January 30, 2021 by Jason Pittock | 6 min reading time

Google Ads Express vs. Google Ads is a long, confusing, and seemingly never-ending battle you definitely need to settle for your business.

In essence, Google Ads Express (nowadays known as Google Smart Campaigns) sounds like the perfect solution at the confluence between data, automation, PPC, and small businesses. The emphasis lies on the word sounds here, as you will see later on.

What’s the difference between Google Smart Campaigns/ Google Ads Express vs. Google Ads, why does the first only sound like a good idea, and what’s the actual path the small business owner should take? 

Read on and find out more. 

Google Ads Express vs. Google Ads, An Ancient History (Or How Google Ads Express Got a New Name) 

Once upon a time, there were lots and lots of PPC marketers roaming freely throughout cyberspace. They were wild and smart, but they were also really busy and so Google thought it could help them by launching this product called “Google AdWords Express”. The year was 2011 and things in the world of digital advertising were promising. 

The fairytale of Google AdWords Express started off on the wrong foot, though, as more and more of these really busy marketers realized that this solution is… skimpy (at best). In essence, Google AdWords Express wanted to streamline the whole Google Ads process and provide both marketers and entrepreneurs running their own marketing campaigns with an easy-peasy solution for an issue that was far from easy to solve. 

Needless to say, failure was inevitable, as the holy grail of Google AdWords Express soon revealed its darkest sides -- like the fact that you simply could not adjust your campaigns’ settings in way too many areas (including your targeted keywords, if you can imagine that!). 

In 2018, Google AdWords Express got a mini-revamp and it was renamed into, drum roll, Google Ads Express. The “new” name was short-lived, as Google saw the need to remarket the product, once again. 

This time, they called it Google Smart Campaigns. A truly compelling name (hear this from a copywriting expert), but not so true to the nature of the product itself, as you will see further on. 

What Is Google Smart Campaigns/ Google Ads Express? 

Google Smart Campaigns is, in theory, a product meant to help people who are either too busy to set up their ads on their own or simply feel overwhelmed by the number of options in the “traditional” Google Ads setup. 

Both situations are very easy to understand, but Google Smart Campaigns might not be the smart solution you’re looking for, in the end. 

Basically, Google Ads Express (now known as Google Smart Campaigns) is the shortcut to creating ads on Google by simply choosing your business category, goal, and budget and then leaving it to the machine to find appropriate placements and ad types for your specific goal. In an ideal world, this would be the magic concoction to creating ads that fit your budget, hit your goals, and save you time and energy. 

The harsh truth is that taking the long road to Google PPC is your best bet. We’ve spoken about this before in this article, but let’s quickly recap why every self-respecting digital marketer should go for Google Ads (vs. Google Ads Express/ Google Smart Campaigns). 

The keyword to keep in mind here is “control”. With Google’s so-called “Smart Campaigns”, you get literally no control over where your ads go. Essentially, this means that your new local California bakery ad could end up on a site about pool filters targeted at people who live in Washington. 

Even more, there’s no way you can see (and thus, work with) the data around your ads -- which basically means you’re tossing money at Google, hoping their machines will take the best decision for you (and this is obviously a major issue in terms of transparency).

Again, in an ideal world, they would. But no matter how much we like to imagine end-of-the-world scenarios worthy of Schwarzenegger coming back from the future, the harsh reality is that machines are not yet that smart -- and even when they are, they most likely “work” in the interest of whoever designed them. More about this in another one of our articles, here

So, What Are The Essential Differences between Google Ads Express vs. Google Ads? 

If “control” is the leading concept to keep in mind when it comes to the differences between Google Smart Campaigns/ Google Ads Express and Google Ads, then getting down to the nitty-gritty of things would look like this:

Google Ads Express/ Google Smart CampaignsGoogle Ads
Time-Savvy
Expertise Needed
Budget Control 
Data Reporting
Keyword-specific Bidding
Defining/ Tracking Conversions
Automation 
Types of Ads Variety 

So, who wins in the battle between Google Ads Express vs. Google Ads?

For us, it's a clear YES to the latter. And it should be for you too, because the question of whether to choose Google Ads Express vs. Google Ads should not one relying on ease of use, but on capabilities and transparency.

Google Ads provides you with a lot more control over pretty much every area of your campaign -- and trust us when we say this, you need that control. When it comes to Google Ads Express vs. Google Ads, you shouldn’t be looking at whether or not it’s easy to use. Yes, you need expertise when running Google Ads, but it will pay off. 

Here’s why: when you have control over your Google Ads, you can optimize for intent your campaigns according to how they are performing. Even more, all your adjustments can be very granular, which basically means that you can fine-tune campaigns to perfection (or at least as close to it as possible). 

Moreover, Google Ads allows you to tackle a major issue many people are still sadly unaware of: click fraud. Since everything is hidden from you in Google Smart Campaigns (all very well tucked away in Google’s “black box” of data), you can do literally nothing to fight this problem when you run ads on Google’s platform via Smart Campaigns/ Ads Express. 

Mind you, this is a $9 billion issue because that’s exactly how much click fraud costs advertisers according to the latest (and most optimistic!) estimates. Every day, advertisers are losing massive amounts of money due to fraudulent clicks (most often coming from their competition or various forms of click farms). And, trust us again on this, you don’t want to close your eyes on this one. 

We’re not bragging here, but ClickGUARD provides the single most comprehensive, transparent, and efficient solution to click fraud. Check out how our click forensics system works here. 

Jason is a passionate data-driven specialist with extensive PPC & SEO experience. When not writing about SEM he can be found surfboarding the wildest ocean waves of the Argentinian coast.