Let’s face it. There are plenty of rabbit holes to dig into when going through your Google Ads account.

Collecting data, recognizing the trends for optimization and other paid search strategy efforts often do not come as quickly as we’d like. The problem? As digital marketers, time is not always on our side. We are expected to bring in results in a timely manner but some factors are slightly out of our control.

Cue in Google, who offers time-saving options, courtesy of their massive amounts of data. But do these options actually improve our campaigns?

Here are some experiences I’ve seen during my time working with various Google Ad accounts at Directive, a search marketing agency focused on B2B and enterprise. Let’s break them down together.

Targeting Tools

Setting up proper targeting is a crucial paid search strategy for your Google Ads campaigns. With search, you can control targeting through keywords you bid on as well as the match types you utilize.

With display, it is through the audiences you build or the ones available in the Google Ads platform.

See below:

Each campaign type also has options that allow Google to increase your targeting range.

With search campaigns, you have the option to show your ads to Google search partners. This extends the reach of Google search ads to hundreds of non-Google websites. These also can extend to YouTube and other Google sites.

Choosing this option includes a notification that informs you that “most advertisers include their ads on Google search partner sites.”

See below:

After auditing an account, we found a client of ours did indeed decide to include search partners and saw the following results:

We do see a large spike in conversion volume from search partners, but also a much higher cost-per-conversion.

Additionally, there is a 90.25% impression share from Google search, meaning there is still room to show ads there. Had more budget gone to Google search and a bit less to search partners, this client would have obtained conversions at a cheaper cost, and ultimately a lower cost-per-conversion in this campaign.

While setting up a display campaign, you can boost your reach through automated targeting.

See below:

Looks pretty great right? One of our clients set up a remarketing campaign using the above settings. Here was the overall performance:

Something did not seem right here!

By targeting users who are already familiar with your brand, you should have a better conversion rate than .25%, right? So what happened? Well, when looking at how the site visitors performed we saw the following:

And in comparison, this is how the set of conservative automation performed:

We see a massive difference here in performance. Even at “conservative” automation, 82% of the budget went towards automation, despite it performing much, MUCH worse.

Proper targeting is the foundation for success in your campaigns! Please keep this at the forefront of your mind.

If your goal is lead generation, avoid opting into automated targeting until you feel you are capped out. Even then, do not set and forget; you could be wasting spend on audiences you have no control over.

If your goal is awareness, these options are an excellent way to expand your reach, get more exposure, and drive more users to your site.

Bid Builder

If you’ve got a lot of keywords in your account, manual bidding can be quite a pain. Google’s smart bidding can alleviate the time-consuming chore of keeping track and adjusting your keyword bids. Additionally, they provide multiple options to fit the campaign’s needs:

  • Target CPA: Sets bids to get the most conversions possible while reaching your average cost-per-acquisition (CPA) goal.
  • Target ROAS: Sets bids to help you get the most conversion value while maintaining your target return on ad spend (ROAS).
  • Maximize Clicks: Sets bids to help you get the most clicks within your budget.
  • Maximize Conversions: Sets bids to help you get the most conversions within your budget.
  • Target Search Page Location: Sets bids to help you get your ads to the top of the page or on the first page of search results.
  • Target Outranking Share: Sets bids to help you outrank another domain’s ads.
  • Enhanced CPC: Adjusts your manual bids up or down to help you increase conversions.
  • Target Impression Share: Automatically sets your bids to increase your ads’ chances of appearing in the search page area you select.

These can all be beneficial options depending on your campaign goals. One of our clients had a campaign rich with conversion data, averaging around 200 conversions a month.

The more conversion data, the better, as Google’s algorithm can learn quicker and begin producing more “bang for your buck” in a shorter amount of time. We decided to run an experiment here testing out max conversions against the manual strategy and saw some pretty interesting results:

After a few weeks, we were not seeing much difference in terms of volume or conversion rate. The big difference here was in the costs associated with each strategy:

Using the automated strategy, our CPC’s went up a whopping 63%! So while conversion volume may not have grown, our CPA certainly did! We ended up ending the experiment and sticking with manual bidding.

This isn’t to say automated strategies are always going to be wasteful. We’ve used this strategy on many clients and have seen it deliver the best volume and lowest CPA one of our client’s campaigns had ever seen.

We’ve seen the Target CPA turn around performance and improve account level CPA. We have keywords that we want showing 100% of the time due to their value, and Target Impression Share worked towards accomplishing that goal.

The lesson here? Always experiment before switching over. We’ve seen varying results depending on the industry, offer, and branded vs. non-branded keywords. Personally, I’ve seen these strategies work best after the campaign has been running for a while and is well optimized. After it’s been up, experiment with Smart Bidding to get your campaign to reach that next level.

