How to Set Up a YouTube Ads Campaign

Wondering how to advertise on YouTube? Looking for a guide to creating a YouTube advertising campaign?

In this article, you’ll learn how to set up and optimize a YouTube ads campaign.

How to Set Up a YouTube Ads Campaign by Maria Dykstra on Social Media Examiner.

#1: Set Up YouTube Advertising

With the newly redesigned Google Ads interface, managing YouTube ads is now easier than ever. If you have experience with Google ads or Facebook ads, many YouTube ads features will look familiar to you.

Here are the steps you need to take to run YouTube ads for your business.

Link Google AdWords to Your YouTube Channel

The first step is to link your Google Ads account to your YouTube channel.

To do this, log into your Google Ads account (or My Client Center if you’re an agency). Then click Tools at the top of the page and select Linked Accounts from the Setup Column.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 1, set up YouTube advertising, Google AdWords tools menu, Linked accounts option

Follow the prompts to add yourYouTube channel. If you’re the account owner, the linking will happen automatically. If someone else owns the account, you need to enter the email of the owner and request access.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 2, set up YouTube advertising, link a YouTube channel

Follow similar steps to link your Google Analytics account. You’ll need access to it for campaign analytics and retargeting.

Upload Your Video Ad to YouTube

To use a video in a YouTube ad campaign, you must first upload it to YouTube. The quality of the video and your ability to grab the viewer’s attention right away are critical to its success. Focus on making an impact in the first 5 seconds.

#2: Choose a YouTube Advertising Campaign Objective

The next step is to create your campaign. Go to your Google Ads dashboard, and on the Campaigns tab, click the + button and select New Campaign.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 3, choose a YouTube ad objective, new campaign

YouTube has options for creating several campaign types, which determine the type of ads you can run, the placements available, and more. Depending on your ultimate campaign goal, choose one of the following options for your YouTube video ad:

  • Leads and Website Traffic are the best options for driving traffic and generating conversions from your YouTube ads.
  • Product and Brand Consideration provides opportunities for generating broader brand awareness and putting your products in front of big audiences, including influencers.
  • Brand Awareness and Reach is typically used to generate brand buzz and includes more options for ad types.
How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 4, choose a YouTube ad objective, campaign objective options

After you select a campaign objective, you’ll see a list of available campaign types for that objective. Select Video as the campaign type. When you’re finished, click Continue.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 5, choose a YouTube ad objective, select video as campaign type

If you plan to track conversions, you’ll need to set up conversion tracking. Check out this Google Ads support page for the steps you need to follow.

#3: Choose a YouTube Ad Format

The YouTube ad formats available to you depend on your campaign goal and video ad length. Here’s a rundown of the most frequently used formats.

TrueView Ads

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 6, choose a YouTube ad format, TrueView ads example

TrueView reach ads run before, during, or after the video and work best for creating initial awareness of your brand or product. They feature a Skip button that allows users to skip the ad after 5 seconds.

While you may pay less per view with Facebook ads, your return on investment on this YouTube ad type is higher because you only pay if the user watches 30 seconds of the video (or less for videos shorter than 30 seconds). Because your headline option is fairly limited (up to 10 characters), consider adding end cards and overlay calls to action (CTAs).

Another hidden benefit of TrueView ads is free social proof. YouTube will count (and publicly display on your YouTube channel) all of the video views regardless of whether the users skipped the ad.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 6, choose a YouTube ad format, TrueView discovery ads example

TrueView discovery ads appear on the YouTube search results page, next to related videos (rather than in-stream) or on the YouTube mobile homepage. You’re charged every time users click on the thumbnail regardless of how long they watch the video.

These ads are great for promoting product consideration with a direct CTA. Discovery ads allow you to add longer headlines (up to 100 characters) and two lines of ad descriptions.

