YouTube Advertising 101 - Your Guide for Success in 2021

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  • 11/13/2020
    Do you ever wonder how many hours of video are watched on YouTube each day? According to an article from Brandwatch, we as users, watch over 1 billion hours of video on YouTube daily. That’s approximately 60 billion minutes. To put that in perspective, there are 1,440 minutes per day… that’s crazy! As marketers, this intrigues us and should intrigue you as well. Read on to learn how you can setup your own YouTube advertising campaign and begin to compete in this visual marketing space.

    Table of Contents

    What are Google YouTube Ads?

    YouTube Ads are, ideally, brief videos that appear to the user at several points during their YouTube experience. These ads can appear in the beginning, during or at the end of the video depending on the ad type selected during the campaign setup process. Depending on the ad type, YouTube Ads can vary in length ranging from six seconds to more than three minutes.
    In this blog, we’ll take you through the campaign setup process for YouTube ads. After finishing this blog you should be able to create your own campaign from scratch, beginning your YouTube advertising journey. 

    How do you start a YouTube Ads campaign?

    Before you click that blue “+” sign in Google Ads to create your YouTube advertising campaign, it’s important to understand your objective and goals behind this channel. Many of our clients often hear about a new platform or tactic and come to us with little reasoning behind using it. If you’ve done this in the past… don’t worry, it’s very common but easy to fix.

    Determining Your Campaign Objectives

    Are you building brand/product awareness, looking to drive sales or moving into a new market? These are all common problems in both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) industries. Often, we’ll sit down with a client and set clear objectives like those mentioned above. From there, we can set achievable goals which will determine campaign direction and success. The campaign objectives determined here will be used in the first step of your campaign setup process.

    What is your main advertising goal?

    After defining your campaign objectives, you should set clear goals to determine campaign success moving forward. (This is, of course, assuming you know your business needs as well.) Be specific but make sure your goals are achievable. Below are some examples achievable goals based on the objectives we mentioned previously.
    • Increase awareness by X% year-over-year
    • Increase form completions by X% in Q4
    • Increase direct traffic to the website by 10% during Q1
    By setting trackable goals like those above, you can optimize and test your campaigns to improve performance and determine long-term success.

    Select a Campaign Goal Based on Your Objective

    After determining your objectives, goals and KPIs, the next step in the advertising setup process is to select the goal which will determine what ad types are available to you later in the campaign.

    Below, is a list of available goals according to Google Ads campaign guidance:
    • Sales
    • Leads
    • Website traffic
    • Product or brand consideration
    • Brand awareness and reach
    • App promotion
    • Local store visits and promotions
    By choosing one of the guided setups above, you will be allowing Google Ads to assist you with establishing the right campaign and ad types that based on your predetermined objectives and goals. To better help you understand which guided setup is right for your campaign, we’ve provided descriptions of each below.

    Campaigns and Campaign Subtypes: What Are the Differences?

    Sales, Leads and Web Traffic

    Let’s say you’ve determined the goal of your YouTube advertising campaign is to increase sales, drive leads or increase traffic to your website, then it’s recommended to start with one of the guided campaign setups. By selecting sales, leads or web traffic, Google is automatically determining that your main objective is to drive conversions.
    Curious about which guided goal is right for your company? We suggest the following:
    • Sales for e-commerce sites where you’re looking to drive purchases on your website.
    • Leads for companies that require a contact form or request for a quote to be completed.
    • Website traffic is a strong option for those companies that are looking to drive conversions but at the same time don’t have strong forms or e-commerce capabilities.

