The Ultimate Guide to Gmail Sponsored Promotions

The Ultimate Guide to Gmail Sponsored Promotions

20th January 2016

If you’ve been wondering exactly how to advertise on Gmail, then this guide is for you! I’ll be covering pretty much every aspect of Gmail Sponsored PromotGmail_logoions (GSP), from targeting and strategies to ad creation, reporting, and optimisation. Whether you’ve already tested GSPs or you’re brand new to them, this guide will provide insights and tips that can help you get the most out of them.
Each section of this post is clearly headed so you can skip to the bits that you’d like to know about, and if you haven’t got time to read this now you can bookmark if for reference later!

I’ll be covering:

  • What are Gmail Sponsored Promotions?
  • How much do Gmail Sponsored Promotions cost?
  • Where do Gmail Sponsored Promotions appear? (devices, and account types)
  • Why use Gmail Sponsored Promotions? (the benefits and when they work best)
  • What Gmail Sponsored Promotions targeting options?
  • Strategies and tactics for using Gmail Sponsored Promotions
  • Gmail Sponsored Promotions ad specs: formats, image sizes, and character limits
  • Ad Types for Google Sponsored Promotions
  • Tips for using Google Sponsored Promotions
  • Industries that can’t advertise using GSPs (it’s not just the usual AdWords restrictions)
  • Gmail Sponsored Promotions Reporting
  • Setting up Gmail sponsored promotions

What are Gmail Sponsored Promotions?

They’re ads that appear in users Gmail inbox’s, above their emails. Cleverly designed to look like an email, they expand to a full add (in a variety of formats) once clicked.

Here’s an example from my inbox:Gmail Sponsored Promotions

Once clicked, the Newlook ad looks like this:

GSP2 Newlook

The Eastpack ad takes a different format and showcases multiple products:

GSP3 Eastpack

How much do Gmail Sponsored Promotions cost?

You are charged on a cost per click basis for GSPs, however, the click is counted as any interaction with your ad, not necessarily a click to your website. For example, if a user clicks the teaser ad and it expands into the larger full image ad you will be charged for that click. You only pay for the first click, however, so if they then click through to your website, it doesn’t cost anything.

Where do Gmail Sponsored Promotions appear?

Gmail Sponsored Promotions appear on both mobile and desktop devices, with mobiles allowing for one ad spot, and desktop allowing for two.

The ads appear under the promotions tab of Gmail accounts, however, this shouldn’t deter you from using them as Gmail automatically sorts users mail into tabs so many genuine emails land in the promotions tab and it’s not just a tab filled with ads and junk!

Ads only appear in ‘free’ Gmail accounts, not in Gmail accounts that are custom domain business accounts on paid plans. This means the format isn’t perfect for B2B ads as you probably won’t reach businesses on their Gmail accounts, but you might reach them on their personal Gmail accounts.

Why use Gmail Sponsored Promotions?

They’re ideal for generating awareness and can generate cost-effective conversions

GSPs are a ‘push’ tactic, which makes them best for generating awareness primarily, rather than direct response actions.

Having said that, they can be successful at generating conversions because the user has to go through two clicks before they arrive on your site (reading and clicking the teaser, then clicking the expanded ad unit), so they are well qualified if they go through this and still choose to land on your website.

You shouldn’t expect large volumes of hard sales to be generated by GSPs, but they work well at generating leads and sign-ups. I’ve seen particularly good results for free trials and ‘softer’ conversions.

They’re a cost-effective ad format

As this ad format is still relatively new, the levels of competition are also low, which makes the cost per click quite low. This results in a good cost per acquisitions if your website is successful at converting around 1% of the users who do actually click through to your site.

They are highly targeted

GSPs are targeting users based on the details they provide within their Gmail account rather than just via cookies, which means the accuracy of targeting is claimed to be much greater than that of standard Google Display Network (GDN) targeting.

What Gmail Sponsored Promotions targeting options?

