How to Create YouTube Video Ad Campaigns for Direct Marketing

YouTube is great. You want to watch funny videos or movie trailers? YouTube has you covered. Need instructions to create an AdWords campaign or fix your broken lawnmower? Yet again, more videos.

There is a ton of opportunity for getting in front of a varied and engaged audience.

However, this rosy picture starts to fade when you consider that the YouTube platform isn’t like the Google or Bing SERPs – designed to get people to click links. YouTube is designed to get people to watch video content. Heck, the video ad platform is designed around a maximum cost-per-view (CPV)!

So, as a direct marketer, how can you leverage this massive channel to generate website clicks and conversions?

To start, you need to understand each YouTube video ad campaign type and how these ad units function. From there, it is a matter of understanding proper campaign segmentation and how best to get those YouTube viewers to your website!

YouTube Campaign & Ad Types

With YouTube video ad campaigns, the campaign type actually dictates the available ad unit.


YouTube In-Search campaigns have perhaps the lowest barrier of entry for advertisers familiar with traditional PPC. As the name implies, In-Search campaigns are based on keywords searched directly on YouTube:

YouTube funny videos

The goal as an advertiser is to provide sponsored video content that is relevant to the search result. In-Search ads utilize ad copy that mirrors traditional AdWords text ads.

The exception is that these ads have a still frame from the advertised video and do not have a display or destination URL. Instead you have the option to send this traffic to either the video watch page or your YouTube channel.



In-Stream, formerly known as pre-roll ads, are YouTube’s version of TV commercials. Before you watch the desired video, another video will run. If you click on the video, you will be taken to that advertiser’s landing page:


Targeting for In-Stream ads comes in a few flavors not all that different from advertising on the Google Display Network (GDN). You control demographics (age, gender), categories (“viewing videos about”) and interests. Beyond these targeting controls, you can also leverage placements (specific videos), remarketing lists, or keyword lists for contextual targeting:



In-Display campaigns leverage the exact same set of targeting parameters as In-Stream, but these ads appear as a suggestion next to other videos on YouTube or the GDN:


Note that there isn’t an option for a display or destination URL. There’s only the option to send traffic to a specific video watch page or your YouTube channel.

Bonus: GDN Placement

A lot of advertisers forget this gem – YouTube is also a part of the GDN. You can run text ads and image ads (728×90 or 300×250 only) on YouTube as a placement. Drive more relevant traffic with specific video placements or leveraging remarketing lists, interests, categories, demographics and contextual keywords.

YouTube Campaign Segmentation

When you create a YouTube video campaign, by default Google sets you up to have one campaign with one ad. You will see that all three campaign types are selected, and your ad contains all of the elements of In-Stream, In-Search, and In-Display ad units.

When you get to creating targets, Google also automatically opts you into using keywords (In-Search) and all of the other features (In-Stream, In-Display).

Why is this bad? Because your CPV bid is set at the target level. If all of your targeting methods are within a single target, you will only have one bid and no flexibility. Get granular!

  • Create unique campaigns for each ad type: In-Search, In-Stream, In-Display.
  • Within each campaign, create granular targets. Think of targets like ad groups. Tightly themed keywords, interests, categories, demos, etc.
  • Even if you only have one video to leverage for video ads, create multiple In-Search and In-Display ad units that adjusts the messaging to fit your granular targets.

Website Traffic and Tagging

Now you understand the different types of video ad campaigns, but how do you get these viewers to become website visitors?

  • Try to use video content that was designed with advertising in mind. Videos lasting 15-30 seconds are best for In-Stream. Regardless of length, they should be contextually relevant to your product or service.
  • In-stream: this is easy! When your video runs ahead of other content, the entire video is an active link to your landing page. Make sure that you tag this destination URL appropriately so that you can record visits and conversions in analytics and elsewhere.
  • In-Search/In-Display: not so easy! These ads take viewers to watch or channel pages. Work around it.
    • Create Call-to-Action Overlays for your videos. These overlays look just like a PPC ad and can include a 56×56 image (logo). Create these directly in YouTube or link YouTube and AdWords to create them in the video ad campaign interface. Tag these destination URLs as CTA overlay so you can see how this traffic converts. Downside? Viewers who found your video organically can also click the CTA overlay.
    • Make sure your watch and channel pages contain conversion oriented language (if appropriate to your video content) and provide links where YouTube allows. This traffic will be difficult to track, but you may be able to record incremental growth.
    • Run GDN placement ads on the YouTube watch and channel pages associated with your video ad campaigns. Use this as a last resort because it means you will effectively pay twice for each visitor.

Have any of you found any tactics that drive website traffic and conversions from YouTube video ad campaigns? If so, please share in the comments!

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