgets they usually manage to see if they are a good fit. Find out if they will be in your account regularly to maximize performance or only perform minimal management, potentially logging in and editing once a month. Although they may not be able to share an exact monthly report they send to clients, they can still reasonably provide information about the type of data they do share.

If we can help you get started with AdWords or you need help with an existing account, please contact us at (800) 270-3440.

Glossary of Important AdWords Terms

A campaign is the highest level of your account and each campaign can have a number of ad groups in it. The campaign level is where you determine the geographic location as well as the budget.

An ad group has multiple ads and keywords and should match the navigation of your website. For example, as a retailer, you may have one ad group for women’s shoes and another for women’s shirts. Keep these groups tightly themed rather than attempting to promote multiple types of women’s items all in one group.

The two primary types of campaigns are Search Network and Display Network. The Search Network is the one people traditionally think of with AdWords; the ads seen when searching on Google.com. The Display Network consists of the other sites we access online, such as when reading the news or checking the weather, and can include image ads.

Advertisers generally use a different strategy and budget for each network since the searcher’s behavior is different on each. There is also the option choose “Search Network with Display Select” which allows Google to decide where these ads are shown. There are also Shopping ads and video ads on YouTube, but Search and Display are a good place to start.

Keywords will make you or break you. If they are tightly themed in an ad group and relate to your landing page, you are leading searchers to what they want and Google will charge you less money as a result. If they are too broad, you will end up with a lot of clicks and very high costs, but very little return.

Using the earlier example about “women’s shoes”, that keyword phrase may be too broad for retailers who sell shoes as a small part of their business. A more targeted phrase may be something like “women’s high-heeled shoes” or “women’s running shoes”. Keywords need to be monitored regularly during the course of a campaign and we recommend aiming for 5 - 20 keywords per ad group.

Quality Score is a moving target. This is automatically calculated by Google every time your ad is eligible to enter the AdWords auction. If Google believes your ads, keywords, and landing page are not relevant to what is searched, your Quality Score will be low and your ad is unlikely to be displayed or you may end up paying more per click.

An impression is the measurement of how many times your ad is shown. If you have a high number of impressions over time and very few clicks, you may need to re-write your ad to be more compelling or incorporate some new images if your ad is on the Display Network.

You have competitors and they are also using AdWords to advertise. Your goal is to rank higher than them so it is your ad that is displayed rather than theirs. Google determines where you stand in terms of rank by viewing several factors, including how much you bid, your Quality Score and ad performance.

Mobile use only continues to grow. No longer are we speaking to prospects sitting at a desk. We also need to reach them when they’re standing in line at the grocery store with their smartphone. Mobile ads are written to smartphone users, and advertisers can adjust their bids to pay more - or less - for ads on a mobile device.

Why are you running an ad? What it is you want the searcher to do? Answering those questions helps you determine your Call-to-Action (CTA). Your CTA may directly result in revenue, such as “Buy Now” or it could be lead generation message: “Contact Us”. Every ad needs a CTA.

Earlier we mentioned impressions, which are measured when your ad is displayed. A click is when a searcher clicks on your ad. Click-Through-Rate (CTR) is calculated by dividing clicks/impressions. So if your ad was shown 100 times and there was one click, your CTR is 1/100, or 1%.

Good campaigns have a specific page on the website that searchers will reach after clicking on an ad. This is what’s known as the landing page and should be a very simple design. It’s not the time to write about everything your business offers. Instead have short copy that is an extension of what was written in your ad and make it clear how visitors can complete the CTA. You will want to track how often action was taken on your landing page as one of your success metrics.

When determining bids for a campaign, you have several options, such paying for each click, each impression, or even bidding to stay on the top of the page. This strategy is determined by your overall budget and goals for your campaign.

Determine your monthly budget first so you can calculate your daily budget. If you want to spend $1,000 a month, you would then divide that number by thirty (average number of days in a month) to come up with a daily budget of $33.33. Although Google may go over your daily budget if an ad performs particularly well, they will not go above the monthly total.

The cost-per-click (CPC) is the amount you are willing to pay each time your ad is clicked and will vary based on factors such as your Quality Score and the number of advertisers in the AdWords auction. If you bid a maximum of $3.00 per click, you are spending no more than $3.00 when the ad is click and possibly less, depending on the relevance of your ad and the competition.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) refers to paid advertising in general, but is associated primarily with AdWords since they are the most well known for online ads. You could have a PPC campaign running on Facebook, Bing, or any other platform.

We mentioned impressions earlier, which is when your ad is shown. You can choose to bid based on your ad being shown, rather than being clicked, which is a Cost-Per-thousand impressions (CPM) bidding model and is available on the Display Network.

Until 2016, Google AdWords gave you the option of a Display URL (what searchers see) in addition to a Destination URL (the page where they land). When Expanded Text Ads were launched in 2016, advertisers only enter the Destination URL also known as the Final URL.

Launched in 2016, Expanded Text Ads were a major change from the classic ads. They have two headlines, a longer description (80 characters) and the single URL mentioned above. They also have two “path” fields which enable you to include keywords in the URL.

These were launched in 2016 with Expanded Text Ads. These ads generate automatically from a user-entered headline, description, picture, and URL. Since flash ads are no longer supported as of the end of 2016, this is an important feature for advertisers.

AdWords editor enables you to make changes to your AdWords account offline and upload them at a later time. This is a free, downloadable application provided by Google.