Are Google Ads Helping or Hurting Your Brand?

Are Google Ads helping or hurting your brand awareness? A major study by Google indicates that advertisers receive a significant awareness lift from Google Ads advertising. Google Ads is considered a direct response advertising medium, and a great one at that. But as we’ve said before, direct response and awareness advertising don’t mix.

Google’s assertion (which hasn’t been updated since the 2014 study) is that search advertising has a “powerful effect on branding” by increasing top-of-mind awareness and unaided brand awareness. This certainly may be true, but only in a limited sense.

The issues are two-fold:

  1. What works best in Ads copy is probably more detrimental to your brand than it is beneficial.
  2. There’s a big difference between name awareness and brand awareness.​

Why Google Ads Can Actually Hurt Your Brand

To understand this, we have to first look at the game that Google plays with quality score. When you run a Google Ads campaign, Google rewards you for offering a relevant, helpful ad to their users by discounting the cost per click for each keyword and campaign.

​While we can’t see the inner workings of this algorithm, Google offers an indicator of how relevant and helpful they consider your ads for each keyword you bid on. This indicator is called your “quality score.” If your quality score is high, you get a discount. If your quality score is low, not only do you not get a discount, but you might even get a penalty. So advertisers are encouraged to select keywords and write ads that produce a high quality score.

The details of the algorithm are unknown, but we know having a high click-through rate (CTR) increases your quality score, and in doing so reduces the cost of your advertising. This encourages marketers to use words that drive clicks like “Free” and “Discount” and incentives like “Save up to 60%”. If your competitors are aggressive in getting searchers to click, then you have to be, too, if you want to keep your advertising costs reasonable. This aggressive copywriting then associates your brand with a price-based offer, with no room to add any more messages to express your market position or other brand attributes.

The Difference Between Name Awareness and Brand Awareness

Google should have said in its study that search advertising increases awareness of a brand name or URL. That, I’m sure, is true. It’s also been proven that over time increased exposure to a brand name will create an affinity for the brand name, even if there is no experience to back up those positive feelings.

But there’s a lot more to your brand than a name or even a positive sentiment. What does your company stand for? What differentiates you in the marketplace? How do customers feel when they use your services? These brand vectors are what drive associations beyond, “I need a widget…Company X sells widgets,” to “I need a widget…I should call Company X first because…”


The bottom line is that in no way does search advertising replace awareness advertising. You can’t decrease your awareness spend because you increased your search spend. In some cases, you may actually need to increase awareness spend, especially if the offers in your search ads don’t align with your brand attributes.

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