Nothing beats the feeling of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail, especially from someone you love. For obvious reasons, brands have a hard time replicating that feeling. Once in a while, I’ll get a solid deal from Bed Bath and Beyond, but the excitement of getting 20% off a new vacuum doesn’t quite tug on the same heartstring.

Nonetheless, as a dorky Digital Marketer, I do get a bit giddy whenever I see a perfectly engineered Gmail ad. Unearthing sweet copy and nifty ad creatives make me a happy man, especially among the sea of truly horrible ads and cold emails out there!

That’s why I’m putting together this blog post, just for you. I’ll be going over EVERYTHING you need to know about Gmail ads so that you can crush it on one of Google’s most popular platforms (1.2 billion users).

Let’s dig right in. If you’re short on time, navigate through this post using our table of contents below OR download our ebook and read it on the go!


What are Gmail Ads?

Gmail ads, also known as Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP), appear at the top of your Gmail inbox. They have a yellow square box that indicates that it’s an ad and not an actual email.

Who doesn’t love unlimited bacon? 🤤

Most Gmail ads expand into a full-screen promotion when clicked, and look like actual emails. You know, like the irresistible 40% off Uniqlo deals you can’t get enough of. This gives advertisers a ton of flexibility for customization, but more on that later.

How does targeting work?

There are over 1.2 billion active users a month on Gmail, but how the heck does Google collect targeting data? Well, this is where it gets a little bit controversial. Google used to scan emails for keywords, but then realized that it wasn’t completely necessary, let alone super creepy!

Google swiftly moved away from that model and now targets customers based on aggregated data from YouTube, Chrome, and their other services.


This data allows advertisers to find potential customers by their interests, habits, intent, and remarketing to your existing audience. We’ll cover targeting options later in this blog post! 👇

Why are Gmail sponsored promotions effective?

Google’s greatest competitive advantage is its ability to target people with high purchase intent. On Google Search, more specific, long-tail keywords imply that a customer has done his or her research and is now evaluating what’s in the market. If you provide a sweet enough deal, you’re going to win that conversion – no problem.

In the same vein, users who explore the ‘Promotions’ tab are in an offensive mindset to spend some cash. The promotions tab is full of coupons and killer deals, so people who consciously make the decision to frequent this tab are ready to buy! buy! buy!

Gmail Ad Specs

We’ve got a few tips for you before you go to the drawing board. There are three ways you can upload creatives for your Gmail ads.

  1. Use Google’s stock images that are provided within AdWords
  2. Let AdWords scan your website and pull content that are eligible to show in your ads
  3. Upload your own using the specs below!

Collapsed Ad:

Item Character Limit and Dimensions
Logo 144×144 px; 150 KB, 1:1 ratio (square)
Business Name 20 characters max
Headline 25 characters max
Description 90 characters max
Display URL 255 characters max
Final or Destination URL None

Expanded Ad:

Item Character Limit and Dimensions
Headline 25 characters max
Description 90 characters max
Business Name 20 characters max
Call to Action Button 15 characters max
Logo Image 144×144 px to 1200 x 1200; 1:1 ratio; 150 KB
Marketing Image Landscape (1.91:1): 1200×628 (600x314px min).

Square: 1200×1200 (300x300px min).

Header Image (optional) 600x200px min; 1200x400px max

How do you set up Gmail Ads in AdWords?

  1. Open Google AdWords
  2. Click Campaignsnew-gmail-ad-campaign
  3. Click the ‘ + ‘ button
  4. Select a goal: sales, leads or website traffic. Alternatively, select a campaign goal after you create a campaign.Select-Campaign-Goal
  5. Select Display CampaignSelect-Display-Campaign
  6. Select Gmail Campaign
  7. Build build build!

How do you create custom HTML ads?

Okay, creatives! Get excited. You can fully customize your Gmail ads! After working on search ads for so long, it’ll feel like receiving unlimited toppings on pretzel day.

You can really treat Gmail ads like a unique landing page that includes multiple CTAs, videos, images, and buttons. BUT before you go all out, here are some guidelines you must adhere to.

  1. You must compress your files into a ZIP folder that takes up less than 1.25 MB
  2. You can have up to 100 total files
  3. The max file size is 500KB

Gmail Targeting Options

The New AdWords experience divides your audience targeting options into three buckets:

  1. Affinity and Custom Affinity: What their interests and habits are
  2. In-Market and Custom Intent: What they are actively researching or planning
  3. Remarketing and Similar Audiences: How they have interacted with your business

Target by interests and habits

Target people with interests that align with your ads. For example, you may target people who are interested in beauty & wellness, travel, banking & finance, and even avid news readers. If Google’s preset selection is not specific enough for you, you may use custom affinity audiences to target people who:

  1. Have searched a keyword related to your custom affinity
  2. Downloaded apps that target people with your custom affinity
  3. Have shown interest in your targeted location
  4. Visited websites that fall into your affinity category

Target by intent

Remember, Google’s most notable advantage over other advertising platforms is its ability to predict how likely someone is to purchase. AdWords can help you target an audience that your business can swoop in to help.

