• AdWords vs AdWords Express: Which One is Right for Your Business?

AdWords vs AdWords Express

Search engine marketing (SEM), also known as paid search advertising, is a form of online advertising where you pay for your business to show up on search engine results pages. If you’ve just started looking into whether SEM is right for your business, you may have come across AdWords and AdWords Express as potential options. How do you know what one is right for you? We’re here to help break it down.

Related: 5 SEM Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (free eBook)

 AdWords vs AdWords Express

What is AdWords?

AdWords is an online advertising service by Google to support SEM. Advertisers bid on keywords relevant to their products or services in order for their ads to appear in Google’s search results. This practice of paying to get your ads to show in search engine results pages (SERPs) on search engines like Google or Bing is called “paid search.” What advertisers are paying for is each click that their ad receives—which is where the term “pay-per-click” (PPC) comes from.

With AdWords, signup is free and available to advertisers all over the world. It is important to note that, with AdWords, there is a significant amount of setup and oversight that is involved with managing a successful campaign. From keyword selection to determining daily budgets and bidding, you want to be knowledgeable in AdWords campaign management before diving in for the first time. AdWords also offers some additional ad formats, like shopping or video ads.

What is AdWords Express?

AdWords Express is a simplified version of AdWords. It automates campaign management, alleviating the need for daily tasks or oversight. Ads are served directly on Google’s search results, just as they are with regular AdWords. AdWords Express boasts a quick setup (15 minutes), minimal management, and transparent results.

Adwords vs AdWords Express

On the surface, AdWords Express seems like a good solution for a small business owner. With the fast setup and minimal work on the advertiser’s end, it seems like a no-brainer. What isn’t as apparent is that in the simplification of AdWords to create AdWords Express, advertisers lose some key capabilities that can make a huge difference, which are covered below.

Keyword Selection & Customization

When you set up an SEM campaign through AdWords Express, you do not pick the keywords you want your ads to appear for. Instead, you pick general categories related to your business and then Google picks the keywords for your campaign. It’s not 100% clear what match type those keywords are set to, but it seems as though they are all set to be “broad match.” What that means is that your ad can show whenever someone searches for something similar to that keyword, even if they search using a different variation (a phrase, singular v. plural, misspelled, synonyms, etc.).

There is a time and a place for using broad match keywords, such as to just get your campaign started—especially if you don’t know how consumers are searching, or if your industry has a low search volume. However, it is not the best match type for an ongoing Adwords campaign. This typically results in poor engagement with your ads, such as not driving a lot of clicks (resulting in a low click-through-rate) or driving poor quality traffic and leads to your business.

As your campaign progresses, one of the benefits of AdWords is being able to dive into the data. You can see which keywords are driving better performance and adjust your keywords lists, including adding negative keywords, which are words/phrases that you don’t want to be found for. While you can turn keywords on and off through AdWords Express, you don’t have the options to change match types, add negative terms, or add additional keywords based on what people are searching for.

Ad Extensions & Additional Ad Formats

When you create an ad on AdWords Express, you are able to determine all aspects of your ad copy and you can edit it throughout the campaign—which is a good thing! The downside is that you aren’t able to fully take advantage of all ad extensions and formats that AdWords offers. Ad extensions are elements you make available to show alongside your ad copy, like your phone number, location address, additional links to internal pages of your website, or additional text that calls out specials or features. Consider them as a way to make your ad a bigger billboard with more places for someone to click.

Ad extensions are a good way to entice a user to click on your ad and help reduce your cost-per-click. AdWords Express ads allow for some basic extensions, but those are automated and there isn’t much room for customization. AdWords also offers campaign management for display banner ads, as well as video and shopping ads, all of which are things you might want to add to your campaign.


There are many different bidding strategies you can employ when running an AdWords campaign, which could include adjusting bids for specific keywords or for different device types (mobile/desktop/tablet). Typically, you would use bid adjustments as a way to improve your campaigns once you start seeing the data accumulate. You are not able to adjust or control any bidding within AdWords Express.

Both solutions are available to all advertisers and deciding what one to use will depend on your business’s needs. If your business has a pretty standard offering, where broad terms could work well for you and you don’t want to have too much oversight, AdWords Express might be an ok option. That being said, putting in the extra time to learn AdWords, or hire a professional to manage your campaign, is going to typically going to result in a tighter, customized campaign that will drive a much better return on the marketing dollars being spent, even with the cost of management included.

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