Brad Geddes / PPC Geek
Official AdWords Seminar Leader.
Author of Advanced Google AdWords.
Co-Founder, Adalysis.
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Archive for the 'Audit Series' Category

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 15: Audiences

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score, Account Structure, Keywords & Match Types, Ad Copy, Testing, the Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio, Google Shopping CampaignsBid Management and Landing Pages

 

I’m thinking more “audiences” and less “keywords” than ever before. – Melissa Mackey

According to many PPC experts, audience targeting was the most important trend in 2016. Which was nice after having 5 consecutive years of mobile.

And looking forward to 2017, audiences will continue to grow in importance and scale. As Melissa’s quote above indicates, thinking ‘keywords only’ really is a thing of the past. It’s the combination of intent (keyword or voice search), device, time, location and audience that we need to think about.

Most AdWords advertisers however, are familiar with remarketing audiences only. But actually this is just one of the 10 main ways you can target (or exclude) audiences in AdWords:

audiences-in-adwords-small
In the illustration above you can see which audiences can be targeted on which network(s).

And for those who like a historical perspective, see the timeline below for the years when different audiences were released in AdWords. Betas were often already available a year earlier.

audiences-in-adwords-timeline-small

Keep on reading!

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 14: Landing Pages

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score, Account Structure, Keywords & Match Types, Ad Copy, Testing, the Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio, Google Shopping Campaigns and Bid Management

 

“If you look at a good PPC account and it’s not converting, in 99% of cases, the landing page is the problem.” – Brad Geddes

“Most websites don’t have a traffic problem… However, every website has a conversion problem.” – Bryan Eisenberg

In other words: if all you do is work on your PPC campaigns, but no one is obsessed with converting the traffic you’re paying for, then yes, you too have a problem. And it’s probably the single largest reason why your results aren’t what you want them to be.

So it’s about time we dive into landing pages and conversion rate optimization in this series. A topic one could easily write a book about, as in fact some of the brightest minds in digital marketing did.

That’s why I’d highly encourage you to read the books and blogs below, even if you’re ‘just’ a PPC marketer. Because as such, you already have great insights into your audience’s interests and what ad copy they respond best to.
So why stop there? You have to enter a URL in those ads anyway. Why not make sure it’s a URL that delivers a great experience?

Keep on reading!

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 13: Bid Management

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score, Account Structure, Keywords & Match Types, Ad Copy, Testingthe Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio and Google Shopping Campaigns.

 

“Great bids can’t fix a lousy campaign”

Craig Danuloff

Whenever I think of bid management, I think of this quote from Craig Danuloff, back in 2010 in his excellent e-book ‘The 21 Secret Truths of High Resolution PPC’.

In the original e-book, Craig wrote the following about bid management:

“Bidding gets entirely too much attention in the paid search world. Both the idea of it and its process are treated as if they’re the central element to successful campaigns.
The truth is that bidding is just another piece of the puzzle. Even the best bid strategy or most powerful bid algorithm can’t overcome poor keyword selection, sloppy organization, or uninviting ad copy.

Think of it this way: there are pre-requisites for bidding. Until a keyword is ready, anything more than a simple target-position bid strategy is most likely a waste of time and perhaps money.

Don’t worry too much about the bid for any keyword until it:

  • Lives in a tightly organized ad group
  • Uses the right match type
  • Attracts appropriate search queries
  • Is paired with targeted and persuasive text ad copy
  • Sends traffic to an effective landing page or conversion path

Any bids calculated and set before these milestones are achieved are based on inconsistent inputs, so they really can’t be accurate or optimal. Watch carefully and you’ll probably notice prematurely applied algorithmic bids that are too high, too low, or change radically from one period to another.

Garbage in, garbage out. As they say.

On the other hand, when the relationship between search queries, keywords, and text ads has been thoughtfully managed or optimized, smart bid strategies or advanced algorithms can be an incredibly effective way to maximize sales and revenues.

Spend a lot of time on bidding… after you’ve spent a lot of time on everything else.”

I believe all of the above is as true today as it was in 2010. Although I’d rather not suggest to spend a lot of time on bidding. Ideally, try to spend no more than 20% of your time and resources on bidding, and preferably a bit less.
I’m not saying bidding isn’t important, because it is. Your bids have a large influence on your position and CPC (as has Quality Score), which on their turn have a large influence on your CTR and ROI. So those are some good reasons to care about your bids.

On the other hand, there are 2 reasons why you don’t want to spend too much time on calculating and changing bids:

  • Calculating bids is basically number-crunching, and as we know, with enough (predictable) data, software can do that better and faster than humans can.
  • A new bid doesn’t give you a long-term advantage over your competition as they can easily change their bids as well.

What does give you a longer term and even unfair advantage is having higher Quality Scores and/or conversion rates than your competition. In that case you’ll be paying less for the same click while getting more in return.
So it’s best to avoid tinkering with your bids all day and focus more on creative and strategic work that can’t be automated instead. Especially if that work can lead to the unfair advantages of higher Quality Scores and conversion rates, like writing great ad copy and improving your landing pages.

In this series, I’ve tried to provide guidelines that are sensible for most AdWords accounts in most cases, so that readers can check their own accounts and implement whatever advice makes sense for them.

However, when it comes to answering the question: what’s the best way to manage my bids? The answer really is: it depends. So I can’t offer a one size fits all solution today, but the goal still is to provide best practices that are sensible for your specific situation.

That’s why the rest of this post is divided in the following parts:

  1. Before you start: profit-driven goals, optimal tracking and attribution.
  2. Setting bids for new keywords.
  3. Manual bidding with formula’s, filters, rules, scripts and the bid simulator. These methods are probably best for lower volume accounts or campaigns, generating less than 60 to 100 non-branded conversions a month, spending less than $10,000 a month or having no more than a few hundred keywords that matter.
    It’s also the way to go if you want to keep full control of your bids, especially during sales or events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, etc.
  4. Automated bidding with AdWords flexible bid strategies. This method is probably best for medium to high volume accounts or campaigns, generating more than 60 to 100 non-branded conversions a month. The more conversions you have, the better it works.
  5. Automated bidding with 3rd party technology. This method is probably best for high volume enterprise accounts, generating at least 500 non-branded conversions a month, spending $50,000 – $100,000 a month or more or having thousands of keywords that matter. It especially makes sense if you also advertise significantly outside of AdWords, e.g. on Bing, Yahoo!, Facebook or Display Networks outside the GDN.

This will make it the longest post in this series by far, which is ironic after downplaying the importance of bid management in the introduction. Nonetheless, it’s a complex subject with a lot of possibilities, so I hope you’ll bear with me and will find useful tips to apply to your campaigns and bids!

 

  1. Before you start: profit-driven goals, optimal tracking and attribution

Before you can even calculate bids, whether it’s manual or automated, you need to have the following in place:

  • A profitable efficiency target like CPA or ROAS
  • Tracking all conversions and/or value generated by your campaigns

You could have multiple CPA or ROAS targets in your account (e.g. because of different margins) and that’s perfectly fine.
You could also care more about clicks, position or visibility than about conversions or revenue, and that’s also fine (well… sort of).
However, this post will not go any deeper into awareness-based bidding besides mentioning the automated flexible bid strategies that can help you with that: maximize clicks, target search page location and target outranking share.

If you choose for any of these awareness-based strategies, please realize that conversion rates don’t vary (much) by position, and if they do, it’s more in favor of the 2nd and 3rd position (and not of the 1st position).
But it’s generally best to just bid based on value per click, improve your Quality Scores as much as you can and let the positions fall where they may.

Profit-driven goals

It’s extremely important that your non-branded CPA or ROAS target takes the following into account:

  • Your margin
  • The part of this margin you’re willing to invest in acquisition

Based on these 2 inputs, you can easily calculate your target CPA or ROAS, as explained in the Goal Setting part of this series.

And to be truly profit-driven, you need to acknowledge the trade-off between volume and efficiency. This means you’re trying to find the target CPA or ROAS that maximizes your total profit in real Dollars, Euros, Pounds or whatever currency pays your bills.
Which isn’t the same as minimizing your CPA or maximizing your ROAS or ROI. Or as Google explains it in their Profit-Driven Marketing articles:

“Would you prefer an $80 CPA or a $90 CPA?

It’s actually a trick question, and the profit-driven marketer would say, “I don’t have enough information to choose between them.” Perhaps the $90 CPA lands your ad in the top spot on a search results page and brings way more sales volume than the lower-priced CPA unit. In that case, the correct decision is to spend more to make more.”

cpa-profit-volume-vs-efficiency

You can see the visualization of this example in the graph above. Obviously, if your current CPA target was $100 in this example, then the profit-driven thing to do was to lower it to $90. Somehow, Google forgot to mention that ;-).

The only way to find out your profit-maximizing target is to test with different CPA or ROAS targets (at least 20% to 30% higher or lower than your current target to make sure there’s a significant impact) and find out which combination of CPA or ROAS and conversions or revenue delivers you the most profit.

Optimal Tracking

As mentioned in the Measurement part of this series, you should track the full value that your campaigns deliver, so all this value can be taken into account when setting bids:

  • Obviously your macro conversions, typically leads or the revenue from sales
  • Cross-device conversions, which usually means an uplift of 5% to 15% in conversions and can be integrated with flexible bid strategies
  • The lifetime value of your customers
  • The quality of your leads (if you’re lead-gen)
  • Micro conversions, such as newsletter subscriptions

And if applicable to your business, you should also track the value of:

  • Phone calls
  • App downloads
  • In-store visits

So if your goals and/or tracking aren’t optimal, it’s impossible for your bids to be. Being the 2 main inputs for any bid management, your goal setting and tracking need to be as accurate and complete as they can possibly be.

Attribution

And then of course, there’s attribution. Most of us are still bidding based on last-click attribution, and that’s mainly because it’s hard to:

  • Agree on an attribution model that isn’t last click.
  • Manually adjust your bids and budgets based on this attribution model .

The very least you should do, is ignore the last branded click if this was preceded by a non-branded click, a so called ‘last touch with brains’ model. If you don’t do this and have a lot of branded conversions in your account, you’re probably undervaluing your non-branded keywords and campaigns.

Once you do that, it’s not a complete disaster if the rest of your keywords are judged mostly on their last-click performance.
As Siddharth Shah wrote a few years ago in his analysis ‘Attribution: Busting the Myths’: “In short, if you are doing search primarily, changing attribution rules usually doesn’t change much. You typically see a 10-20% assist funnels and 5-10% non-brand to brand type funnels. For the most part, you are fine working with the last click. However, when looking at multi-channel data, when search forms a small component of the overall picture, multi-event attribution can matter.”

This is also what other experts found when digging into to the attribution reports (formerly search funnels): only a small percentage of keywords can justify their existence based purely on assists. In other words: attribution is no excuse to keep ‘upper funnel keywords’ running that are highly inefficient. If you want awareness, effective display campaigns will offer you just that, at CPM’s that are hundreds of times lower.
Or as George Michie states in one of his comments in the Cardinal Sin of Paid Search: paid search is a very expensive channel for brand building. If we think of an advertising impression being a visit to your website (I don’t think there’s much of an impression given by the little text ads), then a $0.50 click translates to a $500 CPM. That’s an awfully expensive way to show people you exist.”

And for those of us that would like to be more sophisticated when it comes to attribution, but don’t want to lose a lot of time recalculating bids, there’s good news.
In their livestream in May this year, Google announced that advertisers will be able to select an attribution model (including data-driven attribution) in AdWords and that automated bidding will then be based on the chosen model.
Watch the part from my fellow Dutchman Joan Arensman about making attribution actionable to see how this would work.

adwords-data-driven-attribution

Let’s hope this will be released soon, because until then, the alternative is to do quite some manual work analyzing the attribution reports and trying to calculate bids based on your chosen attribution model.

  1. Setting bids for new keywords

If you just added a new keyword to your AdWords account, you may wonder what would be a good starting bid. As you have no click or conversion data yet, there are several options in this case:

  • The estimates you get for that keyword from Google’s Keyword Planner
  • Somewhere between the first page bid and the top of page bid estimate. But be careful: these estimates are often (way) too high when you just added a keyword. So wait at least a couple of hours (or days) before using these estimates.
  • The expected value per click based on your expected conversion rate or revenue per click for that keyword. You’ll find the formulas to calculate the value per click below.

For more details about this topic, be sure to read Brad Geddes’ 4 Ways to Determine Your Starting Bids.

Depending on your budget, aim for an average position between 2 and 4 to start with, so you can accumulate the necessary data to refine your bids later on.

  1. Manual bidding with formula’s, filters, rules, scripts and the bid simulator

As stated in the beginning, manual bidding is best for lower volume accounts. For the purpose of this post, I’ll define lower volume as having less than 60 to 100 non-branded conversions a month. You’ll see why in the part about flexible bid strategies.
Manual bidding is fine for lower volume accounts because the time you need to calculate the right bids is limited and because you probably won’t benefit from the advantages of automated bidding, as automation works best with lots of (predictable) data.

Manual bidding can also be a (temporary) necessity during major sales, as algorithms will need at least a day (or more) to adjust to the effects of sudden spikes in volume, competition or conversion rates. That could mean the sale is already over once the bids have been adjusted to the right levels.

