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Google Smart Campaign

Why A Google Ads Smart Campaign May Be Better For You Than A Search Campaign

Google Smart Campaign


The idea behind smart campaigns is to give advertisers as much performance as possible for very little effort. In fact, this campaign type is so quick to setup that you can be up and running in just 15 minutes – faster than most campaign types you can set up online.


Most advertisers don’t have the time nor inclination to manage their Google Ads campaigns daily. That can be fatal of course, especially if the campaigns are many and large and require regular updates. In fact, some of these campaigns require full time management especially during transitions like a seasonal change.


With a smart campaign, you leverage Google’s machine learning capabilities to show the best ad for each query that is relevant to your offer.


You can run smart campaigns alongside search campaigns and it’s possible that some of the search queries will be different even if you have added the same keyword themes.


As you may be aware, smart campaigns replaced AdWords Express campaigns in 2018. They have a simplified interface where you can set all the features for your campaign and spend little time managing it.


Here are some points to help you decide if a smart campaign is best for your product or service:


Save time on setting up campaigns

Setting up a full search campaign can take significantly more time than a smart campaign. Depending on the products or services you want to setup, it could take up to 2 hours or more to setup a full search campaign.


A smart campaign can be setup in just 15 minutes or a little longer. So it will save you a lot of time and that includes the management of it too.



Very little keyword management

Keyword management in a smart campaign amounts to just adding a few keywords that relate to your service or product and then turning off any searches that are not relevant.


In the Targeting section you’ll add a few keyword themes which are matched to Google searches. These keyword themes should be the products or services that you want to promote. Ideally you should have up to 10 and you can add more later.

Keyword Themes


Next to this you will see an estimate of the potential audience size of your keyword themes. This is an estimate of how many people search for your type of business in your targeted location.



No negative keywords management

In your smart campaign you can see the searches that triggered your ads. And you can block them from appearing for future searches so you don’t waste your budget.


Search Phrases



However, they cannot be added as negative keywords as you would in a search campaign. That means you cannot block them beforehand, so you are more likely to waste some budget at the beginning as you run the campaign and get traffic. With a normal search campaign as you conduct keyword research, you can also look out for phrases and terms that are likely to trigger searches that are not relevant.


This you cannot do with a smart campaign. You have to run the ads first, while hoping for the best and then block the searches as they appear.


Another problem is you can only block the full search phrase as it is and not the particular word which appears in the search phrase.


Takes minutes to go live

On average, setting up and running a smart campaign takes 15 minutes to complete. A full search campaign on the other hand can take up to an hour to setup, which includes things like keyword research, ad text creation, choosing a bid strategy, picking locations to target and much more.


With smart campaigns, you are guided throughout the process and many of the features are chosen for you.


Performance estimates

The budget tool in the smart campaign shows estimated performance for the daily budget that you set. So you can change the daily budget amount or move the slider to the left or right to change the budget to see what you are likely to get in impressions and clicks per month for different budget amounts.


Search Campaign Budget


These are just estimates of course and they are based on businesses with similar ad settings and budget. So, this means you may actually see different performance figures for impressions and clicks in your reports.


Advertise on display websites

Your ads will appear on the Google Display Network if you add some image ads. This will drive traffic from third party websites but you won’t be able to see which sites you got traffic from.


Responsive Display Ads


However, there are some drawbacks with running smart campaigns and these should not be ignored. Understanding them will help you decide if this campaign type is right for you.



Less data

One of the drawbacks of running a smart campaign is you have less data with which to analyse the performance of your ads. You have limited search terms data, demographic data, time and date performance data and others. Because it is an automated campaign, the Google Ads machine learning system makes performance decisions and supplies you with fewer data to analyse and manage.


So, if this is a concern, then you should look at switching your account to Expert mode and set up a campaign and advertise that way. You will however have to familiarise yourself with all the controls, especially those found in campaign settings. These include campaign goals, campaign type, location targeting, advanced locations, ad scheduling, ad extensions and other advanced settings.


Google provides support and help sections that can help you with this which can be found at However, you would have to commit a lot of time to learn and implement them.


On the other hand, the smart campaign is designed to do the heavy lifting for you. It is based on Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems that use machine learnings and performance data to make updates and changes to your campaign. How far you can depend on this machine learning depends largely on the performance of the campaign itself.


If performance is poor and you are not able to do much about it, then maybe it is time to switch to a full campaign. The only disadvantage though is you cannot translate your smart campaign into a full campaign. You have to setup a full search campaign from scratch and master all the tools and features that come with this.


Less control on where ads show

Another drawback with smart campaigns is you have no control over where your ads are shown. The Google Ads system decides this at auction time and although it may sound like a drawback, it can actually help your conversions because it uses performance data to show where you are likely to get sales or leads.


Your ads will be eligible to show across Google Search, Maps and partner websites across all devices. You cannot prevent your ads showing on partner websites like a normal search campaign. Because you cannot access reports on the search partner performance you are not sure which networks are performing best so cannot remove or add them accordingly. The Google Ads system decides this for you.