    Product Consideration and Brand Awareness & Reach

    Does your brand lack overall awareness? Are your competitors controlling the market share? Are you moving into a region/market based on business strategy? If you answered yes to any of these questions then we recommend pursuing either product consideration or brand awareness and reach when determining the best guided goal.  
    By choosing a more awareness focused goal you’re telling Google that the objective of the campaign is to increase the size of your audience or encourage people to explore your products and services.
    After choosing a goal that best fits your company’s strategy, you will then select a campaign type (video for this blog) and a campaign subtype. Based on the goal you’ve picked, you will have the following campaign subtypes available.
    Product and Consideration Campaign Subtypes
    • Influence Consideration
    • Ad Sequence
    •  Shopping
    Brand Awareness and Reach Campaign Subtypes
    • Skippable In-Stream
    • Bumper
    • Non-skippable In-Stream
    • Outstream
    • Ad Sequence
    It’s important to understand that the different campaign subtypes will impact what campaign settings and ad types are available to you moving forward. 
    At this point, you might be thinking, “Wow, there are so many options. What do I choose? How do I know what’s right for my company and long-term strategy moving forward?” The answer is easy, understand your customer journey and be honest with yourself. If your brand, product or service has low awareness does it make sense to start driving sales and leads? In those situations, and with video campaigns in general, awareness goals are a strong place to start.
    If you’re still unsure, you can always create a new campaign without any goal guidance. By choosing this campaign type you’ll be able to have more freedom when it comes to determining the right campaign subtype impacting your potential ad types.

    Determining a Bid Strategy and Budget

    After you’ve determined your objectives, goals, campaign and campaign subtype it’s time to choose the right bidding strategy. There are three bidding strategies available within YouTube ad campaigns. Depending on your campaign type/subtype the available options may change. 

    YouTube Ads 3 Bid Strategies

    The three bid strategies target CPM (cost per thousand impressions), maximum CPM and target CPA (cost-per-action). Bid strategy, as mentioned previously, depends on the campaign type/subtype. For example, target CPA bid strategies are the only option for campaigns with the goal of driving sales, leads or website traffic. On the other hand, target CPM and maximum CPM are available on the awareness/reach focused campaigns. Google has specifically created these automated bidding strategies to better align with your goals. CPM based strategies are designed to get the most reach and awareness out of your budget while CPA bid strategies are designed to increase the number of total actions or engagements your campaigns receive. 

    Target Your Ads By Location 

    Can you target YouTube ads by location? Yes! 
    In addition to choosing the right bid strategy you’ll need to determine where you want your ads to show. Determining a target location can vary greatly from broad options (global or national) to more granular options (ZIP codes or cities). A complete list of location targeting options for YouTube ads can be found below. 
    • Country
    • Region
    • State
    • DMA
    • County 
    • City 
    • ZIP Code
    When talking to clients who want to advertise nationally with a limited budget we often encourage them to think more strategically by asking questions like, “Is there seasonality by region? Are you looking to launch a new product in a certain location? What is the overall awareness in this particular location?” Questions like these force us and clients to think more strategically and really encourages focus on locations in need that align with the overall business goals. Still confused on which locations to target? Check out these helpful tips from Google for further guidance. 

    Excluding a location from Google Ads Campaigns

    Utilizing location exclusions can really help optimize campaigns, but this task is often overlooked. For example, you have a campaign that’s been running for two months and your original location targeting was all of Ohio. You begin to analyze the data and realize that conversions are really only occurring in Cleveland and Columbus. You also realize that you’ve spent one third of your budget in Cincinnati with minimal conversions. By excluding Cincinnati in future advertising you can focus your spend on the locations that are providing the most return on investment (ROI) while you restrategize an approach for Cincinnati. 
    Similar to choosing the location you want to target, you can choose to exclude locations by country, DMA, state, region, city, ZIP code or county. 

    Exclude Your Ads from Different Content Types

    In the past, there have been concerns and even several problems with brands advertising on controversial YouTube channels/videos. Obviously, this was seen and is still seen as a major concern for brands and their reputation. To better support YouTube advertising for brands, Google cracked down on where your ads can be displayed by providing content exclusion options with the campaign setup. A high level explanation of these content exclusions can be found below.

