It’s a painful thing, seeing those three orange-faced words smackdab in the middle of the AdWords Interface: Limited by budget.

The way that AdWords defines the criteria for a campaign to slapped with the “limited by budget” tag, is that the campaign’s budget is set at a lower daily amount than what is recommended by Google. Granted, this definition comes with the world’s largest grain of salt, given Google’s obvious self-interest in promoting additional adspend, but limited by budget campaigns are also fantastic indicators of where lay fertile soils for market expansion.

What limited by budget really boils down to is “you need more money to maximize this campaign’s value” or “gotta spend money to make money”— and for most of us needing more money isn’t an affliction we need to strain too hard to empathize with. And while the quickest fix to squeezing more value out of a limited by campaign budget is to feed it more dollars, the painful and obvious truth is that marketing budgets are not inexhaustible.

So, what do you do when one of your best performing campaigns is limited by budget, your PPC budget is not going to expand, and you have already weighed the pros and cons of devoting spend from other perhaps lesser-performing campaigns?

Let me show you one of my favorite tricks.

The following is useful in just about any type of campaign: lead gen, ecommerce, brand awareness, whatever. It’s making the best of what you got (“if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with”).

First, you’re going to want to find out just how limited by budget you are. Does your budget drill only into the topsoil of the available marketplace, or are you already mining deep? In order to do this, go to the ‘customize columns’ button in the interface, and add the “Lost IS (budget)” column.

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What this metric shows you is the percentage of available impressions you are missing out on within that campaign, exclusively due to your budget restrictions.

Using this column, I can see that in one of my accounts (an e-commerce account with ROAS and revenue based goals) I’m missing out on more than half the impressions available out there. Bummer, man. Thankfully we’re in make-the-best-of-what-we-got-mode.

Would you be surprised to learn that the answer is as simple as bid changes?

Yep, that trusty building block can help relieve  your limited by budget woes. Specifically, systematic, gradual, measured, and well-tracked bid changes! Here’s the logic behind the forthcoming strategy:

Your budgets not getting any bigger, and it’s getting exhausted early in the day. So you lower your bids, paying less per click, thereby draining your budget more slowly, and ostensibly showing up in more auctions. However, you don’t want to lower your bids too drastically and fall out of the auctions or off the first page, hampering an already handicapped effort.

So, instead of doing a mass bid change of, say, 25%, plan on making five individual rounds of bid changes, each at a -5% increment, and then monitoring your impression volume to ensure you haven’t fallen off a cliff. Once you’ve determined that your impressions are stable, make the next bid change. Rinse and repeat.

Here’s a look at how I track this procedure:

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Note: the far right column, Cp 1000 I, stands for cost per 1000 impressions, more commonly represented as CPM in PPC nomenclature.

More than likely one day you’ll make your little 5% bid change— the latest in a long line of incremental adjustment to maximize performance in your limited by budget campaign— and when you check back you’ll notice that your impressions have dwindled drastically. This is probably because you’ve encroached upon your point of maximum return. Once this happens, simply bid up 5%, and know that you’ve optimized your bids for maximum impression share without spending an extra nickel.

It seems obvious— perhaps so obvious that it feels like there should be more to it. But I promise, there isn’t. The campaign I’ve used in the example above was, at the start of this strategy, losing over 85% of impression share to budget. This campaign was also responsible for more than half the account’s generated revenue. And, you guessed it, wasn’t going to be receiving any sort of expansion. I’ve been incrementally walking bids down— sometimes waiting two days between bid changes, sometimes three, sometimes full weeks when the data takes longer to stabilize— for a little over a month. The campaign has the same daily budget, except it’s now losing out on only 54% of available impressions due to budget.

That’s an overall recoup of 30% of the impressions out there, without increasing costs. Oh happy day.

What are some ways that you get the most out of your limited by budget campaigns? Why don’t you join the conversation in the comments below?

(featured image: “There are No Limits” / Gemma Bou / Flickr)