Let’s go ahead and cut to the chase for the long and short of this post:
TL;DR: It depends.
We all love that answer, don’t we?
But it’s a cliche for a reason. Whether or not Google Ads is worth it to one person or company is highly subjective, so we can’t answer that question for anyone but what we can do is lay out the considerations so you can answer it for your business.
So with that in mind…let’s talk about what it depends on and how that can influence your decision to test and use Google Ads or not.
Table of contents
Is Google Ads worth it? The basic pros & cons
Before we get into the details, let’s go over some of the general pros and cons of Google Ads.
- Intent. Because you’re targeting keywords with Google Ads, you can get in front of people when their intent to buy is highest. Not to mention the fact that 89% of buyer journeys begin with a search engine.
- Fast results. While SEO is essential for any business, it can take several weeks or even months to gain traction on the SERP. Paid search ads, on the other hand, appear immediately.
- Exposure. Not only do search ads appear at the top of the SERP, but also, search engines are the top channel used by consumers when conducting online brand research…
Data source: Hootsuite
…and Google is, by far, the most widely used search engine among consumers. It captures 92% of the search engine market share. Ergo, advertising on Google is a good way to get in front of people searching for not just products and services, but brands—whether that’s yours or your competitors.
- Measurability. As is the case with most forms of digital marketing, the Google Ads platform provides quantifiable results so you can get a clear read on which ads, offers, keywords, and landing pages are performing best.
- Multiple formats. While we typically associate search ads with Google Ads, there are lots of other formats to work with, and each ad channel plays a different key role in your marketing strategy.
- ROI. The nature of the Google Ads auction says that you pay the lowest possible price for a click on your ad. This is because the formula for your cost per click factors in the maximum bid of the ad that appears below yours, plus one cent. And, of course, you’re only paying when someone clicks on your ad. PPC, on average, returns $2 for every $1 spent, and Google (so take this with a grain of salt) has gone so far as to say that Google Ads actually returns $8.
- Low costs are not guaranteed. Building on that last point above. Paying the lowest possible price for a click on your ad doesn’t necessitate a low price. You’re paying the lowest price relative to your competitors, and some keywords can be pretty expensive. Plus, it’s no secret that Google Ads is one of the best marketing channels. The more people that use Google Ads, the more competitive and expensive it becomes.
- Upkeep. How much you pay for your campaigns depends on a number of factors—one of the main ones being how effective you are at optimizing your ads. Properly managing a Google Ads account involves structuring your account properly, doing your keyword research, and constantly monitoring and adjusting as the data accumulates.
- Automation doesn’t mean hands-free. Yes, there may be a lot of machine learning going on on Google’s end, but you still need to know how to work with automation and with the new information it provides. And for the most part, auto-applying recommendations isn’t, well, recommended (by us).
- Learning curve. The evolution of the Google Ads platform is a bit of a paradox—the more features and capabilities it comes out with to make the platform easier to use, the harder and more confusing it can be to use—or at least to learn. So while there are many great free Google Ads training courses, you can’t escape the learning curve. Plus, so many useful features does leave you more vulnerable to mistakes in Google Ads.
Factors that impact the cost of Google Ads
You can get a more detailed analysis of these factors in our post on how much Google Ads costs, but here is the quick rundown.
- Industry. Because consumers have different buying behaviors based on the product or service they’re seeking, each industry has a different set of average click-through rates and conversion rates—which results in different cost per click and cost per lead profiles. But keep in mind also that many industries that have higher costs also have a higher value associated with a conversion.
View our Google Ads benchmarks report here.
- Customer lifecycle. Similarly, customer lifecycles vary by industry as well. Some buyer journeys are one day, some are several months, or even years.
- Economic trends. Whether it’s inflation, a pandemic, a supply shortage, or something else, these trends cause consumer behavior shifts which impact your Google Ads results.
- Other channels. Other channels like SEO and social can improve your brand awareness and indirectly impact the effectiveness of your Google Ads.
- Account management. As mentioned above, whether Google Ads is worth it for you will largely depend on how attentive you are to your account. Those who perform regular audits, keep their ads and landing pages relevant, stay on top of platform updates, and continually test and make data-driven optimizations are the ones who see success.
Are Google Ads worth it for your business? How to find out
As noted, the above is just the basic, surface-level pros and cons of using Google Ads. Now we’re going to dive a bit deeper into these factors. And as also noted above, we can’t provide a blanket answer for all businesses, but the considerations and tips below can serve as a guide in helping you determine whether Google Ads is actually worth it for your business specifically.
- What do you want Google to do for you?
- What is your profitability scenario?
- What are your startup costs?
Consideration #1: What do you want Google to do for you?
We need to start with the end in mind because there are many things Google Ads can do and there are also, decidedly, things it cannot.
What Google Ads cannot do:
- Guarantee sales or leads.
- Guarantee the sales or leads you get will be profitable.
- Steal your competitors’ customers.
- Put your ads on your competitors’ websiteS.
- Get your site to rank higher organically.
The first three are by far the most common things I hear people want Google Ads to do, and it can do those things, but it’s not guaranteed. The fourth depends on some outside factors. The last, it absolutely cannot do.
What Google Ads can do:
- Help you show up for people searching for your brand, products, or services.
