20 Google Ads
Expert Techniques
to Skyrocket
Your Performance

After 15 Years of Experience & 400+ Accounts Audited, We’re Revealing our Secrets.

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    Jean-Michel Fontaine, marketing director


    Small Changes, Big Difference

    Two airplanes are flying West across the Atlantic along the exact same flight path. One of the two aircraft makes a nearly imperceptible shift in direction. Five hours later as both planes approach their destination, they are preparing for landing on two different continents. Small changes lead to big differences in outcome.

    This is exactly how you should think of the tips presented below. A collection of insights and tricks that you can easily and immediately implement yourself — small changes that will shift the direction of your ad campaigns for the better. Many of these tips can lead to immediate results, but all of them will have an incremental effect on your campaign results over time.

    We don’t believe in a golden goose or silver bullet solution when it comes to finding success in online ad campaigns. Instead, we believe in a commitment to the process of properly setting up, monitoring, and optimizing our campaigns. One half of the job is an art, requiring a mix of savoir-faire and creative flair, while the other half relies on accurate data and the ability to generate reliable insights from this data in real-time.

    While you certainly can approach the tips contained here as a to-do or check list, we felt it important, wherever possible, to explain why the issues at stake are important. If you recognize any of the problems we address within your own account, we strongly urge you to take action, even if it is not with the solutions we suggest.

    For the past fifteen years, we have been helping businesses from around the world reach their objectives. The following tips are drawn from the most common mistakes we come across when we are called in to audit an account.

    The incremental improvements you will see by correcting the problems we highlight are:

    • A simplification of your account management, and therefore a reduction in the burden this represents on your resources
    • An increase in the precision of your tracking data, which in turn increases the potential for generating operational insights
    • A reduction of wasted ad spend in your budget
    • A better understanding of what goes on under the hood of your Google Ads campaigns

    Getting it right is a challenge no matter who you are, and it doesn’t mean not making any mistakes. Getting it right, in our experience, means trying not to make the same mistakes twice and avoiding, whenever possible, the mistakes that other people have made.

    We hope this will help. 

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      Chapter 1: Campaign Foundations

      Building an ads account with successful campaigns is similar to building a house.

      Before you start to build, your project needs structure. Whether you delegate this role to an architect or take it on yourself, you will need to produce a solid roadmap that accounts for all necessary steps across the planning, execution, and maintenance phases. You will need to prepare the site, delegate the tasks, choose the materials, oversee or undertake the construction, address any issues that arise, and monitor performance once everything is in place.

      What seems obvious when building a house, however, is perhaps not quite so evident when building a successful ad campaign. Once you’ve cleared the site and started building your house, you begin by laying down the foundations. There is an order to things and this order matters. You don’t begin with the attic, or decide to add an underground garage once you’ve erected all four walls and a roof. This same notion of order applies to your campaigns.

      In the following three tips, we cover three of the most important elements at the foundations of any good ad campaign:

      Tip #1: Define your objectives

      The first pillar of any good ad campaign is knowing your targets and defining your objectives.

      Let’s say you get into your car, turn the ignition, and set off down the road. Unless you have time and gas money to kill and you just want to drive for the sake of driving, you probably have a destination in mind.

      Running an ad campaign is no different. You need to know where you’re going. Otherwise, you are financing the marketing equivalent of an open-ended road-trip.

      If the image of an endless road-trip doesn’t do it for you, think headless chicken or herd of cats. Whichever of these analogies is most evocative, the bottom line is this: you don’t want your campaign to resemble any of the above.

      Failing to clearly define your campaign’s objectives is a bad idea. Launching and/or running a campaign without clearly defining its objectives is going to negatively influence its outcomes. Period.

      Here are the three general types of objectives that you can use to structure your ad campaign:

      1. Raising Awareness
      2. Boosting Traffic
      3. Generating Conversions

      Depending on which objectives you choose — and bear in mind that any combination of multiple objectives is possible — best practices for your campaign strategy will change. This includes, but is not limited to: how you decide to orient and manage your channels, your KPIs, your audiences, and your messages.

