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.