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Discovery Ads vs Shopping Ads: Choosing the Right Strategy for Your Brand

So, which ad type wins the showdown called Discovery ads vs Shopping ads?

Discovery Ads are tailored to create brand awareness and capture the interest of users who are exploring content without a specific purchase intent.

They excel in environments where visuals and stories can spark curiosity and engagement.

On the other hand, Shopping Ads are designed to drive sales by targeting users with clear purchase intents, showcasing detailed product information directly in search results where the decision to buy is often made.

Which means that it depends on your needs.

Throughout this article, we’ll dive into the distinctive characteristics and strategic applications of Discovery Ads and Shopping Ads within Google Ads.

Let’s break it down further and find out where each ad type excels.

Overview Discovery Ads

Discovery Ad Examples

Source: Google

Discovery Ads are a type of advertising format provided by Google Ads, designed to help businesses engage users across Google’s most frequented feeds such as the Google Discover feed, YouTube home feed, and the Gmail Social and Promotions tabs.

These ads are crafted to capture the attention of users who are not actively searching for something specific but are open to discovering new products and services.

With their rich, media-based format, Discovery Ads allow advertisers to deliver a visually engaging experience that can spark interest and drive user action.

Key Features of Discovery Ads

Visual Appeal

Discovery Ads are highly visual and can include a combination of images, headlines, and descriptions to create compelling advertisements. The format supports multiple image carousel ads, making it ideal for showcasing a range of products or telling a visual story about a brand.

Automatic Optimization

One of the standout features of Discovery Ads is their use of Google’s machine learning technology to automatically optimize how your ads are presented. This technology adjusts the combinations of images and text shown to different users, aiming to display the most effective version of your ad to each user based on their past interactions and behavior.

Multi-platform Presence

These ads are uniquely positioned across Google’s extensive platforms, appearing in places where users are likely to explore new content. This multi-platform presence increases the reach of Discovery Ads, allowing brands to engage with audiences across different touchpoints in their daily digital interactions.

Targeting Capabilities and Typical Use Cases for Discovery Ads

Targeting Capabilities

Discovery Ads use Google’s powerful targeting tools to reach users based on their interests, habits, and past interactions with the advertiser’s content. This targeting is bolstered by Google’s understanding of user behavior across its platforms, providing a nuanced ability to reach audiences who are most likely to be interested in the advertiser’s message.

Typical Use Cases

Discovery Ads are particularly useful for:

  • Brand Awareness: Companies looking to introduce their brand to new audiences can use the broad reach and engaging format of Discovery Ads to make a memorable impression.
  • Product Launches: For new products, these ads can intrigue potential customers with visually appealing previews.
  • Content Promotion: Businesses aiming to drive more traffic to blog posts, articles, or other content can use Discovery Ads to attract users who enjoy consuming relevant content.
  • Re-engagement: Brands can re-engage users who have previously shown interest but have not yet converted, by capturing their attention in a non-search context.

Overview of Shopping Ads

Shopping Ad examples

Shopping Ads, also known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs), are a specialized format used within Google Ads designed primarily to promote products by showing users detailed information at a glance.

These ads appear in Google Search results and on Google Shopping, positioning them directly in the view of potential buyers actively searching for related products.

Shopping Ads are highly effective for e-commerce businesses aiming to convert high-intent shoppers into customers by providing them with essential product information before they even click through to a website.

Shopping Ads Elements

Product Images

One of the key components of Shopping Ads is the product image. This is the first element that potential customers see and plays a critical role in attracting their attention. High-quality, clear images that accurately represent the product are vital for the effectiveness of these ads.


Each Shopping Ad prominently displays the price of the product. This transparency helps users make quick decisions about clicking the ad, as they can compare prices from different sellers within the search results.

Merchant Details

Shopping Ads also include details about the merchant selling the product. This can include the store name and other relevant information such as shipping options, which helps build trust with potential buyers.

Additional Information

These ads can also display other valuable information like promotions, product ratings, and availability.

This additional data can further entice users by highlighting unique selling points or reassurances about the product’s popularity and quality.

Targeting Mechanism of Shopping Ads

Intent-Based Targeting

Shopping Ads are unique in that they target users based on the intent demonstrated by their search queries. Google uses sophisticated algorithms to interpret the intent behind a user’s search and to show the most relevant products related to that search. This means that Shopping Ads are shown to users who are already looking for the kinds of products being advertised, which increases the likelihood of conversion.

Product-Specific Targeting

These ads are also designed to match very specific product searches. When a user searches for a particular product, Google uses the information from the Merchant Center—like titles, categories, and descriptions—to pull up the most relevant ads. This targeting is supported by the detailed product feed submitted by advertisers, which includes all the necessary information about each item.

