Smart or Stupid Campaigns?

Understanding Whether or Not Google’s Smart Campaigns Are Your Best Option

There’s no denying that PPC management is hard. Creating an account is hard work; creating campaigns is hard work; optimizing is hard work. 

In 2017, Google came up with a way to make it all easier.

They introduced Smart Display campaigns,  which essentially automate a lot of what you used to have to do manually. Smart Display campaigns use a learning algorithm to discover what audiences and placements are most likely to drive conversions for the campaign, and then serve ads to those users/locations. Advertisers only have to set a target CPA and let Google do the rest. 

Smart Shopping campaigns were introduced in 2018, and these function similarly to Smart Display campaigns, except they were created with Ecommerce business owners in mind. Vendors set a campaign objective, and a budget, and the automations do the rest. 

While they seem like a no-brainer (what PPC pro doesn’t want to take more tasks off of their plate), Smart campaigns aren’t the right solution for every account. “Work smarter, not harder” is a good rule of thumb for life, except when automations cause you to miss out on opportunities you could have if you put in the effort. You need to carefully weigh the pros and cons before deciding if manual campaign creation is going to result in more conversions and revenue for your business! 

Smart Display Campaigns

How they work:

Smart Display campaigns automate bidding, targeting, and ad creation in order to generate the conditions with the highest likelihood of conversion. You enter a target CPA, as well as basic building blocks like headlines, descriptions, logos, and images, and Smart Display will make campaigns for you based on their algorithm. (You do have the option of running manual campaigns and smart campaigns at the same time.) If you use Smart Display, you can access an Assets Report, which will show you how your creatives are performing and let you know when the algorithm is done learning your account performance so it can optimize. These campaigns do require that you have at least 50 conversions on the Display Network or 100 conversions on the Search Network in the last 30 days. 


Efficiency: Instead of spending time laboring to create the campaign, you get one ready-made for you, and can put your time into other efforts. 

-Ability to attract additional customers earlier: Smart display campaigns have a cool way of targeting customers earlier in the buying process than you would think to do so, simply because the data and intelligence available is accessible to this tool. For example, there may be a correlation between customers who search for one item and then for another down the road. You wouldn’t know this, and may not suspect it, especially if the items seem to have nothing to do with each other (Google gives the example of office supplies and sparkling water), but Smart Display can find those keywords and targets those terms in order to increase sales. 

-Retargeting options: Smart Display campaigns automatically target people who have already visited your website. 

-Quick & simple setup: Compared to regular campaigns, Smart Display campaigns provide the user with a much more user-friendly construction method and an easier way to track progress. 

-Potential 20% increase in conversions: Google reports that on average, these campaigns lead to 20% more conversions. That’s pretty impressive, for automation. 


Only partial control of creatives: You give total control up when you create campaigns with Smart Display. They choose what your ad will look like and say based on information you give them, but you can’t adjust the ads themselves. 

No manual bidding: If you notice an opportunity to adjust your bids that would increase your conversions, you can’t change bidding; you have to wait for Smart Display to realize it and make the change. It could happen later than you would have tried it, or never. Also, if you have certain days of the week or seasons where you need to adjust bidding, you can’t. 

Lack of ability to segment: You can’t segment your campaigns by delivery method or device, and you can’t create device specific campaigns…and if you know how much we champion segmentation, you know that’s a big no-no for us. 

No customized audiences: While Smart Display claims to get more customers for you, you can’t target specific groups of users that you can with regular campaigns (like people who visited a certain landing page, or people who converted on high-priced items). 


Especially if you’re relatively new to Google Ads, and are overwhelmed by all of the options available to you, Smart Campaigns can be a smart starting point or supplemental tool. But they’ll never help you realize your real potential as a marketer, because you simply don’t have enough control over your account. You are giving that control to Google (who wants to spend your money) in exchange for ease and comfort. In some cases, this may be fine, but on the whole, you need to be able to take a granular, data-driven approach to optimization.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Smart Shopping Campaigns

How they work:

Smart Shopping campaigns, as we mentioned, function almost identically to Smart Display, except they pull most of their information from the existing product feed in your Merchant Center account, and then use automated bidding and ad placement to promote your products and business across networks (per Google). You set a budget (and a target ROAS), and specify a country, and then Smart Shopping takes care of the rest. Ads will be shown in places like the Google Search Network, the Google Display Network, YouTube, and Gmail. Before you can enable Smart Shopping campaigns, you have to have the proper conversion tracking and have a remarketing list of at least 100 users. You can create up to 100 of these campaigns. 


Efficiency/quick & simple setup: Just like with Smart Display, these campaigns reduce the amount of hours needed to create and optimize campaigns. If you’re a small Ecommerce business owner with a packed schedule, this can be a game changer – it’s just easier. 

-Potential 20% increase in conversions: Google reports that on average, these campaigns also lead to 20% more conversions. 


No negative keywords: If an irrelevant query is eating your budget, you can’t manually fix it. 

No product control: There is no way to sell more of one product, which is inconvenient if you need to get rid of inventory. 

Inability to see how much traffic is coming from new customers: There is no attribution, so you can’t see how many new customers you’re reaching, and you can’t optimize for them. 

No ad scheduling:  This may not be as big of a deal for you if you run an Ecommerce business, but it can definitely affect your budget. And you don’t have the ability to segment by device, either. 

-Broad location targeting: You can’t specific a city or region. Yikes. 


Because Ecommerce is more complicated than regular search & display advertising, it may be more tempting to implement Smart Shopping Campaigns. But because it’s more complicated, you need to have as much control as possible over optimization, and that’s something that you lose entirely when you run these campaigns. You can’t change anything based on real-time data, and you can’t control where your spend is allocated. While you should always, always test every assumption, Smart Shopping Campaigns seem to not be as smart as Smart Display campaigns are.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        


Do you have any questions about Smart Campaigns, or about automation in general? Talk to us in the comments or send us a message! Empirical360 has managed  incredibly complicated PPC accounts, and produced millions of dollars in revenue. We’re Ecommerce experts, too, and we have the case studies to prove it! Get in touch with us to find out about how we can take your business’s online presence to the next level. 

Shea Antonucci - Author

Director of Content Marketing

Shea is an expert content writer and is a classic literary nerd! She loves writing highly engaging content and has a knack for making it convert!