Google Discovery Ads Demystified

google discovery ads

Google Discovery Ads launched in 2019, and they looked different than any other campaign type.  Google has a lot of properties where it can show ads, so it wasn’t a big surprise that it launched Discovery Ads with the goal of monetizing its inventory. Discovery campaigns are highly visual and even though Google says it can boost sales, it;s mostly used for reaching new audiences and doing brand awareness campaigns. Both of which rarely translates into a lot of sales. At least directly.

In this blog post, I’ll explore the key features of Google Discovery Ads, their benefits, and how to create and optimize your own Discovery Ads campaigns to achieve the best results.


What are Google Discovery Ads?

Google Discovery Ads are a type of native ad format that allows advertisers to serve visually rich ads to users across three main Google properties: Google Discover, YouTube, and Gmail. Since no one likes ads and most people quickly develop ad blindness, Discovery ads are designed to match the look and feel of the content surrounding them, making them less intrusive and more engaging for users.


According to Google:

“Thanks to Google’s audience and customer intent signals, this campaign type helps you deliver highly visual, inspiring personalized ad experiences to people who are ready to discover and engage with your brand…”


Usually Googles description of their own product sounds very attractive. But let’s get to know the three properties I mentioned above.

Google Discover: If you have Google app, you know what it is. It’s basically a content feed, available on the Google app and mobile homepage. The content is based on users interests and browsing history. Discovery Ads appear within this feed, seamlessly blending with other content.
google discover


YouTube: Discovery Ads are displayed on YouTube’s home feed, watch pages, and in the ‘Up Next’ section, reaching users as they browse and watch videos. I’m sure you have seen plenty of ads while watching your favorite videos.


youtube home page ads


Gmail: Google has 1.8 billion people using Gmail. Billion, with a B. Every 5th person in the world. Naturally they want to show ads there. Discovery Ads appear in the Promotions and Social tabs, allowing advertisers to reach users as they check their emails.


gmail ads

Key Features of Google Discovery Ads

Just by reading about Discovery ads no doubt you already see the key features they have. But let’s go over the main ones.


Visual Focus: Google Discovery Ads rely heavily on high-quality images and engaging headlines to capture users’ attention. This can be a downside if you don’t have those assets. As you will have to find a designer and produce everything from scratch. Not all business operate with high-quality engaging images, right?  This visual focus makes them more appealing and noticeable compared to traditional text-based ads. We all hear a saying that image is worth a thousands words.


Audience Targeting: Discovery Ads use advanced audience targeting options, such as custom intent, in-market, and affinity audiences, to reach users who are most likely to be interested in your products or services. This is basically Display campaign settings. You can choose an audience you want to target and create specific, yet engaging ads that will be placed on the mentioned Google properties. What I like is that you can also target your existing audience. And this opens up an additional way to bring back customers who left.


Automation and Machine Learning: Classic Google, adding machine learning where it can. Don’t get me wrong some of the features based on machine learning are good. For example, the new CPA bidding is a lot better than it used to be. However, even though Google’s machine learning algorithms optimizes your ads, you can’t choose any other bidding method. In fact, there are other things not available when you choose Discovery ads:

  • Manual bid strategies
  • Delivery method
  • Device targeting
  • Placement targeting (including exclusions)
  • Frequency capping
  • Ad rotation
  • Contextual targeting


For me personally, that’s a downside. I’m suspicious of all the features that work like a black box. Every business is different, and the approach to attract sales should be different. How should I customize my efforts if I can’t remove the device I don’t want to target? This limits my possibilities.

Basically you give Google your budget and an audience and it will take care of the rest. I shouldn’t even tell you that you should thread carefully and test everything.

Benefits of Google Discovery Ads

According to Google there are three main benefits of using Discovery Ads: visually rich ads, higher engagement, and automated targeting options. Well, the last one is not a benefit for me. All campaigns have automated targeting options, including manual as well. However, the first two are correct. Bellow I listed several of my own, some of them match Googles.