Non-Skippable In-Stream Ads

Non-skippable in-stream ads are available only for some campaign types (Reach campaigns) and can be 6–15 seconds long. If you try to load videos that are 16 seconds or longer, you’ll see an error message. (Note: Some articles state that these ads can be 15–20 seconds but YouTube specifies 15 seconds or less.)

Just like TrueView ads, non-skippable ads run before, during, or after the video content. The benefit of these ads is you’re guaranteed that viewers will see your entire message, which translates into a higher ad view metric.

The cost of these ads is somewhat higher because you’re paying for each view. While this is a popular YouTube ad type, the true engagement value may be lower. Because users are forced to watch your ad, their engagement isn’t as involved as those who choose to watch a skippable ad beyond the 5 seconds.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 7, choose a YouTube ad format, non-skippable in-stream ads option

Remember: Watch for the hidden costs of each ad type and analyze the final return on investment.

Bumper Ads

Video ads that are 6 seconds or shorter can be used for bumper ads. Unlike TrueView or skippable ads, bumper ads don’t change the view count of your videos. Users can’t skip bumper ads.

You pay for bumper ads based on the CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions). This ad format works great as part of a video ad sequence to warm up an audience for a TrueView ad.

Pro Tip: When creating videos for bumper and non-skippable ads, YouTube rounds up to the next minute when you upload the video. Keep the raw video under 6 seconds, because 6.1-seconds of raw footage may turn into a 7-second YouTube video after you upload it.

#4: Set a Budget, Schedule, and Bid Strategy

After you select an ad format, enter a name for your campaignset a campaign budget, and choose start and end dates.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 8, set budget, schedule, and bid option

The cost of YouTube advertising is much lower than you may think. In fact, some campaigns can cost as low as $0.02 per view. But you must get the bidding strategy right because bids have a direct impact on the success of your campaigns.

There are many different types of bids and strategies to use. Select one of these two strategies to maximize results:

  • Maximum CPV is used with TrueView ads and tells YouTube the most you want to pay for each view of your ad. For discovery ads, it determines the maximum you’re willing to pay for users to click on your ad. In some cases, it may make the difference between your ad appearing or not. For discovery ads, it also determines your ad’s position compared to other ads.
  • Target CPV is the average you’re willing to pay for your conversions. You may pay a bit more or less per individual conversion but your daily averages won’t exceed your average amount.
How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 9, set bid strategy setting options

For some campaign types, you may also see the Maximize Conversions option. This option is similar to automatic bidding and gives you less control over your action results. Therefore, it may result in higher costs.

#5: Control Where Your YouTube Ad Will Be Shown

Next, you see three options for managing where your YouTube ads will be shown.


Choose from these network options to determine where your YouTube ads will run:

  • YouTube Search Results: This option is available only if you’re running discovery ads. Uncheck this option for all other types of ads.
  • YouTube Videos: This is the best option for the majority of your ads with the best balance of price and quality.
  • Video Partners on the Display Network: Select this option if you want to run YouTube ads on partner sites outside of YouTube. While it may reduce your cost, it’s also likely to significantly reduce quality.
How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 11, set network display options

Below Networks, you can also choose which locations and languages you want to target.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 12, set language and location display options

Inventory Type

YouTube gives you several controls to ensure that your ads run alongside quality content. Controlling the Inventory Type settings will help you avoid sensitive issues. Here’s a rundown of your options:

  • Expanded Inventory: Choosing this option will help maximize your viewing potential but your ads may also run with some sensitive content. Consider avoiding this setting if you don’t want your ads to run with mature content.
  • Standard Inventory: This is the option YouTube recommends and it’s deemed appropriate for most brands. It still may involve some violence or language that may not work for your brand. You may want to opt for a safer choice.
  • Limited Inventory: This option is best if you want to be careful about your brand image and the content you’re associated with. It typically excludes most types of sensitive content.
How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 13, set inventory type option

Excluded Content

You can further refine where your ads appear by excluding certain types of content such as tragedy and conflict, socially sensitive content, and shocking news. This lets you signal that you want your ads to be excluded from these categories.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 14, set excluded content