Value per click formula’s

Once a keyword has converted, you can easily calculate its value per click based on your target CPA or ROAS. Obviously, you’d rather have multiple conversions so your bids are based on solid data. Ideally, you’d calculate the bid based on the last 10 to 20 conversions.
For some keywords that means looking back 7 days and for other keywords you may need to look back 12 months.

The formulas to calculate the value per click of a keyword are as following:

For CPA targets:
(keyword conversion rate) x Target CPA

So if a keyword converts at 1.8% and your target CPA is $75, then the value per click of that keyword is 1.8% x $75 = $1.35.
This is the CPC you’re willing to pay to reach your target CPA with this keyword. You could bid a bit higher than this as your average CPC will be lower than your max CPC.

For ROAS targets:
(average revenue per click) / Target ROAS

So if the average revenue (or value) per click of a keyword is $8 and your target ROAS is 500%, then the value per click of that keyword is $8 / 5 = $1.60. Again, you could set you max CPC a bit higher than this amount.

To speed up your bidding based on one of these formula’s above you can make these changes with bulk uploads. Using this feature, you can:

  • Download a spreadsheet with the right keyword data.
  • Add a column in Excel that calculates the right bid by using the one of the formula’s above.
  • Copy and paste the calculated value per click as values in the Max CPC column.
  • Manually review the new max CPC’s, especially the extremes (highest and lowest max CPC’s): feel free to adjust these based on your own insights and CPC limits.
  • Upload and apply the changes in AdWords.

I wrote a post 5 years ago specifically about this time saving feature in combination with AdWords Editor, you can read it over here for more detailed instructions: Align your bids with your CPA within 5 minutes using AdWords Editor and Excel.

Calculating bid adjustments

How to calculate your bid adjustments for mobile, locations and within ad scheduling has already been covered in the Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments part of this series.

Nevertheless, it’s important enough to shortly recap and update this topic in this post.

First of all, the most important bid adjustment (that most people get wrong): the mobile bid adjustment. Google provides a clear formula and example in their Bid Like a Pro guide:

adwords-mobile-bid-adjustment-formula

Why most people get this wrong, is because they don’t include the full value of mobile which can include more cross-device conversions, phone calls, in-store visits and app downloads. Google’s example clarifies this point:

adwords-mobile-bid-adjustment-example

Location and time bid adjustments are easier to calculate, by comparing the specific location or time efficiency with the campaign average.
I’d not recommend to compare it with the campaign goal (as Google does), as you’ll bid towards your goals at the keyword or ad group level, and bid adjustments are just a way of compensating for the deviation from the average.

For CPA targets:

  • Location bid adjustment = (avg. campaign CPA / specific location CPA) – 1
  • Time bid adjustment = (avg. campaign CPA / specific time or day CPA) – 1

For ROAS targets:

  • Location bid adjustment = (specific location ROAS / avg. campaign ROAS) – 1
  • Time bid adjustment = (specific time or day ROAS / avg. campaign ROAS) – 1

For more details about these calculations, check out How To Determine Your Mobile & Geo Bid Multipliers For Enhanced Campaigns by Benjamin Vigneron and the mentioned Bid Like a Pro guide from Google.

And remember: once you use the target CPA or target ROAS flexible bid strategy, you don’t need to apply these bid adjustments anymore in the selected campaigns, as these bid strategies will factor in real-time data on device, location and time to adjust bids. Any bid adjustments you may have will be overruled by these target CPA or ROAS flexible bid strategies, with the exception of a mobile bid adjustment of -100%.

Using filters and rules

Not all your keywords have conversions and even those that have may need a closer look after applying the formula’s above.

That’s where filters and rules come in. I mention these 2 together as rules are essentially filters with a specific evaluation period and action set attached to them.

There are many ways to filter your keywords and attach bid rules to them, but my favorite framework when it comes to keyword filters and bid rules has to be Chris Haleua’s 3×3 Performance Segments. In this framework, you start by dividing your keywords in 3 main segments:

  • Keywords with conversions
  • Keywords with clicks, but no conversions
  • Keywords with impressions, but no clicks

You may also have (many) keywords without impressions because nobody is searching for them, and there is 1 simple rule for those: delete them. There’s even a script to help you do that. Or as Larry Kim said: Attention Keyword Hoarders: You Need to Delete 98% of Your AdWords Keywords.

Back to keywords with data: you complete the framework by applying the following sub-segments to the main segments above:

  • Volume leaders: keywords with many conversions, clicks or impressions
  • Efficiency threats: inefficient (too high CPA/CPC or too low ROAS) or low quality keywords
  • Visibility Struggles: keywords in low positions

Once you combine these segments, you get a beautiful framework that can help you quickly zoom in and take action on the different kind of keywords. With filters and rules, we’re mostly interested in the outliers we need to take action on.

To get you started with the 3×3 performance framework (including the cool names for each segment) I’ve created the visuals below:

chris-haleua-3x3-performance-segments

And to dive deeper into this framework and related materials, I’d highly recommend the following downloads from Chris Haleua:

  • Note: These downloads have been taken offline.

With the last Excel download you can even create a fancy 3×3 performance segment bubble chart that will surely impress your boss or client:

chris-haleua-3x3-performance-segments-bubble-chart

Once you get familiar with a set of filters that work well for your account, you can set up automated rules whenever you find yourself taking the same action under the same circumstances. The Bid Rule Playbook and Template Library downloads above should give you more than enough inspiration to create your own rules.

Bidding with AdWords Scripts

Not every ‘if then’ rule you can think of, can be translated into an automated rule. Besides, automated rules can’t run more often than daily and can’t use data outside of AdWords.
This is where AdWords scripts come in. To give you an idea of the possibilities of scripts when it comes to bidding, I’ve assembled bidding related scripts from the resources below, where you’ll also find the instructions to implement these scripts.
You don’t need to be a coder to implement existing scripts, just read the instructions carefully and copy-paste in your own account.

For a good introduction to scripts, I’d recommend these 3 presentations at SlideShare:

And If you want to create your own scripts, you’ll obviously need to be able to write JavaScript, which you can learn at Codecademy, W3Schools, Udemy and Russell Savage’s Beginner’s Guide to JavaScript You Should Know For AdWords Scripts.

Google Developer Site:

Russell Savage, FreeAdWordsScripts.com:

Daniel Gilbert, Brainlabs:

Frederick Vallaeys, Optmyzr:

If you’re interested in many more scripts to automate more than just bids, you’ll find plenty of free scripts at these resources:


Bidding using the Bid Simulator:

For your highest volume keywords, you may want to check out the bid simulator data every once in a while, as it’s the only place where you’ll get an estimate of what you can expect at different bid levels.
This is based on the last 7 days of data (including Quality Scores, competition and search volume), but doesn’t necessarily predict the coming 7 days.
If you have no reason to believe the coming 7 days will be very different in terms of competition and search volume, it should give you a good estimate of what to expect for each bid.

Let’s use the screenshot below as an example:

adwords-bid-simulator

For this keyword, we can calculate the following based on the bid simulator data above. If we would increase our bid from €0.25 to €0.50, this would lead to:

  • An increase in average CPC from €0.15 to €0.30 (100%)
  • An increase in clicks of 62%
  • An increase in CTR from 1.59% to 1.71% (7.5%)
  • An increase in cost of 214% to €3,490
  • An increase in revenue of 60% to €10,100
  • A decrease in ROAS from 568% to 289% (€10,100 / €3,490)

This can help us in selecting the optimal bid: would we rather keep the current revenue of €6,300 at a ROAS of 568% or would we rather increase our revenue to €10,100 but half our ROAS to 289%. Or any of the scenario’s in between?
Please note that you may not see the conversion and revenue estimates if there isn’t enough conversion data in your account. In that case you could multiply the click estimates with the expected conversion rate (and average order value) for that keyword yourself.

Also note that real profit maximization happens when you take incremental cost per click (ICC) into account instead of average CPC. For an introduction on this topic, watch the classic Google AdWords Bidding Tutorial by Hal Varian. If the second half of this video seems a bit puzzling, I’d highly recommend reading Averages Lie! Bid Simulator and Incremental Marketing by George Michie for a deeper understanding, thanks to banana stands (as there’s always money in the banana stand).

Combine your newfound ICC knowledge with the estimates from the bid simulator and Tenscores’ free Bid Optimizer tool and you can find the ultimate profit-maximizing bid!

Obviously, this whole process takes quite some time, so it’s mostly worthwhile for your highest volume keywords.

  1. Automated bidding with AdWords flexible bid strategies

I know, some people are fundamentally opposed to bid automation. And they especially have a hard time trusting Google to manage bids in the advertiser’s best interest.

But if they have thousands of keywords generating hundreds or more conversions a month, and they’re still bidding by hand, they’re missing opportunities.

Used correctly and under the right circumstances, AdWords flexible bid strategies can improve your results and save you lots of time when it comes to bidding. I’m talking about the target CPA and target ROAS strategies here as the other strategies are awareness-based.

You can use these strategies once the campaigns or ad groups you want to apply it to have received 15 conversions in the last 30 days. However, automated bidding works (much) better when you have more monthly conversions.

How many monthly conversions you ask? Well, Google has recently published conversion thresholds in their Setting Smarter Search Bids guide. This guide is a must read to fully understand how automated bidding works within AdWords.

And for the thresholds, I’ve summarized them in the table below:

bid-strategies-conversion-thresholds

As you can see, you need more monthly conversions for the target ROAS strategy and Google admits that target fluctuations and learning periods aren’t optimal below the 60 or 100 conversions a month.

If you’re below these thresholds, you could still benefit from Enhanced CPC (ECPC) and combine this with one or more of the manual solutions mentioned above. Or try your luck with target CPA or target ROAS, knowing it needs more learning time and target fluctuation is higher.

Once you’re above 100 non-branded conversions a month, it can work wonders and save you lots of time calculating and setting bids and bid adjustments.

There are 3 reasons why it can beat you at bidding, as you can read in the Setting Smarter Search bids guide:

  • True auction-time bidding: bids are set and signals are evaluated for each individual auction.
  • Adaptive learning at the query level: when keyword-level conversion data is scarce, it uses and learns from query-level data across your account.
  • Richer user signals and cross-signal analysis: when determining bids, many contextual signals (like user location, browser, device, etc.) are evaluated, including how certain signals work together and influence conversion rate.

The picture below shows the signals AdWords evaluates when determining bids at auction-time:

contextual-signals-bidding

So if you have enough recent conversions in your campaign(s), it’s definitely worth trying out the target CPA or ROAS flexible bid strategy.

However, always keep the following in mind when automating your bids:

  • Keep monitoring your results and bids, especially when seasonality plays an important role. If you expect sudden changes on your website, your stock or external events that influence search or conversion behavior, it’s probably best to temporarily revert to manual bidding.
  • Realize the algorithm needs to re-learn after every change you make in the selected campaigns or ad groups. So minimize changes if possible, but obviously make changes whenever necessary, like testing new ad copy and adding negative keywords.
  • Read these 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Entirely Automate Your PPC Bid Management by Andrew Lolk for more things to look out for when automating bids.

For more tips on how to best use flexible bid strategies, read 7 Advanced Tips To Automated Bidding Success On AdWords Search Ads by Matt Lawson and How To Resolve Issues With Flexible Bid Strategies In AdWords by Christi Olson.

  1. Automated bidding with 3rd party technology

If your account has more than 500 monthly non-branded conversions, and especially if you’re advertising on multiple search engines or channels as social media and display, then it’s definitely worth investigating a third-party bid management solution.
Such a platform could save you many hours and improve the performance of your campaigns at the same time by providing 1 interface to manage your bids, reports and attribution across channels and campaigns. Obviously, each platform has its own algorithms, rules and capabilities and it’s important to make sure you select the one that best matches your needs.

Below you’ll find a list of well-known platforms to manage your paid media. Most of these platforms are targeted to enterprise advertisers spending $50,000 – $100,000 a month or more on paid media.
However, a few also have solutions for mid-market advertisers (let’s say between $10,000 and $50,000 monthly ad spend), those are indicated with *).

Most of these of these platforms charge on a percentage of ad spend model, usually somewhere between 1% and 5%, with the percentage decreasing as the spend increases. Next to this, most of them also charge an initial setup fee.

If you’re considering to use one of these platforms, I’d highly recommend reading Enterprise Paid Media Campaign Management Platforms 2015: A Marketer’s Guide from Digital Marketing Depot. In here, you’ll find 50 pages of analysis and advice about these platforms that can help you select the one that’s best for your needs. Another highly useful paid resource is Econsultancy’s buyer’s guide for PPC Bid Management Technology 2015.

It’s important to realize that all these platforms evolve quickly, so their capabilities could have changed by now, compared to when these reports were released. So it’s always worthwhile to ask the platforms about their most current and upcoming capabilities.

There you have it! Probably the longest post ever written about AdWords bid management. I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments and hope you’ve found it well worth your time!

 

Bid Management: Your Audit Checklist

All Advertisers:
checkboxHave you ensured that the relationship between search queries, keywords, ads and landing pages have been thoughtfully managed and optimized, before investing heavily in bid management?
checkboxDo you bid towards a profit-driven efficiency target, based on the value per click?
checkboxDo you track all the value that your campaigns deliver?

