February 23, 2021 | 9 min reading time

It’s so great to live in the technology era, right? We love technology because we can now get information instantly. Automation makes our lives simpler and not only do we really like it, but we’ve also come to expect it. We’re always looking for ways to let bots run things for us so we can do something more fun and exciting, like running an awesome business and making money, for example. 

If you are here, you already know the importance of online advertising for your business. Hopefully, you’ve learned a little bit about how to set up Smart Display campaigns. But your results might have been mixed (if not plain and simply bad, right?)

Why is that? 

Well, it all starts with… 

What Is Google AdWords Express/ Smart Campaigns, Actually?

Google Smart campaigns were designed with busy website owners in mind. They were built on the Adwords Express technology with the intent of simplifying ad campaigns. For people who find online marketing to be painstaking, Google Smart campaigns were a “hallelujah moment.” (Did you just hear angels singing?) 

Smart campaigns run on AI and machine learning technology. They’re fully automated and they’re extremely simple to set up. All that you need to do is to answer a few basic questions, choose some broad keyword themes, and your ads are up and running. You get the benefit of having your ad show up in your local area and beyond, depending on the terms you include in the setup. 

You won’t have to sacrifice the quality of your ads either. You’ll get attractive ads with great content and engaging images. Those invisible Google bots will be hard at work displaying your ads on Google’s search engine, Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and on Google’s partner sites. 

Of course, all this automation comes at a price. And, speaking of price, how can you be sure that the marketing dollars you’re investing in are producing results? I mean, when you think about it, Google is asking you to put blind faith in their Smart display campaigns. If you’re starting to feel a little gullible, perhaps that’s a valid concern. 

Have you ever wondered what those automated bots are really doing? In the digital marketing world, it’s what’s commonly known as the “black box.” Something’s probably going on in there, but you can’t see it. Having said that, there’s just no way to know for sure what’s being done, how it’s being done, or if it’s producing the results that Google so boldly promised you. There’s simply no transparency! 

It’s understandable, in the end: Google’s business is to sell clicks. That's why Google smart campaigns show your ads in lots of places on the internet. What they don't deliver on is transparency. 

You don’t really know where Google’s results come from. Google Smart Campaigns don't provide any “paper” trail. There’s no option to pull up reports on any of the data so that you can analyze trends, user data, or anomalies and garner meaningful information from it. Google Smart Campaigns are not smart and can't be trusted!

Have you ever wondered what you could see if you could shine a light into the aforementioned black box? Allow me to enlighten you with a behind-the-scenes perspective of Smart campaigns. It might just give you a different view of why expert digital markers believe that Google Smart campaigns are seriously overrated. 

If you could open up that black box you'd see that Google Smart campaigns use algorithms to target the profiles of the types of customers your company is after. To give you a little better understanding of how Smart ads work, the algorithms need a certain amount of data right from the beginning before they can get “smarter”. They get “smarter” by gleaning more of the right kind of data. Algorithms can only learn using the information they already have. 

When you first switched on your very first computer back in the 1980s, you probably knew very little about what your computer could do or how it could help you in business. You’ve taken that very basic computer knowledge and built on it over the decades. Now you know that there’s little that your computer can’t do for your business. Algorithms work much the same way. It takes time for them to learn how to attract the right kind of audience. The longer they work at it, the more successful they’ll be in that regard. 

Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of the kind of results you can expect from a Google Smart campaign by taking a look at a couple of potential case studies.

Example #1- Wrong Ad placements Yield Poor Results with Google AdWords Express

Defining the Problem

First, let’s take a look at the example of a marketing problem for a home care agency. A large number of the home care agency’s clients aged and passed away. The caregivers began to panic over the worry of a potential layoff. 

The marketing director was tasked with creating new marketing initiatives with the following two goals:

  1. Generating enough leads that would lead to conversions to replace the number of clients they recently lost. 
  2. Recruiting caregivers to fill the talent pipeline, so there would never be a shortage of quality caregivers. 