Excluded Types and Labels

YouTube also lets you exclude types or labels. For example, you may want to opt out of live-streaming videos because they’re happening in real time, making them hard to categorize. Some of these broadcasts may contain shocking content and be inappropriate for your brand. Err on the side of caution when considering your exclusion options.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 15, set excluded types and label options

Pro Tip: Your ad costs may go up every time you add a filter, such as limiting inventory and refining your audience, placements, topics, or keywords. Keep experimenting to find the right combination of cost and results.

Set a Frequency Cap

You’ll find the Frequency Capping option under Additional Settings of campaign setup. A frequency cap is especially important if your audiences are small. Unlike Facebook ads where there’s a default frequency cap setting, YouTube leaves this option blank, which means you run the risk of burning your audience out.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 16, set frequency cap options

#6: Define the Target Audience for Your YouTube Campaign

YouTube’s audience targeting options are quite robust. Additionally, the data from YouTube is supplemented by data coming from Google Search and partners. This combination makes YouTube advertising incredibly powerful.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 17, define target campaign audience

Remember, every parameter you add to your campaign is a filter. While restrictions improve the quality of the audience you can reach, the more audience filters you add, the higher your cost per view (CPV) will be. If you’re just starting out with YouTube advertising, avoid the temptation to add too many filters to the same ad group.

Instead, start by understanding what moves users at each stage of the buying decision and create highly targeted ads for each audience group.

You have several options for grouping your audience, which include demographic, interest, and behavior targeting. Below are simple explanations and use cases for each.

Demographics Targeting

YouTube’s demographic targeting options are fairly straightforward. You select the age, gender, income, and marital status of your target audience. Unlike Facebook or other platforms, YouTube viewers aren’t required to log in to view videos, so YouTube won’t know the demographics of unregistered users. Uncategorized YouTube viewers are added to the Unknown category.

Keep unregistered users in mind when selecting your audience targeting options or you may miss out on about 65% of the inventory. To illustrate, unless you only want to show your ads to the 18–44 age group audience, always leave the Unknown category checked.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 18, define demographics targeting options

To further refine your targeting, add detailed demographic targeting information. To visualize this, you can narrow your audience to homeowners who are married.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 19, define audience detailed demographics options

With Facebook ads, each level of targeting acts as an OR operator, but with YouTube ads, these filters act as AND operators. If you select the options above, the user would have to be age 18–44 (or unknown) AND be a married homeowner to view your ads.

Affinity and Custom Affinity Targeting

With affinity targeting, you can choose audience interests from Google’s predefined categories, which include Banking & Finance, Beauty & Wellness, News, Sports & Fitness, Technology, Travel, and others.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 20, set affinity targeting options

You also have the option to create your own interest grouping, called a custom affinity audience.It’s similar to interest targeting on Facebook but more robust because YouTube data is supplemented by Google Search data.

A custom affinity group is built from users who searched on Google for specific keywords OR visited specific URLs, places, or apps. If you included visitors in your affinity category, for instance, people who visited that site may see your ads on YouTube.

One use for a custom affinity audience is to target website visitors of your biggest competitors. Just add competitor URLs to the custom affinity group and let Google analyze their habits. You can then show your YouTube ads to people who are interested in products similar to yours.

To create a custom affinity group, click the Custom Affinity Audience option at the bottom of your audience selection. Then fill in the audience details.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 21, create a custom affinity audience

n-Market, Live Events, and Custom Intent Targeting

The key difference among custom intent, in-market, and life events targeting and affinity targeting is the user’s readiness to buy.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 22, set funnel stage options

People in this category are either actively looking to purchase a specific product (such as Home Insurance – In-Market Audiences) OR experiencing a specific event (Home Renovation – Life Events).

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 23, set specific in-market audience category

Similar to a custom affinity group, you can create a custom intent group to further define your customer profile and the products they may be searching for.