For lower volume accounts and campaigns: 
checkboxDo you make optimal use of bulk uploads, bid adjustments, filters, rules, scripts and the bid simulator?

For accounts or campaigns with more than 100 monthly non-branded conversions: 
checkboxHave you tried the target CPA or target ROAS flexible bid strategies?

For advertisers with more than 500 monthly non-branded conversions that also advertise
significantly on other search engines, social media or display networks:
checkboxDo you work with one of the established third-party platforms?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Sr. PPC Strategist at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 12: Google Shopping Campaigns

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score, Account Structure, Keywords & Match Types, Ad Copy, Testing and the Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio.

 

If you’re retailer, Google Shopping is one of the most important things to get right in your paid search program. And if you’re not, it’s usually impossible to promote your products or services with Product Listing Ads (PLAs).
So for those of you who aren’t managing (or planning to manage) any Shopping campaigns: I’m afraid you might as well skip this part of the audit series. However, the next part about bid management should appeal to all advertisers and agencies, as should all previous parts you can find above 😉

And for those of you that want to know all about how to achieve success with Shopping campaigns, this post is divided in the 4 following parts:

  • Why use Google Shopping? Because it works, it’s growing and it keeps getting better.
  • How to get the most out of Shopping Campaigns? It all starts with a great product feed. Next to that, I’ll talk about campaign structure and optimization best practices.
  • Shopping resources and tools. Especially when it comes to Shopping, there’s nothing wrong with some external help of specialized agencies or a data feed management tool to get the best results from PLAs.
  • Your Audit Checklist. As with all parts of this series, the post ends with a checklist to use for your own account(s).

As Simon Sinek says: let’s start with why. Why is it that important to get the most out of Google Shopping?

It works
Although you have much less control over which product will show for a specific search query, almost every Shopping campaign I’ve seen outperforms its non-branded text-based counterparts.
In the first place, it’s probably because a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s a lot more than the 95 characters you get in a text ad.
Secondly, not only does the user see the actual products before clicking on them, prices are also shown next to each product.
So whatever product the user decides to click on, (s)he has been able to easily compare the products and prices before the click. This could make it a much more qualified click than a click on a less specific (or harder to compare) text ad.

Just take a look at the SERP below after a search for ‘juicers’:

Not only are the PLAs in the top right (they also appear in top positions above the organic results by the way) the most noticeable part of the SERP, the same advertiser can easily show multiple PLAs, as Walmart does in the example above.
If the same advertisers also has a text ad for that keyword, he has taken up even more of the coveted real estate on the SERP.

Shopping campaigns outperforming their non-branded text-based counterparts is not just my personal experience, it also clearly shows in Merkle | RKG’s Q4 2014 Digital Marketing Report, where we see the following PLA Performance vs Text Ads:

 

The most interesting comparison is for non-branded performance, as PLAs mostly show for non-branded queries (unless you’re a manufacturer). Looking at the yellow charts above we see the following differences:

  • PLAs had a 5% higher non-branded CPC
  • PLAs had a 130% higher non-branded CTR
  • PLAs had a 9% higher non-branded ROI
  • PLAs had a 30% higher non-branded Conversion Rate
  • PLAs had a 12% lower non-branded Average Order Value

Obviously, your PLA performance may vary, but it’s rather exceptional to see PLAs perform worse than non-branded text ads for the same advertiser.

If that’s your case, and you followed all the advice below, the most common reason for underperforming PLAs is when an advertiser isn’t competitively priced while the consumers are very price-sensitive.
In those situations it’s hard to make Product Listing Ads work, as a user can directly compare prices on the SERP.

It’s growing, fast.
More and more paid search clicks for retailers come from Google Shopping. Looking at the Q4 2014 Global Digital Advertising Report by Adobe Digital Index and the mentioned Merkle | RKG report, we see the following stats:

 

Both show almost identical growth rates when it comes to ad spend on PLAs: 45%-47% YoY growth in Q4 2014.

So what does that mean for the percentage of clicks coming from PLAs for retailers?

According to Adobe, Google Shopping produced 20% of all retailer paid search clicks and for the clients of Merkle | RKG it was even higher: 30% (Google paid search clicks only).

Let me bombard you with stats once more, but possibly the most interesting one. Below you’ll find the PLA share of non-brand Google paid search clicks, per industry, also from the Merkle | RKG report:

As you can see, PLAs produce between 31% to 71% of non-branded paid search clicks for retailers, depending on the industry.

These are impressive numbers and we can only expect the importance of Shopping campaigns to grow.
If you see lower click shares coming from PLAs in your account, there may be interesting opportunities to get more of these profitable clicks by following the advice in the rest of this post.
For advertisers outside the US it’s important to note these are mostly US based numbers, so it could be lower for countries where Google Shopping is less evolved.

It keeps getting better
Since their introduction as a beta in the US in 2009, PLAs have come a long way. Just take a look at the most important updates in the table below (click for a larger, more legible version) and you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that Google is committed to make Shopping campaigns an even bigger success. In 2014 they almost averaged 1 big Shopping improvement or expansion a month.

 

So now that it’s clear that it works and that it’s growing and improving all the time, it’s time to go into best practices to help you achieve the best possible results from your Product Listing Ads.

How to get started with Google Shopping?

Just in case you don’t have PLAs running yet and you’d like to get started, this is what you need:

 

How to get the best results from Shopping Campaigns?

It all starts with a great product feed

Your product feed is the most important factor when it comes to success on Google Shopping. As Google likes to say: your feed should be as fresh, accurate and comprehensive as possible. This is what they call high-quality product data.

As you’ll see below, there are certain attributes of the feed you’ll like to optimize regularly, based on search behavior, just as you would optimize your website for SEO purposes.

So it’s best if the person or team running your Google Shopping campaigns can also make changes to the feed, or can at least suggest changes that will be implemented by someone who manages the feed.

Below, I’ll go deeper into detail about best practices and requirements for the most important feed attributes.
But first, be sure to have these 2 links in your bookmarks to refer to whenever you’re improving the feed, so you’re always using the most recent feed specification:

 

3 Required attributes to keep optimizing:

Below you’ll find the “big three” that highly influence your visibility and CTR (next to price): title, description and image.
These are the ones you’ll want to keep optimizing for better results. Hopefully, the recommended size, do’s and don’ts below will help you do just that.
This also means you should regularly analyze the search terms report within your Shopping campaigns to guide your product feed improvements and to find negative keywords.

1) Title:

Recommended size: your title can be up to 150 characters, but it will get truncated after 25-30 characters on the SERP and after 70 characters on google.com/shopping. So front-load your titles with the most important words.

Do’s: keyword-rich; clearly describe the product; include the brand (even if it’s already in the brand column); include the category (even if it also has separate columns); make it match with the product title on the landing page; use simple color names, which means converting too specific color names to one of these 11 colors, possibly adding ‘light’ or ‘dark’ before them (if applicable): black, blue, brown, gray, green, orange, pink, purple, red, white and yellow.

Don’ts: keyword stuffing; your brand name (unless you’re a manufacturer); all capitals; exclamation points; promotional text (e.g. “Free Shipping”); use of words with low search volume (e.g. SKU numbers, too specific color names).

2) Description:

Recommended size: your description can be up to 5,000 characters, but Google recommends to keep it between 500 and 1,000 characters (and 500 should be more than enough). The description only shows on google.com/shopping and gets truncated after 170 characters. So make sure the most important words are in the first 170 characters of your description.

Do’s & Don’ts: same as for title, but you have the room to use full sentences in the description. The best way would be to treat it as a very long search ad. This means using relevant keywords, mentioning features, benefits, USP’s, call-to-actions, etc. Furthermore, the following information should not be in your description according to Google:

  • Links to your store or other websites
  • Billing, payment, or sales information
  • References to internal categorization systems, e.g. “Toys & Games > Toys > Baby Dolls”
  • Comparisons to other products beyond the item you’re selling, e.g. “even better/faster/larger than X”
  • Details about other products, accessories, or similar items available

3) Image_link:

Recommended size: the link itself can be up to 2,000 characters. The image should be the largest, highest resolution, full-size image you have for the product, but no larger than 4 MB or 64 megapixels. Google recommends at least 800 x 800 pixels. Minimum size is 250 x 250 pixels for apparel and 32 x 32 pixels for other industries.

Do’s: high quality images that differentiate you from the competition; show the product clearly (white background is usually best); test different product angles.

Don’ts: low resolution images; watermarks; logos; odd backgrounds; multiple products in 1 image; stock photos everyone is using; cluttered images.

To get an idea of how you’re currently doing when it comes to the attractiveness of your titles, prices and images and of the optimization of your feed in general, you can compare your CTR to the benchmark CTR and monitor your Impression Share in the Product groups tab of your Shopping campaigns.
But first, make sure your budget and bids are high enough to ensure a decent Impression Share.


Required and recommended attributes to increase data quality

The attributes below don’t need to be optimized continuously, but need to be as complete and accurate as possible.

  • ID: your internal and unique ID for each product, max of 50 characters.
  • Link: the landing page of the product, its content should obviously match with other attributes like title, description, price, availability and image_link.
  • Condition: new, used or refurbished.
  • Availability: in stock, out of stock or preorder.
  • Price: the actual price obviously. Being competitively priced is even more important within Product Listing Ads, as users can compare prices directly on the search results page.
  • Brand: simply enter the brand name of the product. For some brands it’s best to use the most used version of the brand (e.g. ‘Tommy Hilfiger’ instead of ‘Hilfiger Denim’)
  • GTIN or MPN: the corresponding unique product identifier of the product like a UPC, EAN, JAN, ISBN or MPN number. Submit the ‘identifier_exists’ attribute with a value of FALSE if your product doesn’t have a GTIN or MPN (e.g. for custom-made products).
  • Google_product_category: Select the most relevant category from Google’s product taxonomy.
  • For apparel products: gender, age group, color, size, material, pattern, etc. are recommended attributes to add for apparel products. If you sell apparel, be sure to read the Submit apparel products guide by Google.


Attributes to customize AdWords organization & bidding:

When you create product groups in AdWords to bid on, most of the feed attributes you can use are more or less fixed: Item ID, Brand, Category (based on the Google product taxonomy) and Condition.

However, if you want to have more freedom in how you organize and create your product groups (and with that, how you differentiate your bids), you can use one (or both) of the attributes below to do so:

  • Product_type: this is your category of the item, so you can provide your own classification next to Google’s (which is fixed and according to their product taxonomy).
    Be sure to provide full strings separated by “ > “, e.g.: Home & Garden > Kitchen & Dining > Appliances > Refrigerators
  • Custom_label_0 through Custom_label_4: Use up to 5 custom labels for extra categories such as best sellers, seasonal products, promotions or for margins.

For inspiration, see the examples below from the official support page (“How to use custom labels”):

custom-labels-examples

The mentioned feed attributes above don’t include all product feed specifications, so make sure to include all attributes in your feed that are required and recommended.

Next to having a great product feed, don’t forget to:

  • Start with using test data feeds to check your data feed for errors first. Once you are happy with the feed processing results, you can upload the same file as a normal feed.
  • Upload your feed regularly in Merchant Center. At least once every 30 days, but daily would be better (and more often if needed).
  • Make sure to regularly check in Merchant Center for possible errors and missing attributes. You’ll find such updates and warnings in the Diagnostics and Feeds tab of Merchant Center.

After reading more than a 1,000 words about product feeds, it’s time to reward you with an example merchant center feed (Google spreadsheet) that should clarify and summarize all mentioned attributes and best practices above. Enjoy and feel free to share!

Campaign Structure & Optimization

Organizing and optimizing your Shopping campaigns is totally different from regular keyword-based search campaigns. As mentioned before, you really need to know exactly how product groups, bids and campaign priorities work to fully understand the different organizational strategies.

And as often in PPC, there’s not just 1 right way to organize your Shopping campaigns.

However, if you know beforehand which attribute(s) of your feed will mostly determine the bids you’ll set at the product group level, the table below can help you with your first organizational choices:

Next to the basic choices above (that don’t include the cool things you can do with campaign priorities) there are quite some other things to consider when organizing and optimizing Shopping campaigns:

  • There seems to be a 10,000 product limit per campaign in AdWords (although you won’t receive any warnings). So if you have more than 10,000 products in your Merchant Center feed, it’s probably best to organize your campaigns in such a way that each campaign targets no more than 10,000 products.
  • The order in which you choose your initial product groups is important, so draw out your structure before creating product groups. Since every product group is a subset of the former group, it’s hard to reverse your initial choices.
  • Use ad groups if you want different negatives, different mobile bid adjustments or different promotional messages for different product groups, as these are set at the ad group level.
    Realize users only see your promotional message when they hover over your product image and that they apply to all products in your ad group. So as Google says: “These messages shouldn’t be used as ad text, but rather as actionable alerts that differentiate you from the competition.”
  • Next to the Product groups tab, don’t forget to regularly use the Dimensions tab in your Shopping campaign to view performance data by all available dimensions and product attributes, even down to the individual item:
  • Be careful not to blindly raise your max. CPC to the Benchmark max. CPC. Before increasing bids for better results, make sure your product feed and structure are as good as they can be and that your daily budget is high enough. If you still miss a lot of Impression Share or if your product groups perform great and you want more volume, then increase your bids cautiously.
    Note: during peak seasons, you may want to quickly and aggressively increase bids for maximum exposure.
  • As mentioned before, regular analysis of the search terms report is essential. On the one hand to guide the optimization of the titles and descriptions in your feed, on the other hand for query mining, both negative and positive:
    • Add negative keywords for queries that are irrelevant and/or significantly underperforming.
    • If you see high-volume queries that perform well, make sure they’re also active in a regular search campaign. If not, add these as new keywords to see if you can get even more clicks from these queries by adding a text ad on the SERP.
  • Use all the ‘extra’s’ that are available in your country, such as:
    • Dynamic Remarketing: as a retailer with a product feed in Merchant Center, it’s very easy to retarget your site visitors on the Google Display Network with ads that automatically contain the products they viewed on your website.
    • RLSA: ask your Google rep if you don’t see the ‘Audiences’ tab in your Shopping campaign to enable this, as you’ll want to be able to bid differently (usually higher) for users that already visited your website.
    • Merchant Promotions: currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia and India.
    • Product Ratings: currently available in the US, UK, Germany and France.
    • Local Inventory Ads (if you have local stores): currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia and Japan.
    • Google Trusted Stores: currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia and Japan.

