Google Discovery Ads: What They Are and How to Use Them

Nadica Naceva
Last Updated:
13 min read

The effectiveness of your paid ads depends on a combination of factors such as when and how you deliver them and to whom you deliver them as well as what you’re advertising. You want to make sure you’re reaching people with the right offers when they’re in a discovery mindset, meaning they should be open to discovering new products and services. That’s why Google Discovery ads (now Demand Gen) are such an important part of the marketer’s toolkit today.

In this post, we help you understand what Google Discovery ads are and how you can use them for your business. Let’s take a look.


What are Google Discovery Ads (now Demand Gen)?

Discovery ads are visually engaging ads that are personalized for customers based on intent signals, reaching them when they’re most likely to engage. It uses machine learning to deliver the right ads to the right users at moments when they’re in the mindset to discover new products and services.

This could be via Google Search as people open the app to explore their interests. It could be via their Gmail inbox as they check the Promotions and Social tabs for the latest deals and offers. It could also be through YouTube’s Watch Next or Home feeds where more than 90% of users discover new brands or products.

Example Discovery ads / UGG


The Upgrade to Demand Gen

Since June of 2023, Google introduced an upgraded version of Discovery ads called Demand Gen. This is a new type of AI-powered campaign that comes with more sophisticated targeting capabilities and support for short-form video ad formats. Additionally, Demand Gen campaigns offer expanded reach by delivering ads through YouTube Shorts and In-Stream.

Demand Gen ads offer a host of powerful new features that you can leverage to design impactful campaigns. Let’s take a look at those updated features to understand them better:

  • You now have the option to engage your audience using video ads and image ads within one campaign. Formerly, you could only create single-image and carousel ads.
  • You can integrate your first-party data with Google’s audience intent and interest signals. This will help you find new customers that are most like your existing audience based on things like past purchases, YouTube engagement, or website and app activity.
  • Your ads will also be delivered through YouTube Shorts and In-Stream in addition to the previous placements. Previously, Discovery ads on YouTube were only delivered on the Home, Search, and Watch Next feeds.
  • You now have the option to use Maximize Clicks bidding in addition to Conversions and Conversions value. This can help you drive high-value customers to your site and optimize for site visits and actions.
  • In addition to the standard Google Ads and Assets reporting, you can now get access to more advanced analytics through Conversion Paths Reports and Data Driven Attribution.
  • You now have the option to optimize targeting based on device. This means you can set specific targeting based on device usage. For instance, you can choose to specifically target only those using a computer, a mobile phone, a tablet, or even a TV screen. 
  • You can even get more specific with your targeting by fine-tuning it based on operating systems, device models, and networks. This means you get to target people using any of the three Google apps on their iPhone 14 Pro and using Sprint mobile network.

Demand Gen ads also offer a redesigned workflow to showcase ad previews. This will give you a preview of how your ads will look across various surfaces, so you can make sure that they look great regardless of placement.

Demand Gen ads

By March 2024, all existing Discovery ad campaigns were upgraded to Demand Gen. For the purpose of this article, however, we’ll continue referencing them as Discovery ads to avoid confusion.  


Display Ads vs. Discovery Ads

With Display ads being one of the most popular ways to advertise on Google, you may be curious to know what makes Discovery ads different. They’re both visually engaging and they both allow you to target relevant audiences. The key difference is in the audience you’re reaching and where you’re reaching them.

With Discovery ads, you’re specifically reaching individuals who are displaying high-intent behavior. Google’s machine learning algorithms look for customer intent signals to determine whom to target with your ads. Meanwhile, Display ads don’t necessarily aim to drive this type of action.

Another notable difference is that Discovery ads are delivered through Google feeds, specifically the Search app, YouTube app, and Gmail app. Display ads, on the other hand, are delivered through the Google Display Network, spanning more than 2 million sites, apps, and videos. 

In other words, Display ads have a broader reach and are ideal for reaching the masses. Discovery ads let you get more specific with your targeting, enabling you to engage only high-intent users.


Search Ads vs. Discovery Ads

Another key difference that you might be interested to learn about is how Discovery ads are different from search ads. Search ads use keyword-based targeting, delivering ads to users based on the searches they perform.

On the other hand, a user doesn’t have to perform a search to be served a relevant Discovery ad. The ads they see are specifically based on the intent and interest signals such as the websites they’ve visited, the products they’ve browsed, and the content they’ve engaged with.