You can use all of these targeting options with GSPs:

  • Display keywords (based on broad match content in the users last 300 received emails including their inbox and archived emails)
  • AdWords Customer Match (you can upload a list of email addresses)
  • Locations (GSPs can only target one location per campaign)
  • Languages (based on users Gmail language settings, not the language in the emails they’re receiving)
  • Topics (based on the user’s active inbox)
  • Demographics (age / gender / parental status)

You can also exclude audiences based on all the targeting above.

The only AdWords targeting that isn’t compatible with GSPs is In-Market Audiences and rather annoyingly, remarketing lists. Being able to use AdWords Customer Match (email lists) with them makes up for this in some ways, but not having remarketing does limit some of the strategies for GSPs.

Tactics for using Gmail Sponsored Promotions

Based on the wealth of targeting options outlined above, here are some ideas for strategies using GSPs:

Reinforce your email marketing messages

Imagine if you could send emails marketing and guarantee it appeared at the top of your audience’s inbox. With GSPs, you can! Use them to target your mailing list (AdWords Customer Match targeting) with GSP ads that reinforce the same messaging you sent out with your email marketing. This way you can keep your message in their inbox even if they delete your email.

If you have segmented data on your mailing list, you could target users who opened emails with a message that encourages them to take the next step in the purchase process, whilst targeting those who didn’t open the email with the same message that the email had. This strategy allows you to tailor your messaging based on the user’s stage in the purchase cycle and in your conversation with them.

GSP4 email example

Continue the purchase journey

Some purchase decisions involve a lot of comparison shopping and thinking before the decision is made. If the inquiry and comparison stage of the journey allows you to capture email addresses, you could use these email addresses to reach all users who you are currently in talks with about your product or service. For example, a digital marketing agency could use GSPs to target anyone who they are currently in talks with regarding their services. The creative in these ads would be focussed around not simply driving the click to your website, but demonstrating why they should pick you out of any other companies they’re talking to. This might include case studies, awards, certifications, or testimonials.

Generate awareness for product launches

If you’ve ever been faced with the challenge of marketing a product that many people don’t yet know exists or know they need, you’ll know that PPC isn’t always the best way to start! GSPs, on the other hand, are perfect for this situation because they can drive awareness. You could target your ideal audience by demographic and interests, and related keywords to things they might be interested in. It’s a very broad-brush approach but it’s a great first step for building awareness, which could lead to generating more traffic to your site where you can build remarketing lists and lookalike / similar audiences via AdWords GDN and Facebook, and slowly make your targeting narrower and more precise.

Target competitor’s customers and mailing list members

This is the tactic that GSPs have become know best for. If you add your competitor’s domains as keywords in your ad groups, your ads will show to users who have these terms in their inbox, which probably means they’re a customer or mailing list member of your competitors. When using this tactic go after big competitors, because if the competitor doesn’t have a large mailing list or customer base then your ads won’t show in many inboxes. You can add your competitor’s names, not just their domains as keywords to gain an even wider reach. Avoid this if your competitors have very vague names that could have multiple meanings and where not all emails might be relevant. For example, if Superdrug were to target the term ‘Boots’ on its own they’d show for terms related to shoes as well as people receiving emails from their competitor. Remember that keyword matching is also broad match, so miss spellings and plurals will also be counted.

Generate phone call enquiries

Including your phone number in the expanded ad unit is a great way to generate phone calls as a result of the ad. Simply include your phone number in your ad creative or in the accompanying content. Use a unique phone number generated by call-tracking software, so you can track any calls that are generated from your GSPs.

Another way of achieving this is using the custom HTML format (explained in more detail later in the ‘Gmail Sponsored Promotions ad formats, image sizes, and character limits’ section of this post), and ask your Google rep to enable Click to Call within the ad. This enables users to call you directly from the ad without even having to click through to your website.