    Inventory Type
    The first content exclusion type is by inventory type. Content inventory is the digital space available for your advertisements to appear. There are three inventory types available in the campaign setup process for YouTube Ads, expanded inventory, standard inventory and limited inventory. These inventory types are differentiated by the types of content your ads will show on.
    Expanded inventory is going to provide you with the highest amount of inventory of potential for your ads. This inventory type will automatically exclude sensitive content. 
    Standard inventory is the recommended choice by Google and our team as well. This option will show your ads on content that Google deems is appropriate for most brands. However, this inventory type will limit your maximum available inventory. 
    The last and safest inventory option for brands is limited inventory. This option excludes most types of content and limits the potential channels and videos where your ads can show. It’s important to know that even though Google says these inventory types will exclude sensitive content, there is still a chance that some content may not be excluded.
    Excluded content types and labels
    In addition to choosing a content inventory type, you can also select to exclude certain content types and labels. Within this section you can exclude live streaming videos, embedded videos and specific content labels. We almost always recommend excluding content not yet labeled and content for DL-MA audiences. In most cases, these content types will also be excluded from the previous inventory type you selected. 
    Device exclusions are a great way to remove your ads from select devices, operating systems, models and networks. If you have a strong idea of where your audience is watching YouTube videos then we would recommend optimizing your campaign from the start based on their most used devices, networks, etc. If you’re unaware or unsure of your audience’s technology choices then we definitely recommend against eliminating these options at the start because it can further reduce where your ads show. 
    Frequency Capping
    Frequency capping is often overlooked and sometimes even ignored when setting up a YouTube campaign. What is frequency capping? A question we hear quite often with new clients. Frequency capping is the action of setting a limit to the number of ads a user sees in a day, week or month. 
    Why would you want to limit the number of times a user sees your ads? Great question! There are two reasons why we believe it’s best practice to add frequency caps. First, you force Google Ads to search for new users who have not hit the frequency cap you have in place. Second, it’s important to think about the user’s experience with your ads. A frequency cap will ensure that your ads do not repeatedly play to the point where it’s annoying/excessive. In many situations, when your ad plays over and over it can almost become a negative experience to the point where the user is frustrated with your ads and your brand. 
    You can set a frequency cap at daily, weekly and monthly intervals, but our recommendation is to keep your frequency cap between 5-10 impressions per day and optimize from there. We don’t recommend an impression cap at the weekly and monthly level because the rate at which a user watches videos on YouTube can vary over those time periods. 
    Ad Schedule
    The final exclusion option in the campaign setup process is the ad schedule. Without strong data from prior campaigns or research we recommend not changing the ad schedule during the setup process. If you do have data however, feel free to set a schedule for when your ads should show. You can set your ad schedule by day of the week, time of day or a combo of both. If your campaign has been running for a period of time, we always recommend optimizing your ad schedule based on results. 

    Building Your Ad Groups

    By now you’ve determined the basics of your campaign setup including budget, bid strategy, content exclusions and when your ads will show. It’s now time to build your ad groups. An ad group in Google Ads contains one or more ads that target a similar audience. Within each campaign you can have multiple ad groups as well. For YouTube advertising we generally recommend separating ad groups by their targeting options, messaging, theme or combo of each. 
    For most campaigns, we generally separate each campaign by message/ad type. Then we’ll separate each ad group by targeting option, which we’ll dive into below!

    YouTube Ad Targeting Options

    What makes YouTube ads so great are the targeting options available. For each ad group you can determine who you want to reach and where you want your ads to show allowing you to target the right audience at the right time. Let’s take a high-level dive into each targeting option below. 


    The first and most broad targeting option are demographics. Demographics allow you to reach an audience based on their gender, age, parental status or household income. This targeting option may provide the largest reach. However, it may also provide the lowest ROI/engagement because you’re targeting a large audience with a single message, some of whom might not care to see your ads. Often, we pair this targeting option with another or add it to the ad group from an observational standpoint to understand our audience’s demographics better. 


    Audiences have come a long way with YouTube advertising and targeting in general in Google Ads. Audiences can be created and imported from Google Analytics or created within the audience manager inside of Google Ads. For this blog we’re going to focus on the audience manager inside of Google Ads. 

    Within the audience manager there are four different audience types:
    • Demographics
    • Affinity and custom affinity
    • In-market, custom intent and life events
    • Remarketing and similar audiences
    At a high level, demographics will provide you with your broadest audience and most reach. Affinity and custom affinity audiences will reduce your reach slightly but allow you to reach your target audience when they’ve begun to show interest in topics relevant to your campaign. In-market, custom intent and life event audiences are great for reaching users who are searching for a specific product/service. This option is more targeted but it tends to have strong engagement. The last and most targeted option is remarketing and similar audience. This specific audience is great at reaching users who didn’t convert, have visited a specific page on your website or who are very similar to your current audience.
    Best practice is to test different audience targeting options to determine which one provides the highest ROI and the best engagement. We’ve seen great success with custom affinity audiences and custom intent/in-market audiences so if you’re confused on where to start, this is a great place. 