Advanced Shopping campaign structures

Most advertisers start to organize their Product groups based on category or brand and have just 1 Shopping campaign for all their products. And often, that’s fine.

But if you have a lot of products, sales or other factors that influence performance, you’ll want to get more advanced in your organization and bidding by using the campaign priorities setting.

In this video (just a little over 4 minutes): How to Best Structure your Google Shopping Campaigns by Merkle | RKG you get a great and quick overview of 3 campaign organization strategies and the advantages of using this Shopping campaign structure (using priorities):

A very interesting variation on the structure above that you should definitely check out is Taking Google Shopping to the Next Level by Martin Roettgerding.
In a 27 minute video (scroll down to see it), Martin shows you how to use campaign priorities to be able to bid the highest on the most specific queries and lowest on the most generic queries, even if all these queries match the same product.

The structure looks like this (taken from his corresponding SlideShare presentation):

And an example of the outcome of this campaign structure looks like this:

 

Agencies, Data Feed Management Services & Tools:

You may not have all the (optimal) resources or technology for managing product feeds and/or Shopping campaigns.
As these are essential to retailer success with PPC, you can reach out to one or more of the approved Google Shopping Partners to help you with this. Shopping Partners consist of specialized agencies as well as feed management services.

If you want more choice in tools for product feed management (besides Google Shopping Partners) you could also search for ‘product data feed management’ and check the organic search results. A safe choice would be Google’s own Channel Intelligence (acquired in 2013), as they’re obviously specialized in feeds for Google Shopping, but also many other Shopping Engines.

When it comes to tools for more efficient management within AdWords, the Optmyzr Shopping Campaign Tools could save you quite some time. Check out the demo videos on the Optmyzr website to get an idea how these work.

Just as your product feeds should be, I tried to be as fresh, accurate and comprehensive in this very long post about Shopping campaigns.
However, if you have any comments, questions, suggestions or experiences you’d like to share, please leave a comment below!

 

Google Shopping Campaigns: Your Audit Checklist

Merchant Center – Product feed:

checkboxIs your feed fresh and does it contain all products you want to advertise for, i.e. does it match with the contents on your website (prices & availability especially)?
checkboxAre all the required and recommended feed attributes as accurate and comprehensive as they can be, based on Google’s feed specifications?
checkboxAre the titles and descriptions of your feed user-friendly and do they match search behavior? Regular query mining should guide your feed improvements.
checkboxDo you use and test the highest possible quality product images that distinguish you from the competition?
checkboxDo you use the product_type and custom_label attributes to be able to bid based on your own categorization?
checkboxDo you upload your feed as often as you should, given changing prices and availability? At least once every 30 days is required, daily is usually recommended.
checkboxDo you regularly check the Diagnostics and Feeds tab in Merchant Center for warnings, errors and missing attributes?

AdWords – Structure, optimization and bidding:

checkboxDo you make sure each Shopping campaign targets no more than 10,000 products?
checkboxDoes your structure focus on product lines, profit margins and best sellers?
checkboxIn case you have seasonal items and/or flash sales: do you promote these with separate campaigns, using different campaign priorities?
checkboxDo you take full control of ad serving with all 3 campaign priorities (Low, Medium and High)?
checkboxDo you run search query reports to find negatives to exclude irrelevant or poor performing queries?
checkboxDo you run search query reports to find new keywords for your regular (text-based) search campaigns?
checkboxDo you use the Benchmark (CTR & CPC) and Impression Share insights to guide your optimizations?
checkboxDo you use the insights from the Dimensions tab to guide your optimizations?
checkboxDo you use separate ad groups whenever you want to have different negatives, mobile bid adjustments and/or promotional messages for your product groups?
checkboxDo you use all additional Shopping (related) options that are available in your country, such as Dynamic Remarketing, RLSA, Merchant Promotions, Product Ratings, Local Inventory Ads and Google Trusted Stores?

 

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 11: The Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score, Account Structure, Keywords & Match Types, Ad Copy and Testing.

 

If I had just 1 minute to audit a PPC account, calculating the Lin-Rodnitzky ratio would be the way to go. If I had 5 minutes, I would do the quick account diagnosis as described by Brad Geddes.

And after that, I’d say I really need a couple of more hours for the rest of the audit.

For those unfamiliar with this exotic sounding ratio, it is named after the founders of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates) Will Lin and David Rodnitzky and is a quick way to assess the efficiency of your account.

So all credits go to its inventors and I’d highly recommend to download and read the official white paper at 3Q Digital. Most of the content of this post is based on that white paper.

And although the ratio sounds complex, it really is quite simple (or ‘elegant’ as mathematicians would like to say).

The Lin-Rodnitzky (or L/R) ratio is calculated as following:

lin-rodnitzky-ratio

 

How to calculate your L/R Ratio in AdWords

First of all, you need conversion tracking to be working in your account to be able to calculate this ratio. See the measurement part of this series for all about tracking conversions.

Secondly, you need enough click and conversion data in your account for significant results. The official L/R white paper suggests to evaluate at least 2 weeks of conversion data, but preferably a few months. I usually find that the last 2 to 3 months is a good time range.

Once you’re sure conversion tracking is working properly for the time range you’re evaluating, follow these steps:

1. Set a date range of your choosing (somewhere between 2 weeks and 3 months) in AdWords.

2. Go to the “Keywords” tab, click on the “Details” button and select “Search Terms: All”.

3. Make sure the following columns are visible in your search terms report: “Converted Clicks” and “Cost / converted click”. If they aren’t, add them first by clicking on “Columns” -> “Customize columns”.

4. Click on the “Filter” button, then select “Create filter”.

5. From the drop-down choose “Conversions”, then select “Converted clicks”.

6. Use the greater than or equal to sign >= and enter 1 in the box. Click “Apply”.

7. Now scroll to the bottom of the page, where you’ll see something like this:

8. Now you divide the total (grey) “Cost / converted click” by the filtered (yellow) one. In the example above that would be: 4.99 / 2.91 = 1.71

What does the ratio mean?

So now you’ve calculated the L/R ratio for your account, let’s see what it actually means. In the official white paper we can find the following interpretation: “we’ve concluded that healthy accounts typically have a Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio between 1.5-2.0.

On a continuum of scores, this is what each score range generally means:

1.0-1.5: The account is too conservative. Most likely this means that the only queries getting any traffic are brand terms or the absolutely most targeted queries. This means that the account is likely missing out on a lot of incremental conversions, most of which are likely to still be highly profitable for the business.

1.5-2.0: The account is well-managed. There is a combination of consistent winners that always bring in sales and experimental queries that are being tested to identify growth opportunities.

2.0-2.5: The account is too aggressive. There are too many queries getting clicks that are not driving conversions. This is either due to excessive use of broad match, a lack of attention to the account, or a lack of rigorous analysis of metrics.

2.5+: The account is being mismanaged. Money is being wasted daily, and simple changes can save the business a lot of money.”

Note that not every account has to be in the 1.5 to 2.0 range all of the time. I’ve seen well-managed accounts with temporary L/R ratios between 2.0 and 2.5, for example right after adding many new keywords. That’s why it’s best to evaluate your ratio over a rather stable period (or only for mature campaigns).

So ratios below 1.5 or above 2.5 really mean there’s serious work to be done, but what exactly?

What to do when your Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio is too low

This means you’re hardly taking any risks. You’re probably mostly advertising on exact match keywords that are known to convert well.
While this may seem like a great idea, as stated above, you’re probably missing out on a lot of additional interesting search queries.
Besides, you’re not following the ‘always be testing’ principle in your account by trying out new keywords.

To increase your L/R ratio, you could thoughtfully:

  • Add keywords in phrase and/or modified broad match (that you currently only have in exact match).
  • Try new keywords by doing research with the Keyword Planner or other tools, as can be found at the bottom of the Keywords & Match Types post.
  • Try out the suggestions from the Opportunities tab (just the ones that make sense to you).
  • Add a Dynamic Search Ads campaign.

What to do when your Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio is too high

This happens more often than a too low ratio. This means you need to (seriously) cut the waste in your account.

The higher your ratio is, the higher there’s a need to:

  • Add poor performing queries or words as negatives.
  • Pause the worst performing keywords.
  • Lower bids for keywords with a too high CPA or a too low ROAS.
  • Increase bids for keywords that deserve a higher bid based on their value per click and your targets.

In short: you should spend less money on queries that aren’t working and more on the ones that are. By the way, make sure you have enough data (clicks) before deciding a query isn’t working.

And obviously, you should also investigate why those queries aren’t converting. Are they simply not relevant to your business? In that case you can freely exclude them.

But if the queries are relevant but still don’t convert (enough) after a significant amount of clicks, there may be other reasons for this like your website, offering, landing pages, ads, competition, prices, etc.
In that case excluding the queries will save you money, but the real problems still need to be addressed.

 

The Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio: Your Audit Checklist

checkbox

Is your Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio between 1.5 and 2.0?

 

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 10: Testing

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score, Account Structure, Keywords & Match Types and Ad Copy.

 “Always Be Testing”

Any serious online marketer

One of the greatest things in online marketing is that you can test anything that generates a click or conversion (which is about everything): keywords, bids, ads, landing pages, your checkout process, etc.

Besides, it’s actually the only way to scientifically keep improving the performance of your account and website. That’s why the most successful advertisers and websites in the world have 1 thing in common: they’re testing everything in an almost obsessive manner, running hundreds of tests each month.

Depending on the amount of traffic you have, you may not need to run hundreds of tests a month, but you need to be continuously testing, as often as you possibly can with the traffic you do have. How else will you find out what works best?

To run a test, you basically need 3 things:

  1. The fun part: generating an idea to test. Ideas could come from anywhere: while you’re taking a shower, something in an ad or website you saw, something the HiPPO suggested or something to actually challenge the HiPPO. Wherever the idea may come from, the best response is always: “let’s test it”. In the end, whatever generates the most profit should prevail.
  2. The work part: actually implementing the test: adding a keyword, writing a new ad, creating a new version of the landing page, etc.
  3. The tedious part: waiting and testing for statistical significance. But luckily there are tools out there to do this work for you, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post.

So what do I mean by testing? Well, there are actually 2 types of testing you could do within an AdWords account and both never stop:

  • Split testing (A/B testing): running a controlled experiment with 2 or more variants (e.g. 2 ads in an ad group) where traffic is split between these variants. After a while (depending on the relative difference in performance and the amount of traffic), you’ll find that one of the variants significantly outperforms the other(s). The winner gets to stay and should be challenged by a new variant as soon as possible.
  • Trying out new elements, like adding new keywords, campaign types, networks, etc. This is part of the continuous search for new opportunities: some will work and some won’t, but if you don’t try it, you will never know. In this case there’s nothing to split test in the traditional sense, as you’re adding something new, but obviously you will find out if this addition is worthwhile.

In this post I’ll focus on testing within PPC. Landing page best practices (including how to test them) will be the subject of a future post in this series.

Split Testing Ads

If there’s just one element in your account you should continuously be testing, it’s your ads. They highly influence your CTR and therefore your quality score and the amount of traffic you’re getting from paid search. CTR is also the metric you’ll reach statistical significance the fastest, so you’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. Applying all these learnings add up to huge improvements in your account over time.
Ads also influence conversion rate, but it will take longer to reach significance for this metric, as you’ll obviously have much less conversions than clicks. But if you do reach significance for conversion rate, you should definitely take this into account and test for the ultimate metric: profit per impression.

If you need inspiration on what you could be testing in ads, check the ‘Miscellaneous Ad Copy Tips’ at the bottom of the Ad Copy part of this series, or take a look at the highly useful testing framework in An Endless Supply of AdWords Ads for your Split-Test Experiments, check out the infographic with 26 ideas for split testing your search ads and be sure to follow the Ad Text Tips from the Boost Blog (especially their ‘Win of the Week’ posts).