Generate video views

Using the custom HTML ad format (explained in more detail later in the ‘Gmail Sponsored Promotions ad formats, image sizes, and character limits’ section of this post), you can embed videos within your expanded ad unit. This is ideal for targeting new audiences and generating awareness, as asking the user to watch a video which is already within the ad unit is much lower commitment than asking them to click directly through to your website. If your product or service is quite unknown and a demonstration or video helps explain the concept then using video in this ad format might also help conversion rates once the user eventually lands on your site.

Upsell to your existing customers

Use AdWords Customer Match to target users who have recently purchased from you to encourage them to make another purchase. For example, a mobile phone retailer could target all the users who recently purchased an iPhone online with a GSP ad about iPhone insurance or iPhone cases.

Reach new audiences that are similar to your top converting users

Using the ‘similar audiences’ functionality on your AdWords Customer Match email list means you could upload a list of your highest value converting users, and Google will create a targeting list of users it deems to be similar. Google haven’t been entirely open about how they calculate this, so I’d be cautious of its accuracy and test it with s small portion of your budget first.

Gmail Sponsored Promotions ad specs: formats, image sizes, and character limits

There are four types of ads you can use with GSPs, which are explained below, along with the ad components (images, descriptions, subject lines etc), and image sizes.

Standard GSP Ad Components

Each GSP ad type requires these standard components:



Size: 140px x 140px

This is the image that your teaser email ad appears to come from. Traditionally it’s supposed to be a logo, but you can actually upload any image here, so use it wisely! Remember it’s really small, so pick an image that works in the space. If you’re a well-known brand then your logo may be the best thing to put here, but if you’re unknown and the logo won’t add any value to your ad, then experiment with different images and see what the impact on your click through rate (CTR) is.


Character limit: 15

This is who your teaser email appears to come from. Like the logo image, it doesn’t actually have to be your brand name. In some instances, you won’t even be able to fit your brand name, because the character limit for this field is 15 characters. Again like the logo, if your brand is known you may benefit from using it, but if not you could test other names, for example, a PPC agency might make their advertiser field say ‘PPC Experts’.


Character limit: 25

Try asking a question, or making a striking statement that’s relevant to your audience. If you have a promotion, offer or free trial, this is a great place to showcase them.

Be aware that the subject must relate to what is in the expanded ad unit (and the landing page!). Otherwise, you’ll get lots of clicks to your expanded ad unit but you’ll annoy your audience when they realize it’s not related to the message in the rest of the ad, and they’re unlikely to then click through to your site. As you pay for the first click only (the one to expand the ad unit), you don’t want to drive lots of irrelevant clicks that are then not going to click through to your site or appreciate your advertising message.


Character limit: 100

This appears below your subject line and needs to make the final argument for getting the user to click. Add more detail to the striking statement or offer in your subject line, but don’t give too much away as you need to encourage the click still.

Ad Types for Google Sponsored Promotions

All these ad types work on both desktop and mobile, and you can find Google’s guidelines here if you need them.

There are benefits of all the templates below, but in my experience, the templates with a mixture of text and images perform best most of the time. This could be because they look more native to their environment, so the user is more accepting of them as engaging content, rather than a boring ad banner that they could see anywhere and doesn’t add value.

Gmail image template (single image)

This format is great GSP10if your product or service is visual and you don’t need much content to explain it. It’s also worked well when the image itself contains some text and a call-to-action.

Google advise that the image size should be 650px x [300px to 1000px].
Gmail single promotion template


This format is ideal if you have a striking image that relates to your message, but you also need some text to convey the details. For example, this format might suit a service client well if the service is a little bit more complicated. For example, an accountant might advertise using this format, so the image could show a successful business person, whilst the text explains the services they offer.

In addition to the standard components listed above, you also have a headline in this ad format, which can be up to 200 characters.

There’s a call-to-action button that sits separately, and you can write your own wording on it and choose the color.

Google advise that the image size should be 300px x [200px to 500px].


