How to Advertise on Google and Grow Your Small Business

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood

Editor-in-Chief at Fundera
Meredith is Editor-in-Chief at Fundera. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.
Meredith Wood

Have you ever run a Google search for a product and clicked through one of the first few listings, then found yourself seeing promotions for that same product or others like it for days or even weeks afterward, seemingly everywhere you turn?

Without even realizing it, you likely come into contact with Google advertising dozens—if not hundreds—of times per day. The top listings on the search-engine results page when you enter a query, the video ads you see on YouTube, display advertising across virtually every page of the internet—even many of your favorite games on your mobile device—include advertising from Google’s network.

The combination of a massive reach and custom-tailored access to the perfect audience makes advertising on Google a no-brainer for any business owner who wants their sales to grow. But with such a complex, seemingly endless array of possibilities available through the Google advertising platform, it can be intimidating even for the technologically savvy small business owner to know exactly where to start.

To help you get the most out of this service, we’re walking step by step through everything you need to know about how to advertise on Google and grow your small business, including links to account setup pages, the best written and video tutorials straight from Google, and other valuable resources.

Start Here: Set Up Your “Google My Business” Presence

Before we get too far down the rabbit hole of all that Google’s advertising platform has to offer, let’s start with one quick and easy step that not only makes it easy to start advertising on Google but also immediately improves how your business performs throughout Google search network.

Using Google My Business, you can update your business’s location, hours of operation, contact information, website and social media links, and even add a logo and photos. Setting up your account takes only a few minutes—just go to the Google My Business homepage and click “Start Here” to follow the steps.

Best of all? This service is totally free!

Not sure if you’ve already set up Google My Business? Take a moment to run a quick Google search for your business name. You’ll know you’re already set with a Google My Business listing if a box comes up on the right-hand side of the search results page with your business’s name, location, and contact information. Even if this step is already complete, it’s a good idea to check that the information is up to date and see if you have any customer reviews.

Look at that! You’ve already got a jumpstart on improving your business’s presence in Google search results. Now it’s time to put on your thinking cap, because mastering how to advertise on Google and grow your small business is a bit like entering a foreign country and learning a brand-new language!

Get to Know Google’s AdWords Platform

Google AdWords is effectively home base for any and all of the avenues you can use to advertise your business on Google. Through the AdWords management system, advertisers bid on certain keywords to have their clickable ads to appear in relevant Google search results as well as YouTube videos and display ads within Google’s massive network.

There’s no denying the value of Google’s display, video, and other advertising options—but if you really want to know how to advertise on Google and grow your small business quickly, the search engine results page is the obvious place to start. By this we of course mean the top few (up to four per search) sites listed in Google’s search engine results, denoted by a small “ad” symbol on the second line of each.

how-to-advertise-on-google-and-grow-your-small-businessWhile the posts lower down on the search results page are selected purely based on their relation to the searcher’s query, the ads at the top are chosen through the combination of scoring content relevance and an auction-style bidding system.

Why Small Businesses Should Advertise on Google

Smart small business owners flock to Google AdWords for three main reasons. First, the platform offers an unbeatable opportunity to customize your advertising messages to incredibly specific audiences. Second, you get to connect with your specified audience at the exact moment that they are searching for a product or service like yours. And finally, because AdWords is designed around a cost-per-click model, you can preset your desired budget and only pay when a prospect actually clicks through to visit your website or call your business.

Bottom line: Google AdWords connects you with the right customer at the right time, and you only pay when a connection is made. It’s an advertiser’s dream come true!

The Small Business Shortcut: AdWords Express

As you’re learning more about how to advertise on Google and grow your small business, keep in mind that Google’s AdWords platform is designed for every type of organization, from small mom-and-pop shops to huge Fortune 500 companies. To serve the needs of those larger companies, the AdWords platform offers an almost never-ending lineup of settings and custom options that your small business doesn’t necessarily need.

The solution to this options overload? AdWords Express—Google’s simpler, more user-friendly advertising platform designed to be “advertising made easy.”

Whereas managing an AdWords account takes at least an hour a week (and can even be a full-time, multi-person job!) you can make AdWords Express work for your small business in just 15 minutes per week with a very minimal learning curve.

