Last Updated on September 5, 2022
The first time I logged into Google Ads, I barely knew what I was doing
The software company I was an intern for at the time asked me to set up a small display ad.
Sounds pretty easy, right?
Well, it wasn’t.
The budget for this campaign was $250, and until that time, the company had never spent anything on advertising, so I felt the pressure.
And to my horror, when I checked the account 2 days later, the money was gone.
What was worse is that I had no clue where the money had gone.
The only thing I knew for sure was that I uploaded a banner, and we got a bunch of clicks.
I had no idea who had seen the ad, or why we didn’t get any inquiries.
Fast forward 11 years later, after spending over $5 million on ads and working with more than 120 clients, it would be very easy to pinpoint what went wrong and what to do instead.
But back then, I didn’t have a clue how the whole thing worked.
I didn’t touch Google Ads for a few years because of that situation.
Until one day when a client asked if I could help them with their Google Ads campaigns.
This was an important client for me, and they were spending a lot of money on ads (about $10,000/month).
Seeing how my previous experience with Google Ads had ended, I was scared to repeat the same mistakes.
So instead of pretending to know what I was doing, it was time to get serious about Google Ads.
Here is my story of how I got started with Google Ads, and how I got good at it!
Level 1 – Google Certifications: Drinking the Google Kool-Aid
Since I needed to learn more about Google Ads, the first stop on my journey was Google itself.
Obviously! They had a bunch of free materials to help master the Fundamentals of Google Ads.
I quickly ran through the study guide they provided and got Google Ads certified (although it was still Google Adwords back then!)
These helped me to understand the different parts and features that were out there. I knew what most of the buttons in the interface did, and could set up a campaign.
This allowed me to help business that were just getting started with Google Ads, despite still being a beginner myself.
Because even though my knowledge was basic, it was one level up from being clueless.
A great example of this is keyword match types.
This is one of those significant stumbling blocks for new advertisers.
Without knowing it, many blindly opt into broad match, which can wreak havoc on their budgets.
But as soon as you teach them about the concept of match types and how it works, they understand it and are able to update their campaigns accordingly.
At this point, I was able to help advertisers avoid these most basic mistakes, which meant more money went to the keywords they wanted to show for.
This helped in many cases, but the results were still very hit-and-miss.
Sometimes correcting these basic mistake would work amazingly well. Other times they didn’t change much.
The frustrating part was that I couldn’t predict in advance what would happen. Also, I didn’t have a clue how to fix things.
Your action steps
If you’re getting started with Google Ads, the first thing to do is to get familiar with the whole platform.
Spend time to get familiar with the interface, the different reports, set up a few campaigns, and try to understand all the different options.
Google still has the certifications, but I would look at other sources instead. If you learn from Google, it’s not always clear which recommendations are good and which ones to be very skeptical about.
Instead, I’d recommend something like our free Google Ads For Ecommerce Guide.
It’s a great primer that will touch on all different parts of GOogle Ads, while staying on the surface with most of them.
Level 2 – Getting serious about the craft
Early in my freelancing career, I was dabbling in all aspects of online marketing: SEO, email, Facebook Ads, and conversion rate optimization.
I knew the basics of everything, but couldn’t really generate results with either of them.
I found the immediate impact of Google Ads on revenue fascinating, so I switched focus to 100% Google Ads.
With that focus also came a different level of clients. Clients with bigger budgets but also a bigger part of their turnover linked to Google Ads.
This meant they were often watching the results closely.
And if things weren’t working, they’d quickly find out and let me know.
And there wouldn’t be a way to BS the with a monthly report claiming how much better the CTR was compared to the month before.
Clients demanded real business results. And my foundational knowledge was no longer cutting it.
Besides setting up campaigns, I now needed to understand what to do those campaigns.
How could I spot what was going wrong? And how could I fix this?
Google didn’t offer information like that, so I started looking in other places.
And luckily I did find a a treasure trove of information.
Sites like Search Engine Journal, Econsultancy, Market Motive, Certified Knowledge, gave me second-hand experience on what it meant to optimize your campaigns.
And by applying the things I learned in these articles, I slowly expanded my first-hand experience.
Your action steps
Even though some of the sites mentioned above no longer exist, they all have modern-day equivalents.
What you’re looking for is a practitioner’s point of view.
Besides our own blog, here are some great places to check out:
Level 3 – Getting Serious about the industry
Getting serious about Google Ads was the thing that really pushed me forward.
I was able to deliver more consistent results for my clients, but there was still something missing.
Even though I was focused on Google Ads, I was still doing it for a wide variety of clients: lead generation, ecommerce, affiliate marketing, etc.
Every one of those client types had its own specific needs.
And again I knew that I couldn’t become an expert in all of them, so I picked one industry, ecommerce, and doubled down on it.
That really set me up for the next level of growth.
Because what a business needs often looks very different from the Google Ads interface.
I knew about the theory of things like promotions, sales volume, margin, lifetime value, and inventory. But looking back I didn’t really understand how important these are for an ecommerce business.
Things only clicked when I started my own ecommerce business.
Spending my own money and trying to make it work in my own business gave me a much deeper understanding of how the business and Google Ads needed to work together.
I’m not advocating you start an online store yourself, it can be a tremendous distraction 😛
But this ability to really understand how an ecommerce business works is the thing that’s been most valuable to clients.
It allowed me to manage Google Ads campaigns with a much clearer understanding of what we’re trying to do, rather than just looking at clicks, CPCs, and CTRs.
Your action steps
If you’re running your own ecommerce business, this will be fairly easy. You just need a way to put all of your knowledge about your products into Google Ads.
If you work for clients, you really need to get a better grasp of how their business works, outside of Google Ads.
It might not always be clear how this work will translate into better campaigns, but trust me, it does!
If you’re working in ecommerce, these two articles can really help:
Your Path to Getting Started
That concludes my story of how I got started with Google Ads.
Your path will probably look different. I don’t believe there is a single path everyone needs to follow to start with Google Ads.
But if you want to learn how not not only start with Google Ads, but use it to get results for your business or that of your clients, there are certain checkpoints you will also need to pass.
First, you’ll need to find a way to get familiar with the platform. Then, if you want to get good, you’ll need to find some way to deepen not only your Google Ads skills, but also learn how to apply them as effective as possible for your business.
And by understanding this journey ahead of the time, you might be able to speed up the whole process just a tiny bit!