Some of us – by “some,” I mean those of us born before 1984 – are famil­iar with the local adver­tis­ing model of the past: the Mom-and-Pop corner store would have that yearly and inevitable conver­sa­tion with a yellow pages repre­sen­ta­tive, wherein strat­egy was typi­cally reduced to content, size and place­ment. Fast-forward a couple decades to a complex and nuanced playing field with online market­ing chan­nels and unprece­dented control over target­ing, ad rota­tion, keywords, bidding, etc.  For those busi­nesses able and willing to set the pace in this brave new world, inter­ac­tive agen­cies (such as our own) are hired to take full advan­tage of the avail­able keyword and target­ing opti­miza­tion strate­gies, using sophis­ti­cated report­ing tech­niques and seasoned insight to help compa­nies obtain a maximum ROI.

But let’s say you are running a small sand­wich shop and you don’t have the money to hire a search profes­sional or the time to teach your­self how to use the tools. Just in time for bikini season, Google re-debuted a slimmed down version of AdWords: AdWords Express. While this product has already been in exis­tence under the name Google Boost, it has seen a recent inter­face makeover in line with many other Google prod­ucts – Gmail, Places, etc. – provid­ing a cleaner and more intu­itive look for its users.

Made for small and medium busi­nesses with small budgets and limited time on their hands, AdWords Express is designed to increase busi­ness expo­sure and sales for those who want to venture into Google’s local search market without dealing with the robust features and complex options of its parent product.

Claim­ing a faster and simpler way to start adver­tis­ing online – in less than five minutes – AdWords Express certainly lacks the learn­ing curve of the regular AdWords program.  Less-than-savvy web users should be happy to see that creat­ing an ad requires only five pieces of infor­ma­tion: 1) select­ing a search cate­gory, 2) a head­line for the ad, 3) an ad descrip­tion, 4) select­ing a landing page, and 5) choos­ing a monthly budget ($50 minimum).

The most crucial step in the sign-up process – and the feature that best defines the appeal and utility of AdWords Express – is select­ing a search cate­gory for your busi­ness. While search profes­sion­als should comb the avail­able tools to select the most appro­pri­ate keywords to help trigger the ad when a search is performed, AdWords Express allows the small busi­ness owner to choose, for example, the cate­gory of “Italian Restau­rant” and Google supplies the appro­pri­ate keyword list.  What if your busi­ness sells a variety of prod­ucts and services? No problem. You can sign up for more than one busi­ness cate­gory and write ads specif­i­cally for each cate­gory of prod­ucts.

Map with Local Listing

Since the concept of bidding on keywords might prove daunt­ing to some, AdWords Express nulli­fies this concern by utiliz­ing auto­matic bidding capa­bil­i­ties. Simply enter the amount you want to spend each month and Google will opti­mize your ad place­ment based on the keywords asso­ci­ated with the busi­ness cate­gory you select when signing up. Small busi­ness owners should rejoice at the thought of zero ongoing account manage­ment.

Ad with Local ListingPerhaps the most intrigu­ing and bene­fi­cial option for AdWords Express adver­tis­ers is the way the ad appears on Google’s maps. Normally, a red pin is used to show the actual loca­tion of the busi­ness on the map, but AdWords Express ads receive a blue pin. It is hard to over­state the impor­tance of this feature as a lone blue pin will clearly stand out among a sea of red pins, drawing a user‘s atten­tion toward the Express ad.

Is your busi­ness lacking a website to serve as a landing page? No problem, Google has you covered. Busi­nesses can set up a Google Places account at the same time as their Express account and the ad will link to their Places page. When an AdWords Express ad is created, the system auto­mat­i­cally creates an AdWords account with the same login email address and sets up a Places campaign – a read-only report avail­able to give your small busi­ness vital infor­ma­tion regard­ing how people are search­ing and finding you. You can also access this infor­ma­tion through your Google Places dash­board.

Is your busi­ness too strapped for cash that it can’t invest in an AdWords Express trial? No problem. It has been announced last week that Google is begin­ning to offer and test a Google Master­Card credit card, with a modest 8.99% APR, to be used for pay-per-click spend­ing. While many details have yet to surface on this oppor­tu­nity, Google is making it very attrac­tive for small busi­ness owners to dip their toes in the paid search pool. The effi­cacy of online adver­tis­ing is leaps and bounds beyond the olden days of yellow pages, however, when it comes to time and know-how, not much has changed. After supply­ing a few basic pieces of infor­ma­tion, the sand­wich shop owner is right back where he needs to be – taking care of all of his newly acquired customers.