      Most other major ad platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have integrated algorithms that will optimize your campaigns depending on your initial objective. If your objective is to sell, for example, then the ad platform will show your ads to the users that are most likely to purchase. Once you have stated your objectives, the algorithms are making key decisions without you being able to tweak them.

      Google Ads is different, however, in that you have more control over individual variables. This means more functionality, but also more room for error. You need to be much more precise as you set up and manage your campaign. In particular, you need to make sure that you calibrate the following variables according to your objectives:

      1. Keywords
        Do you want to compete for terms that get a lot of exposure or, alternatively, would it be wiser to target more specific intentions that will probably have a much better conversion rate? For more on keywords, turn to Chapter 4
      2. Audiences
        While you may be willing to sell to any and everyone, ask yourself who is most likely to click on your ads or take action on your website? Feed it the right information and it will be much easier for Google’s algorithms to fulfill your goals. For more on audiences, turn to Tip #18.
      3. Messages
        Be as clear as you can be with your ad copy and when designing your conversion funnel. You have limited opportunity to reach your customers, so choose your words wisely. A clear Call To Action (CTA) is essential if you want to generate conversions. For more on ad copy, turn to Chapter 5.
      4. Landing pages
        Just like your copy, your landing pages must be crystal clear and unequivocal. There should be no doubt as to what you are inviting people to do. The wording there should also closely match your ads and associated keywords.
      5. Bidding strategy
        Choosing your bidding strategy will have a big impact on your campaign. Google offers you multiple options to reach your objectives, but if you don’t know what you want, these will be of little help. For more on bidding strategies, turn to Tip #20.

      Finally, you will want to define the channels you want to use in your campaign. Some will be more effective than others, but there is no golden rule and this is heavily dependent upon context. Simplifying a little, you could say that:

      • YouTube is most efficient at raising awareness
      • Display is best for boosting traffic
      • Search is most effective at generating conversions

      Once again, however, context is all-important. It is very likely that a combination of these channels will be the best solution for your operation, and choosing that combination will depend upon… yes, you guessed it —  your objectives.

      Tip #1: Define your objectives

      Tip #2: Track your progress

      The second pillar of a good ad campaign is tracking your activity as you go.

      The value of tracking is twofold. First, it allows you to see where you are going. Second, it allows you to measure your success as you go along.

      Watch the road ahead
      Over the years, there have been a number of ad campaigns in Switzerland urging citizens not to drive without first taking the time to fully defrost the windshield. One ad showed a woman with a hat pulled down over her eyes. You wouldn’t drive like this, went the tagline.

      As with driving, so with ad campaigns — you should never drive blind.

      You cannot drive a car blind, of course. You can, however, run a campaign blind, and people often do. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter some success, maybe. The problem here is that whether your campaign is a roaring success or a complete and utter disaster, you will have absolutely no idea how or why that is. If gambling away a budget is your thing, then go for it — roll those dice. Otherwise, you really should figure out how to set up tracking for your campaign.

      Adapt your driving as you go
      “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” —Peter Drucker

      Building a strategy that is coherent on paper is one thing, optimizing it as you go along and making sure it delivers consistent results is another matter altogether. You should always know what you are tracking and why. Any campaign is going to have ups and downs which require tweaks, little changes to performance that overcome any obstacles or setbacks that appear along the way. You need to see and separate what works and what doesn’t in order to continue improving your performance and not simply surrender to chance. Remember —  no tracking means no results.

      Create a tracking plan
      Aside from all the work you will do in analytics to monitor your campaigns, we suggest using a spreadsheet for a more powerful tracking plan. This will allow you to keep tabs on your tracking system, if you will, to keep track of your tracking. This tracking plan should be a centralized database with all events and actions that you include in your campaign. If you do it right, your tracking plan spreadsheet will function both as an index and a roadmap.

