Learnings From Using Gmail Ads


The latest feature to progress from beta testing to become a permanent feature in AdWords is Gmail advertising. Gmail ads allow advertisers to reach 900 million customers as they browse their emails and as they are actively engaged in the decision making process


How Gmail Ads Work

Gmail ads are a hybrid between image ads that can be shown through the GDN and the traditional text ads (although slightly extended). The way these ads function is layered, where initially a smaller banner ad with an image can be shown which can then be clicked causing the ad to expand and display imagery, messaging, a variety of products or custom HTML. Gmail ads can appear in the promo section of the Gmail inbox.

Gmail ads can be setup in AdWords similar to a traditional display ads by creating a campaign targeting the display network, selecting a placement of mail.google.com and then using keywords to target the domains of email address’, keywords or a combination of both. These can be combined with other targeting settings with the exception of re-marketing lists, in market segments or of course other placements. Using a combination allows targeting to be honed or bids increased for those demographics that may be more engaged with your products. Ads can then be added to adgroups by clicking on the red +ads button within the ads tab and then selecting Ad Gallery > Gmail Ads and choosing your desired formats. Once this has been done and bids are set you are good to go!

New Metrics

There are some important differences between Gmail ads and other AdWords formats including the addition of new metrics which adjust the way the cost structure works. Whereas with traditional AdWords formats, a click on an ad drives traffic to a website, a click on a Gmail ad is more similar to open rate on an email where a user sees more information but at that point aren’t taken to a website. It is, however, the expansion of the ad that counts as a click and generates a cost though and this means that clicks, CTRs and similar relating to opening the ad and not visitng your website. This has led to the introduction of the metric Gmail clicks to website which pretty much does what it says on the tin and measure how many people who expand your ad then proceed to visit your website.

Gmail ads also offer the ability to generate and measure micro conversions, even if the user isn’t ready to visit your website yet. Users seeing a Gmail ad have the option to save the ad for later or to share with Friends, allowing for a longer lead time with ads, or better still ads to be shared and gain a wider reach.


The next piece of advice may be common sense but it is worth talking about how to structure ad-groups and campaigns for your Gmail ads. Similar to what you may do with a lot of your other campaigns, it is generally recommended to keep Gmail ads separate from existing campaigns, and this makes a lot of sense considering the differences in what clicks and CTRs represent. This data if combined with other types of targetting could distort your data as we have seen CTRs on Gmail of upwards of 10% for some more niche ad-groups which is in stark contrast to GDN ads which typically have much lower CTRs with 0.2% not being uncommon.

The second point relates to how to organise your ad-groups; I’m a firm believe of segmentation within my campaigns and this approach has seemed to pay off in relation to Gmail ads as well, with different ad-groups for subsets of keywords, topics and other targeting allowing bids, ads and other settings to be customised accordingly and performance contrasted.


In terms of keywords there are a variety of tactics which could be tried ranging from:

  • Targetting brand terms and domains to either provide brand reinforcement or better still provide an up-sell opportunity or a way to provide special offers to existing customers.
  • Supporting your kcore keywords to ensure if someone is recieving relevant emails you are recieving exposure to those engaged individuals and increasing your reach
  • Competitor bidding is an especially appealing avenue though, if your customer base are already recieving emails from your competitors, that is probably an ideal time to get in front of them and raise the profile of your product as you engage with them.


A key aspect to any of the above keyword strategies is to tailor your ads and their messaging to the type of audience you are trying to target. There is very little point trying to get someone who is already receiving ads from yourself to register for a newsletter subscription as chances are, they’re already registered. Equally if you choose to target competitors, it will be more important to utilise the opportunity to present competitive messaging and either discussing the unique selling points or your product or providing incentives. It’s worhth noting, similar to the search network, you will have to tread carefully in relation to competitor bidding and do your research. It is generally accepted that you can bid on competitor keywords but that you cannot use their trademarked terms in your copy.

As clicking a Gmail ad expands the advertisement instead of driving a user to a website, it is worth noting that this adds an additional step to the user journey which can dilute the funnel. A potential solution to this though is provided through using custom HTML for your Gmail ads. The ability to use HTML ads will likely be determined by your available budget, but they can help you to increase the flexibility of your ads if you can afford them as you can engage users through embedded videos, or better still include a form in your ad that can allow users to convert directly through your mailbox.

In essence, the key to ads is to invest as much as you can in them; the more sophisticated and engaging you can make your ads, the more effective your Gmail ads will likely be.


The last important area of Gmail ads to cover is their costs, currently CPCs seem to be low, far lower than other available formats within the sectors I have experimented with. This in part makes up for the fact that costs accrue at the point of expanding the ad instead of when the user visit your website. It is unclear exactly how long CPCs will stay at their current levels but I am sure that it will only be a matter of time before more advertisers enter the market and it becomes more competitive; increasing costs.


All in all Gmail ads seem to present an effective opportunities to marketeers, particularly early adopters who can benefit from lower competition and therefore lower costs. We have only just started testing this new format but so far the results have been positive and I am sure this is an area we will want to continue to investigate and experiment with in the future

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