How to Differentiate Google Ads and Google Smart Campaigns

You’ve decided to advertise on Google. Great! Do you choose Google Ads or Google Smart Campaigns (formerly Google AdWords Express)? We discuss the similarities and differences of these platforms in this blog!


You’ve decided to advertise on Google. Great!

Now comes an important second decision — do you choose Google Ads or Google Smart Campaigns (formerly Google AdWords Express)?

In this article, we explore the major differences between the two platforms, as well as their main advantages and disadvantages.

The Major Differences

Let’s start with what separates Google Ads from Google Smart Campaigns. The short answer: control.

With Google Ads, you have control over your entire campaign. From ad text, ad formats, keyword selection, bidding, schedules, location targets, conversion tracking, budgets; in other words, everything!

In Google Smart Campaigns, however, you set up your account, build a single ad, select your business’s category, set your budget and that’s it!

You can see what keywords Google chose for you, but you cannot adjust them (match type or bidding). You can select your targets and other basic variables (basic advertising goals, ad schedule) but not much else.  

Time commitment is also a major difference between Google Ads and Google Smart Campaigns.

Because of the control over your campaign that is available with Google Ads, the platform requires consistent attention and optimization. There is no such time commitment when it comes to Google Smart Campaigns.

Due to limited controllables, Google Smart Campaigns only need a few minutes of your time to review the basic data points provided by the platform. Smart Campaigns is more of a "set it and forget it" platform because of this.  

The final major difference between Google Ads and Google Smart Campaigns is the alignment of your business goals with the goals of your advertising campaign.

Google Ads provide campaigns with a few standard goal types, as well as the ability to track leads (phone calls, form submissions, product purchases, etc.). With Google Smart Campaigns, your goals are limited to a small number of presets, which may or may not align with the goals you have set for your business.
The conversion tracking setup for each platform also plays a key role in this area. Custom conversion tracking is available with Google Ads, but not Google Smart Campaigns. You have more control over what is a verified lead/conversion with Google Ads.  

Google Ads Advantages

With Google Ads, you have several ads types available (text, display, video, local, etc.), as well as a myriad of additional options for your ads (extensions) that can help drive more conversions.  

Google Ads provides a robust data reporting system with the option to even create custom metrics. This helps align your campaign goals with your business goals, as the data points you want to collect are readily available.

A campaign within Google Ads allows for several keyword types, specific keyword selection and negative keyword optimization. This means you’ll be able to know exactly what you’re going to show for, as well as control what you won’t.

The use of keyword-specific bidding also allows you to optimize your Google Ads campaign to reach customers who are using the same high-converting keywords and limit your exposure to searches that don’t generate valuable traffic.  

Google Ads allows you to set what a conversion is through preset/default conversion metrics or through goals and events you have set up on your website with Google Analytics.

Again, this is a way that Google Ads more firmly adheres to your business goals. The machine learning within Google Ads uses conversion metrics to adjust your campaign to meet your conversion goals. 

Google Ads Disadvantages 

With the above advantages of Google Ads, it may be hard to find disadvantages. However, there are two main disadvantages to Google Ads.  

First, there is the complexity of the platform. Setting up a campaign with the proper structure and metric definitions is a complicated process in and of itself. It requires expertise and experience to set a campaign properly.

Second, there is less automation within Google Ads. While the platform does utilize machine learning and has rolled out several automated rule options in the past several years, a campaign on the Google Ads platform requires expertise from someone who understands the platform and it’s several data points. 

There are several automated systems within Google Ads, and knowing which ones to pull is key to profitable campaigns. 

Google Smart Campaigns Advantages

The main advantages you have with Google Smart Campaigns are the reverse of the disadvantages you have with a Google Ads.

Your setup time is usually around 15 minutes and requires simple data entry about your business and the products or services you provide. It is not a complicated process at all.  
With Google Smart Campaigns, you also do not need to spend time managing your campaigns, as Google does this for you. Since you have very little control over your actual campaign, you’re relying on Google to spend your budget as it sees fit. The overall time requirement is up to you, and how much of your day/week/month you will set aside to check in on your ads.  

Google Smart Campaigns Disadvantages 

As you can probably guess, the disadvantages of Google Smart Campaigns are the flip side of the advantages of a Google Ads Campaign.  

With Google Smart Campaigns, you are limited to a single ad type that will be present across the various delivery options (search and display).

You also only get one ad. However, Google does update your ads automatically based on any optimizations you make to your Google My Business listing. Because of the limited ad types, the ability to A/B test in Google Smart Campaigns is not available. 

Another disadvantage of Google Smart Campaigns is the limited data available about your performers.

You are confined to only a few main data points (impressions, clicks, click-through-rate and conversions). This is due to the limited control you have over your ads. You’ll be able to see surface-level data like clicks and impressions, but there is nothing you can do about other than read the data.

Since Google is the one managing the campaign through automation, these limited data points are all that make sense for Google to provide.  

Your keyword choice and optimization opportunities are limited to the categories specified upon signup/on your Google My Business profile, and the search terms Google considers to be related to them.

You have no control over negative keywords, keyword types (Google defaults to Broad Match) or bidding on specific keywords. You will show up for a lot of searches and get a large volume of impressions, but very few of them will be valuable or reach consumers who are more likely to move through their buying cycle to make a purchase. 

I’ve mentioned several times that conversion tracking between Google Ads and Google Smart Campaigns vary greatly.

By using Google Smart Campaigns, you are limited to “verified calls” and “map actions.” These metrics are valuable, but they do not offer the same kind of conversion tracking that Google Ads offers.

If your business goals are not in line with those metrics, it is very hard to determine the success of Google Smart Campaigns.

Another issue lies within the “verified calls” metric. While you can see how many times someone called your business from the ads, there is little information available to optimize around that conversion.

This goes back to keyword control. You could have a large volume of “verified calls” that come from irrelevant keywords and are not from valuable customers. Google Smart Campaigns will use those irrelevant and low-value conversions to optimize your campaign further, leading to decreased results.  


The differences between Google Ads and Google Smart Campaigns boil down to how much control you have over your advertisements on Google.

If you are okay with giving up control to Google’s automated systems, and just want to get blanket exposure (think billboards), then Google Smart Campaigns may be the right choice for you. But if you want to control who sees your ads, interacts with them and chooses your business, then Google Ads is the right choice.

You don’t need to hire someone internally to manage the campaign or take time out of your busy day to make sure your ads are performing well.

At RevLocal, our digital marketing strategists do that for you. Our expertise with Google Ads and your expertise with your business and customers will lead to successful campaigns that you won’t be able to get with Google Smart Campaigns.

Here is a chart about Google Ads and Google Smart Campaigns for your reference!

Join the Club

Subscribe to our email list to get the latest digital marketing content delivered to your inbox each week!