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Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing The Complete AdWords Audit Part 5: Impression Share & Auction...

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 5: Impression Share & Auction Insights

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


Whenever I think of impression share (IS) in AdWords, these quotes come to mind:

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
For the keywords (and ad groups & campaigns) in your account that meet your goals, you’ll want to be as visible as possible. Every missed impression is a missed opportunity to generate additional clicks and conversions to further increase your profit.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to be in the top position all of the time, as the CPC of those positions may not be profitable. But it does mean that if you’re profitable at the current level, you don’t want your ads to show up some of the time, but all the time.

“If it’s not worth doing right, it’s not worth doing at all.”
Maybe a campaign isn’t meeting your goals and you decide to lower its daily budget, which leads to lost impression share due to budget.
This, of course, is just damage control and not solving any underlying problems. In that campaign there are probably profitable and unprofitable keywords. So lowering the budget also leads to less impressions for the profitable keywords, while still leaving impressions for the unprofitable ones.
To prevent this, make sure you fix your problems at the right level: adjusting bids, adding negatives, pausing keywords, improving ads and landing pages, etc.

“If it can’t be done right, do something you can do right instead.”
If you’ve tried everything to improve the performance and impression share of a keyword but it doesn’t pay off, your time is probably better spent at improving other areas of your account. Don’t obsess over Ad Rank and quality score for every one of your keywords, and certainly don’t indulge yourself into ego bidding to ‘solve’ the problem.

Also, don’t obsess about reaching a 100% Impression Share, once you’re above 90%, you’re in great shape. A 100% Impression Share is almost impossible to reach, with the exception of your branded keywords.

With these philosophies in mind, let’s dive into detecting and solving various IS problems, starting with the easy to solve Lost IS due to budget to the harder to solve Ad Rank issues. I’ll use Search Impression Share in the discussion below, but the same logic can largely be applied to Display Impression Share (with the exception of Exact match IS).
Display however, is much less predictable than search and could have an almost infinite number of impressions, depending on the targeting settings. Nonetheless, for profitable and narrowly targeted Display campaigns (e.g. Remarketing), you’ll also want to make sure your IS is as high as possible.

Are you losing Impression Share due to budget?

To find out in which campaigns you are losing IS due to budget just add the IS columns, look at a recent time frame and sort by the ‘Search Lost IS (budget)’ column. I like to look at the last 7 days for the most recent IS data as search volume may fluctuate:


For some campaigns, Google may also show the ‘Limited by budget’ status, including a daily budget estimator (click on the graph icon to see the estimates):


Once you’ve found the campaigns that are losing IS due to budget, there are 3 possible scenarios:

  1. The campaign is meeting your goals and you have enough budget to spend more.
    In this case the solution is very simple: just raise the daily budget with the percentage of Lost IS (budget), or a bit more to be sure.
  2. The campaign is meeting your goals, but you don’t have enough budget to spend more.
    This can be a frustrating situation. If you have other campaigns that are performing worse you could lower their budget and use that budget for better performing campaigns. But that isn’t a sensible growth strategy, especially if you have a mature account where all campaigns are performing well.
    In that case you can quite easily build a case of missed conversions or revenue by keeping CTR, CPC, conversion rate and average order value constant and applying those to the missed impressions. Benjamin Vigneron’s article How To Estimate Incremental Revenue Opportunities With Impression Share Data gives in-depth examples on how to do that.
    Show the missed revenue or conversions to whoever decides on the budget, and chances are you’ll get the needed budget to capture that additional revenue.
  3. The campaign isn’t meeting your goals.
    Whether or not you have sufficient budget is of secondary importance in this case. As mentioned under the second quote in the introduction, you should fix any underlying problems first.
    Next to adding negatives, lowering bids, pausing keywords and improving ads and landing pages, you can also use bid adjustments to spend your budget more wisely. Investigate your performance in different locations, on mobile devices, days of the week and time of day and use a negative bid adjustment for underperforming segments, or even exclude your worst performing segments. You could also opt out of Search partners if these underperform.
    In any case, make sure your best performers don’t suffer from a too low daily budget. One solution could be isolating your best performers in their own campaigns and make sure these always have a high enough daily budget.

Do you have a low Exact match Impression Share?