It’s a great way to dip your toes into advertising on Google, particularly if you’re juggling a long to-do list and you don’t plan to seek outside assistance to help your advertising efforts. That said, AdWords Express does have some limitations—and if you find that you’d like more options down the line, making the jump to the full AdWords platform isn’t a totally seamless process. So, before you jump on the Express route to Google advertising for your small business, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of choosing the AdWords Express platform.

Pros of AdWords Express

  • Quick and easy setup: Create your account and launch your first ad within minutes. Yes, really!
  • No keyword research: Choosing the right keywords for your ads is an art, a science, and very often a headache. In AdWords Express, the magical Google algorithm does that work for you.
  • Easy learning curve: With streamlined options and more automation, AdWords Express is accessible no matter your digital skill level.
  • Website not required: Don’t have a website for your business yet? AdWords Express can direct clicks to your Google My Business page instead.

Cons of AdWords Express

  • Search network only: Display, in-app, and YouTube advertising options are available only in the full AdWords platform.
  • Potential for higher cost-per-click: Manual AdWords pros maximize budgets with creative keyword tricks that aren’t available in Express, meaning you could wind up with a higher cost-per-click.
  • Limited options: While reduced options can be a good thing, you’ll probably wish you could access at least one feature or setting not available in Express.
  • Harder to grow with your business: If your business expands to rely more on Google Advertising, you may outgrow the limitations of the AdWords Express.

How to Get Started Quickly With AdWords Express

Are you confident that AdWords Express is all your business really needs? Here’s how to advertise on Google and grow your small business right now using AdWords Express:

  • Go to the AdWords Express homepage. Click “Sign Up” and log in to your Google account (the same one used to create your Google My Business page).
  • Select your business or choose “Create a New Business” (if you skipped the Google My Business step earlier on).
  • Create your first ad. You’ll be immediately prompted to provide a headline, brief description, and webpage link for your first Google ad. (If you don’t have a business website, use your Google My Business page instead.)
  • Choose your geographic location(s). To make sure your ad appears only in the places that your business actually serves, target your audience’s location either by distance from your business (for brick and mortar stores) or by city, state, or country for companies with a wider reach.
  • Choose your products or services. Select the specific product or service that your ad is promoting to help Google match it to relevant search phrases.
  • Set your monthly budget. As you follow the prompts for your first ad, AdWords Express will recommend a monthly budget based on the average number of clicks for your location and business type. From there, you can use the slider function to start with a more conservative budget or make your ad more competitive.
  • Complete your billing profile. To get your ad up and running on AdWords Express, you need to add a payment method to your billing profile. You can issue payments either through direct debit from your bank account or by inputting a credit or debit card number from Visa or MasterCard.

That’s all there is to getting started with AdWords Express! You can have your first ad up and running within minutes, then go back as often as you want to track your results, make changes to improve your ad’s performance, or create additional ads for other products, services, or audiences.

Setting Up Your Google AdWords Account

If you’re opting to jump straight into the full AdWords platform, your steps will differ only slightly from those listed above. Start from the AdWords homepage, click the “Start Now” button, and follow the prompts to select your business and create your account. You’ll be prompted to immediately create your first ad, then set your budget and complete your billing profile.

While working through the setup process for your accounts, don’t worry too much about the text, settings, and budget for your initial ad. You have plenty of opportunity to customize those later on, so feel free to stick with Google’s standard settings for now.

Quick tip: As soon as you complete the account setup process and input your billing information, go ahead and put your campaign on pause while you get acquainted with the AdWords platform. That way you can save your advertising budget until you determine a strategy for how to advertise on Google and grow your small business.

Preparing Your Small Business Website to Advertise on Google

The whole point of learning how to advertise on Google and grow your small business is to direct highly qualified leads to your website. But what happens once they get there?

If you haven’t adequately prepared your business’s website to accept those leads and quickly direct them to the information they’re looking for, you’re going to wind up paying for a whole lot of clicks that don’t generate any revenue.

Before you invest in ads that lead to a less-than-optimal result, follow the critical design tips in this AdWords video tutorial to make sure you’re giving customers what they want when they click on your ad:

Create a Customized AdWords Strategy for Your Small Business

By following the steps above, you’ve already mastered the basics of how to advertise on Google and grow your small business using the standard AdWords or AdWords Express settings. In fact, many small business owners can launch very successful AdWords campaigns without any further customization! That said, if you really want to maximize the return on your advertising budget and are eager to learn more, there’s a lot of room to play with different AdWords functionality to create truly stellar online ads.