- Help you show up for people searching for your competitors.
- Get in front of prospective clients via audience and persona targeting.
- Promote your physical store to those in close vicinity to it.
So let’s assume you are in the camp that has realistic expectations and you want to use Google Ads to do something in one of these groups. Now let’s get into whether or not it’s actually worth trying these tactics.
Consideration #2: What is your profitability scenario?
No matter what your goals are with Google Ads, there are a number of profitability scenarios you can encounter. Your given individual case is impacted by a wide range of factors, some you can impact, some you can’t. Things like industry competition and costs per click, website conversion rate, etc. are examples of some of those factors. No matter what, you’ll likely end up in one of the situations below. Depending on the scenario you find yourself in, you might be able to easily identify if Google Ads is “worth it” or not:
- What it means: In this scenario, you’re making money directly from Google that’s more than you’re spending on the platform.
- Is Google Ads worth it? Yep. This is a no-brainer.
- Tip: Don’t forget to count in any costs for management (whether internal, external, or your own time) but likely you’ll want to keep using Google if it’s making you money.
- What it means: Maybe there are some issues with tracking or your attribution process is a bit murky, but you can tell Google Ads is making money because if you turn it off…you stop making as much money.
- Is Google Ads worth it? Likely yes, even if you can’t see it directly in the numbers on the platform.
- Tip: Clean up your tracking. It’s not always easy, but resolving your conversion tracking hangups is essential for not just getting a clear read on whether Google Ads is worth it for you, but also on getting the data you need to make performance-enhancing and budget-saving optimizations.
- What it means: Here we’re making as much money as we’re spending on the platform.
- Is Google Ads worth it? This is where you make a judgment call:
- Is the additional value helping your company move product?
- Are your margins high enough that even though ad costs are breakeven, the sale on the whole ROI positive?
- Is it worth the additional work for fulfillment?
- Do you typically have return customers? I.e. could this first break-even sale end up being highly profitable given the LTV of the user?
- Tip: Just make sure you’re incorporating all total costs associated and not selling yourself short because it’s not clearly profitable through the platform alone.
- What it means: For these two groups, the answer lies more in what your desired outcome of Google Ads.
- Is Google Ads worth it? Well…
- Do you want to make money only? Then if you’re not doing that, Google Ads might not be worth it for you.
- Do you want be sure to show up for local searches only? Then depending on how unprofitable you are, it might still make sense for you to advertise on Google to have the brand awareness.
- Are you trying to conquest competitors? These campaigns are nearly always unprofitable (directly and many times indirectly as well), so as long as you’re OK with the loss in funds for this conquesting, Google Ads still might be a viable option for you.
- Tip: Targeting competitor keywords can get expensive. Check out Joe Martinez’s series on lower-cost alternatives here.
Just as I cannot answer whether Google Ads is worth it for any given company, I also cannot tell you what your profitability scenario will be. The only way to find out is to start and see where you end up.
Consideration #3: What are your startup costs?
Aside from the financial, brand, and long-term implications of advertising on Google, it’s also important to calculate the upstart costs associated with an account into your “worth it” calculation. No matter how much you bootstrap, there will be upstart costs. They may just not be as monetarily clear right off the bat.
Here are some common scenarios to think through and some pros/cons to figure out which might be right for you.
If you DIY
If you plan to run your Google Ads account by yourself, your start-up costs will be mostly focused on time and performance learning curve. Google Ads is a complex platform and although Google tries to boast that it’s for the small business owner who can do it all, it can very quickly get out of hand if you don’t know what you’re doing.
That’s not to scare you away so much as to give you a healthy understanding of the time and effort it takes to ensure you’re not wasting your own money. Remember, all ads on Google cost money, so if your advertising skills aren’t up to par to ensure you’re driving quality traffic, you’ll literally be wasting your own time and money.
If you’re looking to get started with Google Ads, we have some resources to help you out:
If you hire someone external
In this case, you won’t be using your own time to learn and set up your campaigns, someone else will do that for you. Instead, you’ll have a higher monetary cost upfront to pay that person to create your campaigns and manage them for you. There will still be a performance learning curve, but you’ll be in the hands of an expert (assuming you vetted them well) and you’ll be able to spend your time doing the things you’re best at.
Just make sure you vet them by asking all the right questions first.
If you hire someone internally
You also have the option to hire someone internally to run your campaigns for you. Depending on the size of your business and needs, this might be out of the realm of possibility for some, but others might find it appealing. Especially if this new marketing hire can run Google Ads campaigns as well as fulfill other marketing needs.
My only caution here is to ensure you’re not overloading that individual. Too many times I’ve seen a company hire someone to do “marketing” only to overload them with the job responsibilities of 2-5 people, essentially making it impossible for this person to succeed. For this option, you’ll have the monetary costs of hiring someone and their salary plus benefits as well as the performance upstart phase.
Is running Google Ads worth it?
Overall, there are lots of factors that can determine if Google Ads is “worth it” for you. I would venture that nearly every business can get some form of benefit from it, but I also want you to fully understand all the components that go into starting, building, and maintaining a healthy Google Ads strategy.
This article was co-written by Kristen McCormick and Michelle Morgan.