Increased Reach: Across all the properties Google owns, there are billions of users. With these numbers across Google Discover, YouTube, and Gmail, Discovery Ads can significantly expand your brand’s reach and visibility. Sure, it won’t be cheap, but you can get your ads in front of people who otherwise would have never found you. To do that, you need amazing visual, which brings us tot he next point.


Enhanced User Experience: By blending seamlessly with the surrounding content and focusing on visual appeal, Discovery Ads provide a non-intrusive and engaging experience for users. The key word here is “non-intrusive”. People can smell an ad a mile away. Here you have a chance to engage with users without them knowing it’s an ad.


Improved Ad Performance: As I mentioned before this needs to be tested. It won’t work for all businesses no matter how “smart” the algorithm is. Google’s machine learning capabilities are great, no doubt about it. But don’t forget that in some ways it is biased towards Google. Obviously, I don’t know this 100%, but from all the campaigns I ran. Most of them did not improve the bottom line. I would not recommend runing this campaign with a small budget or expecting conversions. This is more of a branding type of thing.


Detailed Reporting: I like when I can clearly see my campaign performance. Google does provide good reporting for all campaigns. Discovery Ads are not an exception. You can see your performance summary and check if the campaign drives conversions. Here’s a screenshot from Discovery ads campaign, when I tested it. I even got 10 conversions. But considering that I had 4.5k clicks, 10 conversions seems very low.

discovery campaigns statistics

Creating Google Discovery Ads

I will assume you have Google Ads account and have created at least one campaign. I also assume, that you’re using Expert mode in the account. If not, you need to create at least one campaigns and then switch to Expert mode in the settings.


Back to Discovery Ads. Click to create new campaign, select “without guidance”, and then bellow Discovery.


new discovery ads


After you click on Discovery, you will have an option to select your conversions (please create one if you don’t have it), and enter campaign name. Naming your campaigns are important, but they do not impact performance. Just enter the name, that will inform you what actually you are advertising. Don’t leave the default name.


Next, you will have to choose targeting options such as country and language. I won’t get into details here, as this is pretty straightforward. Let’s move on to bidding and budget.



You won’t have a lot of bidding options as they are all automated. If you have conversions set up, select Conversions. As for the daily budget, I would recommend starting at least with $50. I would go a lot higher with several hundred, but you can start with lower budget and adjust later on. I told you that this is a quite expensive campaign.


Then we move on to the most important part – audience.


If you have already created audiences, then they will be available as soon as you click add an audience. Otherwise, you will have to create one. But it’s OK as you can do it within a campaign. But what you should have before is the idea of what audience you need to target. So make sure you think about that before you start creating Discovery campaign.


And the last step, which is the second most important part, are the ads. Similar to display, these ads contain images and texts. You can input several headlines and descriptions. Bellow I have added an iPhone 14 link with some images for you to see how it looks.



You can upload several images and Google will adjust it’s size. The more images you add the better. Make sure they are different, not only highlighting the product but also showing emotions using the product (if possible, of course).

One cool thing is that you can preview how your ad looks on different properties (Gmail, Youtube, Discover). Just click the drop down next to Preview.

And you’re done. After you launch your campaign, it might take some time for the ads to be reviewed, but if you did not violate Googles’ policies, you should be fine.

Advanced Audience Targeting Strategies

Effective audience targeting is essential for the success of your Google Discovery Ads campaigns. By narrowing down your target audience, you can ensure that your ads are being shown to users who are most likely to engage with your content and convert.


Here are some advanced targeting strategies to consider:

Custom Audiences: I love custom audiences. They recently made some changes, but I think it’s for the good. Use custom audiences to target users who have shown recent interest in specific products, services, or topics related to your business. You can create custom intent audiences by adding keywords and URLs related to your offering. You can create any type of audience you want and it’s a huge advantage. Trust me.

My personal favorite is using competitor websites to create these audiences. Takes a while to test them out, but once you find that one competitor whose users are willing to switch it’s a gold mine.


Remarketing: I’m sure you are familiar with remarketing. You can target users who have previously interacted with your website or app. Before running Discovery Ads, you should set up Display campaign with remarketing. It’s a great opportunity to drive sales. Back to Discoveryt campaigns with remarketing audience. This can include users who have visited specific pages, added products to their cart, or completed a purchase. Remarketing allows you to re-engage with users who have shown interest in your brand, increasing the likelihood of conversion.