Benefits of Google Discovery Ads

Now that you understand what Discovery ads are, you may be wondering what makes them so special. What kind of value can they deliver for your brand? Let’s break down some of the key benefits of Google Discovery ads.

Increased Relevance

With Google Discovery ads, you get to deliver adverts for products or services that are highly relevant to customers at moments when they’re ready to engage. These ads are personalized based on the intent of each customer, which makes them more likely to pay attention. For example, someone who’s searched for information about heatmaps may get an ad from VWO for their heatmap platform on Gmail.

VWO ad heatmap platform Gmail

Improved Conversions

As a result of reaching high-intent customers, your Google Discovery ads are also more likely to inspire action. Whether you want to increase site visits, drive sales, or encourage newsletter signups, you can improve conversions when you reach people with offers when they’re most likely to engage.

Lower Cost-Per-Action

Google Discovery ads allow you to focus your spending on a highly specific audience that’s likely to convert. This means that whatever you’re spending on your ads is likely to yield some form of return, helping you reduce your cost-per-action (CPA). Agencies like iProspect have been able to launch Discovery ad campaigns with a 48% lower CPA than social ads.


How to Get Started with Google Discovery Ads

Considering the above benefits, you may be excited to get started with Discovery ads right away. So let’s take you through the essential steps of launching your first Discovery campaign.

Step 1: Nail Down the Essentials

First things first, it’s important to have all the essentials set up before you can launch your campaign. This will help you ensure that everything runs smoothly and reduce the risk of glitches along the way.

Make sure to have sitewide tagging and conversion tracking enabled. This is necessary to accurately track conversions and closely monitor the performance of your Discovery ads. Additionally, since Discovery ads will be personalized for the customer, it’s important to comply with Google’s personalized advertising content policy.


Step 2: Set Up Your Discovery Ad Campaign

Next, it’s time to set up your campaign. You can do this by signing into your Google Ads account and creating a new campaign from the left navigation menu. You’ll need to choose your objective from six different options:

  • Salesfor driving sales through your website, app, or store
  • Leadsfor generating leads and other types of conversions by encouraging customers to take a specific action
  • Website trafficto drive the right people to your website
  • App promotionfor driving more app installs, engagements, and pre-registrations
  • Awareness and considerationto expand your reach and generate interest in your products or services
  • Local store visits and promotionsto get people to visit your local store (ideal for restaurants and dealerships)

Besides these six different objective options, you’ll also get an option to create a campaign without a goal’s guidance.

Discovery Ad Campaign objective options

You can create a Discovery (or Demand Gen) campaign by choosing either the Sales, Leads, Website traffic, or Awareness and consideration objective. The option to create a campaign without a goal’s guidance will also let you create a Demand Gen campaign. For the purpose of this article, we’ll select Sales as an objective. Then choose Demand Gen as a campaign type.

Demand Gen campaign type

On the next page, you’ll get to name your campaign and select a campaign goal. You can either choose to drive conversions or clicks. Based on this, you’ll be able to accurately track your performance. 

Another essential step is to set a daily budget. Consider how much you’re willing to spend overall and set your ad budget accordingly. If you choose “Conversion” as a goal, you’ll also be required to set your target cost per action. We recommend having a daily budget that’s at least 10 times higher than your target CPA bid.

If you’re not sure how much you should spend, the Ads Manager will make smart recommendations for the ideal target CPA and daily budget based on how other ads are performing. This will allow you to set an amount that’s necessary for improving your performance. 

Ads Manager target CPA

You can further customize the campaign by setting the target location and language as well as devices. For example, you can choose to only target people speaking Spanish in Miami and watching YouTube on their TV screens. Additionally, you can set a schedule to run your ads – whether you want it to run all day or at specific times on specific days.


Step 3: Set Up Your Ad Creatives

Once you’re done setting up the campaign details, it’s time to prepare and upload your ad creatives. Since their upgrade to Demand Gen campaigns, Discovery ads now offer support for video ad formats. In addition, you can use single-image ads and carousel ads with multiple images.  

Discovery campaigns require you to upload multiple versions of your creative assets. Google will then use these assets to create different combinations and optimize your campaigns accordingly.

