What Is Google Ads? How To Explain The Platform

What Is Google Ads? How To Explain The Platform

‘I think we should do Google Ads’

‘What's Google Ads?’


OK so it’s not as bad these days as it was a few years back but, quite often, we do get asked by marketing managers to help them explain Google Ads to people that aren’t familiar with the digital space.

I’m going to tackle this in a few ways because we get asked in lots of ways. But they all circle around the same topic:

  1. What is it? Technically?
  2. What form of marketing is Adwords?
  3. Where do these “Adwords” appear?
  4. What’s the difference between
    • Google Ads/Adwords
    • SEO/Organic Search
    • SEM/PPC
    • Display
    • Remarketing/Retargeting?

1. What is it? Technically?

Google Ads is the platform provided by Google to everyone to sell its advertising products. When most people talk about Google Ads, they are talking about Google Ads for Search - Buying ad space whenever anyone searches for a relevant keyword in Google.

How this works:

  1. Choose search terms where you want your ad to appear, and how much you’re willing to pay for a click.
  2. Each time someone searches them, Google holds an auction and allocates ad slots to those who bid.
  3. Highest bid often gets the top spot, which gets the most clicks (but costs the most).
  4. The relevance of ad copy & landing page to the search term will also affect how much you pay and where your ad shows
  5. You only pay per click, not per impression.

There are also many ways to advertise on the Google Network. You could:

  • Advertise on websites in the Google Display Network (GDN) e.g. There are lots, NZ Herald and Stuff sites are in here
  • Advertise to people who have already been to your website e.g. Remarketing or Retargeting
  • Advertise on YouTube which Google also owns - YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world
  • Advertise on the Google Shopping network - Good for selling products online

So, quick summary, Google Ads is an advertising platform with a few different ways to advertise but when most people talk about Google Ads, they mean Google Ads for Search. For the rest of this article, when we discuss Google Ads, we'll be talking about Google Ads for Search.

2. What form of marketing is Google Ads?

Google Ads (Search) is a form of direct response advertising. You should immediately expect a return on your ad spend. It is tremendously successful because what customers are searching for at any particular moment gives us an insight into their frame of mind. For example, searching for 'buying shoes' doesn't leave much to the imagination.

It's likely that showing some sort of ad for shoes when this is searched is likely a good idea. Hence Google's current world domination. Advantages vs traditional media:

  • Highly targeted - people are telling you exactly what they’re looking for. So when someone Googles 'first officer jobs europe', we know two things:
  • they are likely in the market for our offering
  • we know exactly what to show them
  • Compare with running any other kind of advertising, where lots of the people you reach aren’t even your target audience and even the ones who are haven’t indicated which phase of the marketing funnel they’re in (awareness vs consideration vs decision) so you might show them the wrong content.
  • Data - Because we receive data and track conversions - the actions on the website that generates revenue - we know which keywords/ads/audiences are working and which aren't. So over time, we can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. (Compare old channels like radio, tv and print - 'I know half of my advertising is working, but I don’t know which half.')

So what works well in Google Ads? There are clearly products/services that are easier to sell through ads and advertising:

  • B2C goods/services - High volume of search
  • Specials/Deals/Offers - Who doesn't love a good deal
  • Small to medium size B2B services - Reasonable demand and high value e.g. lawyers, accountants

What needs a bit more work in Adwords to do well?

  • Large B2B goods/services - People are unlikely to search for an 'IT System', click an ad and replace their corporate IT system right off the bat
  • New brands - New companies that haven't built up a lot of brand recognition in the market
  • Brand new products/services, first in vertical - No significant search demand yet

3. Where do these 'Google Ads' appear?

Ok, an easy question. See my nifty screenshots below, I've tried to come up with a few examples:

Google Ads Search "daniel wellington watches" Ads are highlighted in Yellow (Loving these watches at the moment ?)

Google Ads Display "daniel wellington watches". Ad is highlighted in yellow. The eagle eye among you will also see that Walker and Hall are running search ads as well.

4. What's the difference between Adwords, SEO, Organic Search, SEM, PPC, Display, Remarketing and Retargeting?

Definitely a pet peeve of mine is the amount of jargon in the industry and we’re always trying to clear things up for our clients so they know exactly what’s going on. For this question, I thought a terminology table with our own definitions might be helpful!

Let’s try and reduce some confusion:

Paid Search

A generic umbrella term for ads that appear at the top of search results. Most likely talking about Google Ads but could also refer to Bing Search Ads.

Google Ads

Two meanings. Firstly – Advertising platform by Google. But, it is also a common term for Google Ads for Search – Their best selling product.


Old name for Google Ads – Product name changed in 2018.

Organic Search

Organic search results are what people actually go to Google for ? Organic (non-paid) search result theoretically don’t cost anything, but in effect they do because to gain those top rankings you have to put lots of work in SEO. Organic search generally has higher volume in terms of clicks than paid search, but takes longer to get there – paid search gets you targeted traffic right away.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO is not the channel, it’s the work you need to put into the channel. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)Term that covers both paid search and organic search channels together.

Pay Per Click (PPC)

Another term colloquially for Adwords Search. But technically (I’m pretty sure) refers to the advertising model that search ads follow which is, you pay when a person clicks. There are other advertising models with similar 3 letter acronyms.

Display/Google Display Network/GDN

Showing ads on other websites around the internet where either the website or the person (or both) matches various targeting methods we choose. Cheaper clicks than Search, but less targeted – more suited to awareness / branding than generating conversions.


Using the same network as Display, but where the targeting method is that the person has already visited our website. Again, cheap clicks but also good for lead gen – we know the people on the list have at least some interest in what we offer.

Helpful? Clear a few things up? I hope so!

Need a hand with your Google Ads? Check out our Google Ads Services!