How to Use Google AdWords: What Retailers Need to Know

How to use Google AdWords | Shopify Retail blog

You may have heard about how no one pays attention to digital ads anymore, and that they’re becoming increasingly obsolete. In fact, pay-per-click (PPC) ads are considered effective by just 3% of small businesses.

So, why would retailers be interested in exploring how to use Google AdWords?

For one, poor perceptions of the platform mean that competition may be less fierce than on other advertising mediums. Google AdWords presents a great opportunity for retail brands for a number of other reasons, too:

Many major retailers have also seen success for themselves. For example, Google reports that Yankee Candle Company increased conversion rates by 600% and halved their cost-per-conversion, and Lenovo increased sales by 20% and lowered their expense-to-revenue ratio by 14%.

Curious about how you can accomplish these kinds of results for yourself? Below, find out the ins and outs of how to use Google AdWords, including how to start your first campaign to see what results you can drive for your retail business.

What Is Google AdWords?

Before understanding how to use Google AdWords, it’s helpful to understand what Google AdWords is.

Here’s how Google describes the platform: “Google AdWords is Google's online advertising program. Through AdWords, you can create online ads to reach people exactly when they're interested in the products and services that you offer.”

These digital ads are placed throughout the web via Google’s Display Network (Gmail, YouTube, and other Google-run sites), as well as at the top and on the right-hand rail of a Google search.

How to use Google AdWords | Shopify Retail blogSee how the top two listings have the green “Ad” indicator? Those are ads run through Google AdWords, while the Walmart link is an organic search result (not an ad).

These ads can be used in a number of ways, from driving traffic to the homepage of your site, to announcing the latest product arrival, to promoting a major sale your retail business is hosting.

💡 BOOKMARK THIS GUIDE: Looks like you're interested in setting up some ads. That's great! After you're done here, head on over to our 11-step guide to launching Google Shopping Ads to learn how to get even more sales with Google!

How to Use Google AdWords: Getting Started With Your First Campaign

JD Withrow is the director of SEM and analytics at The Brandon Agency, and he oversees Google AdWords campaigns for the agency clients. His recommendation for your first campaign? Own your brand and branded keywords. He’s had success doing so for rain jacket retailer Frogg Toggs.

“We have Amazon, Walmart, and everywhere that product is sold bidding on [Frogg Togg keywords],” he says. “We have to bid very aggressively on the Frogg Togg brand name.”

Though it might sound counterintuitive to put money behind your own brand, it’s actually essential.

“We want consumers to buy direct versus buying the product somewhere else,” Withrow says. But the opportunities go beyond that.

“If you’re not bidding on your brand name, someone else might be. They could be bidding on rain gear, and that could be a broad match.”

Withrow also points out that if your brand is showing up everywhere, then that will resonate more strongly with potential customers. “If you’re showing up in the top organic results, the shopping feed, and in AdWords, the users are seeing you everywhere,” Withrow says. “The user is going to look at this and say, ‘Wow. This brand is everywhere. They must be very popular. They pretty much own the market for this.’”

In Withrow’s experience, retail brands lose about 25% of traffic if they don’t run AdWords campaigns to support their own brand.

And you don’t have to stop there. Withrow suggests categorizing all of the products you sell to segment those into their own campaigns. After that, you can dive into keywords, ad groups, targeting, bidding, and creating your ads.

Keywords and Ad Groups

The next step in learning how to use Google AdWords is nailing down the keywords you want to uses for your business. When it comes to choosing the keywords for your Google AdWords campaign, think about which search terms users will enter into Google to find products like yours. There are several tools to use to research the search volume, trends, and related keywords, such as:

Let’s look at an example: If you’re selling purple fanny packs, look up related phrases. “Buy purple fanny packs,” “best purple fanny packs,” “cheap purple fanny packs,” and “purple fanny packs for sale” are a few phrases that indicate a user’s interest in a product like yours and their intentions in purchasing that product.

When choosing keywords for your Google AdWords campaign, you can also choose how close the search queries must be to your chosen keywords.

  • Broad match: The keyword phrase doesn’t have to match exactly. So, if you’re targeting “purple fanny packs,” someone who searches “fanny packs with purple design” might come across your ad. This reaches the most users, but is also not as targeted.
  • Phrase match: Here, your ad will be presented to users who enter a search query that contains the exact phrase you’re targeting. Someone searching “purple fanny packs with patterns” may see your ad.
  • Exact match: This is the most specific targeting; only users who search your exact wording will see your ad. Users who search “purple fanny packs with purple design” or “purple fanny packs with patterns” won’t see your ad. Users must search specifically for “purple fanny packs” to see your ad. This reaches the fewest users, but is the most targeted.

Withrow also recommends leveraging negative keywords. Negative keywords allow you to omit targeting users who have conducted searches with this list of words.

“One good negative keyword might be a competitor,” Withrow says. “If someone is looking for your product and searching for Walmart, you might want to put a negative in for Walmart because those users are already focused to go to Walmart to buy that product.”

