The full scale integration of automation and AI in our daily work lives is upon us. It can be seen almost everywhere within Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. Google is leading the charge with automated tools available anywhere from bidding, to ad creation, to audience targeting (some of which are forced updates).

robot with formulas

When they work, these tools drive major increases in productivity for account teams and allow time to be spent on more strategic aspects of the account. That’s a win, for sure. The problem is, AI isn’t going to work 100% of the time. Sometimes, it fails.

One recent encounter within AI in Google Ads forced me to rethink my approach to campaign automation. This encounter with questionable AI began as a request from the client to reallocate a portion of the monthly budget toward testing display campaigns.Automation

Automation Gone Awry

Google display campaigns were created and set to Target CPA bidding. The Pay for Conversions option was selected at the onset of the campaign. These settings were selected to allow Google to optimize bids and budget and maximize lead volume at the goal CPA. Learn more about the pros and cons of various bid strategies here.

The campaign delivered low cost per conversion on day one but did not spend the entire daily budget, so no adjustments were made. The campaign’s spend surged to 7x the set daily budget on day two. The result of the extremely high daily spend was an extremely high volume of sales calls to a call center on a Friday afternoon. This scenario was highly unfortunate as the call center had no way to effectively process the call volume.

Upon discovery of this debacle on the morning of day three, I promptly adjusted the bid strategy to manual bidding to mitigate the risk of further over-delivery. The Google support team was quickly pulled in to help me determine how and why this massive surge in daily spend occurred.

Google informed me Pay for Conversion bid setting allows Google to spend greater than 2.5X the daily budget, unlike any other bid setting. Google acknowledged that spending 7x the daily budget was far greater than expected, but Target CPA does technically have the flexibility to make that change.

I was somewhat puzzled as this effectively renders the daily budget useless. Daily budget and goal CPA are the two-primary bid and budget inputs within Target CPA campaigns. This detail of the Pay for Conversions setting effectively eliminates any real control over campaign delivery other than a goal CPA.

Google provided an article that did include these details, however these details were not evident in all articles Google published on the topic. Pay for Conversion setting is now only available in campaigns that have 100 or more conversions in the last month, meaning new campaigns are no longer be able to opt-in at launch.

Analysis

The lack of clarity in bid setting details and the inability to predict the actions of Google’s AI – specifically for bidding – sets off red flags for me as an account manager. The efficiency and performance benefits of Google AI are real, but these tools are still being developed and are far from perfect.

I highly recommended that anyone testing a new automated tool , in any ad platform, get clarification directly from the platform support team on exactly how the tool or settings perform. It is also best practice to set delivery limits with account scripts or platform rules to put hard parameters on spend and other key delivery metrics.

Finally – be sure to take any recommendations to adopt new automated or AI tools with a grain of salt. You should test all new tools that align with your strategy, but also consider specific ways that tool can put your campaign(s) at risk for not achieving goals.