    Unlike paid search campaigns, keyword targeting is strictly contextual based for YouTube ads. By choosing keywords as a targeting option, you can place your ads on channels that are contextually similar to your keywords. For example, if you choose “SEO” as a keyword to target. Your ads will then be placed on YouTube channels or videos that are related to the keyword “SEO.” 


    Similar to keywords, topic targeting is also contextual. Topic targeting allows you to place your ads on channels, videos or websites that are related to the topics you’ve selected. In general, topic targeting is quite broad and will give you a large reach. From what we’ve experienced though, the engagement is quite low from topic-based targeting. 


    The last targeting option and probably the most fun to optimize are placements. Placement targeting allows you to choose specific channels, videos, websites or apps for your ads to show on. Choosing popular videos and channels that relate to your audience is a great way to raise awareness or drive product/service consideration within your audience. Normally, we don’t start with placements but they’re a great option once you develop a general understanding of what your audience watches on YouTube. Keep in mind that it’s best practice to pick at least 50 placements when choosing this method of targeting. 

    Choose Your Ad Types

    Just like you would test engagement between audience targeting options, it’s important to test ad types in a similar fashion. Google Ads offers a variety of ad types from six seconds to 30 seconds plus. In addition to the ad types below, Google is also creating new ad types to continue improving their platform. Let’s take a quick look at the different ad types and how they can be used. 

    Overlay Ads

    Overlay ads are the semi transparent ads that display at the bottom of videos on YouTube. These ads are only served on desktops and laptop computers. At thunder::tech we tend to lean away from these due to their low engagement, but don’t let that stop you from testing them with your own audience. 

    Skippable Video Ads

    Skippable video ads, also known as TrueView, are one of the most common video ad types. These ads can play before, during or after the video and offer the ability to skip after five seconds. According to The Next Web, approximately 70% of users are skipping the ads. It’s important to front-load any messaging with this ad type in the first six seconds in order to get any real value out of the effort.
    How long should a skippable YouTube ad be? Generally, these ad types should be between six and 30 seconds in length, but they can go as long as three minutes.

    Non-Skippable Ads

    Non-skippable ads are great for making sure your ads are seen by your audience. This ad type can be served on desktop, tablets and mobile devices giving it a large potential audience. Similar to the skippable ads, non-skippable ads can be shown before, during or after a video. However, because this ad type is not able to be skipped, their maximum ad length is 20 seconds. It’s important to know that you cannot retarget users who have seen a non-skippable ad. 

    Bumper Ads

    Back in 2016, Google introduced the bumper ad. This six-second ad allowed advertisers to deliver a quick, direct message in a very efficient and cost effective way. Without the option to skip, users were forced to view the entire six seconds. You might be asking, why use six second ads? In a study done by Google, nine out of 10 brands (out of 300 tested) saw an increase in awareness and brand lift. From this study we learned that bumper ads are a great way to increase awareness in new markets or for new products and can greatly help push users through the top of the funnel. 
    As you can probably guess, these ads are only shown before videos and are six seconds in length. We highly recommend testing this ad type and a variety of messages across all of your audiences. Lastly, since the user cannot skip, you cannot retarget users who have seen bumper ads. 


    Okay, we’ve gone over quite a bit in this blog and it’s okay to feel a bit overwhelmed at this point.
    At this point you should be able to complete your first YouTube ads campaign within Google Ads. In addition to setting up a campaign, with this blog you can begin testing ad types, targeting options and optimizing for devices, time of day and other factors that may improve performance. 
    If you would like help strategizing, managing or with the setup and implementation of your YouTube ads campaign give us a call or contact us today
    About the author::Dan Lyons is a Digital Marketing Team Lead at thunder::tech. He develops and implements well-rounded digital campaigns that help clients achieve their business goals. He's best described as a positive, hard-working person who enjoys working out and a good laugh.
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