Also, you cannot choose the positions that your ads will appear in. Of course, this is hard to achieve on a full search campaign, but at least you have the option and features and it’s possible to get a first position listing. With a smart campaign however that option is not available at all. The Google Ads machine learning system decides on your bids and the position best suited to place your ads based on machine learning and performance.


This also includes devices like desktop, mobile and tablet. With a full search campaign you can increase and decrease your bids to show your ads on these devices or not to show them. For example, if you find that your ads are not doing well on tablets, you can reduce the bid by 100% so that your ads are not triggered on these devices.



Cannot set bids

This is one of the biggest drawbacks of a smart campaign. You cannot set individual bids for your keywords and ad groups or for any part of the campaign. Bids are set automatically by the Google Ads system based on the monthly budget that you set for your campaign. So the system decides the bids based on each search that triggers your ads and how likely it is to turn into a conversion.


Cannot set bid modifiers

Without the ability to add individual bids, you cannot therefore add bid modifiers. These are available in your search campaign and give you greater control over individual locations, devices and campaigns and you can easily reduce and increase bids by specified percentages.


No bid strategy

This is a major limitation of smart campaigns. You cannot use one of the 7 bid strategies available to full search campaigns including both manual and automated strategies.


Each bid strategy has a goal, for example, the Manual CPC strategy gives you much control over your bids and you can set individual ones for your keywords and ad groups. Another bid strategy is Maximise Clicks, and that helps to get you as many clicks as possible for your budget.


So, if any of these are important to you or the other bid strategies that you only get from a search campaign, then you should not set up a smart campaign.


Bid strategies are set at the campaign level and apply to all the ad groups and keywords in the campaign. You can set bid strategies at the account level too and apply them to the campaigns you want.


Of course none of this is applicable to smart campaigns and all bids are automated for your campaign. All you do is set a daily budget and the Google Ads system sets bids to get you as many sales or leads for your budget


No recommendations and Optimisation score

Recommendations is a standard feature in search campaigns and was previously known as Opportunities. This is a powerful feature for advertisers and gives insights to improve the search campaigns, that are based on Google’s machine learning technologies. You can choose to add the recommendations or discard them and this all depends on how relevant they are for your business.


Applying the recommendations improves your account’s Optimisation Score which is an indication of how well optimised your campaigns are.


Google Ads Recommendations



Unfortunately, this is not available for smart campaigns as all decisions are taken by the system – and you are not always sure what some of those decisions are.



Limited reports

There are hundreds of reports in Google Ads, but most are only available to you if you run a full search campaign. With a smart campaign you only get a handful of basic reports like the search terms report and the conversion reports.


Who could benefit from smart campaigns?


  1. Local service businesses – these businesses generally have lower budgets and don’t always require multiple campaigns. Neither do they always require all the available features and campaign types. One of the features of local service searches is that customers are looking for a local provider and will search in a particular way, usually with location specific keywords. For example, someone looking for a plumber will use keywords like ‘local plumber’ ‘plumber near me’ or something similar to this with very few variations compared with other business types.
  2. Advertisers with very small budgets – with advertisers with no budget to hire a Google Ads specialist, a smart campaign could be worth trying. With all the heavy lifting done by the algorithm, you can save time and achieve good returns for little effort. Of course as performance improves and sales or leads increase, you can put more resources into your campaign and even setup a full search campaign and hire someone more experienced to manage it.
  3. No marketing team – an advertiser with no team of marketers or a Google Ads specialist would benefit from a smart campaign. However, the Google Ads Support team provides ongoing support for new advertisers and encourages advertisers to take advantage of the set up and management services that are offered free by Google.
  4. Advertisers with very little time – we are all busier nowadays and that’s especially true for business owners. With less time to set up and manage online advertising campaigns, a smart campaign can be very helpful. As mentioned earlier, it will take about 15 minutes to set up and only a few minutes each month to manage.
  5. Poor performance on full search campaign – if performance in a full search campaign is poor then it could be worth using the machine learning capabilities of a smart campaign. You may have better luck with this campaign type especially if you have few Google Ads skills. And all bidding and performance decisions are determined by the algorithm to maximise performance.
  6. Advertisers who want to test the waters – smart campaigns are great if you are new to Google Ads and want to test it without committing much time and money. You can get started easily and promote your product or service and start driving visitors to your business in minutes. Also, people that have been advertising for a while but want to test a new concept then this can be a good way to do it.


Getting started with a smart campaign


When you first create a Google Ads account, you’ll be directed towards setting up a smart campaign. Of course, you don’t have to if you want to run a full search campaign instead, but if you’re looking to get started quickly then this will be the way to go.


To get started, log in to your Google Ads account and in the ‘Campaigns’ overview, click Create new campaign. Next, follow the step-by-step instructions to create a campaign and you will be live in no time.




Google Ads is an incredibly complex platform with many features to familiarise yourself with and manage. There are a multitude of reports, bidding tools, automation tools and dashboards and many other details that you have to be aware of.

By setting up and running a smart campaign, you will save time and drive sales by automating the entire process.

I'm a Certified Google Ads Expert and Marketing Author and in this blog I share my latest tips and secrets on how to promote your business successfully on the web and increase customer loyalty, retention and advocacy on Google Ads.

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