Brad Geddes / PPC Geek
Official Google Ads Seminar Leader.
Author of Advanced Google AdWords.
Co-Founder, Adalysis.
(703) 828-5811‬


The Best Hidden Features of the AdWords Editor

Along with a browser and Excel, the AdWords Editor is probably among the most used software for any serious PPC specialist.

In December 2014 Google released the biggest update to the Editor since its release back in 2006. They redesigned the Editor from the ground up and included many new features – some prominent and others more hidden.

In this post, I will show you some of the most useful but lesser known features of the AdWords Editor.

1. Shortcodes for smarter bulk edits

One of the best hidden gems in the AdWords Editor is the shortcodes. The AdWords Editor supports a list of shortcodes, which can speed up your work when combined with the Editor’s build in replace function. Google actually don’t call them shortcodes but “formula words“.

Available shortcodes in the AdWords Editor include:

  • [account] – Account name
  • [campaign] – Campaign name
  • [adgroup] – Ad group name
  • [keyword] – Keyword text
  • [headline] – Ad headline
  • [description1] – Ad description line 1
  • [description2] – Ad description line 2
  • [displayUrl] – Display URL text
  • [finalURL] – Final URL text
  • [field] – The original text of the field you’re changing

So how exactly is this useful you may ask.

One use for it could be to automatically insert the campaign or ad group name into your ad text. Suppose you have 10, 50, or even hundreds of campaigns each named after the different geographic locations they cater to. In each of these campaigns you have an ad group for “cheap hotel” searches. And because you were in a hurry you just pasted the same general ad in each of these ad groups. Not exactly the best ad text for local searches.

Luckily, with the shortcode [campaign] you can now use the replace function to make every ad more specific. If the headline of all ads are “Cheap hotel” you can use the replace function (Ctrl+H will bring it up quickly) to find the text “Cheap hotel” and replace it with “Cheap hotel in [campaign]”.

Notice how you can choose to only perform this action in the ad headline. This way your ads will now have been changed to reflect the name of the campaign.

As you can imagine, there are many ways to use these shortcodes. To get you started you can find more examples on the official help page.

2. Hiding empty types from the navigation

One of the things I hear most people complain about in the “new” Editor is the completely changed navigation. In her post Why The New Adwords Editor Sucks, Mellissa Mackey wrote the following about the new navigation:

Not only has it moved to a totally different location on the page, but it’s now in text only, rather than a picture-like graphic layout. It’s easier to find what you’re looking for in a graphic square, like the old Editor, rather than in a long list of text, like the new one.

And I agree – it is harder to quickly find what you are looking for. But fortunately, Google included a nice little feature called “Hide empty types” which helps keeping the type list tidy.

To access this feature you will need to click the drop-down menu button to the right of the “Manage” header. Then you can click “Hide empty types” in the drop-down menu, which will hide all types that don’t currently match any of your ads.

Just remember to deactivate it when you need access to types that are currently empty.

If you find it to be too much of a hassle to turn this setting on and off all the time, you can actually choose the specific types you want to see under “Custom”. This way, you can hide types you only use rarely.

While this feature won’t bring back the old navigation it will make the new navigation a bit more tolerable.

3. ‘Flexible reach’ for setting the targeting options for RLSA

One of the AdWords mistakes keeping me up at night is choosing ‘Target and Bid’ by mistake when setting up RLSA. Doing this will drastically reduce the traffic as the audience is narrowed to only returning visitors, buyers, or whatever audience chosen.

In the AdWords Editor you can copy the audiences from one group and paste it to all your groups. But even though you copy the audiences you don’t copy the targeting setting, and sometimes you’ll find some of your ad groups set to “Target and bid” while the rest are set to “Bid only”.

Therefore, I always recommend you check the “Audiences” area in the editor to make sure everything is set to the correct targeting option.

Changing the targeting option from “Target and bid” to “Bid only” (or the other way) is rather hidden in the Editor. To find it you need to go to “Ad groups” and choose the “Flexible reach” tab as shown below. Here, you can select every ad group and then make sure either “Bid only” or “Target and Bid” is selected under “Interests and remarketing”.

4. Duplicate ads or keywords within their respective ad groups

Let’s say you have a number of different ad groups each containing a single tailored ad and now you want to create a second ad inside every ad group in order to start split testing different messages.

So how would you duplicate the ad inside every ad group? Keep in mind the ads in all the ad groups are not identical, and therefore it’s not an option to just copy one ad and paste it inside every group.

Sure, one option is to manually go through every ad group and copy/paste the current ad, but this is neither fun or good use of your time.

The smart way is to select every ad across all your ad groups and bring up the replace window (Ctrl+H). Here, you can make your change and then you must tick the “Make changes in duplicate items” field in the lower left corner.

By doing this you will make a modified duplicated ad inside every ad group.

5. Exporting account to HTML

Many were disappointed to see that the HTML export feature was removed from version 11 of the AdWords Editor. This feature was extremely useful in communicating account setup to clients as this would give them a preview of the structure including ads and keywords.

