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All About Adwords Express & Google Smart Campaigns

Managing PPC ads is supposed to be simple. But with so much to take into consideration, an effective pay per click ad campaign can be a huge time suck. This is where Google Smart Campaigns step in.

To create a really effective PPC ad campaign, you need a lot of info. Audience demographics, related keywords, negative keywords, timings, geographic targeting and exclusions are all key to a decent ROAS.

Of course, expert marketers know all this. But small business owners looking to get the best out of their advertising budget can find the whole experience bewildering and frustrating. 

Google Adwords Express, now known as Smart Campaigns, does offer a simple solution. 

But how do you start a Google Smart Campaigns, does it really work and what are the advantages, if any, over manually running your PPC ads?

The Rise and Fall of Adwords Express

In 2011 Google unveiled a solution for busy marketers called Adwords Express. A streamlined version of the (quite complex) Google Adwords platform, Adwords Express was supposed to make it super easy to set up a PPC campaign.

You simply answered a few questions about your business goals, put your budget in and let Google do the rest. The theory being that Google could optimise your keyword targeting and your budget to bring you more customers for your money.

So, all good right?

Unfortunately not.

Google Adwords Express was generally seen as an incredibly over-simplified solution for a complex problem. 

The main complaint lay in the fact that users could set up their Adwords Express PPC campaign in just a few minutes. BUT… Tweaking important factors such as keywords was beyond your control. 

It was a pretty universally held opinion that Google Adwords Express wasn’t as effective as it was supposed to be.  

In 2018, Google switched from Adwords Express to Google Ads Express. A slight difference and a bit of clever remarketing that actually bought us the current offering…

Enter Google Smart Campaigns

Google Ads Express was built on the foundations of Adwords Express, offering a very similar process but with some improvements.

In 2019 it was renamed Smart Campaigns and it became a part of the default options for new ad campaigns.

To access it, simply log in to your Google Ads account and go to create a new campaign.

Firstly, you’ll be asked for your goals such as generating more leads, sales or website traffic.

Google Ads Smart Campaign set up step one

The next step asks you if you’d like to use search, display, video, shopping, discovery or smart.

Smart, in this instance, is Smart Campaigns.

Google Ads Smart Campaigns set up step 2

You’re then asked to choose your targeted location. You can choose multiple, but it’s usually a good idea to focus on one specific area when you’re starting out. You can always create multiple campaigns for different locations.

Google Smart Campaigns location targeting

On the next step, you choose your keyword ‘themes’. Note, this is not the actual keywords but the ‘themes’ to give Google an idea of your industry and your target.

Google Ads Smart Campaign keyword themes input

The next (super important) step is putting your copy in place. Get your sales pitch down and click next.

Writing the copy for a Google Ads smart campaign is the same for any Adwords PPC ad

Once you’ve gone through this process, you’re given a choice of budgets (low, ‘recommended’ and high) although you can set a custom budget if you like.

Choose your PPC ad budget

Hey presto, your PPC campaign goes live and Google works it’s magic.

Or that’s the theory anyway. 

Honestly, the whole process takes a matter of minutes. In fact, if you’ve got your copy ready to go, you could be up and running in the time it takes to microwave your lunch.

But perhaps you’re wondering why it’s so easy. You’ve heard that pay per click and digital marketing are difficult, and agencies charge a pretty penny to manage your PPC ads. 

So, could Google Smart Campaigns be an option? Does it really work as well as a more hands on ad campaign? And should you, the small business owner or marketer, be using Google Smart Campaigns?

The ‘Smart’ in Smart Campaigns

When it comes to being Smart, it’s all about the AI and the algorithms that help Google to optimise your campaign.

The idea is that over time, the Google algorithms will help your ads to be better targeted and therefore offer a better conversion rate. 

In short, Google does all the hard work at understanding which keywords have the best click through rate and conversion rate. 

The machine learning does take time to get to grips with your specific requirements, and for the first month, or the first batch of conversions, you probably won’t be seeing the best performance. Google’s AI needs to have access to at least 100 conversions on the search network, or 50 on the display network within a 30 day period. 

Does this mean that your first month is just a throwaway? 

Well, no. It just means that your first month may not be the most efficiently managed, and you may need to do a few tweaks of your own to the geo-targeting or the ad copy. 

However, unless you’re a PPC expert (who probably wouldn’t use smart campaigns anyway), this is very much standard for pay per click ads.

Are Smart Campaigns Any Good?

The general consensus in the marketing industry is that Google Smart Campaigns are much better than their predecessor, Adwords Express. Although you still have limited control over the keywords, you do have access to plenty of stats and information to allow you to understand what is going on.

The dashboard for Smart Campaigns is much simpler than for regular ad campaigns in Google, reflecting the intended user base. 

You get access to the amount of impressions, clicks and a running total of your budget thus far. 

It’ll even show you popular search phrases with a count of which ones are getting the clicks. 

In short, if you’re someone with a business to run and not much time to spend poring over the Google Ads dashboard, you will probably be very happy with Google’s Smart options.

To get the most out of smart campaigns, make sure to:

  • Have conversion tracking enabled
  • Make sure you have chosen the right business category for your industry
  • Monitor your budget and err on the side of a lower ad spend for the first month

Choosing Smart Campaigns vs PPC Professionals

When highlighting the shortcomings of the Smart ads option in Google, many experts will recommend using a professional PPC marketer.

And yes, an agency or PPC professional will know how best to optimise your ad campaign manually. 

But this isn’t an option for everyone, and that is why Smart Campaigns are a decent option. 

No, Smart Campaigns are not perfect 100%. 

No, you probably won’t get as many optimised conversions as with an expertly configured campaign. 

But if you just need a tool to take care of your pay per click ads with the minimum amount of hassle, without shelling out hundreds or thousands of bucks a month, Smart Campaigns could be your solution.

How To Optimise Your Campaign

With a Smart Campaign, as with Adwords Express, you have control over a few features that can make the difference to your ROI and ROAS.

Pay attention to these factors to boost your clicks and, more importantly, your conversions. 

  • Optimise your geo-targeting. Rather than going for a whole city or region, try and pick specific areas where your most likely customers are. Getting down to the right neighbourhood can save you money on wasted clicks
  • Focus your keyword themes to just a couple of niches rather than casting a wide net. For example, instead of ‘digital marketing’ use ‘freelance digital marketing’ or ‘digital marketing agency for hire’
  • Pay special attention to your ad copy and follow some of our best practice suggestions from our previous blog
  • Reduce the chances of fraudulent clicks on your ads by using ClickCease. Anything from 10% to 60% of clicks on ads are from fraudulent sources (yes, we know that’s a broad range). So make sure your ads don’t get clicked by bots or competitors

Click fraud is a major problem for PPC marketers. The average Google Ads campaign sees an average of 14% of clicks being fraudulent. 

If you’re spending hundreds of dollars* per month, ClickCease is the leading solution to stopping fraud in its tracks. 

(*pounds, Euros, shekels etc)

Find out more about click fraud and ad fraud in our in-depth guide


Since working for ClickCease, Oli has become something of a click fraud nerd, and now bores people at parties with facts about click farms and internet traffic stats. When not writing about ad fraud, he helps companies to optimise their marketing content and strategy with his own content marketing business.

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