Creative Collaboration

So, everything we’ve talked about thus far has been on the backend, but what about the creatives your customers see?

Google has an answer for that as well in the form of responsive search and display ads!

With responsive search ads, you can input multiple headlines and descriptions and have Google mix and match to find a winning combination. Ideally, this frees up time from creating tons of different ad variants to try and find the winning combination of copy. Let’s take a look at one:

We can see a superb click-through rate, but not so great CPA. What is more troublesome is the inability to find out what exactly is wasting spend. If you click on the “view asset details” outlined above, you’ll be met with the following:

We can see the different combinations and the percentage of times they showed, but impression numbers are all you get; no conversion numbers, conversion rates, or cost-per-conversions associated with the combinations.

This prevents us from being able to double down on what is working, and pause what is not.

Responsive search ads could potentially be a game changer if each piece of copy had the previously mentioned stats to accompany, but without them, we cannot really analyze the copy winners and losers.

A certain combination served may get you a lot of clicks, but may not resonate with your landing page compared to another combination receiving fewer clicks. There’s just no way of knowing for sure at that moment.

On the display side, you can work with responsive display ads.

Rather than manually creating different banner ad sizes, you just upload an image and a few lines of copy to accompany. Then, Google is able to fit your ads in more placements and create various combinations like responsive search ads.

We tested one of these against our standard banner ads and got some excellent results. The top row shows the entire ad group’s metrics, while the bottom shows the responsive display ad’s:

The ad was responsible for more than half of the ad group’s conversions, despite being less than a quarter of the spend. Automation seemed to perform well here. Like responsive search, however, there is no way of understanding what is working or not. In this case we ended up just pausing the manually built display ads, and testing the responsive against another responsive to try and get a better grasp.

All in all, responsive ads can save you a chunk of time in the creative process but lack the insights to dive into what messages seamlessly transition users from ad to landing page and then to the desired conversion action.

These ads are worth having in your back pocket though, so test them out against your current ads and see how they perform for you!

Overview and Recommendations Refresh

Have a big account? Don’t know where to start?

These tabs within Google Ads give you general insights into various campaigns, ad groups, and keywords.

See below:

This tool helps you gain a high-level understanding of trends or abnormalities going on within your Google Ads account. For example, in the Overview section, we get insight into some words that triggered our ads, without having to dig through search terms:

If you’re seeing a lot of irrelevant terms here, it is a good indicator you need to go in and clean up your search terms and add some negative keywords. In the example above, we’ve outlined a word used in a search, which triggered our ad to show. This word is not relevant to our services, and therefore we would add this as a negative keyword.

Removing these types of words is crucial for reducing wasted spend and prevents your ads from being triggered by searches that are not related to what you offer.

The recommendations tab offers advice on where you should boost spend or expand your campaigns. Take the advice here with a grain of salt. Sometimes the recommendations may not have your campaign goals in mind.

For example, we were running a video campaign and were met with the following advice:

Seems pretty obvious that adding more money into our daily budget will earn us more video views, right?

But what about engagement metrics? Are these users actually making their way to the site? If they do, are they bouncing quickly? If they don’t, how many pages are they visiting?

The whole point of this campaign was to spread awareness for one of our client’s products and see if video ads enticed users to travel to the site. We cared more about how our audience was performing and whether they were making their way to the site to learn more after a teaser clip, than just showing a video to the masses.

The above recommendation does not provide those insights, only how to increase your cost and views. Click-through-rate, bounce rate, and pages per sessions are a better way to understand your goals and should be considered before adding more money to your daily budget for more views.  

Again, take everything on these pages as simply suggestions. Use them as a roadmap, as they can be good indicators of areas to dig into within your account. However, make sure you follow the breadcrumbs and investigate before blindly adding more funds.

More spend simply for visibility does not necessarily mean better account performance.

Final Focus

Setting up a Google Ads account to ultimately benefit your paid search strategy can be time-consuming and requires strategy and research.

With so much to do within the account, it is tempting to let Google take over and run on autopilot. However, taking shortcuts early on can provide subpar performance and wasted spend on your PPC campaigns.

But isn’t automation built to learn, adjust, and improve our search marketing efforts? To quote one of the most frequently used phrases in Directive’s pay-per-click department, “it depends.”

While these options are available to make your life easier, they are not guaranteed to work. Should you try them out? Absolutely. Optimize, then test, but keep a close eye on what is happening within your account. Do your due diligence and ensure there are no holes in your search marketing campaigns that allow automation to hemorrhage your paid search budget.