The agency gave the marketing director a monthly budget of $1500. Obviously, these goals require a strong focus on local advertising. After carefully researching all the possible ad campaign options, the marketing director made the final decision to invest in Google Ads and set a daily max ad budget of $50 via Google Smart/ Google AdWords Express campaigns. At the time, it did seem like the best option, especially since it promised to work and save time and effort by leveraging Google Maps for local campaigns. 

How It Worked Out

As far as the budget goes, the $50 went quickly. Did the campaigns produce effective results?

  • Google Maps indicated some activity with interactions and conversions. 
  • The agency got a couple of calls daily, but none resulted in qualified leads for clients or caregivers. 
  • With a total ad spend of $1500, neither goal had been met. 

The marketing director considered the campaigns a failure and sought the assistance of a professional PPC marketing company. 

Finding a Better Solution 

With the need for quick results, and not wanting to waste any more of the agency’s advertising budget, the marketing director decided it was better to work with a PPC specialist. 

The first meeting with the PPC specialist was eye-opening. The director learned that Google Smart campaigns work with look-alike audiences, and for this reason, AI and machine learning were operating off of irrelevant data. 

As a result, the audiences were too broad and the ad placements were all wrong. The PPC specialist was able to provide transparent data on how targeted ad campaigns lead to conversions. The subsequent campaigns were highly successful and the overall investment in the campaigns was worthwhile.

Example #2- 100% of Waste of Budget on Google AdWords Express

Defining the Problem

Let's take a look at Example #2. A residential cleaning company just landed 20 new customers. While the growth in business was exciting, it was also unexpected. The company simply didn't have enough professionally trained cleaners to fulfill its responsibilities to its new customers. 

The owners of the cleaning business relied on Google AdWords Express (Google Smart campaigns) to draw the most qualified residential cleaning people out of Queens, New York. They set the campaign budget at $20 per day at max. 

How It Worked Out

The owners ran the ads for a week using the following keywords and waited for the calls:

  • Cleaners job
  • Cleaner’s applicant
  • Residential cleaner’s job

The calls came in as expected. However, they were from people looking for dry cleaning jobs, dry cleaning services, and commercial cleaners. They didn’t receive a single call from a job-seeker for residential cleaning. The results were the same after the second week of running the ads. 

Finding a Better Solution 

In their quest to hire qualified residential cleaners quickly, the owners switched gears and started using Google Adwords instead of Google Ads Smart campaigns with the hope of hiring enough qualified cleaners in time to meet their obligations.

The owners modified their keywords and did some A/B testing. The calls that came in yielded enough cleaners to fill the current need and start a pipeline of talent for future expansion. 

The Wrap Up on Smart Campaigns

In both examples, it’s clear to see that Google Smart campaigns aren’t always smart enough to drive the best results. In reality, Google Ads gives you greater control and much-needed transparency over your efforts with Google search campaigns. 

Value, control, and results — those are 3 things you should expect from your Google paid ads. Despite Google’s claims, those are 3 things you won’t likely get with a Smart campaign.

From our experience as expert marketers, every Smart campaign has inherent flaws. Smart campaigns were designed as a platform that could work for any size business in any industry. By its design, the parameters for Smart campaigns have to be broad. With such limitations, the options for customizing and optimizing your ad campaigns are incredibly limited. To get the benefit of targeting a narrow audience, you need to have granular control over your ads. 

If blind faith makes you cringe and your marketing dollars are tight, Google Search Campaigns is a better choice than Google Smart campaigns. 

Are you ready to learn more about setting up Google Ads campaigns from a PPC professional that has experience in opening up the black box? Contact ClickGUARD to learn more about how to run successful ad campaigns that drive the results you’re truly looking for. We’ll also enlighten you about the perils of click fraud and how to prevent it so you get better results from your ad campaigns.  

Jason is the CMO @ ClickGUARD. He is passionate about all things PPC, SEO and has extensive customer acquisition experience. When not writing about SEM he can be found surfing the wildest ocean waves of the South American coast.