The Beginner’s Guide to YouTube Ads

With more than two billion visitors a month, YouTube takes second place in the search engine popularity contest. Running engaging video ads across the platform can increase brand awareness and drive click-throughs, while the powerful targeting capabilities and variety of ad formats provide plenty of choice for different budgets and goals. 

Let’s get started. 

The 5 different types of YouTube ads

1. Non-video ads

YouTube offers non-video ads that are usually shown alongside related content, either in the search results or during another video (although sometimes the platform gets it wrong and your video doesn’t sit alongside relevant content—it often can be hit or miss). Similar to discovery ads, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. There are two types of non-video ad on YouTube:

  • Display ads. These show up in the right-hand sidebar when people are watching videos, and include an image, text, and a call to action (CTA).

YouTube display ad example

  • In-video overlay ads. These are displayed on top of existing video content from monetized YouTube channels. 

Overlay ad example
Best for: Non-video ads run a lot cheaper, both to create and to serve, than video ads, so they’re ideal for brands with a lower budget that still want to reap the benefits of video advertising on YouTube. 

2. Discovery ads

Discovery ads are a little different to the in-roll YouTube ads. Rather than being played at the start or middle of other videos, they show up alongside organic YouTube search results and include three lines of text and a thumbnail. When a viewer clicks on the ad, they can either be directed to your video page or your YouTube channel. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. 

YouTube discovery ad

Best for: Competing with similar content and sharing relevant, high-quality videos on niche topics. 

3. Skippable in-stream video ads

These ads play before or during a video (pre-roll or mid-roll) and give viewers the chance to “skip” after five seconds. You only pay when users watch the first 30 seconds, the whole thing, or if they interact with your ad by clicking—basically, you only pay if they don’t hit the Skip button. Skippable in-stream video ads need to be at least 12 seconds long, but it’s the first few seconds that really count—you only have five seconds to grab the attention of viewers and persuade them to watch more.

YouTube skippable ads

Best for: Increasing your reach, particularly if you’ve got a strong video with an engaging start. It helps to be specific with the content of your ad to capture the attention of your target audience from the get-go. These ads are also good for brands who want to drive traffic and conversions, since you only pay when a viewer clicks. 

4. Non-skippable in-stream video ads

Ad blocking culture is rife, and 76% of people automatically skip ads even if they might be interested in them. Non-skippable in-stream video ads address this concern by letting you serve ads pre-roll or mid-roll that viewers can’t skip. Because users can’t skip, you pay per impression (per person who sees the ad) at a cost per 1,000 views (CPM). These ads need to be 15 seconds long and really punchy to attract a captive audience. 

Nonskippable bumper ad example

Best for: Increasing brand awareness, particularly if you have a really strong creative or message that can capture viewer attention for the entire 15 seconds. 

5. Bumper ads

Like non-skippable video ads, bumper ads can be served pre-roll or mid-roll and can’t be skipped. The only difference is these ads run much shorter at six seconds a pop. Again, you pay for impressions at CPM. 

Youtube bumper ad example

Best for: Raising brand awareness with short, snappy messages. When Google analyzed 300 bumper ads, it found that 90% created a big lift in ad recall. 

How to advertise on YouTube 

Here’s a quick rundown of how you can get set up with YouTube advertising: 

1. Create a Google Ads account

Google ads account
If you don’t already have a Google Ads account linked to your brand, start by doing that. Here’s the page to get started. 

2. Create a new video ad or ad campaign

  • Click the Video option as your campaign type. 
  • Choose your campaign goal (leads, website traffic, product and brand consideration, or brand awareness and reach). 
  • Upload your video (Google will provide tips on the best run time for your chosen campaign goal). 

Create YouTube ad

3. Select your target audience 

Google has powerful targeting options that span to its YouTube ads. This means you can really hone in on the people you want to connect with. Choose who you target based on: 

  • Demographics: including age, gender, location, household income, job title
  • Life stage: including homeowners, college students, new parents
  • Interests: topics and keywords people use to search for the things they’re interested in (Google will use past browsing behavior to find interested viewers)
  • Remarketing: target people who have already interacted with other videos, have taken a specific action on your website, or who are subscribers on your email list 

Select audience
4. Set your budget

  • Choose your bid strategy. This will usually be determined by your campaign type, goals, and whether you want more conversions, clicks, or impressions (for example, impressions cost less than clicks and conversions).
  • Choose your budget. Select either a daily budget or the total amount you want to spend over the lifetime of the campaign. 
  • Choose your campaign dates. Decide when you want your ads to start running and when you want them to stop. 

How much do YouTube ads cost to run? 

YouTube ads have an average cost per view of between 10¢ and 3¢, with the views generated counting toward your overall viewer numbers. To put this into perspective, it costs around $2,000 to reach 100,000 viewers.  

YouTube ad specs

Here’s everything you need to know about the dimensions and specifications for videos to qualify to run as YouTube ads.

  • Skippable in-stream ads, non-skippable in-stream ads, and bumper ads must be uploaded as regular YouTube videos first and follow the specs for standard YouTube content. 
  • Discovery ads need to abide by the following:
    • File format: AVI, ASF, QuickTime, Windows Media, MP4, or MPEG
    • Video Codec: H.264, MPEG-2, or MPEG-4
    • Audio Codec: AAC-LC or MP3
    • Aspect ratio: 16:9 or 4:3 is recommended, but YouTube will automatically adapt the file depending on the aspect ratio and device
    • Frame rate: 30 FPS
    • Maximum file size: 1 GB for Discovery ads

Quick tips for creating and running successful YouTube ads 

  • Include a CTA. Tell viewers what you want them to do with a clear, concise call to action, like downloading a report, visiting your website, or signing up for a free demo.
  • Know your audience. Have a very clear idea about who you want to target and detailed information about their interests, challenges, and goals. Create customer personas for each segment of your audience and run ads to each of those segments.
  • Add high-quality captions. Not everyone watches YouTube with the sound on—it’s worth investing in high-quality captions to lay over you ads to make them accessible to all.
  • Create eye-catching visuals. YouTube is a visual channel, and it’s important that your videos are high quality and stand out. Use an editing software or editing app to tighten up your footage and make your ads look great. 
  • Aim to quickly connect. You have a matter of seconds to hook and engage viewers, so every second counts. Use your ad time wisely to make your ads relatable, entertaining, or educational. 
  • Pay close attention to YouTube analytics. The data from your ads and Google Analytics will tell you what’s performing well and what’s not. For example, if watch time is particularly low, you might need to rework the beginning of your ad to make it more engaging. 
  • Mix and match ad types. Don’t feel like you have to stick to one ad type. Try out a few different varieties in your campaign to see which ones resonate best with your potential customers. 
  • Use remarketing to remain front-of-mind. Run remarketing campaigns alongside acquisition campaigns to remain relevant to existing customers or those who already know who you are. 

Get started with YouTube ads 

YouTube ads expose your brand to billions of people who are actively searching for relevant topics in your industry. Leverage the powerful targeting capabilities and variety of ad formats to connect with new customers, increase brand awareness, and drive traffic to your site.