How to Make Profitable Gmail Ads in 2019

Edwin Choi

August 16, 2018

Updated: April 14, 2019

Ding! You’ve got mail.

As you fire up your inbox, your heart is racing with excitement.

“It’s my Coachella ticket delivery confirmation, I just know it!!!,” you scream to yourself.

But wait. The headline reads...

“Calling all marketers. The Answer to EVERY Gmail Ad Question You’ll Ever Have.”

A person looking at their phone that they are holding in their hand.
You've got mail.

Hold up. Gmail Ads? You’re intrigued.

Why should you read on? We attempt to answer every question that a marketer can ever think of when it comes to Gmail Ads. Whether you have one question or a million, read on to find out everything you’ll ever want to know!

We are adding new questions and answers all the time, so subscribe to get updates to this article to your inbox or browser.

Gmail Ads: EVERY Question and Answer (Updated August 16, 2018)

Q: Why should I care about Gmail Ads?

A: First of all, nearly 205 billion emails are sent per day throughout the world.


That’s a lot of emails in your inbox. This equates to plenty of impressions.

However, not a lot of marketers view Gmail Ads as a profitable channel.

Gmail ads are often neglected because it is poorly understood.

Don’t worry - once you read on, you’ll be able to master Gmail Ads and get this cheap and efficient channel working for you.

Q: What are Gmail ads?

A: Gmail ads are a sub-type of display ads on Google AdWords.

Unlike AdWords, it focuses on audience and customer lists over keywords.

When targeting users for Gmail ads, it’s not about what you’re looking for - it’s who you are.

When a user is searching up a keyword on Google, they are looking for a specific solution to a problem.

Let’s say you search “plumber.” You are specifically looking for a plumber to fix a leak because your toilet exploded and is leaking an ominous brown liquid everywhere.

Now let’s see the other side of the equation: when targeting a user through an audience list, it is based on who they are and how they behave.

This means your goal is to capture their attention to interact with your ad, even if they weren’t searching for it.

For example, an audience list of high income earners might react well to an ad selling top of the line bathroom fixtures (such as as a golden toilet, which actually exists).

Q: Do Gmail Ads really work?

A: You’re jaded. We get it.

Everyone is trying to sell inventory of low quality display ads that don’t drive results.

Gmail ads have the power to drive results: marketers need to do the below steps:

    • Have a strong testing plan in place. It may take you 18 tries to crack profitability, so it takes perseverance.
    • Create a plethora of targeted audience lists to test
  • Create multiple ad creatives specifically targeted to each audience

Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP) ads have the potential to be better than traditional display ads.

They are housed in the “Promotions” folder, so users who are looking there are likely already in the mood to be looking for something that interests them.

A phone screen displaying a Gmail ad.
Example of a Gmail Sponsored Ad.

Gmail Ads have a slick visual presentation - they closely mimic the native look of emails and allow for flexible graphical and HTML based ad units.

Also, you don’t have to worry about a banner popping and irritating the hell out of the user as they are a rare combination of appearing top of the fold while remaining low key.

Q: Who do I target for Gmail Ads?

A: Gmail ads are all about audience targeting with customer lists.

You'll get better results when you strategically segment your audiences vs. letting Gmail Ads target large, unfocused audiences

How do you this? Follow the below steps:

    • Create audiences from existing customers
    • Create audiences from people who have not converted yet but who have heard of your brand
  • Identify and create specific personas based on audience and affinity interest research

Here’s an example.

If you’re selling cosmetic brushes, one of your best customers might be “Jane.”

A profile of your desired customer with a description of their age, interest, occupation, and favorite store.
Create customers like Jane

Who is Jane? She is age 25, works as a social media manager, highly interested in cosmetics, and her favorite stores include Sephora and Ulta.

Your Gmail ad should be shown to the audience list Jane belongs to:

A person's audience description based on topics and their demographics.
Utilize tools to find data for audience lists.