But in November 2015, Google released an update to the new editor bringing back the HTML export feature.

To export an HTML summary, you need to select “Account” in the menu, then “Export”, and then choose whether you want to export the whole account or just the selected campaigns and ad groups.

Name the file and make sure to choose “HTML files” as your filetype. This will give you a nice looking browsable HTML document as the one shown below.

The different elements are even clickable and will expand to reveal more information like targeting or ad groups.

You can now share this file with anyone you want, regardless of whether or not they have access to the AdWords Editor.

This is a guest post by Frederik Hyldig, Head of PPC at s360 – one of the leading search agencies in Denmark. Frederik has been featured on PPC Hero, Wordstream, Moz and other international online marketing blogs. Follow him on Twitter or his personal blog.

Learn How To Test Mobile & Desktop Ads Correctly

Last year, Mobile search surpassed desktop search in terms of total queries. The statements of  ‘next year is the year of the mobile device’ have passed. Mobile has arrived.

However, most account we view still treat mobile and desktop users the exact same. If there’s a variance, its because of a mobile landing page – not because the account owner has thought about how mobile and desktop users behave and what they wish to accomplish by device.

As mobile and desktop users are often looking to accomplish different tasks based upon the device type; you should test ads differently based upon the user’s device.

However, first we should examine the concept of ‘effective device’ so you understand where your ads are really showing.

Examining Effective Device

With Google and Bing, you can designate an ad as ‘mobile preferred’.


However, that ad might not only be on mobile devices based upon the other ads in an ad group. For instance, if you only have mobile preferred ads in an ad group; then those ads are displayed on desktops and tablets.

If your ad group only contains desktop ads and your campaign is showing on all devices, then your desktop ads are effectively ‘all devices’. This leads us to an important concept: effective device for ads.

There are three possibilities for effective device:

  • All devices: These ads are showing on all devices
  • Mobile: These ads are mostly showing on mobile devices
  • Desktop: These ads are mostly showing on desktops and tablets

I do use the word ‘mostly showing’ on purpose as it’s possible due to various technology reasons that your mobile ad might show on a desktop or vice versa. This doesn’t happen often, but it does on occasion.

Therefore, to control ad serving by device you need at least one desktop and one mobile device ad in an ad group. To test by device, then you need at least two desktop and two mobile preferred ads in an ad group.

Determining Your Effective Devices

There is not an easy way in AdWords to determine what devices your ads are running on nor to determine if you are testing your ads by device.

The easiest way to get started in understanding this information is to follow these steps:

  • Navigate to the ads tab in your account
  • ‘Customize the columns’ and ensure that device preferred is selected
  • Download the data
  • Create a pivot tablet from the data
  • In your Row Labels; select ad group (if you have a large account, you can select both campaign and ad group)
  • In your Columns, choose device preference
  • Finally, your values should be counts of ads

Now, that will just give you a bunch of numbers that are hard to read; so to make the pivot table visual, add conditional formatting to the pivot table:

  • If column is 0, then color it red
  • If column is 1, then color it yellow

The legend of effective device:

  • If the ‘all’ device column is red (so there are no desktop ads); then your mobile ads are showing on desktops; meaning your mobile ads have an effective device of ‘all’.
  • If the mobile column is red, that means you don’t have mobile ads in the ad group and your desktop ads are showing on mobile devices

The legend for testing:

  • If any column is yellow, then then you have an ad of that type, but you aren’t testing in that ad group



Where to Start Creating Ads

There are two places where you will want to sort to determine where to create ads:

  • Cost: test where you are currently spending the most money
  • Impressions: test where you have the most opportunity

The easiest way to do these sorts is to:

  • Add spend and cost to the pivot table
  • Copy the pivot table data (with formatting) to a new sheet
  • Filter by the ‘all device’ column and only include cells that are highlighted red (your mobile ads are showing on desktops)
  • Sort by spend or cost highest to lowest

That will ensure that you have desktop ads in all your ad groups. Now repeat the process filtering by the mobile column by ‘red’ or zero mobile ads.

Once you have at least one ad by device type by ad group; then you are controlling ad serving by device.

Next, you will want to repeat these steps for the columns that are yellow so you can make sure you are testing your top ad groups for each device.

Automating the Process

This process will give you a snapshot of your ad and testing information in the account at the moment you created and analyzed the pivot table. However, it won’t give you this information automatically until you create the table and analysis again.  In addition, just because you are testing doesn’t mean you are declaring winners.

If you want to easily:

  • Receive alerts by device type
  • Have a simple way of sorting this data by cost or impressions (or other metrics)
  • See when you have ‘winning ads’ by effective device

Then please take a look at which will make this processes simple and automated.