      There are any number of ways of creating a tracking plan, but we build ours specifically around the conversions that we set up for. In a nutshell, this template includes:

      • A description of the conversion being tracked
      • The name of the conversion being tracked
      • The page on which the conversion will take place
      • Which channels are included in this conversion

      Tip #3: Choose your conversions

      Tailor your process — prioritize your conversions according to your objectives

      A conversion is any desired action performed by a receiver of your ads.

      That is simple enough as a definition, but the term gets thrown around a lot. You should be suspicious of anyone talking generically about conversions, since it can refer to many different actions that vary according to context.

      Every campaign is different and because their objectives will differ, so will their conversion types. Here are a few examples of actions that might count as conversions:

      • A purchase from an e-commerce website
      • The download of a flyer or pdf
      • The filling of a contact form
      • A subscription to a newsletter
      • A target amount of time spent on a certain page (i.e. more than 3 minutes)
      • A target number of pages visited on a website in a single session (i.e. 3+ pages)

      Once you have defined your campaign objectives and set yourself up to track your campaign activities, you are in a position to begin strategizing and deciding which conversions you should be aiming for. You might want to establish which actions on your website are contributing most to online sales. Or, alternatively, you might ask yourself which actions on your website are steps that your prospects take towards becoming customers.

      Are you looking for real turnover (ecommerce sales)? Or maybe it’s in your best interest to create new leads or generate micro-conversions. Each conversion type has its own value and you must decide how it all fits together for your campaign.

      Root your strategy in the data and do not set off on the wrong path by pursuing conversions that are unadapted to your campaign objectives. Choosing to pursue the wrong kinds of conversions is a surefire way of wasting time and resources with no guarantee of bringing in more business. In essence, the conversion you choose should be based around two characteristics. Be realistic and stay focused:

      1. Be realistic: the conversion type you choose should be based on an action that occurs regularly on your website. You don’t want to pursue conversions that are unavailable to you.
      2. Stay focused: the conversion type you choose must be directly related to the goal of the campaign.

      There are many ways this can play out, but here is an example from our experience:

      We were called in by an established master jeweler because their online marketing activities were not yielding any results. They were looking for someone to boost their online sales. Upon studying their case more closely, we realized that the whole campaign strategy was flawed. They had been chasing the wrong types of conversion. We reverse-engineered their sales process, studied the numbers, the business model, and here is a quick summary of some of the main facts we established:

      • The conditions in which jewelry sales take place are important. For the most part, customers want to see the jewels before they purchase them. Browsing the internet is only a precursor, a preliminary step to see what’s available.
      • On average, the amount spent by any given customer is about CHF 10’000.
      • On average, about half of all customers entering the shop and speaking with the staff in person will purchase an item from their selection.
      • This means that the average value of every customer that physically enters the shop is approximately CHF 5’000.
      • On average, users that enter into contact with the jeweler online, via chat or email, have a 25% chance of making an appointment in person at the shop.
      • This means that the average value of every online user entering into contact is approximately CHF 1’250.
      • By establishing a spreadsheet of all the other possible channels leading to potential customers making an appointment with the jeweler, we created a data set that allowed us to assign values and priorities to the conversions we were targeting.

      The high financial cost of the products being sold, combined with their highly emotional significance, means customers feel the need to make a trip to the shop in person where they can see and touch the jewelry for themselves. It makes no sense, therefore, to build a campaign strategy around online sales, as this just will not work.

      Ultimately, realizing that the jeweler’s customers do not like to make their purchases online was the key to building a new campaign strategy. The strategy we implemented was thus heavily geared towards micro-conversions that aimed to maximise appointments in-person at the shop, where the jeweler could exercise his trade in ideal circumstances.

      We can see here that the two characteristics mentioned above — realism and focus — are met here:

      1. Very few customers are purchasing the client’s products online, so it doesn’t make sense to base the success of an ads campaign around hard sales.
      2. Contacts made through the website, however, are directly associated with the larger sales funnel, since people who contact the jeweler are likely to visit the shop and ultimately make a purchase.