Q: What are Google’s custom audience?

A: Custom audiences allow anyone to target audiences based on who they are, their interests, how they interacted with your business, and what they are searching for on Google. This is a feature that enables marketers with another opportunity to create low-cost conversions. Sometimes even at a fraction of an ordinary keyword campaign. 

Now let’s get into it. There are 2 ways to create your custom audience.

The first method is the auto-generated method. You allow Google’s algorithm to create the audience. This is definitely great for anyone that is new to Adwords and for those that need to set up their campaign in a hurry.

Then there is the do it yourself (DIY) method. You would use keywords and URLs to create an audience. The DIY method allows for more customization but requires a greater knowledge of Adwords.

Q: What are Gmail’s targeting options?

A: It goes without saying that Google collects an astounding amount of information on its users. To the marketer’s advantage, these data points are fed into algorithms to predict how likely someone is to purchase and track specific user details such as search history and life events. 

That’s cool and all, but how does that help you?

With Adwords, you can take advantage of  Google’s stored information and run Gmail ads that highly relevant to your customers based on their purchase intent as determined by Google. 

Who doesn’t want more tools to generate more conversions? The answer is obviously everyone.

Here is what you need. These are 6 options that you can utilize:

Affinity Audience

Affinity audiences are preset audiences that Google provides for you. They are created by various personas and interests that Google categorizes a customer. For example, a person searching "local coffee shop" every week will most likely be placed in the affinity audience " Coffee Shop Regulars." 

This would be the perfect target for let's say, a subscription based DTC coffee company.

 In-Market Audience

Google allows marketers to target customers that are actively searching for your brand. In-market audiences are typically customers that are browsing similar products from different companies.  These are warm customers with a high chance of purchasing.  

Custom Intent

You can now target audiences based on their Chrome history, YouTube search history, and app install data. Marketers choose URLs and keywords that your customers are interested in and Google will do the rest. 

Life Events

People know how important certain life events are — such as weddings. They are not afraid to spend a lot of money to make these events perfect.

But why are life events important to marketers?

There are businesses that can perfectly complement these life events. Which wedding doesn’t have flowers and food? Every wedding definitely needs florists and caterers. 

 Life event customer targeting allows marketers to help these business find the perfect audience that are celebrating these life events. Google’s algorithm tries to advertise to customers they believe are going through these specific life events.

Similar Audiences

Similar audience targeting is exactly what it sounds like. Just like its name, Google will help you find more people who are similar to your current customer list. This audience targeting technique is great if you already have a high converting customer base.

Demographic Targeting

Demographic targeting allows marketers to choose their audiences’ age group, gender, parental status, education, homeownership, marital status, occupation, and household income. 

Q: How do you feel about expanded targeting?

A: Google is constantly trying to promote its automated ad features in order to make Adwords easy to use for everyone, but this is not always a good thing. Be careful when you use this setting because you’re essentially loosening the reins on your targeting. 

Of course, the use case will vary whether you're utilizing a prospecting audience and a remarketing list.

For example, if you're targeting a remarketing list and allow for expanded targeting, keep in mind that the expanded targeting WILL generate top of the funnel prospecting traffic. This dirties your retargeting data. 

It is definitely a great place to start out but use it sparingly.

Q: What tools can I use for Gmail Ad audience research?

A: While building out audience lists can be difficult, there are tools to help make things easier.

One of our favorite, free tools is to utilize Facebook’s Audience Insights tool: its algorithm can really simplify the process.

Facebook will create audience lists based on their interests, shopping habits, and others.

Useful, right?

Selecting Audience Insights from Facebook Business Manager.

You can find the useful tool in Facebook’s Business Manager.

Utilize the data shown on the “demographics”  page:

Demographics page of Facebook Business Manager with the categories age and gender, relationship status, and education level highlighted.

This allows you to create powerful audiences with data from people who have interacted with your page.

Dive deeper with the tool and you can retrieve extremely useful information.