To be a true PPC expert, you need to move past how to just create and test ads across all devices. You need to think about how users interact with your ads on each device and across devices. It’s useful to initially lay out some hypothesis about users and do multi-ad group testing. Then once you’ve learned at a high level how users interact with your ads, move towards testing your ads by effective device. If you want to see some lessons on how to do this; take our 7 day free trial here at Certified Knowledge and watch the videos on ad testing.

Is Phrase Match Dead?

As modified broad match continues its march to take over being the absolute best match type available; many accounts have ceased to use phrase match. While we still hear people spout the benefits of exact match, the match type that is in the largest decline is phrase match.

In many ways, this match type isn’t bad – it’s misunderstood. Let’s compare modified broad to phrase match.

Can show for: Phrase Modified Broad
Misspellings Yes Yes
Stemmings, word variations Yes Yes
Keywords can be in any order in the query No Yes
Keywords must be in the same order as the query Yes No

The biggest difference between these match types is the word order requirements to show.

With phrase match, the keyword must be in the same order in the query as they appear in your account; but the words can show for misspellings, plurals, singulars, and so forth.

With modified broad match, the keywords can be in any order in the query and can show for plurals, misspellings, and so forth.

So what does word order really mean to search queries?

Let’s take a look at the match type data from two accounts.

Account 1

Match Type Conv. Rate CPA
Exact 3.1% $56
Phrase 2.9% $61
Modified Broad 2.9% $61


Account 2

Match Type Conv. Rate CPA
Exact 4.5% $27
Phrase 4.4% $29
Modified Broad 1.2% $74


There is a huge difference in the CPA variance and conversion rates from phrase to modified broad in these two accounts. In account 1, there’s no change from modified broad to phrase match. In account 2, there’s a huge difference in the data between these two match types.

What Does Word Order Really Mean?

The first account is a financial lead generation company, so these queries are useful to them:

  • Chicago mortgage
  • Mortgages in Chicago
  • Chicago home financing
  • Home financing Chicago

As you can see, switching the word order around doesn’t change the user intent. The searcher is looking to get financing in Chicago for a home.

Here’s the two most popular modified broad match queries for account 2:

  • Contractor license
  • Licensed contractor

Google doesn’t make a distinction between ‘license’ and ‘licensed’ with the changes that occurred to variation match; so these are essentially the same words. However, their order means a lot.

A Contractor License is license that a person needs to acquire to be considered a licensed contractor. This search is conducted by someone who is looking to obtain a license.

A Licensed Contractor is someone who has already obtained their license; and this search is conducted by someone who is looking to hire a contractor with a license.

The word order is so important to this account (it helps a person to obtain their license) that modified broad rarely does well. They can use lots of negative phrase matched keywords; but in the end – the simple word order change is the difference between wasting money and obtaining a good lead.

What if Word Order Doesn’t Matter – Should I Use It?

Let’s consider these stats for one account:

Match Type Conv Rate ROAS Profit/Sale
Exact 2.9% 463% $57
Phrase 2.4% 405% $51
Modified Broad 2.3% 395% $49

In this case, modified broad and phrase match are fairly close in profit/sale, ROAS, and conversion rate.

There is one number missing – total sales.

If this company had 100 sales/month from phrase match vs modified broad match – it would make an addition $200 per month. If the company had 10,000 sales a month, it could make $20,000 more per month by splitting out the match types (this is back-of-the envelope match without splitting up all the sales by match type).

Managing all 3 match types, assuming phrase and modified broad are close in their metrics, is more work; but it is often more money. The question is: how much more money?

At 10,000 sales/month – it is worth it to pay someone or use a 3rd party bid system to manage the additional profit.

At 100 sales/month – it is usually not worth it to do all the extra work of managing the additional match type (and all the additional keywords and ads that might go along with the additional match type).

Phrase Match Isn’t Dead – It’s Just Misunderstood

Phrase match has a lot of uses. It’s very useful when you are managing a lot of sales and the sheer number of your sales means you can eek out more profit if you manage the bids by match types correctly.

Do most small local business accounts need to use phrase match – no.

Do some of them – absolutely.

Phrase match is incredibly useful when the word order matters. Word ordering doesn’t always matter; but when it does – phrase match is an indispensable match type to employ to make sure you are reaching the correct searchers.

The Most Common PPC Mistake that is Never Mentioned

The absolute most common PPC mistake is actually rarely talked about. It never makes the top 10 mistake lists; and it’s usually pointed out by someone else – in this case via Twitter.

A special thanks to Robert Brady & Sam Owen in reminding me to check these mistakes.

If you use one of the editors (AdWords or Bing Ads) to import keywords, mass create ads, etc – you always have a header row in Excel to remind you of the columns:


However, when you copy and paste your huge tables into the editors, most people hit ‘Cntl-A’ (select all) from Excel and then ‘Cntl-V’ (paste) into the editor.

When you upload those files, you get ads like this:


Another common mistake is in the AdWords interface itself. When you add more keywords, the default text is: Add Your Keywords Here

If you don’t remove that; your ads suddenly show up for a variety of search queries, and since its broad matched by default; some of the matches can be quite amusing.