To create a custom intent group, click the New Custom Intent Audience option at the bottom of the audience screen or via Audience Manager.

In the pop-up window, choose the top keywords that may be relevant to your product. In practice, someone ready to hire a Facebook marketing firm would likely search for “Facebook ads agency.”

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 24, set relevant keywords

Custom intent targeting is one of the most powerful targeting options because it combines interest targeting (Affinity) with in-market targeting (Intent). Users in this category show relevant interest and are ready to buy, which makes them an ideal target audience for your product or service.

Remarketing and Similar Audiences Targeting

The Remarketing and Similar Audiences targeting option is similar to Facebook remarketing to engaged users and lookalikes of engaged users. And it’s supplemented by several categories auto-generated by Google.

Cross-channel retargeting is also a lot more streamlined. This allows you to combine Google ads and Facebook ads visitors in one category OR retarget YouTube channel visitors who also viewed your Facebook ads and visited your website.

To start with remarketing, open Audience Manager by choosing Tools > Audience Manager at the top of the page.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 25, audience manager option

Then connect your data sources (e.g., Google Analytics).

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 26, connect Google Analytics as a data source

Some of the audience retargeting and lookalike categories are auto-generated. Other categories (e.g., YouTube users) need to be manually created in Audience Manager.

To create a remarketing list for YouTubeselect a specific action that YouTube users perform(e.g., Subscribe to a Channel).

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 27, set specific remarketing user action

If you’re just starting out, more generic categories (Viewed Any Video or Visited a Channel Page) are the best options. Then once you’ve grown your channel subscribers and visitors, you can start retargeting subscribers or visitors of a particular channel.

Another option is to further engage your website visitors with YouTube ads. The Visitor of a Page Who Did Not Visit Another Page option allows you to create a list of people who visited your main offer page but didn’t sign up for your offer. Targeting this custom audience with a YouTube ad that addresses the top customer objections may help close the deal.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 28, engage website visitors

If you’re planning a big launch, your goals may be omnipresent on multiple channels and drive users deeper down your marketing funnel. In this case, you could create a custom combination audience and show YouTube ads to users who checked out your website after seeing your Facebook and Google Search ads.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 29, set website visitor audience option

#7: Refine Your Ad Visibility With Keywords, Topics, and Placements

After you define your audience, you can choose from these three settings to narrow your reach.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 30, set keywords, topics, and placements options

Choose Relevant Keywords

Forget everything you know about keywords and topics. You’re not looking for the keywords that people are searching for, but rather the keywords that appear in the YouTube videos where your ads will show.

YouTube will analyze keywords from the titles, tags, and descriptions of the video content, match them against the keywords you’ve selected, and insert your ads into the most relevant content.

To get keyword ideas, enter your own URL, similar URLs, or even your competitor’s website address into the Get Keyword Ideas box.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 31, set relevant keywords

Select Relevant Topics

A similar approach works for topics. If you choose the Marketing topic, for example, your ad will appear in other marketing-related videos.

Keep in mind that topics are less specific or flexible than keywords. Use these for broader awareness campaigns that match your category.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 32, example relevant topics for 'advertising'

Choose Placement Targeting

YouTube placements are one of the underutilized gems of YouTube advertising, allowing you to hyper-target your videos.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 33, placement targeting options

You can choose the exact channel (or even exact video) to place your ads on.

Suppose you want to reach emerging entrepreneurs with your products or services. By choosing as a channel under Placements, you can reach the audience looking for early-stage advice.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 34, option to select specific video placement

Or if you have an offer that rivals one of your biggest competitors, you can create a video ad that highlights your specific value and insert it into videos running on your competitor’s YouTube channel.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 35, option to select specific video placement on competitor site

You can even target a particular video for your ads. To reach emerging entrepreneurs building an eCommerce business, you might select top eCommerce videos to place your ads. Keep in mind that the more specific your targeting is, the higher your CPV, because the inventory becomes more limited.