Another tool is our trusty friend, Google Analytics.

You can’t go wrong with digging up critical information like demographics of your customers and what SKUs are hot.

Handy data from Google Analytics would be demographics and interests to help build customer lists.

Demographics and interests can be found under the Audience tab.

Demographic overview with a bar graph of age and pie chart of gender from Facebook Business Manager.
Demographics found on Google Analytics.
Percentage of the audiences' interests separated by affinity category and in-market segment on Facebook Business Manager.
Interests found on Google Analytics.

Q: What are some ideas for building out audiences?

A: Another method to build more audience lists is creating your own.

One tip is to think of your target demographic. If your target is male, age 20-35, located in Southern California, think about what their interests might be. They could be interested in beach activities, hiking trails, running, etc. By targeting activities that are relatable to that target demo, you might be able to expand your reach that way!

Another example can be to build out retargeting audiences. Customers might visit your website, take a look, and then leave without ever purchasing. These are the customers who are more likely to purchase - they should be your first approach.

There are multiple angles to build your audiences, don't be afraid to explore and get creative. 

After building out your effective audience lists, start testing with various GSP ad types.

Q: How do I know what works best?

A: Good question. Only one way to find out is with lots of testing!

You can try creating different subject lines, preview texts, teaser copy, creatives, catalog images, and I could keep going on. Every industry will be different and the "best" in one industry, might not work as well in another.

A/B testing is extremely important here.

Q: How do I know if my ad is working efficiently?

A: A crucial step for GSP ads is to A/B test each ad, as mentioned above.

This allows you to see which subject line and description is hitting the jackpot.

You want the winning combo of ad type, copy, and creative.

You can monitor the success of all combinations through “gmail clicks to website” column in AdWords.

The first metric you’ll need to look at is your “open rate.” This is shown as the CTR % in the Adwords interface. You’ll want open rates that are comparable to high quality emails (10%+). If this is low, then you’ll want to continually A/B test the subject lines and make sure they cater to your target audience.

Secondly, you’ll want to examine your actual creative “CTR %.” You can monitor the success of this via the “Gmail clicks to website” column in AdWords. Here’s a screenshot of where you can add it:

Adwords metric with Gmail clicks to website section highlighted.
Add "Gmail Clicks to Website" column like this

You’ll then want to figure out the CTR % of your ad creative w/ the following formula: “Gmail Clicks to Website / Clicks.” This will inform you about how effective your ad creative is. If this is not at least 1% (as a baseline), you’ll need to make your ads stronger either in presentation, copy or design.

Lastly, once those metrics are healthy you’ll want to optimize for your ultimate goal whether it be CPA or ROAS.

Q: What is Gmail Ads “clicks to website” and why does it matter?

A: Gmail “clicks to website” indicates how many times users expanded the ad.

There is conversion rate and also “true” conversion rate.

“True” conversion rate is the key to finding your A+ ads.

To find your true conv. Rate, you need to divide gmail “clicks to website” by regular clicks (collapsed ad/subject line).

This informs you of the actual traffic landing on your website.

Q: What copy is needed for great Gmail Ads?

A: Gmail ads are made of two parts for copy.

Subject line and Description.

All Gmail ads appear in “collapsed” format on the top of user’s inbox.

The subject line needs to hit hard being the first thing users see.

After convincing the user to click the email, it will launch the “expanded” format.

“Expanded” format displays the entire ad including graphics and strong description copy.

Q: How should the copy sound when writing Gmail text?

A: Gmail ads copy should be parallel to AdWords ads.

Put value propositions in the beginning, again A/B testing to see which works best.

One tip is to use value props like shipping and price for better results.

Don’t forget good ad copy skills like emotional triggers, strong hooks, etc.

Also, always add a call to action button at the end.

If you’re looking for more help on how to write killer ad copy, check out this guide:

You should mix up different tones and emotions to see which work better with your audience.