Here’s the secret in the bulk import. Instead of copying and pasting all, in Excel do this:

  • Highlight the second row (past the header)
  • Then press & hold: Cntl – Shift – <down arrow or down>
  • Then hit Cntl-C for copy
  • Paste into the editor as usual
  • Upload

Of course, you can also just delete the header row and then copy and paste.

This is also why I’m a fan of filtering my keywords and ads by ‘keyword’ or ‘placeholder’(or whatever you use that needs to be replaced in your ads)  on occasion just to make sure I’m not spending money on irrelevant keywords & ads.

7 Great Uses for Broad Match (yes, really! broad match)

Broad match keywords have a bad name, and rightfully so by performance marketers; however, there are times that using broad match is useful.

Please note, we’re not talking about modified broad match, which is often very useful to use – only broad match. If you’re wondering why we consider broad match so terrible, just consider these examples.

Keyword Actual Search Query
Wedding cakes How to make a Dora cupcake
Flower delivery McDonald’s Delivery
Nike Tennis Shoes Restaurant waiter clogs
Electric company iPod charger


In each of these cases, the demographics and intent of the user’s query was completely different than the keyword’s idea; yet these keywords triggered ads for these queries.

While using broad match is often considered one of the biggest mistakes any account can make; it has several good uses.

1. Research

Sometimes you want to understand the entire universe of semi-related keywords. Broad match is useful for finding all of these relationships. Just consider that it should be a ‘research budget’ and it should not count against the PPC teams’ ROAS or CPA goals.

Note: If you want to understand all the related queries for your site, not just words, we recommend using DSAs (dynamic search ads) to accomplish this goal.

2. Understanding a Change in Query Volume

There are industries that have a lot of potential risk in them. For instance, a car recall can put a large strain on a company. Often these companies want to buy some broad match terms to get ahead of possible product problems and determine if there is something faulty can it be easily fixed, do they have what’s necessary in place to deal with the PR that might arise, and so forth. Buying broad match in these types of industries is a legal and PR measure to understand what might happen and to be ahead of the curve.

3. Advertising to Very Small Geographies

If you’ve been in PPC long enough, you’ve been asked to sell a niche product to a city that’s so small that every relevant word is ‘low search volume’ and there’s no way to advertise to the region effectively. In these cases, you often have to use some broad match just to get enough query volume to make your keywords display. The advantage here is that the competition is usually so light that the bids are very low; so even though you get stuck with a lot of irrelevant queries; you can still maintain acceptable returns for the company’s marketing budget.

4. Multi-Lingual Countries

This is one of my favorite broad match uses – using English words to target non-English languages.

Did you know that broad match can show for the same query in a different language? None of the other match types will trigger ads if the query was done in a different language – broad match is an exception.

In some countries, many search queries are in multiple language, but the country’s inhabitants speak and read English (I’m using English as an example, in many countries this could be French, German, Arabic, etc).

In this account’s target country, there is a lot of Arabic search volume, but everyone speaks and reads English. The ads and landing pages are all in English; and by using English broad matched keywords; we can capture some Arabic search volume and conversions without having to support an entire Arabic account and website.


5. When Queries Cross Languages

What happens when the query is in two languages? I see a lot of queries that contain English and Arabic, English and German, English and French, etc. If you thought years ago trying to manage all the possible misspellings of keywords was difficult (you no longer need to do this – once upon a time you did) – try mixing and matching keywords that comprise multiple languages.

In these cases, broad match is very useful.


6. For Non-Latin Based Languages

As a general rule, the further a languages roots are away from Latin – the better broad match is to try as it often performs closer to modified broad match than what we think of as broad match in English.

Broad match in Spanish performs fairly similar to broad match in English. However, broad match in Arabic, Cyrillic, and many other languages can do quite well.

7. Capturing the Uniqueness of the Long Tail

Modified broad match will capture a lot of the long tail; but not all of it. As voice search changes how people are searching, users are conducting queries such as:

  • What song is this? (i.e. holding up a phone and listening to the radio)
  • Who sings this?
  • Where can I buy it?

In that example, and artist name was never used. A song name was never used. The entire query chain is contextual. As broad match can show for ‘session based matches’; where an ad is shown based upon a previous query (and Google knows the context) some of these new phone interactions aren’t possible to capture with your traditional keywords.

As 15% of search queries have never been done, or haven’t been done in at least 3-6 months; you need broad match to capture the entire long tail. Now, don’t start by just thinking you need all broad match; you must manage negatives with broad match and add queries as they do convert. However, if you want to capture everything (and that includes the bad with the good); then you need to use some broad match.


Broad match in and of itself is not a bad match type.

It’s usage and the expected results are often to blame for how poorly it performs in many accounts.

As a general rule, there are two times to try broad match:

  1. You’re willing to pay to learn something about your keywords or to reach everyone
  2. You’re advertising in languages that are not Latin based

Do you have any favorite broad match uses or horror stories?