In-Market Audiences

Google lets you target in-market audiences, or people who are actively looking to buy your products or services. These customers often compare different product offerings as they are ramping up to pull the trigger. In-market audiences are incredibly valuable and usually have their credit cards ready!

Custom Intent

While targeting keywords is great, custom intent uses data beyond just search signals and clicks. Google is now throwing Chrome history, YouTube signals, and app install data into the mix. Although AdWords automatically creates custom intent audiences for all display ads, we strongly suggest you take a look under the hood to reach the audience that’ll make the most impact on your business.

Life Events

Everybody cherishes their big day. Whether it’s getting accepted to your dream college, moving out to a less-dingy neighborhood, starting a new gig, or impulsively adopting a puppy – whatever it may be – these life moments impact our lives forever.

And with each pivotal life moment, there are businesses who can help people make the most of it. Google provides advertising options that target people who undergo (or Google thinks will undergo) meaningful life moments, so you can capture the right people at the right time. These life events include people who are:

🎓 about to graduate college
🎓 recently graduated college
💍 about to get married
👰 recently got married
📦 about to move
📦 recently moved

Audience Keywords

Google searches and website browsing history tell Google a lot about a user, which makes audience keyword targeting such a powerful targeting option. By specifying what keywords you want to target, your ad can show for a more relevant audience who sit farther down the funnel.

In the past, audience keywords were the only way to target custom audiences. However, the New AdWords experience uses Custom Intent Audiences to do so. Sometimes an error saying “no ads serving” may occur due to the transition of the new system. Here’s how to fix it:

  1. Select your campaign or campaign type
  2. Click the ‘keywords’ tab
  3. Remove audience keywords
  4. Optional but highly encouraged: Do the macarena

Target people who have interacted with you before


Remarketing is a strategy that targets people who have previously engaged or interacted with your content or website. You may target website visitors, YouTube users, App users, customer lists, or a custom combination of all of them. For a full rundown, read our quick guide on how to set up remarketing in 6 easy steps.

Similar Audiences

If you already have a customer list, Google can help you find more people who are similar to your current audience. This, cleverly enough, is called similar audiences. This is a particularly effective lead generation tactic if you already have a high-converting customer base!

Demographic Targeting

This is the most common type of targeting, especially for traditional advertisers. You may target by age group, gender, parental status, education, home ownership, marital status, occupation, and household income (in most countries).

Beware of Automated Targeting!

As Google continues to simplify AdWords, they’ve made an increasingly harder push on automation. When creating a Display Ad, the default setting for automated targeting is set as ‘conservative automation,’ but beware! While this may be a decent option for beginner advertisers, it’s best practice to turn this off and identify your own audience. If you want to find more customers like your current audience, learn how to create a similar audience instead.

Gmail Ads: Tips and Best Practices

  1. The three Gmail measurement metrics provided in AdWords are Gmail Forwards, Gmail Saves, and Gmail Clicks to Website. Rotate your ads indefinitely for 3 months to gather enough data to optimize. If you don’t have the time, choose the ‘optimize’ ad rotation option to let Google do it for you.
  2. Don’t be fooled by ad clicks! “Gmail Clicks to Website” is the most relevant metric of how well your ad is performing, whereas “clicks” counts all Gmail ad opens, including those who bounced without clicking through to your website.
  3. Don’t skimp out on ad creatives. Add multiple images and videos and pit them against each other!
  4. Quality score exists in Gmail ads, but Google doesn’t show it to you. However, your email click-through-rates are a strong indicator of how your ads score.
  5. Check under the hood. Even if automated targeting and bidding options have worked out for you, triple check everything!

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Have any questions?

Love what you read? Confused? Let us know in the comments below, or chat with us over on Twitter. We read every tweet!

5 responses to “Ultimate Guide to Gmail Ads in 2019

  1. When looking at your section about targeting you have custom intent but in Google Ads I don’t see that option. Are you in a alpha or beta test group?

    1. Hey Chris! At first, this feature was rolled out only to a select few advertisers, but now should be available to all Google Ads users!

    1. Hi Lucy! I am happy to help answer your questions! Would you mind giving me a little more context as to what you mean by swiping?

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About the Author

Journeyman of the wild wild west of Digital Advertising. Also doubling as an unofficial Taco Bell ambassador. Tweet at me @JonJmPark