January 13, 2021 | 8 min reading time

Google Smart campaigns—the name itself sounds pretty compelling, right? As marketing has gone digital, many advertisers have scrambled to adapt, so it’s easy to see why they’d be charmed by a tool with this name. 

Yet, when it comes to Google Smart campaigns, things might not be as pretty as they seem... 

More specifically, when Google came out with Smart campaigns, formerly known as Adwords Express, it sounded like a great solution for advertisers who needed a simple and effortless way to place their ads. Many jumped right onto it. Soon enough though, marketing budgets began to soar, and industry experts are now questioning whether Google Smart campaigns actually do deliver the best value (as compared to enlisting the help of a qualified PPC digital marketer).

Ultimately, it all begs the question: are Google Smart campaigns any smart if at all?

Introduction to Google Smart Campaigns

Now that businesses have a bit of history using Google Smart campaigns, many are starting to look closer at the inexplicable growth of their advertising budgets and wonder if there’s an alternative to give them better results for less ad spend. 

In developing Google Smart campaigns, Google counted on the fact that businesses needed a fast and easy way to get ads in front of their target market. Nothing bad about this, quite the contrary. 

They also banked on the presumption that small businesses didn't have the knowledge or level of digital marketing expertise to do it on their own. With the introduction of Google Smart campaigns, Google capitalized on this drawback, and, dare I say, they’ve rewarded themselves handsomely in the process.

So, what's the difference between a human being managing your digital marketing strategies and leaving it to a machine?

Expert digital marketers will tell you that there is an important difference—and that's value.

Why Are Google Smart Campaigns Popular?

No doubt, businesses have to invest in digital marketing to remain competitive. Even more, with competition at an all-time high, businesses have to be wise about their marketing budgets, and the results have to deliver value. 

The reality is that Google Smart campaigns are popular for 3 reasons:

  • You don't need to understand digital marketing to set up an ad campaign.
  • They free up your time for other tasks
  • Google Smart campaigns promise results.

The real question to ask when it comes to all these advantages is: how do you define results? Google delivers its promise of placing your ads in lots of places on the internet. What they don't deliver on, or even promise you, is transparency. 

In essence, this means you don’t really know where Google’s results come from -- or whether or not they are the best you can reap, if we have to be entirely honest.

Why Are Google Smart Campaigns Not Smart

Advanced technology has given digital marketers the tools to reach people that are interested in your products at all stages in the buying cycle. Unlike a brick-and-mortar retail store, online marketing gives your target market access to your products any time of day or night and any day of the week. If you’re not visible to customers in this way, your competition surely is (and we’re not the ones saying it, data is:).  

At first glance, Google Smart campaigns allow you to tap into your target market and draw them closer to your products.

Where Google Smart campaigns falter is that they expect advertisers to rely on blind trust. Good business practices require you to support your financial investments with data to support them. And yet, Google Smart campaigns ask advertisers to trust their algorithms, which are complicated formulas they pretty much hide from everyone else. Digital marketers refer to this as the “black box”.

Let me give you 6 good reasons why Google Smart Campaigns just aren't that smart:

1. They don’t give you any real control over the data. There’s simply no way to go into a PPC ad campaign and get real information about it so you can tweak it to make it work better for you. Google demands that you trust its algorithms without any hard data to back you up.

2. There’s absolutely no transparency. There’s no way 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.

3. You have no ability to do A/B testing. There is simply no way to use the data to test various approaches in your campaign to see which are truly effective.

4. Targeting audiences depends on AI and machine learning rather than data. There is a place for AI and machine learning in digital marketing; however, managing ad campaigns that are truly smart requires a boots-on-the-ground, first-hand look at the data. That's something only humans (or better yet, expert digital marketers) can do (provided that they have access to said data in the first place, of course). 

5. You have no control over where your ads appear. If you're going to pay for PPC ads, it only makes sense to place them in locations where your target audience will see them. A person that's looking for a subscription-based meal delivery service isn't going to be looking for it on any home improvement retail store website. But with Google Smart campaigns, that’s where your ads might end up. When you have control over placement, you gain the ability to create an exclusion list that weeds out unqualified leads.

6. You can’t maximize your marketing budget to the fullest extent. When you're shopping for anything, you want to be sure you're getting the best value for your purchases. That's a concept that goes the same for setting up PPC ad campaigns. You want to get the most value or your marketing dollars, and there's simply no way to do that with Google Smart campaigns.

Here’s yet another reason why Google Smart campaigns aren’t that, well, smart. One experience that sticks out in my mind is when I was testing a Google Smart campaign and I got involved in a Google Ads chat with their support. I wanted to understand why I was spending so much money on my "Smart" campaign and not getting much ROAS in return.

To my dismay, the "Smart" campaign support person at Google actually tried to convince me to change all of my ad campaigns to Smart campaigns (instead of actually trying to help me out). I couldn’t believe it!

That's when I realized that Google employees are likely to be trained to sell this "Smart" product that's not so smart after all. It also became quite obvious to me that one of Google's goals is to remove the middlemen like marketing agencies and digital marketers. This way, the search giant could corner the market on PPC ad campaigns, whether the campaigns are effective or not.

In summary, ad campaigns that are truly smart not only deliver good value, but they also give you data that shows how the money you're spending delivers results. Unfortunately, Google Smart campaigns do not necessarily fall in this category (at all). 

Alternatives to Google Smart Campaigns

The truth is that Google Smart campaigns work marginally well for a small demographic of advertisers. They're not the best long-term solution for businesses, although they work pretty nicely for Google. Many advertisers don’t believe there are any other viable alternatives.

Something that makes expert digital marketers unique, and perhaps a little quirky, is that they love data. In fact, they thrive on it. Data-driven marketers know that you can't make wise decisions about ad campaigns without having lots of data to inform them.

With that in mind, you have to ask yourself some hard questions:

  • For the same amount of money, do you expect any number of poor-quality ad placements?
  • Are you comfortable with putting blind trust into Google Smart campaign’s “black box”?
  • Are you looking for value from every click?
  • Would you have more confidence in your ad campaigns if an expert gave you good results and showed you the data to support them?
  • Would enlisting the help of a data-driven marketer deliver greater value to help you grow your business than investing in Google Smart campaigns?

Let's take a look at the alternative.

Here's what you can expect from an expert data-driven digital marketer:

Google Smart Campaigns

Overall, you'll get better results and better value for your marketing efforts when you enlist the help of a professional digital marketer. At ClickGUARD, we open the black box of automation and machine learning and help you understand exactly how algorithms give you transparency and great results.

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.