Join Us for a Look at 2016 PPC Predictions

It’s 2016: Are you thinking about what the year is going to bring to PPC?

I’m doing a webinar on Thursday (January 28) with two of the industry’s best about what’s coming to PPC, some big recent changes, and we’re going to look into the future of paid search.


You will hear from Marc Poirier, the CEO & Co-Founder of Acquisio. Fred Vallaeys, the CEO of Optmyzr and long time industry veteran, and myself (Brad Geddes), a 17 year vet in PPC.

We’re going to hit a lot of topics on a lot of topics in a nice roundtable discussion in a short amount of time. We plan on touching on:

  • The changing dynamics of agencies
    • Should you even target enterprise companies anymore?
    • What does marketing automation and customer journey marketing mean to you?
  • The changing world of targeting
    • How audience targeting and customer match works
    • Is this going to compliment or supplant keywords?
  • What is going on with Bing/Yahoo?
    • Verizon owns AOL
    • AOL is now powered by Bing
    • What’s up with Yahoo?
  • Is voice search all it’s cracked up to be?

We’ll take audience questions and look into our crystal balls and try to predict (or at least trend) what’s on store for the future of PPC.

Registration is free, but the seats are limited. You can signup for the webinar here: 2016 Predictions Webinar.

Should You Use Exact Match Keywords?

I recently saw a discussion on how match types are dead and how you should only use modified broad match. As exact match shows for variants, you don’t really control your search queries; therefore, only use modified broad match. At least that was the argument.

Initially I dismissed this discussion until I saw one of the comments state that managing match types is old school and that it is not the new reality – the new reality is that only modified broad match matters. Having been in this industry for 17 years, I thought maybe I was living in my old school ways and I just needed to check into some data.

Account 1: Goes Beyond Match Type Control – Singular & Plural Control

So I started by analyzing an account that I knew was an extreme outlier; but I thought would prove out my thoughts on match types and why they matter as well as their underlying search queries.

I don’t want to reveal the identity of this advertiser, so I’m going to ‘widgetize’ the data. However, to give you some ideas about the company – they like to sell in bulk. If you need 500 uniforms or 1000 clogs, they can help you out. While they will sell you one pair – that’s not their goal. Early on, we saw some data really showing how plurals and singulars have different behavior for them and not only manage the match types by campaigns, the singulars and plurals are managed by ad group.

For instance, their exact match ad groups are set up like:

Ad Group Keywords – Exact Negative Keywords
Blue widgets (p) Blue widgets one
Blue widgets two
Blue widgets three
Blue Widget (s) Blue widget one
Blue widget two
Blue widget three

As you can see, ad group (p) only shows for the plural versions and ad group (s) only shows for the singular versions.

Now, when we look at the conversion rates and average order values; we see why it’s organized into singulars and plurals:

Ad Group Conv Rate Average Order Value
Blue widgets (p) 2.3% $673
Blue Widget (s) 2.9% $81


They are willing to bid six times higher for the plural versions than the singular versions due to the huge difference in average order value.

If they just put all these keywords into the same ad group and used keyword level bids; the organization would not work since the singular and plural queries could show for each keyword due to variation or near match (a search query can be a singular, plural, or misspelling even for your exact match terms).

In their case, they have more than 500 products where the average order value changes by singular and plural terms (meaning there are 500 singulars and 500 plural ad groups). In fact, this singular and plural version is something we often see with sports teams. Do you buy a Seattle Seahawks uniform or a Seattle Seahawk uniform – what does that little ‘s’ tell you about the searcher? Are they a fan or someone buying a gift who knows nothing about sports teams?

At this point in time – we haven’t actually addressed the issue if they should manage the exact match separately from the broad match. We just know that there is an average order value difference.

If this company spends $100/month on PPC. Managing these independently probably won’t matter as the extra money and time spent on management fees would outstrip the complexity gains. If this company spends $50,000/month on PPC and has PPC revenues over $250,000/month; then it is worth the extra fees to manage these queries independently.

If they were limited by budget, they want 100% impression share on the plurals and the rest over budget can be spent on the singulars.

Account 2: Throw It All Together and See What Comes Out

There are times when managing exact match and the query data doesn’t matter as much. This account spends about $10,000/month; and outside of broad match – the data is pretty similar by match types:

Match Type Conv Rate Average Order Value
Exact 9.3% $423
Phrase 9.1% $412
Modified Broad 9.2% $419
Broad 6.23% $441


If you start segmenting the account by singulars and plurals; there is no difference in the data. The only way to really see any type of a difference in queries is if start segmenting the data by individual query by product sold (please note it is a mature account and is setup incredibly well). If this account managed all the queries perfectly, it would take another 15-20 hours/month and it would make another $2,000/month.

That does seem like a huge time difference for just managing some queries; and if you wonder why, it’s due to the current structure. This account has four main search campaigns.