Pro Tip: YouTube lets you prevent your competitors from running ads on your channel or in your videosGo to the Advanced channel settings in Creator Studio and make sure that the Disable Interest-Based Ads checkbox is selected. This may cause an issue if you’re monetizing your YouTube channel.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 36, option to prevent specific video placement by competitors on your channel

#8: Set a Bid Amount for Your Campaign

If you chose Maximum CPV as your bidding strategy, it’s important that you don’t set your bid too low because your ad may not run at all. To calculate the maximum CPV to use, analyze the historical data and average CPV estimated for your campaign.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 37, set campaign bid amount

Pro Tip: The higher your Maximum CPV, the better your ad performance will be. To get your ads to show up higher at the beginning of the campaign, set your Maximum CPV at 3–5x the average. To illustrate, if the average CPV is $0.02–0.32, set your maximum CPM at least at $1.50 and then adjust it once you have the real data.

If you opted for a Target CPV bid strategy, the higher your bid, the better your performance. Don’t be afraid to set a higher than average amount because Google will optimize over time.

#9: Select the Video for Your YouTube Ad

The final step is to choose the video you want to use as your ad. Either use the search box to find your video or paste the URL from YouTube. Because several videos on your YouTube channel may look similar, pasting the exact URL will get you straight to the right video.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 38, select video for YouTube ad

Drive Deeper User Engagement With Advanced Tactics

YouTube has quite a few features that help lead customers through the buyer’s journey and create opportunities for further engagement.

Ad Sequencing

You can use ad sequencing to break down your campaign into a number of steps. Once your sequence is set up, determine what ads to show to the users and in what order.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 39, option to set ad sequencing

After the user sees the first ad in your sequence, YouTube will deliver the next ad and then the next ad after that until all of the ads are shown. Note that you can only show one sequence to the same user in a 30-day period.

While bidding strategy and targeting are determined at the campaign level, each ad within the sequence gets its own headline, CTA, and bid.

Here are two ad sequencing ideas for you to test:

  • Use a Bumper ad as a teaser and follow it with a TrueView in-stream ad that delivers the main content.
How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 40, option to follow bumper ad with TrueView in-stream ad
  • Create a three-step funnel using TrueView in-stream ads to drive people deeper down your funnel with each ad. Start with a broad awareness ad, follow it with a more specific ad delivering value, and close the sequence with a direct CTA ad.

Cards, Advanced CTAs, and End Screens

YouTube allows you to create engagement and CTA opportunities. These vary depending on the ad type and campaign goal. Refer to this Google support page to learn which CTAs you can create for your ads.

End Screens: YouTube will auto-generate end screens for several ad types (such as mobile install ads). End screens contain additional information about you (such as the name of the ad, the price, and a link to install the app). The end screen is another opportunity for users to engage with your business and doesn’t cost you anything extra.

You can add an end screen to the last 5–20 seconds of your video. It gives you additional options such as promoting your channel or other videos on your channel. Consider creating an end screen for videos that are longer than 25 seconds.

CTA Overlay: A CTA overlay is a powerful yet little-known option. It’s a small CTA box that appears over your video ad. It has a headline (up to 25 characters) and an optional small image. You can even use destination and display URLs that are different from the ones used in your video ad.

To set up a CTA overlay, use YouTube Creator Studio. Note that you must first create an ad using this video.

How to set up a YouTube ads campaign, step 41, option to set call-to-action overlay

You can also use Google Ads by clicking the drop-down menu that appears in the Video Editing section within Campaigns.


YouTube is a fast-growing advertising platform that can deliver great results at a relatively low cost. Many factors play a role in the success of your campaigns. In addition to creating great ads, you also must understand the campaign setup best practices and experiment with different audiences and campaign sequences.

Start small, learn from your experience, and optimize your YouTube ads for the future.

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