When testing ads, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Set your ad rotation settings to rotate indefinitely. This isn’t the default campaign setting, so you’ll have to change this yourself. The reason you’ll want to rotate is twofold:
    • You want to choose the winning ad based on your metrics and your significance requirements, not Google’s. Even if you would purely test for CTR or conversions, Google doesn’t show you the confidence levels and just starts showing the ‘best performing’ ad more and more often.
    • You want to be notified whenever there’s a winner. That way, you can directly pause the loser and write a new ad. Even if Google’s optimize settings would always pick the right winner for you, you won’t know it as long as you don’t go into each ad group and find out that one ad has a much higher ad-served percentage. That’s something you don’t want to spend time on anyway, and that’s where the paid tools listed below come in.
  • Determine the goal of your test. In most cases the purpose should be to create an ad with a higher profit per impression, without hurting quality score (too much). But maybe you have a low quality score (or don’t want to wait for significant conversion differences) and you only care about increasing CTR for the moment.
    Or maybe you have too many low quality clicks and you’re willing to purposefully lower CTR by qualifying, for the sake of improving conversion rate and saving costs.
  • Test 2 to 4 ads (per device) simultaneously. You’ll get the fastest results when testing just 2 ads. But in high volume ad groups you could also test 3 or 4 ads at the same time. If you advertise on mobile devices and have mobile preferred ads, then you should also test 2 to 4 mobile preferred ads and consider this as a separate test.
  • Test one thing at a time. Whether they’re big or small changes, once the winner has been declared, you should be able to clearly pinpoint why that specific ad performed better. That’s impossible if you change multiple things at once. A simple way of testing one thing at a time is by testing 1 line of the ad copy at once and keeping the other lines the same.
  • Use aggregate testing. Especially for low volume ad groups, it may take forever before you reach statistical significance. And you don’t want to wait forever. A way to solve for this, is to use the same text (usually one or both description lines) in multiple ad groups and aggregate the data at these lines (or words) to see what works best.
    An easy way to aggregate is to label all ads that share components, so you can analyze the performance on a label level (under the Dimensions tab). Another way is to create a Pivot Table in Excel to aggregate.
    But beware: when you aggregate data, make sure the ad groups are as similar as possible. So don’t aggregate branded and non-branded, search and display, ads in high positions and ads in low positions, etc.
    If you do this, you can run into Simpson’s Paradox, leading you to draw the wrong conclusions based on aggregate statistics.
  • Make sure the results are accurate and significant. This means the ads should have been active simultaneously, conversion tracking is in place, the ads have been in the same (or very similar) positions and obviously: both ads have had sufficient clicks (and conversions) for the differences to be significant. The tools at the bottom of this post will help you determine whether the differences are significant. You should aim for a 95% confidence level or higher.
    So you don’t want to draw conclusions too soon, but on the other hand, you don’t want to keep running significantly underperforming ads. So make sure you’ll know right away whenever an ad is underperforming.
  • Keep track of your learnings. Before you know it, you’ll have tested dozens if not hundreds of ideas. So make sure you (and your colleagues) don’t forget what has worked and what hasn’t by logging your test results. This prevents you from testing something you’ve already tested in the past (although sometimes, this is actually worth trying) and helps you generate truly new ideas.


Split Testing Keywords, Bids, Ad Group Structure and Match Types

It’s probably one of the least used features within AdWords, but you’re actually able to split test all these elements (and others) with AdWords Campaign Experiments (ACE). I won’t dive into how to set up experiments or how to monitor them as Google provides clear guides and some useful examples can be found in these 1 minute videos:

  • Keywords & match types: test the impact of adding a new keyword or different match type.
  • Bids: test the impact of changing your bids. This is especially useful if you’re looking for the optimal combination of efficiency and volume for a keyword or ad group. Usually a higher bid should lead to a higher CPA or a lower ROAS, but it should also lead to more conversions or revenue. By running this test, you can actually see the efficiency and volume combinations for different bids and choose the one that delivers you the most profit.
  • Ad Group structure: although you can be pretty sure that a tightly themed ad group should outperform a less specific ad group, you can actually test this to be up to 99.9% certain that this is not due to chance.
  • Ad Creatives: this option doesn’t add that much to regular split testing without ACE as described above, besides seeing confidence levels in the AdWords interface and easily aggregating the results at the campaign level.

There’s another reason I won’t go too deep into ACE, and that’s because Google announced to take split testing to a whole new level with Drafts and Experiments. This means a more sophisticated, user-friendly and powerful way of split testing compared to ACE.
And yes, this means you can even split test campaign settings, like whether or not you should use automated bidding. That’s fantastic news for all of us.
The bad news is that we’ll have to wait until somewhere in the first half of 2015 before this feature will be released. Until then: try out the possibilities with ACE, the results may surprise you!


Testing New Opportunities

Next to scientific testing with hypotheses, controls, experiments and confidence levels, there’s also the good old “let’s try something new”.

So what kind of things could you add or change in your account?

Suggestions from the Opportunities tab

These have become a lot more useful than they used to be. You will even find suggestions to lower your bid for locations to improve performance. But you’ll also find the suggestion to set your rotation setting back to optimize for clicks or conversions. As discussed above, you don’t want to do this.

So make sure to regularly take a look at the Opportunities tab, and use your common sense to decide which one(s) to apply.

Dynamic Search Ads

If you haven’t tried Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) yet, you definitely should, especially if you sell a lot of different products (but even if you don’t).
Any skepticism is understandable, as you’re letting Google decide which search queries to target based on the content on (parts of) your website. That’s why you always need to keep a very close eye on DSA campaigns.
But for mature accounts, it gets harder and harder to come up with new keywords. So next to traditional keyword research with the tools listed at the bottom of the Keywords and Match Types part of this series, DSA can help you find additional keywords and increase your reach with much less effort (but more risk).

Once you know how to create a DSA campaign, keep these best practices and ideas in mind:

  • Create a separate campaign for Dynamic Search Ads.
  • Start with a daily budget you can afford to test with.
  • Initially, set your max CPC’s lower than most (if not all) CPC’s in the rest of your account. You can always increase bids later if you’re happy about the first results or want more volume from your DSA campaign.
  • Add negative keywords beforehand: words you don’t want to be matched on anywhere and keywords that are already active in other campaigns (especially your brand name, including misspellings).
  • Review the search terms report often (weekly at least) and add irrelevant or underperforming queries as negatives. And on the other hand:
  • Promote search queries with 2 or more conversions to their own ad group in a regular campaign (and add them as a negative afterwards).
  • Test and optimize the description lines of your ad copy (you can’t control the headlines).
  • Refine you campaign with different targets per ad group.
  • Don’t forget to add sitelinks and other extensions to your DSA campaign.
  • Combine DSA with RLSA to create a separate RDSA campaign. That way, you’ll only target your site visitors, which makes DSA much less risky. You could start with this if you have a lot of traffic on your site and prefer to start small.

AdWords Betas

Once you (or your agency) spend a significant budget on AdWords, you may have a Google rep and he or she can keep you up-to-date on the latest product developments and (upcoming) betas.
In that case, participate in any beta you can and that makes sense to your business, as it can give you a unique (but temporary) advantage compared to advertisers that aren’t participating in the beta.

As I’ve started this post with the well-known “always be testing” mantra, let’s wrap up with the following very appropriate Google mantra:

Tools:

As mentioned earlier in this post, there are several tools to help you out with testing, especially with the tedious work of checking for statistical significance.

Free Tools

  • Cardinal Path PPC Ad Testing Tool: if you want to check for CTR and conversion rate at the same time, use this tool.
  • Chad Summerhill’s Excel Spreadsheets: Chad created 2 great Excel downloads to quickly calculate the significance for difference confidence levels when it comes to CTR, conversion rate and conversions per impression. All you have to do is share the page(s) on Twitter or Google+: file 1 including sample size calculation and file 2 with explanation within the spreadsheet (but without needed sample size).
  • Note: Chad’s site and splittester.com are offline
  • Use this tool if you quickly want to find out the significance of CTR differences between 2 ads.

Paid Tools

  • AdAlysis: my favorite ad testing tool, fully dedicated to make your ad testing life easier. No more manual checking and waiting for significance, as AdAlysis will automatically show where tests have reached significance. Scroll down the AdAlysis homepage to get an idea of the features or watch the instructional videos.
  • AdBasis: if you want to take your automated ad testing to the next level, AdBasis offers a multivariate solution that calculates which ad combination is best for each conversion goal.
  • AdProof: testing is great, but it can still be an expensive way to learn. What if you could use crowdsourcing to test your ads instead of paying Google for clicks? That’s what the AdProof platform offers: cheaper and faster test results.
  • Hero Pro: Ad Automator & Split Test Champion, both these tools of the Hero Pro suite will help you in your ad copy testing.
  • Optmyzr A/B Testing for Ads: one of the Optmyzr tools that makes ad testing easier by doing the math for you.

 

Testing: Your Audit Checklist

checkbox

Is the ad rotation setting set to rotate indefinitely for all your campaigns?
checkboxDo all your ad groups contain 2 to 4 active ads (per device)?
checkboxHave you paused all significantly underperforming ads and replaced them by new challengers?
checkboxDo you use AdWords Campaign Experiments to split test other AdWords elements like keywords, bids and ad groups?
checkboxDo you regularly check the opportunities tab and apply/test the suggestions that make sense?
checkboxHave you tried Dynamic Search Ads (DSA), following the mentioned best practices?
checkboxHave you tried Dynamic Search Ads in combination with Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA)?
checkboxIn case you have a Google rep: are you participating in any betas that you’re eligible for and that make sense to your business?
checkboxBonus: do you use one of the mentioned paid tools to make ad testing easier and more effective?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 9: Ad Copy

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score, Account Structure and Keywords & Match Types.

 

My non-scientific field research tells me that there’s a 95% chance that you don’t spend enough time improving the only visible part of your account: the ad copy.

I’ve seen it in many accounts: everything looks pretty good (account structure, match types, bids, budgets, settings, etc.), but new ads are added sporadically and significantly losing ones stay active way too long. Or even worse: there’s just 1 ad per ad group and it’s pretty much the same ad in every ad group.

Please, let your competitors make these mistakes, as they’re costly ones. And remember: there’s always a better ad to write. Always.
So I hope that by the end of this post, you’ll be armed with more than enough ideas and resources to write new ads to give your account the boost it just might need.

Besides, ad writing is the part within PPC that’s the hardest to automate. So if you don’t want to be replaced by algorithms in the coming years (as Bryan Eisenberg boldly predicted in February 2013), becoming a good copywriter is the way to go.

The good news is that the art and science of copywriting has been around for way longer than PPC and you can still learn a lot from books like Scientific Advertising (written in 1923!), The Copywriter’s Handbook, Tested Advertising Methods, Ogilvy on Advertising, How to Write a Good Advertisement, and many others.

Writing good copy is hard, and if you have just 95 characters to convince searchers you have the best answer to their question, it’s even harder. However, the numbers will tell you what works and what doesn’t, which quickly increases your learning curve.

As said, copywriting is an art and science. This post is all about the ‘art’ part: the actual writing process that requires human intervention and creativity. I will leave the ‘science’ part for a future Testing part of this series.
That post will be about analyzing the numbers and correctly split testing ads. Furthermore, best practices for text ads on the Display Network will be covered in a future Display Network part, as these often require a different approach.

So let’s go into the best practices for writing compelling search ads. But as with all things in PPC: you should test best practices for yourself to be sure.
Especially with ads, you’ll quickly find out if a best practice also works for you, or if you’re better off going the opposite way.


First and foremost: be relevant

Consider your ads as a bridge. A bridge between the search queries of the users and the landing page you’re sending them to.

So you have to be relevant and connect to both sides:

  • Reflect the search query in your ad: as stated before, consider the search queries as questions and your ads as possible answers. So write answers as best as you can by trying to get inside the mind of your audience, understanding what their intentions and pain points are and mirror those.
    • An easy way of showing users you have the answer is to use the same words as they do in their search queries. Obviously, don’t overdo this, as your ad still needs to look natural.
    • And of course, it’s only possible to give the most relevant answers within tightly themed ad groups, as covered in the Account Structure part of this series. If you’ve built your ad groups around the two-word rule, those two words should usually be in the headline of your ads.
    • And as you know, words that were used by the searcher will be bolded in your ad, which is something you definitely want.
  • Make sure to use the most relevant landing page: use a destination URL that is relevant to the search query and to the ad. So don’t mention stuff in your ads you don’t clearly provide on your landing page. And don’t send users that look for something very specific to a generic page and vice versa. Just as your ad, your landing page should provide the answer to the question of the user.

To get into the mindset and habits of good copywriting for PPC I can highly recommend fully reading the following article on the Tenscores Blog: It doesn’t click. You still don’t know who I am and what I want. These are the steps you should go through when writing ads and unfortunately, it’s still not how most advertisers write their ads.

Second: implement the 4 U’s

Maybe you’ve already heard about the 4 U’s to write headlines and subject lines, as they’ve been around for a while. I find they’re also very useful to remember the best practices for search ads as these should also be:

  • Unique
  • Useful
  • Urgent
  • Ultra-Specific

Translated to PPC ads, it means they should contain:

  • Unique Selling Propositions (USP’s)
  • Benefits
  • Call to actions
  • Features

It will be very hard to fit all 4 U’s into 1 ad of 95 characters, but it’s definitely worth trying. And if you manage to do so, please share your ad in the comments 😉

If you manage to get 3 of the 4 U’s into 1 ad, you’re already ahead of most of your competition, as many ads contain fewer reasons for users to click on them.

