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Google Ads Strategy for Small Business

Our Google Ads strategy for small business was conceived in 2020 based on campaigns we ran for clients with less than 20 employees. None of them were e-commerce sites, all of them offered services and their intent initially was to draw attention to a single aspect of their business.

In this post, we outline the functionality of Google Ads so that we can understand the moving parts and then suggest a strategy that will save money and increase the efficiency of the campaign. So bear with us on the overview or skip to the bit with the Google Ads strategy!

A Google Ads Strategy for Small Business

Google Search with no Ads

Google Ads in Context

Google Ads use a PPC or pay per click model and that carries the assumption that, like traditional advertisements you pay for what you get. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference between Google Ads and traditional advertising is that Google Ads can be very precisely targeted and to be successful, you need to understand how to leverage the sophisticated models on offer.

Compare the model of three different types of ad.

Billboard Ads

A Billboard by the side of the motorway entering a big city is seen by maybe 1 million people every day. It carries the same message, day after day. 90% of the people who drive past it don’t notice it. Of the ten percent that do, half of them won’t remember it the next day. You very rarely see an ad offering a special deal or one that is time banded. This is because these ads are good only for awareness and frankly, not very good at that. You’ll be able to think of a site that shows such ads – what was the last ad you saw there?

Magazine Ads

With magazine ads you can tailor the ad to a perceived audience. A much smaller set of viewers than Billboard Ads, but percentage wise, a higher chance of converting if you get the content right.

Google search with Ads

Google Ads

Google Ads place advertisements in response to searches on the internet. The USP is that the ad will be matched to an appropriate search, bringing the focus of a magazine ad to the potential audience size of a billboard ad.

That’s the promise, but to the unwary, Google Ads can be daunting. With great flexibility comes great complexity and that is the problem we’re trying to solve in this article.

By the way, we have no experience of the company featured in the image above. This was a random search entered into Google today.

Google Ad Campaigns

A Campaign is exactly what it implies. It can be as coarse grained as a company or as finely grained as an event.

Google Ad Groups

Google Ad Groups are clusters of thematically connected advertisements. The theme can be anything you want it to be but suppose I run a photography company – oh hang on, I do!

I could if I wanted to have ad groups for Studio Shoots and Location Shoots, or equally for Landscape Photography and Portraits. Hold that thought, because it’s the ads themselves that drive the thinking behind the Ad Groups. Bear in mind that your keyword list will be targeted at an Ad Group.

Google Ads

A good place to start is “What do you want to Sell?”. This will give you a clue as to how to organise your ad Groups.

We had a client approach us to sell a workshop. The workshop would be focused on just one facet of their business. They made the right choice in choosing Google Ads over SEO because the intent was to make an offer available for a limited time. However they were ignoring the rest of their business and the element of familiarity that says “The first time I see an Ad I don’t notice it, the second I may pay attention to the product, the third I might register the company. By the tenth ad, the company are an old friend and if they advertise something I’m interested in the chances are I’ll be interested. I may even seek out their website!

There was an opportunity for them to familiarise their audience with other aspects of the company within the same budget.

Bear in mind that the typical customer journey moves from Awareness through Consideration to Intent. In other words a buyer needs to be aware of your business in order that they can consider it when the have intent to purchase a product or service like yours. However awareness for it’s own sake is a waste of money, we believe. It’s a vanity project if it is not in service to a selling message.


Much of the thinking in my article How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Website apply in the selection of keywords for a PPC campaign. Not least because if the same keywords exist on your website and in your ad groups, then Google can be fairly confident that the destination URL will match the Ad in terms of its content. In a sense, a Google Ad should be “Essence of a Web Page”.

The key is the Searchability of the Keyword, if nobody is searching for it then Google will have a hard time matching your ad to a search. Volume is important but very high volume keywords are much more expensive to bid for (and to rank for in SEO terms) than low volume.

Keywords in Google Ads come in three flavours.

  1. Broad Match
  2. Phrase Match
  3. Exact Match

What do these mean? And how are they differentiated.

Broad Match Keywords

A broad match keyword is just plain text. The words Broad Match Keyword at the beginning of this sentence are a good example. The way Google treats broad match keywords is to match the phrase or any variation or related topic to a search term. This is more effective for awareness than anything else. Although this sounds good in principle we have found that it leads to a very high number of what we call “bad clicks”.

“Bad Clicks” are clicks that take the user to a page they don’t really want to be on. This is not Google’s fault, it’s a psychological phenomenon that drives the searcher to believe that what Google suggests is in line with the search query, no matter how badly formed the query is. Searchers viewing the results of their search through the prism of their search.

We found in one campaign last year that due to broad matching a search for one company’s contact details would offer up our client’s details because they operated in the same sector. The result was a stream of phone calls to our client where the caller was under the impression they were talking to the company whose name they typed into the search engine. If they had carefully read the search results they would have realised the mistake, but they didn’t. They were viewing the results through the lens of their intention and trusting Google to deliver the result they wanted.

Phrase Match Keywords

“Phrase Match Keywords” is an example of a phrase match keyword – note the quotation marks. This means that if the phrase appears as it does within the quote, either on its own or with other words around it then it will be a “hit” on your chosen keyword. For example a search When should I use Phrase Match keywords in Google Ads? will trigger the keyword “Phrase Match Keywords”. This will result in a much smaller number of clicks than Broad Match keywords but if the phrase is well chosen, the intent will be higher. i.e .your chance of converting a click into a sale will be higher than it would be for a broad match keyword.

Exact Match Keywords

[Exact Match Keywords], note the square brackets, cause Google to match the keyword to searches for the exact phrase or a phrase that means the same thing. The example Google use is a keyword shoes for men will be triggered by searches for “shoes men”, “men shoes” but not “men’s tennis shoes”

Negative Keywords

You may want to explicitly exclude certain searches from triggering your ads. Some of these words will be intuitively obvious, others will not. We suggest monitoring the results of your campaign closely in order to see what terms are triggering the ads. If there are false matches, then use a negative keyword to prevent them from recurring. Bear in mind that negative keywords are exact match so be sure to include plurals for example, as well as singular instances of the keyword.

A Google Ads Strategy for Small Business

We believe that advertising for Awareness for its own sake is a waste of money. Instead we say work backwards with the intention of taking some aspect of a business to market. Bring in other aspects of the business when you have something specific like an offer to take to market.

  • We say start by focusing tightly on a single service or product.
  • Use Phrase match and Exact Match keywords to reduce the numbers and improve the intent ratio.
  • Use Negative keywords to exclude false matches.
  • When you can objectively measure ROI then expand the scope to new offerings
  • Create a different ad group for each offering when it is obvious that you need new keywords to describe the offering
  • Start small and grow in step with your ROI

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Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed A Google Ads Strategy for Small Business you may find these interesting too!

How to do Effective Data Driven Marketing for Business

The Death of the Cookie

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