Ad Creative Best Practices

Discovery Ads rely heavily on images. I think you got that by now. You either have them, because you use high-quality images on your website or in other ads, or you will have to make them. Don’t save money here. The success of your Google Discovery Ads campaign relies on the quality and relevance of your ad creatives.


Here are some best practices to follow when designing your ads:

Use High-Quality Images: Choose images that are visually striking and represent your brand, product, or service effectively. Ensure that your images meet Google’s specifications and are properly optimized for different devices and screen sizes. Don’t forget about Google Ads policy.


Write Compelling Headlines: If the headline does not grab users attention, then the rest is a waste. Craft headlines that grab the user’s attention and highlight the unique value proposition of your offering. Keep your headlines concise and focused on the benefits your product or service provides.


Include Clear Calls-to-Action: Make sure users know what you want them to do. Encourage users to take the desired action, such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or downloading an app, by including a clear and compelling call-to-action (CTA) in your ad copy.


Test Different Creatives: You should test everything, always. Create multiple ad variations with different images, headlines, and CTAs to identify the best-performing combinations. Use A/B testing to compare different ad creatives and optimize your campaign based on performance data.

Ongoing Optimization Tips

I say that a lot, and will repeat again – there no campaigns in Google that you can set and forget. So, to get the most out of your Google Discovery Ads campaigns, it’s essential to continuously monitor and optimize your campaign performance.


Here are some tips for ongoing optimization:

Analyze Performance Data: Regularly review your campaign performance data to identify areas for improvement. Pay close attention to metrics that are important to your business. Usually it will be conversions. But you might look at click-through rate (CTR), cost per acquisition (CPA), and return on ad spend (ROAS). The last one is quite important. Make sure you’re to spending more than you earning.


Refine Audience Targeting: Since you can create a lot of audiences you should monitor how they are performing. Continuously evaluate the effectiveness of your audience targeting and make adjustments as needed. You may need to expand or narrow down your target audience based on campaign performance data.


Update Ad Creatives: This is no brainer. Visuals are your bread and butter with Discovery ads. Regularly refresh your ad creatives to prevent ad fatigue and maintain user engagement. Use performance data to identify which creative elements resonate most with your target audience and update your ads accordingly.


Utilize Seasonal Opportunities: Adjust your campaign strategy to take advantage of seasonal trends, holidays, and special events. Create tailored ad creatives and offers to capitalize on these opportunities and drive increased engagement.


Optimize Landing Pages: As you know everything just starts with a click, but ends with your landing page. You have to make sure that when users enters your website they have everything they need to perform a desired action. Ensure that your landing pages are optimized for conversions and provide a seamless user experience. Make sure your landing pages are mobile-friendly, have fast loading times, and feature clear CTAs.


Implement Conversion Tracking: You would be surprised how many accounts don’t use conversion tracking. It’s probably the biggest mistake you can make. Set up conversion tracking in Google Ads to accurately measure the success of your campaigns. By tracking conversions, you can gain valuable insights into user behavior and optimize your campaigns based on data-driven decisions.


Google Discovery Ads can be an effective and visually appealing way to reach your target audience across various Google properties. It’s not going to be easy, nor cheap to find a formula that works. That’s why only bigger business start with Discovery campaigns. And it’s not only the daily budget. Maintaining all the creative assets requires time and resources. You either have to have a designer or find a freelancer. This also increases the overall spend.


I would not recommend to start with Discovery Ads as your first campaign. Start with Search ads then move on to remarketing. After that, try display ads which offer more targeting options.


And only then you can look into Discovery Ads. Be ready to spend more time than you do on Search ads. Leveraging advanced audience targeting strategies, creating engaging ad creatives, and continuously optimizing your campaigns, will require some time. But you can maximize the potential of this powerful advertising platform. Stay proactive in monitoring your campaign performance and adjusting your strategy as needed to drive brand awareness, customer acquisition, and conversions for your business.

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