  • Single image adYou can upload up to 20 images and five logos. The Ads Manager will automatically crop each image in three ratios, and you can select which ratios to use in your campaign.
  • Headlines and descriptionsYou can add up to five headlines, five long headlines (for video ads), and five descriptions.
  • Business name, CTA, final URL You can have one each.
  • Video adYou can upload up to five videos and one logo. Google even lets you create videos right within the Ads Manager by choosing from a wide range of pre-designed templates and uploading your assets.
  • Carousel image adYou can add up to 10 cards and one logo. Each card can have up to three images, one headline, and one call to action text.

Discovery ads type 

Use the Preview window to see what your ad will look like across the three Google apps. This will help you understand how to optimize your ad creatives to ensure they look perfect no matter where someone comes across your Discovery ad.


Step 4: Observe, Learn, and Optimize

Once your campaign goes live, it’s important to closely monitor your ad performance to see how to make improvements. But keep in mind that it will take Google about two weeks to optimize your bids, so avoid making any changes before this period. 

After the period ends, use your ad analytics to keep track of how each ad is performing. How many people are you able to reach? How are people interacting with your ads? Are you getting enough interactions?

Use the insights from your analytics to see what can be improved and optimize your campaign accordingly. This is necessary to run successful Discovery campaigns in the long run.


Best Practices and Tips for Successful Discovery Ads

Setting up a Discovery ad campaign is one thing; it’s another to drive results from your campaign. Besides testing and optimizing, it’s important to ensure that you’re delivering high-quality ads with creatives that draw in your audience. Use the following tips and best practices to create successful Discovery ads.

Make the Most of Retargeting

While Discovery ads allow you to target high-intent customers, you can further improve the chances of conversion by using them in your retargeting campaigns. Use Discovery ads to retarget customers who have abandoned their carts, browsed your website, or previously made a purchase. 

This will allow you to reach people who have already shown some level of interest and keep you top-of-mind when they’re ready to buy. For instance, someone who occasionally buys shoes from your brand might come back and make a purchase if they see an ad reminding them about the awesome new products you have in store.

ad reminding


Use Eye-Catching Visuals

Visuals are everything when you’re trying to catch your audience while they’re browsing YouTube or articles on the Search app. These apps already have eye-catching thumbnails for organic content, which means your ad needs to stand out visually to make them pause and pay closer attention.

If you manage to get them to pause even for a brief second, there’s a good chance they might engage with the ad. See how the following ad makes use of an image with bright colors and interesting shapes to create something that’s visually appealing. 

Eye-Catching Visuals


Create Compelling Headlines and Descriptions

The text in your Discover ads is just as important as the visuals. This is what will draw your audience in once they take notice of your ad. It’s also what could eventually get them to click and engage with your ad.

If the text doesn’t do a great job of explaining your offer, people are just going to keep scrolling. See how the following ad from Grammarly promises “world-class AI for writing.”

Discover ads Grammarly

The description makes use of interesting and eye-catching numbers that also serve as some form of social proof. The copy makes a compelling case for the product, which might encourage people to download the plugin/app.

Grammarly / ad description


Drive Conversions with Google Discovery Ads

Google Discovery ads or Demand Gen ads are a powerful way to target high-intent customers with the right offers at the right time. They can help you make the most of your advertising budget by focusing on a very specific audience that’s most likely to take action.

The above steps will guide you in the process of setting up your first Discovery ad campaign. Make the most of the tips and best practices to ensure greater success and more impressive results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Discovery ads in Google Ads?

Discovery ads are visually engaging ads that are personalized for customers based on intent signals and delivered through the Search, YouTube, and Gmail apps.

What is the difference between search ads and Discovery ads?

Search ads target users based on the keywords they provide. Discovery ads target users based on intent signals and don’t rely on the searches they perform.

What is the difference between Google Discovery and Google display ads?

Discovery ads help you reach individuals who are displaying high-intent behavior while display ads don’t necessarily target this type of action. Additionally, Discovery ads are only delivered through Google feeds while display ads are delivered across the entire Google Display network.

What is the difference between Discovery ads and Performance Max?

Discovery ads target users across Google feeds based on intent signals whereas Performance Max targets users across various platforms regardless of intent.

What are the different types of Discovery ads?

Single image, video, and carousel are the different types of Discovery ads.

About the Author
Nadica Naceva is a storyteller, reviewer and strategist with an instinct for blending the worlds of online advertising and content creation. She's been in the game for nearly a decade, navigating the currents of SEO optimization, content marketing, and the digital strategies. Her path has taken her th