Are you using the latest feature from Google: Discovery Ads, beccause you should be. Get in on this beta and beat out your competitors.

The newest ad format from Google is Discovery Ads, which has been in beta since May. Before that it was in alpha since Fall 2018 as Google tested the ad format with a few larger brands. The team at Google made a big splash with the ad format at Google Marketing Live in June.

One of the reasons we know that it’s going to be a key ad format for Google is that it’s getting its own category breakout in Google ads (similar to Search, Shopping and Display). That, and the ad format is already reaching 800 million people (according to google).

What Are Discover Ads?

The image above is a good example of what discovery ads can look like. There are a few different layouts your ad can take as placements can run across Google Discover Feed, Gmail and YouTube Home Feeds. You can also start to see Discovery Ads in your YouTube Watch Next space.

Google Discovery Ads session at SMX East 2019.

The key for all 4 placements is that your ads are going to be more visual. They are kind of like the love child of text and display ads. I tend to see the Google Discovery ads more as I’m on a Pixel phone, though, if you spend a lot of time on YouTube, then you’ll see that ad format become more prevalent.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of what you see for Discovery ads will be based on your past behaviour and what Google thinks you will respond to. A lot of machine learning is certainly at play. This means the sites you visit, apps you use and any signal Google uses to understand you will come into play.

Discovery Campaign Targeting

Speaking of machines, a lot targeting for discovery ads is decided FOR you. Google is going to look at account settings and see how we use different Google properties, device information, and past history to decide what to show each person.

The reason for this is because you are limited to using audiences for targeting. You can use audiences like custom intent, affinity, and in-market audiences for targeting. It is one reason we see more people say Google is shifting away from keywords and cares more about audiences.

Making sure you have custom and super focused audiences is going to help you setup the right creative. With that in mind, I’m going to spend the rest of this article talking about targeting and creative.

What Audience Targeting Should I Use?

With Google relying heavily on machine learning and audience targeting to manage discovery ads, it’s important to setup and maintain a list of audiences in you Google Ads account. Be sure to create audience lists of people who visit your confirmation page, add to cart or other key conversion pages on your site.

This will help Google build similar audiences that you can also use with Discovery Ads (beyond the options below).

Lets run through custom intent, affinity and in-market audiences.

Custom Intent

What It Is?
Uses keywords to target people who show an interest in a product, activity or hobby that aligns with what you sell. Building audiences based on people searching for your competitors, best selling products, or top converting search queries is the best place to start.

This way you know you are either targeting people who are aware of your competitors but might not know about you yet. You are also going after people searched for your products in the past, which is beneficial. If you find volume for lot for custom intent audience, then look at affinity and in-market audiences.


A form of targeting based on people who are passionate about a category of interest. Google looks at where we spend our time online to decide what affinity groups we belong to. You can belong to a fashionista category or even a toys & games category if you have kids. You can also be associated to a luxury shoppers affinity.

Similar to in-market audiences below, it’s a good idea to dig through the different lists as Google does not always group affinity audiences together in a way that makes sense. For example, Fashionistas are in the Lifestyle & Hobbies category even though there is a Shopper category.


Selects people who have researched a new product to purchase. There are 19 In-Market categories to choose from. Each category has different sub-categories you can pick from.

A good example is the Apparel & Accessories category. You can reach people researching Jewelry & Watch, Luggage, Men’s Apparel, Shoes, or even Swimwear to name just a few of the Apparel & Accessories sub-categories.

What Ad Creative Should You Use?

There are a few different ways you can use discovery ads. How you use them comes down to what you sell and what you want to move in your store.

Checkout Google’s discovery guidelines first. They are strongly encouraging you think of these as lifestyle ads and higher up in the funnel. Here are some ways we are using them with clients.

Popular Brands

Many of you sell another brand’s product, like our children’s toy client, Rose & Rex. If that is the case, one of the first approaches we suggest is to look at making your ads based on popular or top selling brands. Each ad will focus on a single brand and your URL should lead to the category page for said brand.

In our case we made ads for Maileg because it’s a popular toy brand in North America and Europe. You may have to play with what images you use and brands you market but this is the first place we started.

Popular Product Categories

If you make and sell your own products, then I would make ads based on your most popular products. A lot of women’s brands sell a ton of dresses or tops, which would be a good category to promote. For example, White + Warren might want to make an ad based on their travel wrap.

You want to pick products that are going to help attract more of the type of customers you find profitable. A good rule of thumb is to keep your ads clean and not too busy – you want people to be able to understand what is going on in the image. Again, it’ll lead to a category or even a product description page (PDP)

Holidays & Celebrations

This idea requires some planning but is doable. If you sell a product that only goes on sale during the holidays or a time people will celebrate, why not create a discovery campaign 30 days out?

This works beyond Christmas and Black Friday. You can also have sales that revolve around Halloween, Back To School, Valentines Days and even Easter. Most brands will have a category or some sort of collection page for these products, so why not advertise them? This can help fill your funnel and go beyond your search and shopping campaign efforts.

It’s early days but we are seeing success with Discovery Ads. The key is testing who you are targeting and what creative you show them. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes. It’s how we learn, grow, and ultimately become more profitable!