Unique

Why should a user click on your ad and not on any other search result? In other words: what makes you unique in a positive way? To be able to answer these questions you need to know your USP’s. It’s one of the hardest parts of marketing, but once you have one or more clear and powerful USP’s, you’ll be ahead of any competition that writes generic, run-of-the-mill ads.

As this is all about standing out from your competitors, you should regularly search for your top keywords in the search engine and check out their ad copy. By analyzing their features, benefits and USP’s, you can make sure you have something unique to add. Using one or more of the tools listed at the bottom of the Impression Share & Auction Insights part of this series will help you to easily keep track of your competition’s ads.

USP’s, as all parts of your ads, are a work in progress: a USP that worked wonders a couple of years ago may be ineffective today (probably because it isn’t unique anymore). So keep testing and refining your USP to ensure it’s still compelling to users.

Useful

How will your product or service make the life of the user better, easier, more interesting, enjoyable, etc.? In other words, answer their question: “what’s in it for me?”

You need to understand your audience’s fears and desires to be able to offer them persuasive benefits.
A benefit connects emotionally with a searcher, conveying something they want or avoiding something they don’t want.

Urgent

What do you want users to do on your landing page? The answer to this question is your call to action (CTA). You could use a generic call to action like ‘Order today’ or ‘Call now’, but it’s much more powerful to make it specific and it’s even better to make it time-sensitive (hence, urgent). So don’t just tell users what to do, but also why they should do it (now).
Also, don’t forget to use the same wording as on your landing page or website (so if your site has a ‘buy’ button, use the word ‘buy’ in your CTA and not a synonym like ‘order’).

To get plenty of inspiration for strong call to actions, check out the Call-to-Action Cheat Sheet for Writing Effective PPC Ad Copy at LunaMetrics.

Ultra-specific

Avoid generic copy at all costs. Be as specific as you can be about what you have to offer. Numbers like prices, percentages, savings, earnings and statistics often work well, but also test being specific about features without numbers to see what works best.

Miscellaneous Ad Copy Tips:

Next to the best practices of relevance and the 4 U’s (but also within them) you can test with this list of miscellaneous ad copy tips to further increase the performance of your ads:

  • Ad Extensions: especially sitelinks will give you additional lines to communicate more features, benefits, promotions and much more. The best ones however, should be in your ad copy as your ads won’t always show in the top positions.
  • Avoid hype, superlatives, marketing speak and technical jargon. Keep it real and keep it clear. Users want solutions to their problems; they’re not too interested in how great you think you are. However, don’t be too plain either. As Perry Marshall says in his book (and what Andrew Goodman calls the ‘Goldilocks’ principle): “what works is something in the middle: intriguing, yet not pushy.”
  • Capitalization: try capitalizing each word (or most words) of your ads to see if this leads to a higher CTR.
  • Display URL: it’s still useful to capitalize your domain in your Display URL as Google will show capitalization when the domain appears in the headline (this happens). Especially if your domain contains 2 or more words (e.g. TheGuardian.com) or if it’s an abbreviation (e.g. IMDb.com) it’s recommended to capitalize your domain. Furthermore, it isn’t necessary to add www. before your domain in the Display URL, as Google will add it anyway. By leaving it out, you also save yourself 4 characters you may need to create a more relevant Display URL.
    Next to your domain, don’t forget to use the Display URL to be relevant and reflect the search query. You can do this by using a Display URL like YourDomain.com/Most-Important-Keywords. Even if that URL doesn’t exist on your domain, it’s no problem to use it in the Display URL.
  • Exclamation points: you can use just 1 exclamation point in your ad copy (not in the headline) and at one point it’s something you should try. The best way to find out if it works for you is to test 2 identical ads in an ad group and just replace a period with an exclamation point in one of the ads.
  • Keyword Insertion: this shouldn’t be necessary in tightly themed ad groups, but it’s still worth trying out under specific circumstances. One such situation would be when synonyms have too low a search volume to justify a separate ad group but you still want to reflect them in the ads. Another reason is to trick Google into exceeding the character limits of the ad. Read more about this loophole in How to Get an Ad Headline to Exceed 25 Characters.
  • Longer headlines: in at least 1 ad per ad group, end description line 1 with a period or question mark. That way, your ad is eligible for longer headlines in top positions that usually improve CTR (according to Google, 6% on average). You shouldn’t use an exclamation point as Google won’t show it at the end of longer headlines. So it’s better to use your only exclamation point in description line 2.
  • ‘Official site’: if it makes sense and you’re actually the official site, mentioning this is known to have a positive effect on your ad’s performance.
  • Poetic devices like rhyme, alliteration and metaphors can help your ad stand out from the crowd.
  • Power and action words like discover, try, get, easy, fast, learn and receive often appeal to users. You’ll find many more in the mentioned LunaMetrics cheat sheet.
  • Questions: experiment with questions in your ad copy to show you know exactly what’s on the searcher’s mind.
  • Social proof like testimonials, awards and credentials. The review and seller rating extensions are also ways to add social proof.
  • Special symbols: copyright and trademark symbols are known to increase CTR, as are quotation marks.
  • The F-word: use ‘free’ if you can as it still works like a charm, so if you have something free to offer, please mention it. It’s also a great way to capture leads: offer something for free after the visitor has given you his or her email address.

Tools:

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, this was all about the human and creative part of ad copy, so tools won’t fully do this for you. However, a couple of tools and services can help you out with writing ad copy:

Free tools

  • AdWords Editor: especially in combination with Excel you’ll be able to quickly add and edit ads at scale.
  • Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer: paste your headline (or any text up to 20 words) and this tool will analyze it to determine the Emotional Marketing Value score. Definitely worth trying out.
  • QueryMiner’s Ad Relevance Tool: this Excel file will calculate how relevant your ads are to your keywords or search queries. This is a great way to check how relevant your ads are.

Paid Solutions:

  • BoostMedia: formerly BoostCTR, this company is all about improving the performance of your ads with a network of experienced copywriters in combination with their own software. For larger advertisers or agencies without a team of copywriters, working with BoostMedia is a way to make sure professionals keep improving your ads.
  • DataPop: DataPop offers a semantic advertising technology to dynamically create and test ads.
  • Mass Ad Copy Creator: one of the Certified Knowledge tools, it helps you to quickly create many ads at once based on your own variables.
  • PPC Campaign Generator: based on your keywords, you can dynamically create relevant ads for each of your ad groups.
  • SpeedPPC: similar to PPC Campaign Generator, this tool helps you automatically create targeted ads based on your keyword lists.

 

Ad Copy: Your Audit Checklist

checkbox

Do your ads reflect the search queries and mirror the user’s intention(s)?
checkboxDo you send users to the most relevant possible landing page, given the search queries and ad copy?
checkboxDo your ads contain one or more USP’s that make you stand out from the competition?
checkboxDo your ads make it clear how your product or service will improve the life of the user?
checkboxDo your ads contain call to actions that make it clear what to do on your website and why to do it (now)?
checkboxDo your ads contain specific features and attributes concerning your products or services?
checkboxDo you regularly test and implement miscellaneous ad copy tips as listed above?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 8: Keywords and Match Types

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score and Account Structure.

 

Thinking about which keywords to add or exclude and which match types to use is something every paid search advertiser has to do at least once when setting up new campaigns.

But as always in online marketing, there’s no such thing as ‘set it and forget it’, and this includes your keywords and match types.

In this post I won’t go into how to do keyword research (and grouping) for new accounts and campaigns, as we’re auditing existing accounts. But you’ll find many great posts when searching for ‘ppc keyword research’. And of course, the tools mentioned at the bottom of this post can also be used to do keyword research for new campaigns.

When auditing your account at the keyword level, these questions come to mind:

  • Are you using the right match types?
  • Do you regularly add well-performing search queries as keywords?
  • Do you have the right negatives where you need them?
  • Do you regularly perform additional keyword research to find and test new keywords?

In this post I hope to provide you some guidelines and useful tools for optimal keyword management and expansion.

Match Types

I assume you already know how the different match types work in AdWords, but in many accounts, there’s still a lot to improve when it comes to the use of match types. Let’s look at some best practices for each match type:

Broad match
I can be short about this one: you should almost never use regular broad match. You’re giving Google more freedom than you’d imagine to match your keywords on synonyms and ‘relevant variations’. To give you an idea, this were some queries the broad match keyword ‘sneakers’ was matched on (in the UK):

Do you see what happens when all these queries share the same ads and landing pages? Indeed, you’re entering a world of pain.

However, there are some exceptions when using broad match can be worth trying out:

  • When you use ‘target and bid’ as targeting setting in a Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) campaign. As you’re only advertising for users that have visited your site, it’s much less risky to show for synonyms and broad match could actually be an interesting way to quickly gather insights in the search behavior of your visitors. I’ll dive deeper into Remarketing in a future post in this series.
  • When you have a hard time generating enough volume for niche or long tail keywords or in small geographies. By adding these keywords as broad match you might just get that additional (and still relevant) volume you’re looking for.
  • When you’re (temporarily) using broad match as a research method to find new keywords to add and exclude.

But even in these cases: watch the search terms report closely and regularly add irrelevant matches as negative keywords.

How to quickly convert your broad match to modified broad match keywords?

Let’s say you find out an account has many broad match keywords and you quickly want to convert them into modified broad match. By using AdWords Editor you can do this in less than a minute:

  • Go to the keywords tab to see all the keywords of your account.
  • Click the Advanced search link in the top right.
  • Set up these filters:
  • Now you’ll only see your broad match keywords that don’t contain a + sign.
  • Select all these keywords (or all keywords you want to convert).
  • Right click on these keywords and select ‘Append text to selected items’ (shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+H) and set up the fields as following:

  • Now select all the same keywords again, right-click and select ‘Replace text in selected items’ (shortcut: Ctrl+H) and set up the fields as following to replace a space by ‘ +’ (a space and the + sign):
  • Congratulations! You’ve just changed all your broad keywords to modified broad match keywords.


Broad match modifier
One of the best things Google ever did with AdWords was to release the broad match modifier in 2010. No more matching on synonyms like broad match and no need to add every word order as with phrase match. 

You’ll want to use the broad match modifier for most of your keywords. Of course, you’ll still need to add negatives regularly and don’t forget to use exact match (as discussed below).

Phrase match
Before the broad match modifier, phrase match was the way to go to prevent showing up for unwanted synonyms and still have a greater reach than exact match. But since the broad match modifier, there’s not much use for phrase match anymore (I almost feel sorry for the match type).

Especially if the word order doesn’t significantly impact performance, there’s no need to use phrase match if you already have the broad match modifier. However, if your search terms report shows you that different word orders perform differently, you’ll want to bid differently and you would need to add these queries as phrase or exact match to be able to do that.

Exact match
Once you know a query is important to you (because it’s high volume, it performs great or you consider it mission critical for other reasons), you’ll want to add it as exact match, preferably in its own ad group. A so called SKAG as discussed in the previous part of this series. 

That way you’ll know exactly how that query performs and you can spend your time on optimizing your ads and bids in that ad group.

Also make sure any phrase or (modified) broad match variants in your account of that same keyword don’t trigger the exact search query. You can achieve this by adding the concerning query as a negative exact match in the non-exact ad groups or campaigns (embedded match).

Near phrase & exact match
By default, your phrase and exact match keywords will also show for close variations. In Google’s words, these are “misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents”. You probably don’t want that if you already have the same keywords in (modified) broad match. But in other cases, these close variations can actually deliver interesting additional volume. It really depends per campaign.
To find out if you should disable this for your campaigns, read the ‘Keyword matching options’ paragraph in the Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments part of this series.

Negative match
Any account that has (modified) broad or phrase match keywords needs negative keywords. The way I see it, there are 3 types of negative keywords:

  • Universal negatives: these are the words you never want to show up for whenever they’re part of a search query. Known examples are: free, game, definition, youtube, and many more. You’ll add these words as a negative broad match.
    This list depends on the industry you’re in and should be added as much as possible before you start advertising. Luckily you can find a great pre-made list with almost 1,500 negatives (segmented per industry) over here. And over 200 suggestions for B2B advertisers over here.
  • Regular negatives: if a search query doesn’t contain any of your (potential) universal negative keywords but you still want to exclude it, you can add the query as negative exact or phrase match.
  • Embedded match: in this case you’ll add the keyword as an exact match negative in an ad group that has the same keyword as (modified) broad and/or phrase match. There are 2 possible reasons to do this:
    • You also have the exact match keyword somewhere else in your account and want to prevent the broad or phrase match to show up for exact matches.
    • You want to show up for related queries, but not for the query itself. An often used example is an advertiser selling Toy Story merchandise. He could have an ad group with “toy story” as phrase or broad match and –[toy story] as negative exact match. That way, he won’t show up when people are searching for the movie, but he will when people use queries like “toy story costumes” and “toy story dolls”.