A low exact match IS is a very bad sign, as it means your ads often didn’t show up, even when users exactly searched for your keywords (regardless of the actual match type).
You added those keywords for a reason, and if your ads often don’t show when users exactly search for those keywords, your bid or quality score (or maybe even both) is probably way too low.
Since the summer of 2013, Impression Share data is available at the keyword level and that’s exactly where this metric is most useful. To find your low exact match IS keywords simply go to the keywords tab of your account and create a filter:


In this view, it can also be helpful to add the Quality score column so you can directly see if quality score is low as well for those keywords. If that is the case you’ll need to do some work to increase quality score. More about this in the next post of this series.
But maybe you just need to raise the bid (or budget, as discussed above) for a higher exact match IS. Obviously, don’t raise bids any higher than is profitable for you (and fix QS first if it’s below 6).
To quickly find out if you just need to raise bids, you could create the following filter for your keywords:


Now you could simply select all these keywords, click Edit > Change max. CPC bids… > Raise to estimated first page bid and set an upper bid limit of your choosing.
If you’re uncomfortable with blindly raising your bids like this, you can also review these keywords manually.
In any case, realize there’s usually just crumbs left of the pie when your bid is below the estimated first page bid.

Are you losing Impression Share due to Ad Rank?

If a keyword is losing IS because of a low quality score and/or bid, you’ve probably already spotted it by looking for keywords with a low exact match IS. In those cases you should raise the quality score (easier said than done) or the bid to increase Ad Rank. And don’t forget to add relevant ad extensions if needed, as these are now also part of Ad Rank.

However, even if your exact match IS is high (at least 80% I’d say), you could still be losing a significant amount of IS due to Ad Rank.
Those situations can be quite puzzling: you have a high position and quality score, but you still lose IS due to Ad Rank. See the stats below of one such keyword (it’s a broad match keyword):


In these cases, the only explanation for a low impression share is that your ad didn’t show up for all possible search queries that your keyword could have triggered.

The question remains: do you care? To find out, you should analyze the search terms for that keyword and add all search terms as keywords that are relevant for your business, especially if they’ve converted within your target CPA or ROAS. From that moment on, you can track the exact match IS for those keywords, so you’ll know how often you show up for queries you really care about.

Auction Insights

While Impression Share shows you the size of your slice of the pie, Auction Insights shows you who else is eating that pie. Launched in May 2012, this provides very welcome additional insights to see who you’re up against and how your visibility stacks up against theirs.

Your most visible competitors are worth investigating:

  • Are they bidding on your brand name?
  • Is there anything you could learn from their ads and extensions?
  • How about their website? Could it be it converts better so they can afford to bid higher?
  • And of course: their products and pricing. Is their offer more competitive than yours?
  • Or are they just big spenders with more money than brains? In that case, don’t go into a bidding war, as you’ll probably lose. Let them increase Google’s profits, while you focus on increasing yours.

If you want really cool insights from Auction Insights you should trend competitor data over time so you can see how they manage their budgets and how new competitors may enter the auction and move their way up, while others may leave the auction.

Sean Quadlin at PPC Hero wrote a great guide on how to do so with Pivot Tables in Use Google’s Auction Insights to Find Your Competitors’ Mistakes. The good news is that since June 2013, you can get data for multiple keywords (or ad groups or campaigns) simultaneously. If you filter your keywords in a meaningful way before pulling the Auction Insights report, you’ll get a good view of your competitors for different topics.

Third-party tools for competitive intelligence

Spying on the competition is addictive, I know. And so do many third-party tools that will give you give more competitor data than you’ll know what to do with. I’ll simply alphabetically list the most used tools for spying on advertisers below. Many offer a free trial or demo that should give you a good idea if the tool fits your needs.

To learn more about these and other tools, there’s a great post on the KISSmetrics blog by Chris Kilbourn: How to be the James Bond of the Web: 37 Best Marketing Tools to Spy on Your Competitors. Also check out Matt van Wagner’s post with Tips For Spying On Your PPC Competitors.

Although you can learn a lot from studying your competition, in the end you should worry more about bettering yourself.


Impression Share & Auction Insights: Your Audit Checklist


Aren’t you losing any Impression Share due to budget?
checkbox Do all your (important) keywords have an Exact match IS of at least 80%?
checkboxDo all your high Quality Score keywords have a bid that is at least the first page bid estimate (unless this has been proven to be unprofitable)?
checkboxHave you added relevant search terms from keywords with high Exact match IS and a high Lost IS (rank)?
checkboxHave you analyzed the most visible competitors from Auction Insights to gather any learnings?
checkboxBonus: do you use one or more of the mentioned tools to keep a close eye on your competition?

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.

No Comments

  1. Shuki Mann
    February 12, 2014 at 4:22 am · Reply

    Absolutely awesome post.
    I think that the “IS lost” column is the most under-valuate data in adwords reports.
    If Google would give us more details about the missing impressions its could be very very good useful.


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