What Are Discovery Ads?

Discovery ads

Discovery ads

Google’s algorithm-based news feed, Discover, might not have the numbers that Facebook does, but the tech giant is making some big bets on the platform, including the soon-to-be released Discovery ads.

Discovery ads are similar to Gallery Ads, another new addition to the platform’s PPC line-up. These ads are unique, at least within the Google ecosystem, insofar as advertisers build ads based on audience behavior, not search intent or keywords.

Additionally, this new format appears to be moving into a similar space as the ads you might find on paid social channels—delivering ads based on habits, interests, and other crumbs of data people leave all over the web.

Discovery ads present a new opportunity for e-commerce brands to show off their products in ways that perhaps the standard search network ad doesn’t quite pull off. Here, we’ll dive into what we know (so far) about Google Discovery Ads and what they mean for online retailers.

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What Are Google Discover Ads?

Over the past year or so, more and more users have reported sightings of ads in Google Discover. If you’re not sure what Google Discover is, it’s Google’s answer to the social media newsfeed. 

Back in 2016, Google launched an update to its app, a series of clickable cards that aimed to help you “stay organized and in the know about the things that matter to you.”

Initially called Google Feed, today’s version has been renamed Discover. It’s a personalized (but not too personalized) collection of news, evergreen content, and local events that you “might be interested in” based on past browsing history or YouTube behaviors.

Discovery ads


According to a Google/Ipsos study, over 75% of users say they enjoy making an unexpected discovery while shopping.

That same report also found that about 85 percent of consumers will take a product-related action within 24 hours of learning about a new product. (A product-related action refers to activities like reading reviews or shopping around for the best price.)

As such, the next phase in Google’s push toward this algorithmic discovery feed is, naturally, to open up the channel to advertisers. 

Rolling out to all advertisers later in the year, Google’s latest ad format presents a new way to connect users to your e-commerce brand. But it’s worth pointing out that they’re a bit different than the manual CPC style of PPC we’re used to. 

Instead, Google says the new ad format is intent-based, and ads are designed to reach people during those moments when they’re “open to discovering your products and services.”

What Will Discovery Ads Look Like?

What your audience sees will depend on where they come across the ad. Discovery Ads will be shown in the Discover feed. But they can also appear in other Google properties: you might see them in your Gmail promotions folder, on YouTube, and potentially elsewhere. 

If an ad shows up in Gmail, it will look and act like a typical Gmail ad. On YouTube and Discover, you’ll get something a bit different.

On YouTube, TrueView video discovery ads run alongside YouTube search results. Ads are made up of a thumbnail image and up to three lines of copy, and they aim to reach users who might be interested in your brand based on viewing habits or interests.

When a user clicks the ad, they will be redirected to the YouTube watch or channel page to watch the video, as opposed to watching the ad pre- or mid-roll.

YouTube ads also include a CTA banner that you can use to drive traffic to a particular landing page.

Discovery ads (in the feed) will look much like the new Gallery ads and the Showcase shopping ads. These are large format, visually engaging ads that look much like Facebook’s Carousel Ads; with more than a superficial resemblance, they are also centered around the same basic set of goals. 

In both cases, you might create an ad with any of the following objectives:

  • Promoting an event
  • Explaining product features and benefits
  • Telling your brand’s story
  • Showing off a line of products

Keep in mind that ads should always be intent-based. You want your audience to feel like they’re discovering something, but you’ll also want to make sure that the ads introduce your brand to new users. 

Each card can link to a different landing page or show users multiple views of the same item. The goal is to introduce your brand in a creative manner—to tell a story that compels users to learn more. 
Discovery ads

How Does Discovery Targeting Work?

Discovery Ads, whether they’re on YouTube or in the Discover feed, are based on Google Audiences. 

You’ll find your audiences in the “Audiences” manager tab in your shared library. You can choose to display ads to users based on interest, in-market behavior, affinity, or custom intent.

These audiences are developed based on how people interact across the whole network of Google properties. This includes things like what users watch on YouTube, what they search for, and which apps they’ve downloaded from the Play Store.

Custom intent audiences allow you to target people based on custom criteria, so you can target audiences most likely to generate conversions. Additionally, Google automatically creates audiences behind the scenes, which is what you’re looking at here:

Discovery ads


While Discovery Ads won’t be triggered by direct intent to buy, targeting people during the discovery or research phase in the purchase cycle can help you 

What About the Set-Up Process?

The new ad format has not yet been released, but Search Engine Land was able to snag a shot of the set-up screen for Discovery campaigns.

Discovery ads


Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to see, but you get started by entering a landing page URL, a logo, and at least one landscape image.

According to Google guidelines, your images must be clear and at least 1200 px wide. They also cannot include CTAs or clickbait, or be poorly cropped. If you’re curious about how you might approach Discovery Ads, look into Facebook’s Carousel format. Though the guidelines won’t be an exact match, the goals and multi-image creative style are quite similar.

Discovery ads


You’ll also be able to add up to five headlines and five descriptions for testing in addition to multiple images—in other words, the Google algorithm can display a wide range of copy/image combinations and use a variation of A/B testing to reveal which versions brought in the most traffic. 

Why Should Discovery Ads Matter to E-Commerce Sellers

Discovery campaigns are part of some significant changes happening within the Google ecosystem. The search giant is making more and more moves toward reaching audiences across all properties.

For e-commerce advertisers, this whole Discovery concept could be a big opportunity, potentially in the same way that Instagram has been for the industry. While sure, we might not have any data to demonstrate the ROI of Discovery Ads at this point, we already know that large images showcasing products in action are a potent selling tool.

What’s more, Discovery Ads (as well as other new options like Gallery Ads) prove that Google is taking the ads platform beyond search intent and into the rest of the sales funnel. 

What we mean is that there’s paid search (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and Google PPC. Historically, you might approach your ad strategy by running awareness campaigns on social and using Google Ads to capture those high-intent shoppers ready to make a purchase. 

Discovery campaigns appear to be taking a page out of Facebook’s playbook, offering native ads that bring visual appeal to audiences based on interest, not just on search intent.

And while Google might not have been successful with Google+ (RIP), they're killing it on capturing the intent data that make channels like Facebook so valuable. Click To Tweet

Wrapping Up

Not every potential customer knows they’re a potential customer; Discovery ads aim to bridge that gap, connecting with people likely to “take a product-related action.”

At Key PPC, we’ve long been all about tracking ad performance to measurable metrics like conversions and clicks.

But it’s also exciting to see this new PPC ecosystem taking shape. Manual CPC campaigns, coupled with new formats like Showcase Shopping ads and Discovery Ads, stand to change the game for e-commerce sellers.

If you’re not sure how to navigate an ever-changing Google ecosystem, get in touch and we’ll do the work for you.

Free Download: How Much Should You Really Invest in Awareness Campaigns?