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Building a Foundation for Success with Upper-Funnel Search Formats

Upper funnel Google ad formats like Discovery, Gmail, Local Campaign Ads, and Showcase ads can be quick and cost-effective ways for search advertisers to increase brand awareness. Discovery and Gmail are sources of push marketing, giving us the opportunity as search marketers to find customers before they’ve started the search part of their journey. Local and Showcase ads are pull formats, but they capture the customer at the beginning of their journey, targeting short-tail search terms.

A Quick Refresher on Upper-Funnel Formats

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Discovery ads are served on Google Discover Feeds, Gmail, and the YouTube Homepage. Discovery ads don’t rely on a search to be served. You cannot set CPC constraints, but you can still report on CPCs and are charged per click.

Gmail ads are served in the promotion sections of Gmail inboxes. Similar to Discovery ads, Gmail ads don’t rely on a search to be served. Gmail ads are a very cost-effective way to increase traffic. They typically have extremely low CPCs and a strong expansion CTR. During Cyber Week one advertiser saw average CPCs of $0.05 and an average CTR into the email of 89%, with 1% of those clicks going all the way to site. For Gmail, the advertiser is charged only for the first click into the email, not the click to site.

Showcase ads are a type of shopping ad that are primarily shown on mobile. They appear on the SERP for short-tail search terms. For example, you may get a Showcase ad when you search “backpacks”, but you would be unlikely to get a Showcase ad if you searched “blue backpack with laptop sleeve”. For showcase ads the first click is free, meaning you are only charged when someone expands the ad and spends 10 seconds in the carousel, or if someone expands the ad and clicks on a product and is taken to site.

Local Campaign ads, not to be confused with Local Inventory Ads, are both Display and Search ads. Local Campaign Ads are shown on Maps, Web Search, YouTube and as Display Ads on the GDN. The goal of local ads is to drive store visits, which is done by linking your Google My Business account or by selecting affiliate locations. On Maps and the Search Network, local ads are served based on the user’s search term and its relevance. These ads, similar to Discovery and Gmail, are charged on the first click.

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Setting Yourself Up for Success

With any ad format, you’ll want to make sure you’re setting your account up for success. This means establishing realistic performance goals ahead of time, understanding your account’s attribution model, applying the right audiences, and having strong creative assets.

Establish Clear KPI Targets and Measurement Methodology
Because upper-funnel ad formats are primarily awareness drivers, they aren’t typically as efficient as traditional search. Consider using metrics that aren’t focused on return, like new customer acquisition or clicks, to help gauge success. No matter what targets you set, it’s important to establish KPIs early and let the ad formats run for a few weeks to go through bid strategy learning periods before making any adjustments.

Additionally, capturing consumers at the beginning of their journey usually means that they’ll encounter a few more touchpoints along the way. Considering that sentiment, upper-funnel formats typically see stronger performance from a data-driven attribution model as opposed to last-click attribution.

Reach the Right Shoppers
In order to see strong performance, no matter the attribution model, it’s important to target the right audiences. With these ad formats, if there are no audiences applied and targeted, it’s easy for the reach to grow larger than what’s effective, especially if you’re using a maximize clicks bid strategy. Using Customer Match audience lists will allow you to retarget existing customers on different platforms. Similar audiences, in-market audiences, and affinity audiences are great ways to go after new customers who are more likely to convert and prove to be more effective than not having any audiences applied.

Build Compelling Creative
Finally, in order to set yourself up for success, you need to have strong creative. These ad formats have slightly different specifications for each, but general creative best practices remain the same. You need to have high-quality images that showcase your product and entice the consumer to visit your site. For Discovery, Gmail, and Local you are able to add text overlays to your imagery. This is a great way to emphasize your brand, and it provides the opportunity to test creative with or without text in the image.

Adding Value Through Testing

With so much of the control of these formats being black box and automated, it’s important for advertisers to find ways to optimize upper-funnel ads. For Discovery and Local Campaigns, we can’t segment performance by platform so there’s no way of knowing which platforms are performing best, but we can easily control the creative used. Since having good creative is extremely important, and it can be expensive for teams to create, you can do creative testing to determine what’s best for your account and get the most bang for your buck.

In order to do this, it’s important to label all creative that gets loaded into the account so that you can easily determine which versions have the highest CTR. This labelling process can be used for Discovery, Gmail, and Showcase, but can’t be used by Local Campaign ads. For Local Campaign ads, you can only see performance data at the ad group level, not at the image level. Local Campaigns rank each piece of creative you load in as Best, Good, or Low, based on Google assets ranking (another black box process). Even though you can’t determine how creative in the same ad group perform against each other in terms of CTR, if you create more than one ad group, you’ll be able to look at hard performance data between ad groups. For example, you could test promotional text overlay performance against normal product assets in separate ad groups to determine which creative resonates best with consumers during large promotions.

Looking at competitors’ creative is a great way to find opportunities for potential testing. For example, for one beauty client we noticed that many competitors were using imagery that didn’t show models’ faces. We introduced this as a creative test to our client and found that CTR was slightly higher when model faces were shown in ads.

The Bottom Line

Upper-funnel ad formats are a great way to drive brand awareness for most advertisers. Putting time in up front to establish clear goals, target the right audiences, and build a variety of strong, testable creative will set you up for success to complement your lower-funnel search tactics.

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