  • One campaign uses CPA bidding where the bids are set by ad group based upon the sales by ad group and includes exact and modified broad matches.
    • The geo area is their ‘top performing regions’
  • The second and third campaigns are identical to the first campaign, except the ads (through testing) are slightly different, and the ads are shown in regions that don’t do as well (but still perform well) as their main regions.
  • The last campaign has a much lower budget, utilizes broad match, some DSAs, and is considered a backfill campaign.

Because the account uses CPA bidding (and it works very well for this account once the account was geographically segmented) if this account moved more towards perfecting its query serving and match type usage; it would have to move to a different bid system (which is more time or money depending on how it’s done).

If this account was spending $100,000 or more per month so that managing the queries becomes an additional $20,000 in revenue – then suddenly managing the queries and match types makes a lot of sense and is something this account would do.

So – Should You Use Multiple Match Types & Control Their Usage?

It’s not about match types – it is about return on time and return on management dollars when you get into complex organizations.

In the first case, the company makes a lot more money by paying someone to manage a very complex structure that manages not just match types, but singular and plural versions due to how their account functions.

In the second case, the company makes more money by not spending all their time managing their account, and by spending that time perfecting their customer service.

In the end – ALL absolute statements about match types being dead — are wrong.

Match types live on.

The management fees and time to manage the match types is where the discussion should be and if it is worth the time and money to get that granular in your accounts.

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.”


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.


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.


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:


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:


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:


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:


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,

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:


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:


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:


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

Don’t Fall for this Bad Advice! The Worst Quality Score Advice We’ve Heard

Last year I was at a conference and a speaker go up and said; I’m slightly paraphrasing:

Did you know that an ad group name can be 255 characters long? (I didn’t actually know this ). Google makes it that long so you can write descriptive ad group names to tell them what your ad group is about – you should always use all the characters as this will help your quality score. Also, campaign names can be long as well, you should use all the characters possible for your campaign names to increase your quality scores.

I speak at a lot of conferences and I attend many sessions each year. I don’t always agree with other speakers, but everyone is entitled to their own opinions – so unless it’s a panel Q&A; I won’t contradict anyone – I just might give a dissenting opinion.

Quality Score Myths

Until this time. As many audience members were glancing my way and looking quizzically as is this true or not; during the Q&A – I set everyone straight that this does not matter. Naming conventions are for you – not Google. I had hoped never to come across something like this in the wild – until this week.

I was doing an AdWords account audit and upon logging in – I was just confused by their organization. Every campaign included just one ad group. Every campaign and ad group name was more than 200 characters long of random words that reminded me of keyword stuffing organic terms back in 1998. I asked the advertiser what was going on with the naming conventions and they told me that they were told it would help quality score.

To save everyone a lot of headaches,  I thought we’d share some of the worst quality score myths we hear.

Thank you to everyone on #PPCChat who also contributed some ideas.

Put your keywords in your metatags to increase your quality score

I heard this version all the time. Put your keywords on your landing page, title tags, meta tags, alt image tags, within your video, in your video text, write them in flash, etc. I’ll also hear that having the keyword on the page is so good; but can lower conversion rates if the page is too long that they use white text on white background to not distract the visitor.

Having a keyword (or something related) on the page as it fits naturally can be useful as that’s what the user expects to see. In fact, there are other words a user expects to see on the page as well that should be there. Are you selling a good? You probably have a price, selection, and shipping information. Are you in mortgage lead gen? You probably have the word rate, calculator, refinance, and mortgage on a given page.

Those words weren’t written on the page for Google – but for the user. Write your pages for the user. If users are getting to your site, not bouncing back to search results, you’ll probably get good landing page quality scores, assuming you’re not breaking other policies, the page loads within a reasonable time frame, and that the page works on the devices where the ads are showing.

Use Popups on Landing Pages to Reduce Bounce Rates

I see this a lot in the VSL (video sales lander) space. There’s a popup that’s hard to get rid of so that if a user wants to leave your page right away, they can’t as they have to close the popup first. This popup is generally restricted from showing to bots and Google IP addresses, and if often not even added until the page has been approved, to increase quality score.

The only thing this type of page is going to do is eventually get your page disabled or for repeat offenders – banned from PPC.

Put AdSense on Your Site

This was a common suggestion about 10 years ago, but I still hear it on occasion. AdSense is the publisher platform for the Google Display Network.

The reasoning goes something like this: Google makes money when AdSense ads are clicked. By adding AdSense ads to your site, Google will make more money so they want people to go to your page over other advertiser’s and will thus reward you with a good Quality Score.

This is terrible advice. If anything, Google has punished advertiser’s for showing too many ads above the fold. While arbitrage still exists on the web; however, its usage has declined significantly since it’s heydays of 2002-2007.

Bid to the Top Position

The ads in position 1 have the highest CTR; make Google the most money – so by being in position 1, Google will reward you with a great quality score.

