Google AdWords or AdWords Express: Which Is Better?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.

Google AdWords Express is a stripped-down, simplified version of Google AdWords.

In Google’s words, “AdWords Express is an advertising option for businesses that want to get started quickly. It’s ideal for business owners who don’t have a lot of time to manage their online advertising.”

If you are as strapped for time, as most small business owners are, this probably sounds like an excellent deal. You can quickly set up an ad, write a three-line description of your company, and let Google handle the rest. Like anything else, though, there are some significant trade-offs.

No Experience Necessary?

When Google first introduced AdWords Express, one of the key selling points was that businesses did not need any marketing experience to be successful. The company seems to have backed off that idea, instead focusing on how quickly you can get your campaign up and running.

Nonetheless, it largely amounts to the same thing. It is possible to do exactly what Google promises — spend 15 minutes setting up AdWords Express and you will have an online advertising campaign. The larger question is, does that actually work?

If you had never traded stocks before, had not researched the stock market, and had very little idea of the forces that drive the market, would you risk investing a significant amount of money on a fancy new trading platform just because it was quick and easy to set up?

Gambling your advertising campaign on 15 minutes of setup can be just as costly and just as frustrating when the results are not what you expected.

In order to make the most of your campaign, take the time to learn the fundamentals. Compelling ad copy, an irresistible offer, and a congruent landing page are all essential components to driving conversions, or the number of visitors who actually buy your product or service.

AdWords Express may be a quick way to get started, but your conversion rate will never be as high as it could be unless you fully understand what you are doing — which takes the same amount of time regardless of the platform you use.

Customization Issues

Once you are familiar with how Google AdWords works, and the various factors that can dramatically affect your conversions, you will begin to realize the inherent limitations of the AdWords Express platform.

The full version of AdWords allows you to create and manage your own keyword list, adjust your bids for individual keywords, organize your keywords and ads into tightly grouped themes, and create custom landing pages to maximize the number of leads and sales you generate from your ad campaign.

AdWords also gives you more targeting options, retargeting capabilities, and multiple ad types. All of these factors work together to improve your conversion rate, so it is best to retain control of them rather than allowing Google to automate the process.

Conversion Tracking

One of the most compelling reasons to choose AdWords rather than AdWords Express is the importance of conversion tracking. AdWords provides several tools to track conversions like phone calls, contact form submissions, online sales, and even sales that occur offline if you import them back into AdWords.

Why is this important? Conversion tracking allows you to calculate your return on investment from your advertising campaign. Website traffic and ad impressions are important to measure, but they don’t equal sales.

It’s possible to generate hundreds of website visits and get thousands of ad impressions, but not make a single sale, which is why it’s critical to set up conversion tracking for your AdWords campaign.

AdWords Express does not provide conversion tracking. It reports on ad clicks and ad impressions, but there is no way to determine how many of those clicks converted into leads or sales. For me, that’s a deal breaker.

Campaign Migration

It is tempting for time-strapped local business owners to begin with an AdWords Express campaign, planning to switch over to the full version of AdWords at a later time.

However, Google does not provide a way to change an existing AdWords Express campaign to an AdWords campaign (or vice versa). You will be able to build a new AdWords campaign from scratch, but not migrate any existing data.

Rather than taking the time to set up and run an AdWords Express campaign, only to completely rebuild it using AdWords, it just seems logical to set up the campaign you actually want from the beginning.

Maximizing your conversions with either platform ultimately requires the same learning curve, and AdWords provides much more robust customization and tracking features. AdWords Express is not necessarily a bad product, but its limitations make it a poor choice for business owners who want to maximize their ROI.

Phil Frost
Phil Frost
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