Gmail multi-product template


This format is designed for retailers, but there’s no reason any advertiser shouldn’t use it.

There are six ‘Item’ fields which are designed to contain an image of the product (180px x 180px square), a Title (40 characters maximum), and a call-to-action button.

The result is an ad that contains six squares with short titles, images, and CTA buttons. You don’t have to use this for products, it could work really nicely if you have an image that relates to each of the benefits of your services, and then the description and CTA communicate that benefit or service.

Here’s a completely random example:


Gmail catalog template


This ad format is a bit of a mixture of the multi-product template above, and the single promotion template, because it has lots of space for showcasing images as well as some text.

The main image is 650px x 300px.

The headline has a 40 character limit. I’d imagine the description has a character limit too, but I typed for a very long time and it didn’t cut me off, so I’m guessing it’s a pretty big limit! If anyone finds out please do let me know in the comments section below and I’ll update the post to include it.

The next part of ad contains space for three products, with images sized up to 650px x 300px.


Gmail custom HTML


Last but not least, you can upload your own custom HTML GSP ads, where you (or your web developer) create the ad yourself!

The beauty of this format is that you can ask your Google rep to enable your ad to use Click to Call or an HTML form within the ad, so you can collect the user’s data directly or generate calls directly. You can also embed video and add multiple call-to-action buttons.

Google advise that you use their Rich Media Gallery for templates of custom HTML creatives. Here are the full instructions for this ad type.





Tips for using Google Sponsored Promotions

  • Frequency capping is automatic with GSPs, and is set at no more than 4 impressions per week, unless the user closes your ad, saves it, or forwards it to a friend, in which case it stops showing to them.
  • It is really hard to earn that click through to your site, so offering an incentive is a great way to encourage the click. For example, a free whitepaper download, free trial, or discount code would work well.
  • Try making your ad look like an email when it’s expanded, so the user gets the benefit of the content, rather than just a normal banner.
  • Make sure you create a different ad group for each targeting type or a combination of targeting types, so you can easily evaluate which ones are working and then split them into their own campaigns with their own share of the budget.
  • When you’re setting up your targeting remember to review the target ad bid or bid only settings if you’re layering targeting types. These basically determine whether the user must match all the targeting you’ve set up, or just part of it (kind of like and ‘and’ ‘or’ function). You can find out more about it here.
  • I mentioned this previously, but it’s incredibly important to make sure your teaser ad, expanded ad, and landing page all carry the same message and are all relevant to each other. There’s no point getting clicks to your expanded ad because your teaser ad had an outrageous subject line if the expanded ad unit isn’t anything to do with it. In the same way, there’s no point in having an outrageously expanded ad unit if the user is going to click onto your site and find that it’s got nothing to do with what they just read about. If you think your site isn’t relevant enough to your GSP message try creating custom landing pages using Unbounce.
  • If you layer a lot of targeting types on top of each other, you may find your ads are slow to spend their budget because the potential reach is so small. Keep this in mind if you find your ads aren’t generating many impressions once they’re live.
  • Like all PPC ads, you can increase CTR and improve performance by split testing your ads. Try out different images, call-to-action buttons and text. Just remember to only test one thing at once otherwise, you won’t know what made the impact!
  • Always layer the Gmail placement with another targeting type, such as customer match lists, or keywords. On its own Gmail has a huge reach and there’s no way everyone using Gmail is relevant to your product or service, so use your budget wisely and layer targeting along with the Gmail placement.

Industries that can’t advertise using GSPs

As GSPs target individual users rather than cookies, AdWords is a bit stricter on the type of products or services that can be advertised via this ad format.

