Google AdWords Express Review: Is AdWords Express Right for You?

July 23, 2018

Note: This AdWords Express review has been updated as of November 2017.

I’ve been somewhat wary of new AdWords features in the past here on the blog, and have warned that sometimes what Google labels as a panacea answer to a longstanding pain point is either more of an opportunity for Google than for you or not as complete of an answer as it seems at first blush.

It probably shouldn’t be any surprise that – like most people who make their living optimizing paid search accounts, among other things – I have a healthy amount of skepticism when Google offers to just make everything super easy! So we thought we’d do a deep dive into the product formerly known as Boost: Google AdWords Express, now just called AdWords Express.

What Is Google AdWords Express?

AdWords Express is Google’s attempt at simplifying AdWords for advertisers with smaller budgets. Instead of spending hours conducting keyword research, crafting ad copy, and optimizing your bidding strategy, all you need to do to get started is tell Google about your business (what you do and where you do it) and they take care of the rest.

adwords express ads on a google serp

In AdWords, you’ve got a variety of budgeting strategies at your disposal, including CPC bidding (where you designate what you wanted to pay for a click) and CPA bidding (where you cede some control over your ad spend and allow Google to use its data to alter your bids).

In AdWords Express, though, things are much more hands-off.

Rather than saying you’ll pay X for a click or you’ll pay Y for a conversion, just tell Google what you have to spend every month and they’ll figure out the rest. Paid search without keywords for small businesses!

The general idea is that you set up an incredibly simple campaign that includes nothing but:

  • Your business category
  • Ad copy (just three lines about your business will do!)
  • Where to send people (send them to your website or a special Google My Business page)
  • A maximum monthly budget (don’t worry: Google will even give you a highlighted recommendation if you’re unsure. It’s in green, so you know it’s the good one.)

Compared to AdWords-proper, this is nothing. In fact, the whole process only takes about 15 minutes.

Speaking of…

How to Create an AdWords Express Account

The sign-up process is actually somewhat un-Google-esque.

Even though you need a Google My Business page to use AdWords Express, it’s actually a fairly smooth process to get started whether you have one or not. (The standard Google login issues persist otherwise, though – if you’re an agency or just use some combination of AdWords/Google Analytics/Gmail for multiple sites with multiple people you know how maddening and confounding the account permissions can be.)

adwords express ad copy example

Once you’ve created your ad and designated how much you want to spend, that’s pretty much it. You can monitor activity on your places account in your places dashboard, and you can look at your standard AdWords billing set up in the billing tab of your places account.

If you want to optimize your ad or do a deep dive to figure out where your money’s going, though, that’s where things get a little clunky.

While you can edit or deactivate your lone ad within the AdWords Express interface, you can’t do much else. If you jump over into AdWords to view billing and more specific activity in your account, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Because you created an Express account, this UI is basically “read only.” You can see the keywords being bid on but can’t make any changes (sort of like a shady PPC agency that won’t let you see your actual account but sends you reports every month).

adwords express assigning monthly budget

While you’ve only created one ad and you’re unable to control your bids after assigning a monthly budget, Google will assure you that they will “create other versions using content you provide in Google My Business.” Of course, it’s not really clear what that means.

Google AdWords vs. AdWords Express

To be clear, while both platforms allow you to advertise on Google and Google properties, Google AdWords and AdWords Express are very different. Google AdWords is a robust platform that offers you a lot of control, but with that higher level of control comes a fair amount of complexity, which is often intimidating for small or newer advertisers and agencies.

AdWords Express offers a simplified UI with fewer options and less control over how exactly your budget is spent, but you can get the ball rolling in minutes. Account creation basically begins and ends at this:

defining business category in adwords express

And your credit card number, of course!

So… Is AdWords Express a Bad Idea For SMBs?

Obviously, I’m not as bullish on the execution as Google is, but believe it or not AdWords Express might actually make sense for some small businesses, particularly local ones.

adwords express for small local businesses

The economics of percent-of-spend pricing, pay-for-performance PPC pricing, and charging a fair flat rate for your expertise make it generally impossible for a PPC expert to work on micro-sized accounts. Even software and services companies like WordStream that offer affordably priced PPC management software and AdWords management services have service offerings that start at 50-100% of those budgets, because to get a competent PPC consultant to work on your account you simply can’t charge any less.

If you’re a small, local business that can’t afford more than a few hundred dollars a month, you need to evaluate the following…

Do you know enough about AdWords to “do it yourself”?

If not, can you invest a sum of money to have someone perform a PPC audit? If that’s something you can afford, it might be worth it to invest a month or two (or even more) of spend in getting a professional to take a deep dive into your account, set it up using best practices, and hand you some specific instructions for self-maintenance over time.

Alternatively, if you can invest time in learning AdWords and managing the account yourself (and then evaluate your performance with the free AdWords Grader tool), that may also be an option. Just be careful not to over-invest with your own sweat-equity when you could be better leveraging your time in other areas of your business.

Can you afford to run AdWords Express as a test?

If yes and you’re only spending a couple hundred a month, this might be worth it. If you set the campaign up and it does better than you were doing yourself or if you set it up and with no intervention on your part it performs profitably for you and does better than other marketing channels, you very well may be better off letting Google manage your small spend and focusing on other responsibilities.

Ultimately, whether to use AdWords Express or not is a business decision: does the time savings from AdWords Express, the results it generates, and the savings on paying someone to manage your account add up to a net win for your business?

On monthly spends anywhere in the thousands I think this will rarely (if ever) be the case. But if you spend a couple hundred bucks a month and don’t have the time to build and optimize a full-fledged AdWords account, Express may be right for your business!

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Tom Demers

Tom Demers is Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Measured SEM and Cornerstone Content.