Using Google Ads to Promote Your Destination

How DMOs Use Google Ads

Just because you have a website doesn’t mean (the right) people will find it. Search engines are crowded and competitive, social channels are monetizing and the internet is overflowing with content. These factors and several others are making it ever harder to organically drive potential visitors to your website to learn more about your destination, and are making Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising an increasingly important component of DMO marketing strategies to maintain and grow visitation to their destinations. 

A PPC “transaction” occurs when a web user searches for a specific set of keywords or is browsing relevant content on the web and ends up clicking on a sponsored link to your website. In turn, you pay a small fee for this click traffic. During your personal time online, you’ve seen 100s if not 1,000s of Pay Per Click ads when you’ve searched on Google, and you are frequently exposed to sponsored ads on many websites. These are all paid ads, and marketers are using PPC ad placement strategies to get your attention based on your (perceived) interests. Pay Per Click is part of the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) umbrella, and today we are going to provide a very high-level overview of how you can implement PPC to promote your destination.

Pay Per Click Networks

Since Google has 88% of the search market share, we will primarily focus on Google’s ad network. Google AdWords has 3 different campaign types: Search Network, Display Network and Search Network with Display Select. However, no matter what combination of campaign types you decide to pursue, the tedious but critical process of developing highly relevant keywords and keyword phrases as well as identifying likely geographic visitation feeder markets is key to your PPC efforts reaching the target audiences that will most likely impact your destination’s occupancy. And developing a Marketing Action Plan (MAP) is a great way to begin the process of identifying the target markets that will influence your success.

Search Network

When using a Search Network campaign, businesses pay for text ads to show up in Google’s search engine organic results. Google’s primary method of Pay Per Click marketing is through the search network accessed through Google AdWords. Requirements include a budget, known keywords, demographic data, ad copy, and a landing page link. Below is an example of a Search Network text ad that appears when you type in the keyword phrase “Fort Benning Hotels”. This search ad campaign received an exceptional 5.18% Click Through Rate (CTR) on average for a 12-month campaign, which is great considering the national average search CTR is 2% for the travel & tourism industry!

Display Network

When using the Display Network, businesses can place ads (including image, rich media or video ads) on a large network of websites. Google’s Display Network is a group of 2 million websites in Google’s ad network where your image ad can be displayed. This is a visual method of Pay Per Click which allows you to reach over 90% of people on the internet and is accessed through the Google AdWords Account Manager. The Display Network allows you to select your target audience based on interests as well as demographic data and shows a visual banner ad design to compel a potential traveler to click. To the left is an example of a Display Network banner ad that appears when browsing a website in Google’s network. This display campaign received an average CTR of .41% which is comparable to the national average of .47%.

Search Network with Display Select

When using the Search Network with Display Select campaign option, organizations can place ads (text, image, rich media, or video ads) with Google’s search engine website as well as related websites on the Display Network, which is the best of both worlds!

With Pay Per Click, there are several methods of targeting when placing ads on any one of Google’s networks mentioned above. A few to note:

Keyword Targeting

This method of targeting allows you to select keyword phrases relevant to your destination, such as activities or interests that will resonate with your target audience. With keyword targeting, you simply select the geographic area to target, keyword phrases and how much you would like to bid on each phrase. An example of this is targeting the keywords “Hotels near Fort Benning, GA” which we placed for Columbus, GA—the home of Fort Benning’s Army Base. The 12-month campaign resulted in 2 million impressions and 20,000 clicks to the website to find and book hotels, thus increasing economic activity for the city.

Location Targeting

Another method is targeting geographic locations. Choosing a Designated Market Area (DMA), or a radius around a specific city, will allow your PPC dollars to go further than advertising nationwide. Google uses individual IP addresses, domains and language to determine where a user is located. An example of this is targeting some of the feeder markets to Columbus, GA, such as the State of Alabama—or getting as granular as the City of Huntsville, AL.

Device Targeting

One targeting method that has been highly successful is to determine the type of device on which to show your ad, particularly mobile devices. With the rise in mobile use vs. desktop use, targeting devices can be a great strategy. Google will let you select the percentage of the budget you would like to put towards a device type, i.e. desktop or mobile device. We incorporated this into our Pay Per Click strategy for the Fort Benning campaign since the campaign initially received a 60% higher CTR on mobile devices than on a desktop.

Contextual Targeting

Using contextual targeting, you can strategically show your banner ad to potential visitors based on interest (for example, outdoor enthusiasts or military) and within the context of the site they are reading (for example, a whitewater rafting website). Some interests to choose from might be nature, outdoors, whitewater, arts, history, sports, events, etc. Google’s algorithm will evaluate websites and pages based on keyword phrases, along with target audiences to determine the relevancy of your ad and will then display an ad on the site if relevant.

Site Targeting

Site targeting allows you to select certain websites within Google’s network on which to show your ad. This can be successful if certain interests, habits and sites visited are known about a potential traveler. Keep in mind that picking a specific site out of the network usually comes with a premium PPC price tag. For the right campaign and site, this can be worth it.


Choosing to show your ad to people who have visited your site is a successful campaign tactic that typically results in a higher CTR due to the frequency of content views. Because users have already engaged with the content once, they’re likely to click on it again and even more likely to convert after seeing the content a second or third time.

Types of Pay Per Click Ads

  1. Text Ads—typically a headline and few lines of copy.
  2. Image Ads—banner ads in various sizes.
  3. Video Ads—an image ad that includes video instead of a stagnant image.
  4. Rich Media Ads—an ad that includes animation or motion graphics (but are not video).

Digital marketing, or more specifically, using the Google Network with its constantly changing algorithms, may seem unapproachable or intimidating. My hope is that this breakdown will give you a basic understanding of Google’s Pay Per Click options and will help you feel empowered enough to take advantage of these tools to attract more visitors to your site, and ultimately to your destination. However, if you’d like to get some help with this process for your destination, we have been planning, buying, optimizing, and reporting on digital media for years and we have a friendly digital account service and support team here at Stamp that would love to help you solve your digital challenges! So when you’re ready to talk, reach out and we’ll help you Make Your Mark in digital media.

Posted in Digital & Interactive, Pay Per Click Tags