Now, there is a shred of truth to this myth – but not in the way people think.

Google normalizes CTR by position to determine your expected CTR; so higher positions don’t naturally get a higher quality score than ads further down on the page. However, we will see ads that as they increase in position get higher CTRs than were expected by that position, and thus QS can increase. In addition, Google isn’t always great at normalizing top vs side, especially in industries where the top CTRs often break 15%. Lastly, there are ad formatting items that come into play only in the top positions, such as extended headlines, sitelinks showing, etc.

So in some cases, you might actually see a higher quality score in the top positions than you do on the side of the page for the same ad. However, other times there’s no difference at all (or your quality score can also drop as you didn’t hit the expected CTRs) and you can quickly lose money.

So it’s not that being in the top positions gives you a higher quality score – its that if in the top positions your ad gets a different type of CTR than on the side, then raising your position can increase your quality score.

Prove Your Willing to Spend Money: Raise your bid to $1000 or your Budget to $1,000,000

I hear both the advice of maxing out your bid or your daily budget independent of each other – but the overall sentiment is the same – if you prove to Google you’re willing to spend more – then you’ll get a good quality score.

This is totally false, and it would actually destroy the auction integrity. The auction is setup so that a small account can compete with a large one. The small account can’t spend as much each day and won’t get as much traffic as the large one, but when both ads show at the same time – the small account can compete with a large one. There is no benefit to setting very high bids or daily budgets.

In the ‘dumbest mistakes ever’ category, I saw an account that tried this. They were in the legal space where the CPCs often exceed $50-$200 and they didn’t realize people were really willing to bid $250-$350 on occasion. They raised their bids to $1000, didn’t have great quality scores, and had their CPCs go from $15 to $300 in a single day. That was a costly mistake. If you raise your bid and/or budget – you can spend it – are you willing to spend $1,000,000 a day?

A High PageRank will increase your Quality Score

In 2005, I received one of the strangest phone calls that an agency can receive (I did get an email that they wanted to chat – so this wasn’t out-of-the blue, but the email didn’t prepare me for the conversation), it went something like this:

Hi, we’re an agency that has about 30 clients doing SEO and PPC for us. Google just told us that we’re not allowed to run any PPC for our clients any longer. If we stop buying PPC for them, then we’ll lose a lot of SEO business as well. We talked to Google and they suggested to us that if we run our PPC through you, and you manage the accounts, that they’ll let our clients continue buying PPC – can you help?

Google not only banned the agency – they banned the agency’s clients from buying PPC. I was surprised that Google told them they had to use us (we did have an amazing relationship with Google at the time as one of their largest resellers and clients). I had to find out why all their clients were banned.

The agency was:

  • Buying links to landing pages
  • Getting landing pages approved that passed Google’s guidelines and then using sneaky redirects to send the users to other pages
  • The agency and their clients had been repeatedly warned that if they kept up these practices they would be banned
  • The agency thought Google was bluffing
  • Google doesn’t bluff about AdWords

When pressed about why they would do this; the agency told me it was to get good Quality Scores. They needed higher pageranks to increase the quality score because their clients were all lawyers or plastic surgeons and the CPCs were too high.

An entire agency banned over a quality score myth: A high PageRank does not lead to a great quality score. In fact, you can have your site banned in the organic results and still get 10 quality scores.

Link to Google from Your Landing Page

For this example – I choose the link to Google. You could replace that with any spammy 2000 SEO tactic.

Your spammy SEO tactics do not affect quality score. Google figured this out already. Remember penguin, panda, hummingbird, and all the other Google updates? Google didn’t forget update Adsbot-Google with its organic crawl technology.

Create One Keyword Per Ad Group & Use the Keyword Twice in the Ad

It’s highly debatable if you should use all SKAGs (single keyword ad groups) in your account to begin with, but making them just for quality score purposes is definitely not one of the ‘pros’ for that type of organization.

Including the keyword in the ad is useful if it helps CTR (and thus quality score) or increases relevancy; but you can achieve quality score 10s without having a keyword in the ad.

The overall rule for ads when it comes to quality score is simple: test different variations and see what does best.

There’s not a ‘rule’ for if you do this exact one thing every time you’ll get a high quality score.

This leads us to our next myth…

Always Use DKI – DKI increases Quality Score

This myth has a shred of truth in it – but not in the way many people think.

First off, in your account, you see your quality score. This is not what’s used in the auction – it’s just a mashup of a lot of data to give you an overall indication of your quality score and keyword’s health. It’s argued that in the real time auction, having the keyword in the ad can slightly increase the real time quality score – and since you’re using DKI – the keyword is always in the ad – and thus a higher quality score.

Let’s do some quick debunking:

  • The keyword put into the ad is not the search query – it’s the keyword from your ad group that caused the ad to be displayed. These might not be related words – especially in the case of broad match usage.
  • If your keywords are over 25 characters – your keyword won’t appear in the headline (although, sometimes Google does put up to 28-29 characters in the headline).