Dynamic Retargeting

Beyond initial searches, Shopping Ads can also use dynamic retargeting strategies to re-engage users who have shown interest in a product but have not yet purchased. This method ensures that potential customers continue to see the product they considered, thereby increasing the chances of bringing them back to complete the purchase.

Discovery Ads vs Shopping Ads Comparison

Discovery Ads and Shopping Ads serve different purposes and engage users in distinct ways within Google’s ecosystem.

While Discovery Ads are about sparking interest and drawing users into a brand’s narrative through visually engaging and curiosity-driven content, Shopping Ads are about providing clear, concise product information to facilitate immediate purchases.

Understanding these differences can help you choose the right type of ad to align with your specific objectives, whether you’re looking to build brand awareness or drive sales.

Differences in Audience Engagement Strategies

Discovery Ads focus on capturing the interest of users who are not actively searching for a specific product but are open to discovering new content and products. These ads use visually rich media to engage users in an explorative experience, typically appearing in environments like the Google Discover feed, YouTube home feed, and Gmail, where users are likely to be browsing content rather than performing targeted searches. The engagement strategy here relies heavily on the visual appeal and the relevance of the content to the interests of the user, often leveraging broader lifestyle or thematic connections rather than direct product queries.

Shopping Ads, in contrast, engage users who have demonstrated a clear intent to purchase specific products. These ads appear in search results when users type specific product-related queries into Google. The engagement is more straightforward and transactional, with clear product images, prices, and details that allow users to make quick decisions based on direct comparison shopping. The strategy here is less about discovery and more about efficiently providing the information that high-intent shoppers need to make a purchase decision.

Objectives and Outcomes Comparison

Objective of Discovery Ads: The primary objective of Discovery Ads is to generate interest and awareness. They are used extensively for branding purposes, helping to introduce new products or features to a market or to re-engage users with a brand’s broader narrative. The outcomes are generally measured in terms of engagement metrics like clicks, time spent, and video views, which help in building a long-term relationship with the audience.

Objective of Shopping Ads: The main goal of Shopping Ads is to drive immediate sales. They are crafted to capture the demand already present among consumers who are ready to purchase or are making final buying decisions. The effectiveness of these ads is measured through direct sales metrics, including conversion rates, cost-per-acquisition, and return on ad spend. This direct approach aims to shorten the customer journey from discovery to purchase.

Analysis of the Different Formats and Placements Within Google’s Ecosystem

Formats and Placements of Discovery Ads:

  • Visual Formats: Discovery Ads often use carousel formats that allow multiple images or videos, providing a richer storytelling angle.
  • Placements: These ads appear across Google’s ‘Discovery’ surfaces; this includes the Google Discover feed which tailors content based on user interests, the YouTube home feed which suggests videos to users, and the social and promotions tabs in Gmail where users can explore offers and new ideas.

Formats and Placements of Shopping Ads:

  • Product-focused Formats: Shopping Ads are more structured and data-driven, showcasing product images, titles, price information, and other merchant details directly within the ad.
  • Placements: These ads primarily appear in Google Search results and the Google Shopping tab, which are spaces where users specifically search for products and services with the intent to buy.

Choosing Between Discovery Ads and Shopping Ads

When determining whether to use Discovery Ads or Shopping Ads, businesses should consider several criteria based on their specific marketing objectives:

  • Stage in the Buying Cycle: If the goal is to attract users who may not yet be familiar with your product or brand, Discovery Ads are ideal as they engage users who are in the exploratory phase of their buying journey. On the other hand, Shopping Ads should be used when targeting users who have a clear intent to purchase and are further along in the buying cycle.
  • Product Type: For products that benefit from richer narratives or emotional connections—such as lifestyle goods, innovative tech gadgets, or luxury items—Discovery Ads can be more effective. Conversely, for straightforward products where price and specifications are the main decision factors—like home appliances, office supplies, or consumer electronics—Shopping Ads are likely to perform better.
  • Audience Targeting: Discovery Ads are beneficial for broadening reach and engaging new audiences by tapping into user interests and behaviors across Google’s platforms. Shopping Ads are more focused, targeting users who are actively searching for specific products or brands, making them highly effective for capturing ready-to-buy shoppers.
  • Content Availability: Companies with strong visual content and the ability to create engaging multimedia ads might prefer Discovery Ads to take full advantage of these formats. If the business has detailed product data and a well-maintained Google Merchant Center, Shopping Ads would be a robust option.