Feel free to rely heavily on the standard AdWords settings while gradually mastering the individual components of a truly customized AdWords strategy. And remember, customized AdWords campaigns can be extremely time consuming! So don’t be afraid to dial back to the basics if you find that your ROI isn’t worth the time you’re putting in.

Note: From here on out, the recommendations and descriptions in this article are tailored to the full AdWords platform. Many of the concepts are still useful to AdWords Express users, but keep in mind that your campaign interface and range of options on Express will differ from what we describe below.

Selecting Your Campaign Type

On the full AdWords platform, begin your new ad campaign by choosing one of six campaign types. This selection denotes where and in what form your ads will be displayed across Google’s advertising network. Here’s a quick review of the six campaign types, starting with the two main networks that we’ll be focusing on:

  • Search Network only: Shows ads exclusively on the Google search engine results page and on results pages for search partner sites. This type typically provides the highest ROI for small business advertisers.
  • Search Network With Display Select: Shows ads primarily on the results pages for Google and its search partner sites, plus selectively on relevant pages in the Google Display Network when budget limits allow.

The vast majority of small businesses are best served by focusing almost exclusively on the two campaign types above, considering other campaign types only as secondary objectives once you’ve mastered the first two. That said, to give you a full understanding of your options, here’s a quick description of the other campaign types you’ll come across:

  • Display Network only: This campaign type shows display ads on websites and apps within the Google Display Network when ad keywords are relevant to the site’s content.
  • Shopping: Boutique retailers can use the Shopping campaign function to promote specific products that are available online or in your local store.
  • Video: Use this campaign type to show video ads in a variety of formats alongside YouTube and other video platforms in the Google display network.
  • Universal App Campaign: Designed specifically for the promotion of Android or iOS apps, this campaign streamlines the process of advertising your app across various devices throughout the Google advertising network.

Organizing Your Audience With Ad Groups

Once you’ve chosen a campaign type, you’re ready to start designing your Google advertising campaign, starting with creating your first ad group. These ad groups give you the opportunity to segment your audience into specific personas based on product or service themes. For example, a bookseller could organize her ad groups by book genre to help her reach the right audience.

This next video tutorial from the AdWords team will guide you through the best way to organize your campaigns, ad groups, and individual ads to maximize the potential of your ad groups segmentation.



As we move into keyword choices and bidding, you’ll start to better understand why it’s so important to segment your audience into finite ad groups that allow for very specific keyword usage.

If there’s one thing you already knew coming in about getting your content in front of the right audience on Google, it was that keywords are the key. Your ability to identify the search terms your audience is using and match those to the ads and products they most want to see will make or break the success of your Google advertising campaign. So, if you’re going to study up on any one part of the customized AdWords interface, always start with your keywords.

Types of Keywords

In AdWords, keywords are broken into a few different subtypes based on how they interact with Google’s algorithm. Here are the types of keywords you should know about:

  • Exact matches: As the name implies, an exact match happens when a customer’s search query matches your keyword bid letter for letter with nothing added or changed. That means the exact match for “black shoes” is pure and simply “black shoes.” Not “formal black shoes.” Not “buy black shoes online.” Just “black shoes.”
  • Broad matches: Though the examples above don’t qualify as exact matches for “black shoes,” they do qualify as broad matches—meaning they are similar to terms included in your bid. Placing your ad based on broad matches will cost you more per click than exact match placements, so it’s in your best interest to think like your customer. Predict exactly what they are most likely to be searching for.
  • Negative keywords: Just as you may have guessed, negative keywords are your opportunity to prevent your ad from appearing in the results for searches that include those terms. So, if your store sells black shoes but not black sandals, you might input “sandals” and “flip flops” as negative keywords to avoid paying for click-throughs on users’ “black sandals” searches.
  • Broad match modifiers: By adding a “+” sign before one or more words in your search phrase, you can create an exact match for those specific words while simultaneously bidding on broad matches to the other words in your phrase. Check out this article from WordStream to learn how you can apply broad match modifiers to your keywording strategy.

This keywording feature might sound unnecessarily technical, but it has the potential to be a very powerful part of your keywording strategy. Broad match modifiers let you bid on keyword phrases that are a hybrid of broad and exact matches.

Use the AdWords KeyWord Planner

The very best way to learn how keywords work and choose the right keywords for your Google ads is by experimenting with the AdWords Keyword Planner. 