In reality – this is how you should think about DKI’s relationship to quality score:

  • If using DKI increases your CTR; then your QS can go up.
  • This increase in QS has nothing to do with the fact your used DKI
  • This increase is because your CTR decreased

If you use DKI and your CTR goes down, as your ad is less compelling that your previous ad, then the use of DKI can lower your quality score. The act of using DKI is immaterial to quality score. The resulting metrics from your (with or without DKI) is what affects quality score.

Using Every Match Type will Increase Quality Score

The quality score you see in your account is based upon when the search query was the same as your keyword regardless of the match type. If you have match types in different ad groups with different quality scores – it is due to the ad differences or some other random factors. Adding all the match types doesn’t increase quality score – it just gives you more transparency into how your keywords are doing with different sets of ads.

Delete Low Quality Score Keywords to Improve Your Overall QS

Theoretically, there is no account quality score. A Google rep doesn’t have this number. In practical terms, there is an account level score. You can calculate this yourself using weighted quality score data.

One keyword’s effect on another keyword’s quality score is so low – it might as well be zero.

There’s a bigger issue at stake with this myth: If a keyword is profitable – who cares if Google gives it a low quality score?

I can’t count the times I see someone just delete all low quality score keywords to make Google happy regardless if the word is profitable or not profitable. If Google gives me all 10 quality scores but I can’t make a sale – I’m going out of business. If I have all quality score 3 keywords and I’m making money – I might try to improve my quality scores; but that’s because I’m making money and am still in business to try and take that step.

Profit is more important that quality score!

Old Accounts Get Better Quality Scores

Once upon a time, you’d see AdWords accounts for sale because they were old. Not because they were good; but because they were opened in 2002 or 2003.

The older the account and the higher the gross spend – the higher the sale price.

Luckily, this seems to have passed us buy. Don’t buy someone’s old PPC account and expect it to generate high quality scores just because it is old.

Making Changes to Your Account Will Lower Quality Scores

Have you ever been afraid to move a keyword? Did reorganizing your account make you shudder, not because of the time involved, but because you’d lose your history and your quality scores would suffer?

If yes, you managed accounts in the mid-2000s. This was a real issue once upon a time.

That time has passed.

Use.A.Period Not a Space To Separate Words

There was a time when Google was not forthcoming what separated a word. You’d see ad groups like:

  • I’m a keyword
  • Im a keyword
  • imakeyword
  • im.a.keyword
  • I’m.a keyword
  • im-a-keyword
  • I’m_a_keyword

Google has since become much more transparent

Using symbols with your keywords

You can use two symbols, ampersands (&) and accent marks (á), in your keywords. We’ll consider keywords with these symbols as two different keywords, like sidewalk cafe and sidewalk café.

Here are some of the symbols that our system doesn’t recognize:

  • Ignored symbols: You can add periods (.) or dashes (-) to your keywords, but we’ll ignore this punctuation. That means we’ll consider the keywords Fifth Ave. and Fifth Ave, for example, identical keywords.
  • Invalid symbols: You’ll see an error message if you add keywords that contain certain symbols. Some of the symbols that can’t be used in your keywords are: , ! @ % ^ * () = {} ; ~ ` <> ? \ |
  • Search operators: We’ll remove the “site:” operator from your keywords. That means if you add the keyword [ dark chocolate], we’ll consider it the same as [dark chocolate]. If you’re someone who uses advanced search operators on Google, you might want to know how those operators work with your keywords. If you add a particular search operator to your keywords, AdWords will ignore it. For example, if you add the search operator “OR” to the keyword dark chocolate, like OR dark chocolate, AdWords will ignore the “OR” command and target your ads with the keyword dark chocolate.

Source – AdWords help.

Your TExT CASinG ChanGES your QualitY ScORe

Google didn’t use to give you poor quality scores and let you continue to advertise – they would disable your keywords and you could never use that keyword again in the account. This was a real problem in 2004-2006 when your best keywords would fall below a 0.5% CTR and you knew they were about to disappear. There was a trick to the system – you could write the word in a different casing and Google would re-enable that keyword.

Google’s grown up since then – the old tricks don’t work anymore.

Google Hates Affiliates – Obfuscate Your Affiliate URLs to get Higher Quality Scores

Google hates bad advertisers, sites that shouldn’t exist, and sites that put a barrier between a searcher trying to find an answer and the answer itself.

Google doesn’t care if it is an affiliate, a publisher, or an advertiser in the way – if you’re slowing down a searcher – your bad news.

Did you realize that Expedia, Orbitz, TripAdvisor,, etc are affiliates? They are big affiliates, but they are still affiliates. The largest advertisers on Google are often affiliates.

Google doesn’t care if you’re an affiliate. If you’re providing value to the search ecosystem – then you’re OK.

What Other Bad Advice Have You Heard?

Have you heard some other bad advice recently that you want to warn people about?

Just let us know in the comments.