Some things to consider when adding negatives:

  • Negative broad isn’t broad. So you won’t block queries that contain a misspelling, singulars or plurals of your negative broad match. So be sure to add these as well to your universal negatives.
  • Work with shared negatives lists as much as possible. Many of your universal and regular negatives apply to multiple (if not all) campaigns. Instead of adding them manually to each of your campaigns or ad groups, create a negative keyword list and apply that list to multiple campaigns. This is a much more efficient and effective way to manage your negatives in one place.
    If you still only use a bunch of campaign and ad group negatives and don’t use any negative keyword lists, now is the time to do some cleaning up and consolidate your negatives in shared lists. Any negative that applies to multiple campaigns should be in a list and deleted from the campaigns. It may be some work to set this up, but you’ll save quite some time and money once you have your lists in place.
  • Watch out for keyword conflicts. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes adding a negative keyword means blocking some of your positive keywords. Fortunately, by clicking on the top right bell icon, you’ll see if you have such conflicts:
    Be sure to regularly check for these and solve any unwanted conflicts.

Query Mining

Done well, query mining leads to an ever improving account: excluding unwanted queries, more visibility for wanted queries and having full control over which ad shows for which query. Done poorly (or not often enough), your account will deteriorate and get messy.

Tools:

Within your AdWords account:

  • Search terms report: this is where you do your query mining. In any campaign and ad group with phrase or broad match keywords, you should regularly analyze this report and take action when needed. Start with your high volume ad groups and certainly don’t forget to mine the queries in your Product Listing Ads and Dynamic Search Ads campaigns (if you have any).
  • Keyword Planner: this is the go-to tool for most keyword research. Especially if you’re planning a new campaign, but also for the expansion of existing campaigns. For those of us that still aren’t completely used to the keyword planner (and miss the keyword tool), make sure you know what the columns and estimates mean and know the differences between the keyword planner and the keyword tool.
  • Opportunities tab: since November 2013, this tab is actually worthwhile checking out. It used give laughable suggestions that were mostly in Google’s interest (or had no real impact) and that’s why most advertisers still ignore it. But I’d suggest to give it a second chance and maybe even make it into a habit.

Free external tools:

  • If you have it: your internal site search terms. It’s always interesting to see what people are searching for once they’re on your website. Often, these queries would also make for good keywords in your PPC campaigns.
    If you’ve set this up in Google Analytics, here’s where to look.
  • Google Trends: a great research tool that can be used in more ways than you’re probably doing right now. It’s worthwhile to learn all about the possibilities and data in Trends by exploring the Help Center. To give you some ideas on how to use Google Trends:
    • Competitive research: trending query volume for Amazon, Ebay, Walmart and Target in the US (2004 to today, within the shopping category). You can even compare the interest in time to the category and see a forecast.
    • Compare locations: interest in Rob Ford in the US and Canada in the past 12 months. You can add News headlines that may explain the trends.
    • Monitor categories: trends for the Apparel category for the past 90 days in the US.
    • Seasonality: yearly trends in the Apparel category for 2011, 2012 and 2013. This can help you to plan your budgets.
    • One of my favorite places to look at within trends is the Rising queries: click on the ‘Rising’ button in the bottom right or download as csv to see more than just the top 10. Monitor these closely for keywords and categories that are important to you.
  • Übersuggest: just enter any root keyword(s) and Übersuggest will provide you with tons of alphabetized suggestions (based on the Google autocomplete suggestions).
  • Soovle: enter a keyword and Soovle instantly shows you suggestions from multiple sources like Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Bing, Amazon and eBay. Great way to get a quick feel for possible themes.
  • WordStream Keyword Tool: based on their own keyword database, WordStream lets you do 30 searches for free, giving you up to 100 suggestions for each search.

Paid external tools:

  • Many of the competitive analysis tools at the bottom of the Impression Share & Auction Insights part of this series can also be used to do keyword research.
  • Queryminer: query mining for negatives can be tedious and time-consuming. However, if you don’t do it frequently, you may waste a lot of advertising dollars.
    That’s why QueryMiner is such a great tool: it will save you lots of time and money by analyzing your search terms for you and suggesting the most effective negatives to add to your campaigns. Or as they like to say “The queryminer algorithm finds negatives no human can”. Pricing starts at $19 a month.

 

Keywords and Match Types: Your Audit Checklist

checkboxDo you get most (if not all) of your broad match impressions from modified broad match keywords?
checkboxDo you regularly add search queries with significant volume and good performance as (exact match) keywords to you campaigns?
checkboxDo all your search campaigns have a regularly expanded list of negative keywords, preferably through shared lists and based on root words (instead of endless lists of exact match negatives)? Obviously this isn’t necessary for campaigns (or ad groups) that only contain exact match keywords.
checkboxDo you regularly perform keyword research (outside the search terms report) to find new relevant keywords to increase your coverage?
checkboxHave you made sure you have no keyword conflicts (negatives blocking your keywords)?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 7: Account Structure

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights and Quality Score.

 

Account organization is one of the most time consuming, but also one of the most important things to get right in your AdWords account. If you have a poor account structure, no amount of sophisticated bidding or great copywriting can compensate for this. However, if you have a great structure, you’ll reap many benefits:

  • Better performance because you’re showing the right ads to the right users.
  • Easier and faster account management thanks to a clear naming convention that makes sense (and that can be used to filter on). Especially if multiple people work on the same account, you’ll want the campaign and ad group names to be self-evident.
  • Better control over your budgets.
  • Expansion becomes easier.
  • Campaign level reporting makes more sense.

Assuming you already know the difference between an account, campaign and ad group, I’ll dive right into best practices for campaign and ad group organization.
At the end of this post I’ll list a few tools that can be huge time-savers for creating and (re)organizing your campaigns and ad groups.

Campaign Organization

There is no one right way to organize your campaigns. Technically, campaigns are mostly about settings (especially budget and reach) and these could apply to all your keywords and ads in which case you could do with one campaign. But that’s rarely optimal.
So the first question about campaign organization would be: when do you need a separate campaign?

  • For your branded keywords, which should always be in separate campaigns. You want to be able to monitor and report branded and non-branded results separately, as discussed in the Goal Setting part of this series. Don’t forget to add your brand name (and common misspellings) as a broad negative to all non-branded search campaigns (tip: use a negative keyword list for this).
  • For your display campaigns. Even though it’s possible to target the search and display network in the same campaign, your life gets much easier when you run your display campaigns separately, as discussed in the Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments part of this series.
  • For different goals. Maybe you’ll also want to run campaigns to generate awareness or traffic, that don’t need to be as directly profitable as your other campaigns. By separating campaigns by goal type (or by phase in the buying funnel), you’ll know what to optimize for in each campaign. This also makes campaign level reporting more insightful.
  • For different messaging or budgeting in different locations. If you just want to bid differently for different locations, you don’t need a separate campaign as you can do this with bid adjustments. However, if you want to use different ads or different budgets for different locations, you’ll need to create separate campaigns for each location.
  • For different ad scheduling settings. As these are set at the campaign level, each time you’ll want to use different ad scheduling, you’ll need a new campaign. If you want this because of time zones, this reason hopefully coincides with different locations.
  • For different daily budgets. Although you can also use a shared budget across multiple campaigns.

These are the reasons when you really should (or will simply have to) create separate campaigns. Before enhanced campaigns there were more technical reasons for separate campaigns: devices, sitelinks, bidding methods and bids per location. These are no longer reasons to have separate campaigns, thanks to bid adjustments and sitelinks and flexible bid strategies at the ad group level.

There are also reasons for which you don’t necessarily need to, but still may want to create separate campaigns:

  • Product lines & Services: it’s probably best to have a separate campaign for each product or service (category) you offer. That way you can easily keep track of their performance and know where to find a specific keyword in your account.
  • Brands. If you sell multiple brands, creating a separate campaign for each brand makes sense. Just make sure any product category campaigns you may have don’t target the same queries. For example, the query “sony led tv” could be matched on the “led tv” keyword in a category campaign as well as in your Sony campaign. So you’ll have to add all your brands that have their own campaign as negative keywords to your generic campaigns.
  • Match types. Some people like to separate their match types at the campaign level. For (very) high volume keywords this can be worth the trouble, but doing this for all your keywords means you’ll double or triple the number of campaigns and will have a hard time to keep keywords and ads synchronized across campaigns.
  • Performance or volume. Once you’ve found your proven winners, you want to make sure they get special treatment and don’t miss any impressions. Having separate campaigns for those keywords is a great way of achieving this. It’s what David Rodnitzky calls the ‘Alpha Beta account structure’. I’d recommend reading How to Capture & Control Your PPC Keywords to Achieve a Better Account Structure to learn more about this. You can also download the official whitepaper at 3Q Digital (by the way, I can highly recommend all their whitepapers) or listen to AdWords Keyword Structures with Mike Nelson.
    In short it works like this: your Alpha campaign is for proven winners that are added as exact match, each in their own ad group. Your Beta campaigns contain modified broad keywords that you’re still testing. Once you’ve found a winning query (I’d say at least 2 conversions within your efficiency target to prevent going after false positives or one-hit wonders) you promote it as exact match to an Alpha campaign and exclude it in the Beta campaign. Obviously, poor performers will also be excluded from your Beta campaign.
    I think the Alpha Beta structure is especially useful for high and medium volume keywords.
    If you sell thousands of products (or a niche product) and have low volume long tail keywords, it will take you too long to have enough data for those keywords. So those keywords could stay in a ‘Beta’ campaign forever, which is fine.

All these possible reasons and strategies to organize campaigns may be overwhelming. So let’s not forget to mention the most used way to organize your account: mirror the site structure. If your site has a sitemap, definitely take a look at that to get started. You can always refine your structure later on.


Ad Group Organization

As many ways as there are to organize your campaigns, there’s only one right way to structure your ad groups, which is to always make them tightly themed.

As discussed in the Quality Score part of this series, you can consider your ads as the answers to the queries (questions) that are matched to the keywords in the same ad group. One of the most classic mistakes in paid search is to put too many (different) keywords in the same ad group. What happens in those cases is that you provide the same answer to different questions.
That’s far from optimal and will hurt your results in many ways: lower CTR’s and Quality Scores, higher CPC’s and lower conversion rates if the landing page isn’t the best match you have.

Some guidelines to keep in mind when organizing your ad groups:

  • For your highest volume (or best performing) queries you’ll want to use single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) with an exact match keyword for maximum control. That way, you can fully focus on testing ads and bid management to get the most out of these queries. This is also how Alpha queries are treated in the Alpha Beta account structure.
  • For all ad groups your keywords should be strongly related, each essentially asking the same question. A good way to ensure this happens is by applying the ‘two-word rule’ (as discussed in Brad Geddes’ Advanced Google AdWords). With this rule, you pick two root words that will signify the theme of the ad group. Then every keyword in that ad group should have those same two words in them but may have additional modifiers before or after the root words.
  • Regularly apply the ‘Peel & Stick’ strategy (as discussed in Perry Marshall’s Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords) in your ad groups. This means pulling out low performing keywords (e.g. lower CTR’s and Quality Scores) from an ad group and putting them into new ad groups with better matching ads (and landing pages, if possible).
  • As a general rule of thumb, keep the number of active keywords in an ad group below 20. There are exceptions of course, but less is always better. Use search volume to guide you whether or not a separate ad group is justified.

Tools:

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, account organization can be quite time consuming. Luckily, there are tools out there to make your life easier and save you lots of time:

  • AdWords Editor: Google’s free must-have desktop tool. Especially powerful in combination with Excel.
  • PPC Campaign Generator: easy to use tool to quickly generate campaigns and tightly themed ad groups. Cost: $127 (one-time fee).
  • SpeedPPC: similar to PPC Campaign Generator, but has more features and it’s also web-based. Pricing starts at $53.90 a month.
  • WordStream PPC Advisor: account organization and keyword grouping is just one of the many features of this PPC management software. Pricing starts at $249 a month.

 

Account Structure: Your Audit Checklist

checkbox

Is the naming convention for your campaigns and ad groups clear, consistent and easy to filter on?
checkbox Do you have a separate campaign for your branded keywords and added these as negatives to all your non-branded search campaigns?
checkboxDo you target the search and display network in separate campaigns?
checkboxHave you made sure (by proper use of negatives) that different campaigns or ad groups don’t target the same search queries (from the same users)?
checkboxDo you separate your highest volume (and best performing) queries in single keyword ad groups?
checkboxAre all your ad groups tightly themed? Apply the two-word rule and regularly peel & stick to increase the relevance of your ad groups.

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect|Netsociety, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 6: Quality Score

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions and Impression Share & Auction Insights.

 

Quality Score is probably the AdWords topic that has been written most about, with blog post titles varying from All Hail Quality Score – King Of The AdWords KPIs! to Why I Don’t Optimize for Quality Score. These sort of contradictory statements may confuse the less experienced paid search marketer, and I hope to reduce some of that confusion here, without rehashing too much of what has already been said.

But before diving into why Quality Score matters (and when it doesn’t) and how to increase and track it, Iet’s first discuss why Google uses Quality Score.

Quality Score is Google’s way to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior from advertisers. And the rewards and punishments are significant: higher positions and/or lower CPC’s for high Quality Score keywords and the opposite for low Quality Score keywords.

So the first question we should ask ourselves is: what kind of advertisers does Google like?