Retailers that distribute their products to other brick-and-mortar stores, such as Walmart or Target, should use those stores as negative keywords. As Withrow suggests, those users are likely to make the purchase at the store they’re searching for, instead of from you directly.

Other negative keywords could be something like the word “free” — if someone’s searching for free purple fanny packs, they’re probably not likely to buy from you.

You might also come across keywords that are irrelevant to your product and customers when you do your keyword research. Add those to your negative keywords list. Google points out a great example: “Let’s say you’re an optometrist who sells eyeglasses. In this case, you may want to add negative keywords for search terms like ‘wine glasses’ and ‘drinking glasses.’”

Audience Targeting

Targeting is where you choose who sees your ads. For retailers, local is the key here. “If you're local, then you want to focus on the geographical area,” Withrow says. “You can show users that you’re close by and that they can purchase this product locally.”

You can combine targeting settings with ad extensions to set a radius, zip code, city, county, or even state to target. This is when it’s helpful to understand just how local your customers are, and how far your target market is willing to travel for your product.

“If you’re a car dealership, people might be willing to drive a little bit longer,” Withrow points out.

“You could set up a hyper-targeted campaign to let people you know are a 15-minute drive away,” Withrow says. Include the language around being just 15 minutes away in the ad creative, along with your store hours and location.

Beyond local targeting, you can also leverage your data to add additional targeting layers, or new targets for different campaigns. For example, you can retarget customers who have already come to your store by uploading a list of emails. The ads will remind those customers of your brand and products when they’re browsing online. Withrow recommends a list of at least 100 emails to use this targeting method.


Bidding for your chosen keywords and targeted audience requires an examination of how valuable each of your targets are. The more specific your target, the higher you might want to set your bids.

“Set your bids higher for people who are closer to you,” Withrow says. If you’re targeting customers or potential customers within 100 miles, you could increase the bids for users who are within 10 miles, since they’re more valuable and more likely to visit your store. “What you’re essentially doing is targeting those users a little bit more aggressively,” Withrow says.

Creating Your Ad

Headline and Description

The headline is the hyperlinked blue title, and the description is the text underneath. These are arguably the most important components of your ad, so it’s important to give them the attention they deserve.

Actionable words that tell users what you want them to do are typically the most effective. Consider using words and phrases like “buy now,” “save 50%,” “visit our store,” or “call us today.” Words that convey urgency — like “now,” and “today” — will also motivate users to take action immediately.

Also refer back to your targeted keywords. If you can fit in those words and phrases, this will appear to be more relevant to the user’s search, and thus make the user more likely to click through. These words should most definitely be part of the headline when possible, and if not, they must be included in the description if you want your ads to be effective.

Your headline and description will be the parts of the ad that you should try to test. Try different messaging, phrases, and calls-to-action to see which resonates with your audience best.

Display and Destination URL

How to use Google AdWords, display URL | Shopify Retail blogThe display URL is typically your main website URL — short, easy-to-remember, and recognizable. The destination URL is where you’re actually sending the users who have clicked.

The destination URL address itself is less important than the content that is featured in that URL. Google AdWords rewards advertisers with high relevancy scores with lower cost-per-clicks. To get a favorable relevancy score, you need to provide users with a positive experience.

More often than not, you do NOT want to send users to your homepage. The most effective destination URL is typically a landing page that serves as an extension of the promised experience from the ad. If you’re advertising affordable purple fanny packs, send users to a page that shows your purple fanny packs in order from least to most expensive.

FURTHER READING: For more information and examples of retailers using cost-per-click ads, check out the Google AdWords section of our guide on 50 Ways to Make Your First Sale.

How to Use Google AdWords: How Retailers Can Drive In-Person Sales

Google AdWords is an online platform, which can prove challenging for physical retailers that are more concerned with driving foot traffic to their store versus traffic to their site. But there are creative ways that retailers with brick-and-mortar shops, pop-ups, or other means of in-person sales to use Google AdWords to bridge the gap between digital and in-person consumer behavior.

Google Shopping is frequently used by ecommerce brands, and retailers with brick-and-mortars and other offline selling channels can also leverage this feature. The buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) trend is growing — the number of consumers who have taken advantage of this option has grown by nearly 50% in the past two years.

How to use Google AdWords, local ad extensions | Shopify Retail blogThe local ad extension is another valuable feature for retailers.

“It shows your address, and then Google will show users how far away you are,” Withrow says. “You can even track how many people got directions to your location.”

And if your website has a page listing your various locations and store hours, you can retarget those users — as you already know they’re interested in visiting your store in person.

Withrow also recommends the call extension. “You might have people calling asking if a product is available or how late you’re open, along with the directions,” he says. He recommends the click-to-call functionality, which makes it easy for digital users to get in touch with you via a different channel.

Moving Forward With Google AdWords for Retail

The most successful brands that learn how to use Google AdWords try creative ideas, analyze results, and optimize campaigns to be even more effective. Which tactics have been most successful for you in your retail store?