Watch the AdWords video tutorial below for a step-by-step guide for using the AdWords Keyword Planner to find all the perfect search terms for every ad you write.

Want to learn even more about maximizing your AdWords keywording power? Check out this four-part Google Best Practices video series, “Keywords to the Wise.”

Writing Effective Ads on Google

Finally, we’ve reached the creative part of your Google advertising campaign! The text of your ad is your golden opportunity to tell your customers a little bit about your business at the exact moment that they’re searching for what you offer. To attract clicks, you need to write copy that’s engaging and relevant to your potential customers.

For now, let’s focus on the most common and standardized type of ad on the Google network: the text ad. This ad follows a clear, standardized format with three components:

  • The headline: Two short phrases—separated by a dash—which can appear together or be separated onto two lines (depending on the device and ad format).
  • The display URL: This is the web address that is shown with your ad.
  • The description: Use this line to get specific about your product or service and give your customers a call to action.

The most effective text ads on Google are ones that show off the business’s most unique value to customers, match the product’s relevant keywords and phrases, and give customers a specific action step for how to interact with the business. Active verbs and specific sale or discount language are other great tools to make your ad stand out. Finally, Google recommends using title case (Capitalizing The First Letter of Each Word) for maximum visual appeal.

Quick tip: Finding the right language for your ads is a lot like using the scientific method—you just have to try some things out and see what works! To maximize your results, create two to three different ads in each ad group to find the language that performs best for your offer. The AdWords algorithm automatically defers to the highest performing ad within each group to help you maximize performance.

Determining Your Google Advertising Bids and Budget

Two components determine the financial parameters of your Google AdWords campaign: your bid and your budget.

Simply put, your overall AdWords budget dictates the maximum total amount you’re willing to spend on advertising through Google in a given billing period. Your bidding strategy determines how that overall budget gets distributed to individual campaigns ads.

As you’ve learned, the Google advertising platform works through cost-per-click (or CPC) bidding, meaning that you pay only when a user clicks on your ad. Through this system, the strength of your bid—along with the relevance of your ads and keywords—determines where your ad is shown on the search-engine results page.

Try This Easy Automated Bidding Strategy

While experienced, full-time advertisers opt for manual cost-per-click bidding to maximize their ad’s ROI, most small business owners don’t have the time or interest to mess with manual CPC. Instead, Google recommends selecting the “maximize clicks” automated bidding system, which lets AdWords help you get as many clicks as possible within your predetermined daily budget.

Scheduling Your Ads

Unless you run a 24/7 e-commerce website, you most likely want to adjust your settings so that you’re advertising on Google only during the days and times that your small business is actually open. After all, if a customer sees your ad online and decides to call or stop by, you want to be sure someone is available to help them! This quick tutorial from AdWords explains how to create a schedule for your ads on Google.

Targeting Specific Locations

If you are a location-based small business, make absolutely sure that you’re only advertising in the location where it matters. Location targeting helps your ads appear higher on the results page at a lower cost and saves you from paying for clicks from faraway customers. Follow the steps in this AdWords tutorial to target your ads by geographic location.

Should You Bring In the Pros?

Are you hooked on AdWords? Do you plan to make advertising on Google a cornerstone of your business’s marketing strategy? Have you run out of time, energy, or expertise to further improve your AdWords campaigns? If so, it may be worth bringing in a marketing agency or freelance online advertising professional to take your small business’s strategy to the next level.

The Google Partners directory is a great place to search for a certified professional or agency that can help you achieve your Google advertising goals. In the directory, you can filter qualified third-party professionals by service need, location, and monthly advertising budget to find your perfect professional match.

Most agencies calculate their fees as a percentage of your monthly ad spend, so the price of services will correlate to your total ad budget.

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Whew! You made it! Armed with all this information, you are more than ready to start reaching new and highly qualified leads through the Google AdWords network. And yet, as hard as it may be to believe, this tutorial on how to advertise on Google and grow your small business has really only scratched the surface of Google’s full advertising power!

But now, it’s time to learn by doing. Go ahead and set up those ad groups, write some incredible starting ads, test, review your results, and repeat. With practice (and some occasional help from the AdWords Learning Center), you’ll figure out how to advertise on Google and grow your small business in a way that’s effective for both you and your new customers. Good luck!

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood

Editor-in-Chief at Fundera
Meredith is Editor-in-Chief at Fundera. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.
Meredith Wood

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