  • Advertisers that provide a good user experience. This means the searcher gets satisfying search results, i.e. relevant ads and relevant, high quality landing pages. Providing a good user experience will make searchers continue to use or switch to Google (if they were using a different search engine) and that’s how market share is preserved and increased.
    If you consider a search query as a question, then providing a good user experience means answering that particular question in your ad and landing page.
    Even without the existence of Quality Score, you would want to give searchers a good user experience, as this is also the best way to get positive results from paid search.
  • Advertisers that make them money. World domination doesn’t come cheap, and most of Google’s revenue comes from advertising. When you pay per click, Google will prefer the advertiser that generates more clicks in the same position and reward that advertiser.
    For example, if your CTR is twice as high as your competition’s CTR for the same position, Google can charge you half their click price and still generate the same revenue. Add to this that a high CTR is also an indicator of relevant ads that provide a good user experience, and we can safely say that Quality Score is mostly about CTR.

The visible Quality Score is not the actual Quality Score

Before going any deeper into Quality Score it is important to realize that the scores you see in your account are just an approximation and an average. Their role is to provide advertisers feedback about their performance.
The actual (or real-time) Quality Score is different in many ways (many thanks to Craig Danuloff for clearly laying this out in his book Quality Score in High Resolution):

  • Visible Quality Score is only updated once per day, at most. The actual Quality Score is calculated real-time, for every search query.
  • Visible Quality Score considers only search queries identical to the keyword. So you don’t get a Quality Score for the queries you don’t have as a keyword in your account (and that could easily be thousands of search queries). These queries will ‘borrow’ the Quality Score from the keywords they were matched on.
  • Visible Quality Score is an average of different geographies, devices and text ads. The actual Quality Score that is calculated real-time can differ strongly per geography, device and corresponding ad.
  • Visible Quality Score is an integer between 1 and 10. However, the number Google uses in Ad Rank and CPC calculations does not fall within this range (and we don’t know which range they do use).

So you shouldn’t consider the visible Quality Score as the absolute truth, neither can you take it at face value. However, it’s the number we have to work with when talking about Quality Score.

The benchmark for a good Quality Score still is 7

This is something that has been considered true for years, but in Revisiting the Economics of Google Quality Score: Why QS Is Up to 200% More Valuable in 2013 Larry Kim declares “A Quality Score of 5 is the new 7”.
Call me old fashioned, but I have to disagree. Besides, there’s a difference between an average number and a healthy number as the average will depend on the population you’re analyzing.
When looking at all the keywords for our clients in the past 7 days (to have a recent view), I see the following distribution (impressions by Quality Score):

impressions-by-quality-score

The numbers above are based on 107 million impressions and $2.4 million of AdWords spend. The impression-weighted average Quality Score is 7.1.

Either way, I don’t consider a Quality Score of 5 as the new benchmark I’m willing to accept. Even in 2014, a score of 7 is very common and achievable for most keywords with a clear commercial intent.

To give all the numbers meaning, I gladly refer to Tenscores’ fantastic Quality Score infographic, which shows this categorization (amongst many other things):

quality-scores-meaning

 

How Quality Score is calculated

I’ll be very short about this one, as you can find a list of all the factors on the official Quality Score support page. In short it can be summarized as:

By hovering over the speech bubble icon next to a keyword, you’ll find the status of that keyword for each of these 3 factors:

quality-score-factors

 

 

 

As said before, CTR is by far the most important factor, but there’s no official weighting for each of these factors. In this classic introductory video about the ad auction, Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian shows a pie chart to give you an idea of the importance of each factor for Quality Score.

But actually, the factors are hard to put in a pie chart. Once your landing page experience is above average, you can’t further increase your Quality Score by improving your landing page. Of course, you can always improve your conversion rate, which is an excellent reason to work on your landing pages.
On the other hand, you can always increase CTR (even if it’s above average and even if you have a Quality Score of 10) to further increase your actual Quality Score.

quality-score-factors-chart

 

So what is a good CTR?

This is one of the most often asked questions, especially by those new to paid search. And of course the answer is: it depends, mostly on position. Or: any CTR that will give you a good Quality Score.

I understand that isn’t satisfying, so to somewhat satisfy your need for benchmarks, a couple of interesting studies have been done on this to give you an idea of CTR’s by position:

Decoding the Quality Score by Steve Baker.
Some very interesting charts and analyses based on Steve’s findings for non-branded, exact match, Google Search only keywords. So it’s important to also exclude branded, non-exact and Search Partner data when comparing these numbers to your own:position-vs-ctr-qs

Going Unicorn Hunting: The Secrets Behind Ads with 3x the Average CTR
Yes, it’s Larry ‘Quality Score’ Kim again, but this time I fully agree and I’m impressed by the great insights he shares in this thorough article, where you’ll find graphs like these and many more unique nuggets about CTR, Quality Score and great ads.

position-vs-ctr-qs2

 

How Quality Score affects you

Again, you’ll find a complete list at the bottom of the official support page, but Google doesn’t show the Actual CPC and Ad Rank formula anymore.

So next to eligibility and bid estimates (first page and top of page), Quality Score affects two things advertisers care deeply about: the Ad position and the actual CPC.

Quality Score & Ad Position

Ads are ordered by Ad Rank, and since October 2013 this also includes your ad extensions so the formula isn’t as straightforward anymore:

Ad Rank = (Max Bid x Quality Score) + the expected impact from your ad extensions and formats

This is no official formula, just my way of putting the old and the new together. What remains true however, is that Quality Score still plays a large role in the position of your ad.

Quality Score & CPC

Let’s start with the well-known Actual CPC formula Google used to show on their support pages:

Actual CPC = (Ad Rank to beat / your Quality Score) + $0.01

The Ad Rank to beat is the Ad Rank of the ad beneath yours. This formula makes it very clear that Quality Score plays a large role in the price you’ll have to pay for your clicks.

If the scores from 1 to 10 were the actual scores Google used in this formula (and they aren’t), the impact of changes in Quality Score (compared to a 7) would be as following, as calculated by Craig Danuloff in 2009:

Again, don’t take these numbers at face value, they’re just illustrative of the potential impact of Quality Scores changes on your CPC.

Other numbers concerning the impact of Quality Score on CPC can be found at Fact number 5 of the 5 Surprising Facts On Quality Score Change by Kohki Yamaguchi. He found that a unit change in Quality Score affects CPC by 5%. That may sound disappointing, but the effect is cumulative so it adds up if you increase your Quality Score with multiple points. The effect also appears to be stronger in the lower ranges of QS as you can read in Frederick Vallaeys’ comments.

The takeaway here is that improving your Quality Scores, especially the lower ones, will greatly reduce your CPC and who doesn’t want that?

When not to worry about Quality Score

By now you may think Quality Score is the most important number in your account, so it’s time to put it into perspective as in some cases a low Quality Score isn’t your biggest problem.
These scenarios can be found in Learn When To Ignore Low Quality Scores by Brad Geddes. In short they are:

  • Google isn’t calculating it correctly
  • You don’t have enough data (new keywords)
  • It’s your industry
  • It’s a brand name (not yours)

In these cases, especially if the keywords are profitable, your time is probably better spent at improving other areas of your account.

Where and how to improve Quality Score

Improving Quality Score is mostly about account structure and creating great ads, and as both will be future parts of this series, I’ll dive much deeper into these topics later on.

As you probably have many ad groups and keywords and little time, the first question is: where in your account should you start improving your Quality Score?
Google shows it at the keyword level, but it’s actually much more useful at the ad group level (cost or impression weighted). This is because improving Quality Score is about improving the relationship between search queries and ads (and landing pages), and this happens within an ad group.

To find these ad groups, you can follow the steps in this video, where Brad Geddes shows how to use Pivot Tables to find out your account wide Quality Score distribution and how to prioritize the ad groups based on their normalized Quality Score and weighting ad groups by cost (you could also weigh by impressions).
As you should do this regularly, you could save yourself quite some time by using the Quality Score Analyzer, that will generate a prioritized list of ad groups weighted by cost and normalized Quality Score.

Once you’ve found an ad group with high costs or impressions and a low normalized Quality Score, you can follow these steps to increase its Quality Score. Again, many credits go to Craig Danuloff and his book Quality Score in High Resolution:

  1. Rule out landing page issues. Just to be sure, check if you have a below average landing page experience by hovering over the speech bubble icon next to the keywords. If that’s the case, this is the first thing you should fix, by following Google’s guidelines for improving landing page experience.
  2. Decide if the keyword is worth fixing. Before going any further, look at the keyword(s) with the most impressions in that ad group and ask yourself: does this keyword attract searchers with a clear intent? Is it relevant to my business or my offer? If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to these questions, go on to the next steps.
    But especially if the CTR is very low (let’s say below 1%), chances are, it’s a keyword that ‘reaches’ a lot of people, but hardly generates any clicks or conversions. If you have a direct-response mindset you will have no problems pausing or deleting such a keyword.
    However, if you (or your client or boss) have a traditional marketing mindset, you may have added keywords that are informational, ambiguous or have no clear (commercial) intent for branding purposes (look at all those impressions!).
    But do you remember the text ads you didn’t click on yesterday? You probably don’t, but Google does and it won’t play along with your branding fantasy. In a pay per click and relevance world, keywords with lots of impressions and very few clicks don’t serve Google and apparently they also don’t serve the searchers as they hardly click on it. This is an undesirable situation for both Google and the searcher and they will make it an undesirable one for you too by lowering your Quality Score and make the few clicks you do get very expensive.
    There’s nothing wrong with trying to generate awareness, but paying per click simply isn’t the most effective and certainly not the cheapest way of doing so. Instead, create some great looking banners and run a CPM based campaign on the Display Network, you’ll get much more bang for your buck over there.
  3. Review and react to the search queries. As mentioned before, the visible Quality Score is only calculated for exact matches. So if you have (modified) broad or phrase keywords in that ad group, you’ll want to review the search terms report and add relevant queries as keywords (and irrelevant ones as negatives), so these queries can earn their own Quality Score. This could mean these new keywords need their own, separate ad groups, which brings us to the next step.
  4. Create smaller ad groups. As said in the introduction, you can consider your ads as the answers to the queries (questions) from the ad group. So take a good look at the ads and (high volume) queries from an ad group: are the ads the best possible answers to the questions asked? Or are there simply too many different questions in 1 ad group to be able to share the same answer? If that is the case, you’ll need to split up the ad group in smaller ad groups and write new, better tailored ads for these new ad groups.
  5. Write better ad copy. At one point this will be the only way you can further increase your Quality Score. There’s always a better ad to write, and you should relentlessly test and write ads for ever increasing CTR’s. As your display URL’s past CTR is also one of the Quality Score factors (albeit a small one), you could also try out a new display URL or use one that has performed well in the past.
  6. Try a higher average position. Yes, CTR should be normalized for position, but if you don’t have many impressions or haven’t been in high positions for a while, temporarily bidding higher to appear in higher positions can accelerate the evaluation of your performance. There’s more data in the top positions, so it’s easier for the algorithm to compare performance in those positions. If you believe in your keyword and ad copy and nothing else helps, you could try this out. Of course, in the end, you should set your bids based on the value per click and your targets.
  7. Exclude poorly performing geographies. Take a look at the performance of different geographies in the Dimensions tab. If you see locations that have a significantly and substantially lower CTR and also perform worse in terms of CPA or ROAS, you could considering excluding those locations to boost your numbers.
  8. Add mobile preferred ads. Most advertisers still don’t have mobile preferred ads in their ad groups. That’s fine if your mobile bid adjustment is -100%, but in all other cases you’re advertising on mobile devices. If you see a substantial amount of impressions coming from mobile devices, you should definitely add mobile preferred ads and sitelinks to your ad groups. And of course, these ads and sitelinks should be mobile friendly. So shorter sitelinks, ‘call us now’, a display URL that indicates a mobile friendly website, etc. This should increase your CTR on mobile devices, which should increase your average Quality Score.

If you like flow charts (I know I do), Tenscores created a great flow chart you can follow to increase Quality Scores. Worth printing out and keeping on your desk.

Tools to track Quality Score

Unfortunately, in AdWords, Quality Score is an attribute, not a metric. So you can’t see any trends or graphs for Quality Score, the score you see is today’s score.

The good news is there are different tools that can do this for you and they generally make life easier when it comes to tracking and identifying Quality Score issues. It’s also a great way to monitor if your hard work pays off.

Free AdWords Scripts

AdWords scripts are a great way to generate customized reports. However, most of us can’t write JavaScript. The good news is that others have already created some very useful scripts and have been so kind to publish these for you to use:

AdWords Quality Score Tracker Version 2.0 by Martin Roettgerding
How Account Quality Score Can Guide AdWords Optimization by Frederick Vallaeys
Store Account, Campaign, AdGroup, and Keyword Level Quality Score by Russel Savage, many more AdWords scripts can be found on this site

Third-party tools

To make life even easier, these very affordable tools will help you track Quality Score in a more user-friendly way than using scripts. Each has its pros and cons and their websites will give you a good impression of their features:

 

Quality Score: Your Audit Checklist

checkbox

Is your account impression-weighted Quality Score 7 or higher?
checkbox If it’s lower: have you identified and prioritized the ad groups that need fixing?
checkboxIf it’s lower: have you followed the steps above or the Tenscores flow chart to increase Quality Scores in those ad groups?
checkboxBonus: do you use a script or third-party tool to track Quality Score?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect|Netsociety, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.