Use Cases for Each Ad Type

Scenario 1: Launching a New Fashion Line

  • Industry: Fashion and Apparel
  • Preferred Ad Type: Discovery Ads
  • Rationale: A new fashion line benefits from high-impact visual ads that showcase the style and diversity of the clothing. Discovery Ads allow the brand to tell a story about the new line and create desire before the customer decides to buy, making them ideal for this visually-driven industry.

Scenario 2: Promoting Consumer Electronics During a Sale Event

  • Industry: Consumer Electronics
  • Preferred Ad Type: Shopping Ads
  • Rationale: For specific products like laptops or smartphones, especially during a sale, potential buyers are likely searching for the best deals and specific product attributes. Shopping Ads provide immediate product information and pricing, which is crucial for conversion during high-intent shopping periods.

Scenario 3: Introducing a New Fitness Tracker

  • Industry: Health and Fitness Gadgets
  • Preferred Ad Type: Discovery Ads
  • Rationale: When launching a new product like a fitness tracker, it’s beneficial to utilize Discovery Ads to highlight innovative features and health benefits that may not yet be well-known to consumers.

Scenario 4: Boosting Sales for Home Gardening Tools

  • Industry: Home and Garden
  • Preferred Ad Type: Shopping Ads
  • Rationale: Users looking for gardening tools often know exactly what they need and are in a state of readiness to purchase. Shopping Ads can directly link these users with the products they seek, providing clear information and simplifying the path to purchase.

Choosing between Discovery Ads and Shopping Ads should be guided by a clear understanding of your marketing goals, the nature of your products, and the preferences of your target audience.

Best Practices for Each Ad Type

Best Practices for Creating Effective Discovery Ads

Focus on Visual Storytelling

Discovery Ads thrive on the power of visuals to tell a story and engage users. Utilize high-quality images or videos that are eye-catching and relevant to your message.

The visual content should evoke emotions or reactions that align with the desired brand image or campaign goal.

Think about using a narrative that connects with the audience on a personal level, possibly through lifestyle imagery, user-generated content, or scenarios that reflect user experiences.

Ensure Personal Engagement

Personalize your Discovery Ads by leveraging data insights about your target audience. Use dynamic ad elements that can adjust based on the interests and past behaviors of viewers.

This personalized approach helps in creating a connection and increases the likelihood of engagement.

Additionally, including calls to action that resonate with the audience’s interests and needs can dramatically enhance the effectiveness of your ads.

Optimize for Platform Nuances

Each platform within Google’s ecosystem where Discovery Ads appear—Google Discover, YouTube, Gmail—has unique characteristics and user expectations.

Tailor your ads to fit these platforms by considering how people interact with content on these channels.

For example, ads on YouTube might be more dynamic and entertainment-focused, while those on Google

Discover should be more informative and newsworthy.

Best Practices for Creating Effective Shopping Ads

Strategic Product Selection

Choose products for Shopping Ads that have proven market demand and competitive advantages.

Analyze data on what your target audience frequently searches for and purchase behaviors to inform your product selections.

Highlight products that offer unique features, competitive pricing, or other selling points that distinguish them from competitors in the market.

Focus on Image Quality

The image is often the first element of a Shopping Ad that potential customers notice, making its quality and relevance critical.

Use clear, professionally taken photos that accurately represent the product. Consider multiple angles and ensure the product is well-lit and the background is unobtrusive.

For products where appearance is key, such as fashion or home goods, consider using lifestyle images that show the product in use.

Implement Competitive Pricing Strategies

Price is a major factor for users when comparing Shopping Ads.

Regularly monitor competitor pricing and adjust your product prices to remain competitive.

Consider incorporating promotions, such as discounts or free shipping, to make your ads more attractive.

Highlight these offers in your ads to draw attention and encourage clicks.

Continuous Optimization

Regularly review the performance of your Shopping Ads to identify areas for improvement.

Test different aspects of your ads, such as the product title, descriptions, and images, to see what resonates best with your audience.

Use Google Ads insights and analytics to refine your strategies, focusing on metrics like click-through rates, conversion rates, and return on ad spend.


Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each ad type is just half the battle.

Now it’s time that you utilize these ad types for your business and get the most out of them.

Check out our comparison of Video ads vs Shopping ads.

Or if you want a change of pace, we’d recommend our guide to Google Ads countdown timer.

Michael Schroder

Michael Schroder

Michael Schroder is a Google Ads and SaaS marketing consultant. He has been managing $200k-$300k monthly ad spend and has worked with 200+ SaaS companies. The thing that makes him unique is his data-led approach and his focus on SaaS businesses.