Gmail Ads: the what, the why, the how



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Last Updated

Christie Clark, Marketing Manager

6 Minutes

09 Oct 2015

15 May 2024

Gmail Ads (formally known as Gmail Sponsored Promotions) are a form of high impact display advertising that offers both awareness and direct response functionality via the email channel. As Google puts it, they are “part email marketing, part display campaign extension”.

Although Gmail Ads have been around as a Google Beta for the last two years, the platform has seen many improvements during this period and is now open to all advertisers though Google AdWords.

As with pure display, social and other upper funnel advertising, Gmail Ads are aimed at users who are not explicitly looking for what you offer. This is paradoxical to search whereby users outline their intent very clearly via search queries. As such, it is important to align targeting and creative carefully to ensure your ads are only shown to those users most likely to be interested in your product/service.

Ad Formats

Ad formats are unique and will only show in personal Gmail boxes via the promotions tab. Ads are comprised of two components: a collapsed, teaser ad and an expandable ad format.

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The collapsed ad has a 25 character limit for the headline and a 100 character limit for the main body of text. Images need to be 50×50.

Ad copy needs to act as a hook to encourage users to click and learn more. It’s essential to be clear, highlighting USPs, pricing and any special offers.

Gmail Ads work on a CPC pricing format but advertisers will only pay when a user clicks on the teaser ad. Even if the ad is opened into the expandable format and a user clicks again and navigates through to the site, there are no additional costs.

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Expanded ads have a maximum 600×1000 ad format and can contain ad copy, images, form fields, videos and phone numbers.

Top Tip – Avoid using the expandable format as simply a larger version of the teaser ad. Instead, consider this to be a mini landing page. Use the space to really highlight your offer/proposition so the user (who has already incurred a CPC for the advertiser) is encouraged to click through to the site.

As with social advertising, Gmail Ads suffer from ad fatigue, so ensure the creative is refreshed at least once a month. Use the reporting suite to ascertain which elements of previous ads have worked well and build on that for the next creative idea.

Why should you be using Gmail Ads?

On average Gmail Ads have open rates of up to 2.5%, with the majority of advertisers reporting campaign performance greater than prospecting display through the Google Display Network.

The great thing about Gmail Ads is that they can be utilised across all stages of the buying funnel and can achieve a variety of different marketing objectives such as:

Build awareness – classic brand awareness, helping your customers recognise and remember your brand and product range.

Influence consideration – customised audience messaging allows you to capture interest from users in the middle of the funnel moving towards the point of conversions.

Drive sales – drive already interested users to your product pages, allowing them to complete a purchase. Gmail Ads give you the ability to show multiple products simultaneously using a product showcase template.

Grow loyalty & retention – build on existing customer relationships by sending promotions, discount codes, free delivery or letting them know about a new product line.

As with paid social, Gmail Ads are about more than just driving traffic and sales. There are vital engagement metrics that need to be taken into consideration when optimising and measuring success. These include: Gmail saves, forward and clicks.

Targeting options

The targeting options for Gmail Ads are similar to those available via the GDN (Google Display Network) Below is a brief overview:

Age / Gender – usual demographic targeting. Ensure you review Analytics so Gmail Ads are targeting only the top performing age/gender groups.

Geo / Language – target specific locations and languages. Once again, have a look in GA and see if you can see any particularly high converting locations. You can apply up-weighted bids for these areas to create a more optimised campaign.

Device – mobile targeting and bid options for reaching customers on the go. Ensure you split out mobile and desktop and target them separately (for cost control, creative and mobile specific CTAs).

Topics / Affinity – target users who are interested in specific topics and interests. It’s best practice to split these different forms of targeting out into separate ad groups, making analysis and bid control easier.

Contextual targeting – you will have the ability to target people based on the keywords contained in their emails. It’s important to be more strategic with your keyword selection compared to standard search and display keyword targeting as your users might be using a variety of different ‘slang’ terms to describe your products and services when writing to someone via email. Make sure these ‘slang’ terms are housed in different ad groups so that you can easily monitor their performance.

Domains – target traffic from top performing placements from the GDN campaign as they indicate interest from a site’s user base.

Strategy & Approach

As with any new product adoption, you need to be thinking about what kind of users you are trying to reach and what your goals are before campaign set up.

Some top level ideas and strategies are outlined below though:

New users – when trying to find new customers, make sure you exclude you own domain to prevent re-marketing to you own customer base. When targeting these new users, try including a special offer or discount in your ads to create a sense of value and urgency for the user.

Re-engaging existing customers – target your own domain when attempting to reach users that you already have some form of relationship with. You need offer this type of customer something that gives them the incentive to come back to the site and purchase. This can be a great opportunity for up-selling or cross-selling complementary products.

Competitor domain targeting – target core competitors’ domains. Use ads with special offers/discounts/USPs to target users receiving emails from main competitors. This is a great opportunity to minimise comparison shopping and engage with qualified users.

Ad scheduling – this should play a key part in your strategy as user behaviour will vary hugely when reading or opening emails depending on the time of day. For instance, email open rates on mobile peak during commuting periods (early morning and evening) and lunch times, therefore make sure you are up weighting your bids over these times to try muscle out competitors.

Keywords – adopt both a broad and granular keyword strategy, and split these out into separate campaigns. For example, go broad with terms such as ‘housing’ and refine down to ‘house type’, ‘house location’ etc.

Language – think outside the box for your keyword targeting. Use colloquial and more casual keywords to target your audience. People speak differently when they chat via email compared to when they’re using search engines. For example, instead of ‘clothing’, target ‘fashion’.

Creative – make sure you consider your creative strategy carefully as this forms such a huge part of your Gmail success. You might have set-up a fantastic campaign, targeting the perfect audience but if you aren’t reaching them with the correct creative then your campaign results are going to be poor.


Gmail Ads can be used as part of a full funnel marketing strategy offering opportunities for brand awareness and even direct response if used in the right way. Adoption has been limited with advertisers so far, so Gmail represents another fantastic, cost effective addition to the PPC arsenal.