If the ad is not getting the results you want, switch up the product you’re testing.

Some products might do better than others.

Consistently test your ads to find the best combo with strong results.

Q: How do I write good headlines for Gmail Ads?

A: Avoid extreme and out of proportion headlines.

You don’t want your user to expand the ad expecting an outrageous offer and not find it.

This will lead to disappointment.

For example, if the headline reads “70% Off Boots, Shop Now,” the user will expect a huge discount.

If the ad is not mirroring the headline offer, the user will have a negative experience and exit.

When something like this occurs, it will ruin your ROAS as Gmail Ads are technically charged by impressions.

This is because the moment they click to expand your ad, your account is charged.

Be wise with what you say and don’t throw away money with useless impressions.

Q: What are Gmail Ad examples of strong ad copy?

A: Instead of a headline like “70% Off Boots,” a better ad would be “$50 boots, now $15.”

This allows the user to understand that the boots are on sale for a specific price. Clear and exact, it avoids disappointment and false hope.

Here’s a different example:

Gmail ad for Blue Apron with a promise of a discount.
Example of strong ad copy.

The headline specifically reads “$50 Offer,” which gives the exact promotion offer. A Gmail Ad setup like this ensures that the user will not be led into confusion or false promotion after expanding the GSP ad.

Q: How do I keep track of all my Gmail Ad performance?

A: Quite simple, document everything!

Keep all the results tidy and documented.

Track all ad builds including ad types, copy, creatives, etc.

This will allow you to analyze each result based on conversion rate and “true” conversion rate.

Use this documentation to understand how well each test is performing and compare results of each round.

Every piece of data matters when finding your successful ad combos.

Use this template to efficiently organize your results: Gmail Results Template.

Q: How can I improve Gmail Ad performance?

A: Never stop refining.

You’ll see improvement in ad performance by consistently maintaining your ads.

Be on track of trends that are evolving.

You want to stay relevant with your audience.

Your target audiences can change so you need to constantly check who you’re targeting.

Don’t lose momentum by sending irrelevant ads.

Be adaptive and remain present.

Q: What is Target CPA and how/when would you use it?

A: Target CPA is the desired CPA you set so Google does everything it can to reach it.

This can be used in the method of target CPA bidding if needed.

I would suggest utilizing target CPA to make incremental gains and test out Google’s algorithm once you have a decent volume of conversions.

You can then make custom improvements from those target CPA biddings to reach your desired results.

Q: How do you make money on Gmail Ads??

A: Make your Gmail ads spectacular with the backing of superb analytics.

Take what you learned from all the questions asked above and put them into action.

Practice makes perfect.

Start with building out strong audience lists, devise killer ad copy, test, test, test, analyze results, and do a celebratory dance for reaching your target ROAS!

A screen with the Gmail logo with a man in a suit jumping over a stack of coins while holding onto a briefcase and balloons.
Make bank with Gmail Ads!

Q: Okay, great! How do I set up a Gmail Sponsored Ad in Google AdWords?

A: Head on over to Google AdWords.

    1. Click on campaigns and press the “+” button to create a new campaign.

Campaign button highlighted on Adwords.
Add new campaign.
  1. Click “New Campaign” and choose “Sales.”

Sales goal option selected on Adwords.
Select "sales" as the goal.
  • Then choose “Display” for campaign type and “Gmail campaign” for sub-type.
  • Display ad option and Gmail campaign selected on Adwords.
    Select campaign type and subtype.
    • Now that you have a campaign set up for Gmail ads, you can create a gmail ad.
    • Click on “Ads & Extensions” on the left column.
    • Click on the “+” button to create a new add and choose “Gmail Ad.”
    Gmail ad option highlighted in the category ads and extensions on Adwords.
    Create Gmail ad in campaign.
  • Fill in these boxes and you have successfully set up a Gmail Ad!
  • A form to fill out to create a Gmail ad on Adwords.


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