In addition to the normal AdWords restrictions, you cannot advertise the following on GSPs:

  • health conditions
  • relationship related (dating)
  • Alcohol/substance abuse
  • funerals / bereavement
  • criminal
  • finance / negative financial status (get rich quick)
  • adult
  • religion
  • politics
  • weight loss
  • gambling
  • sexual orientation

Gmail Sponsored Promotions Reporting

There are three metrics specifically for GSPs (Gmail saves, forwards, and clicks to the website), which you can find in your normal AdWords reporting interface when you customise your columns to include them:


Gmail saves and forwards are good indicators of how an ad and targeting is performing, especially if branding and awareness are important to you.

Gmail clicks to the website are important if you ultimately want to drive direct conversions from these ads, but remember that this isn’t what they are primarily designed for so the levels of clicks to your site may be quite low.

The cost per click reported in the normal reporting table is the cost per click to expand your ad, rather than the cost per click to your website. You’ll notice that the cost per click is incredibly low, but don’t be fooled as this is only for clicks to expand the ad, not clicks to your website.

I’d recommend calculating your cost per website click for GSPs (the cost divided by the ‘Gmail clicks to website’ metric) to get a metric that you can compare to your other display advertising CPCs. For example, if my cost is £35.46 and I’ve generated 6 clicks to my website, my cost per website click is £5.91.

The click through rate you see in the reporting interface is also the CTR of the clicks to expand your ad, rather than the CTR of clicks to your website. Work out your clicks to website CTR by taking your Gmail Clicks to Website and dividing it by your normal clicks as reported in the standard clicks column, shown as a percentage. So if you have 131 clicks and 6 Gmail clicks to the website, your clicks to website CTR would be 4.58%. This is an important metric to monitor if you’re running GSPs to generate traffic (and ultimately conversions) to your website.

To lower your cost per website click try split testing your ads, using the clicks to website CTR you calculated as the metric indicating success.

Conversions and cost per conversion are reported as normal, and these should ultimately be your most important metric if you are using GSPs to drive direct response conversions.

Consider attribution when reporting on GSPs. You might find that although users might not directly click your ad and then click through to your website and convert, but they do view your ads and click to expand them but then ultimately click through to the site from another ad and convert. Look for this by adding the ‘click assisted conversions’ column (under attribution in the customise columns drop-down).

If you’re at your desired cost per acquisition, you could try testing the ‘let AdWords automatically find new customers’ setting with ‘conservative targeting’ selected. This will allow AdWords to auto-optimise finding you new conversions at your current CPA.


How to advertise on Gmail and set up Gmail sponsored promotions

Now that you’re armed with lots of useful information on GSPs, you can find full step-by-step instructions for setting them up here.

Essentially you need to:

  1. Create a new display network campaign
  2. Create an ad group within it (one ad group per targeting combination is recommended so you can review performance easily individually)
  3. Add as a placement under the Display Network tab
  4. Create your ads by clicking the usual red +new ad button, but choosing Ad Gallery, and then Gmail ads, followed by your desired Gmail ad type (image, single promotion, multi-product, or catalogue)
  5. Layer on your secondary targeting criteria by going to the ad group and Display Network tab, and then clicking +targeting (keywords (such as competitor domains), topics, customer match lists, demographics etc)

Don’t forget all the usual setting like budgets, location targeting and scheduling.


Hopefully, this post has given you examples on some of the ways you could be using GSPs and some tips and tricks on how to get the most out of them! Like everything in PPC, it’s worth testing them as this format may not work well for some advertisers or industries, whilst others could experience fantastic results!

Make sure your expectations are realistic for this ad format, and understand what is achievable in terms of conversions, otherwise, stick to using it for branding and awareness.

If you think GSPs could suit your brand I’d recommend trying them as soon as possible to take advantage of the low CPCs at the moment (for expanded ad clicks). As Gmail sponsored promotions become more popular competition will rise and so will the costs, so what are you waiting for? Get started with GSPs today!

This guide was written in January 2016, and GSPs are bound to develop and change as they become a more established ad format, so if there are any changes that this post doesn’t mention, feel free to add them in the comments below and I’ll try and update the post to include them.

Have you already tried GSPs? Please share your tips or results in the comments below.

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