      You could say that learning how to decide which conversions to prioritize for your campaign is more of an art than a science, one that should lean on real-world data for validation, of course, but an art nonetheless. It requires, among other things, that you be as clear-eyed as possible about the state of your business, the nature of your offer, as well as the kind of relationship you have to both new and established customers.

      Chapter 2: Account Structure and Management

      It should come as no surprise that the way you structure and manage your Google Ads account will have enormous influence on the outcome of your campaigns.

      We’ve already talked about the importance of solid foundations for building a house. Now we need to think about mapping out the floor plan and partitioning the space. If you turn each floor of your house into an endless maze of corridors with no windows and no electric lighting, then it makes sense you will have trouble finding your way around. Doing this will guarantee life in your new house to be a true nightmare.

      In good human-centered architecture, habitat rhymes with habit and any well-designed house will serve the daily needs of its inhabitants. This principle should also apply to the way you design your Google Ads account.

      The following tips cover three of the most important aspects that you must pay attention to when structuring your account.

      Tip #4: Integrate your Google account

      The more integrated your account is across the range of Google products, the better.

      Imagine that all of Google’s products are team members in the same organisation. While you may mostly be working with Google Ads, if it is on good terms with the rest of the team, then you have access to their knowledge and insights too.

      Just as if you were managing a team, be it in business or sports or wherever, if you don’t let Google products work together, then the cost of this oversight will steadily accumulate over time. Integrating your Google products fosters communication, synergy, and efficiency by preventing redundancies, feeding valuable information into the system, and opening up new channels.

      Google is an ecosystem. If you decide to use its products separately, they will not integrate and you will miss out on the functionality that comes from these products sharing their information and data with one another in real-time. A good team has a power greater than the sum of its individual parts.

      Tip #4: Integrate your Google account

      Presented below are a few examples of how integrating with the various Google products will give you access to valuable data from which you can develop actionable strategic insights for your campaigns:

      Analytics :
      The data from the Google Ads console allows you to see whether or not a campaign is performing. It’s also worth noting that you can import certain statistics from Analytics directly into Google Ads. But if you want access to detailed information, you will need to get into Analytics. This is where you will truly be able to track the performance of your campaigns and get into the nitty-gritty of what works and what doesn’t.

      Want to know precisely what happens on your website after a user clicks on an ad, what pages they visited, how long they stayed, or what your bounce rate is? Analytics is the answer. Set it up right, and you get access to:

      • The who: user profile, age, behavior, etc.
      • The what: what ads they interacted with, which keywords caught their attention, what their interests are, etc.
      • The where: what they do on your site, what pages they look at, how long they were there, etc.
      • The how: where they came from, how it connects to your campaign or other Google products, etc.

      FYI: Google has just released a future version of Analytics named Google Analytics 4, or GA4 for short. Although GA4 is still in beta and the current Analytics version (UA) remains the primary version for the time being, we recommend that you at least install the basic tracking code for GA4 in parallel to UA. This will ensure that you start with several months of historical data on the day Google decides to scrap the old for the new and abandon UA for good.

      Integrating Google Ads with YouTube will allow you to have more data, to run remarketing campaigns for YouTube users on Search and, conversely, to run remarketing campaigns for Search users on YouTube.

      Google Play Store
      Let’s say that you are an app developer. You are running a campaign to raise awareness and promote the downloads of your app. Banners, display, etc. Connecting to the Play Store will automatically connect you to a wealth of data about available and desired audiences. It will also allow you to effortlessly monitor and track campaign related activity such as app installation numbers. If you use other channels, like the Apple Store, for example, you will need third-party apps and a bit more mucking around to get this kind of data.

      Google Merchant Center
      If you are in the retail sector, Google Merchant Center is a must-have. You won’t be able to create shopping ads if you don’t implement it.

      OK, so we know that this last one is not a Google product, but it’s such a common feature for businesses that we are going to include it in this list. Integrating Salesforce can help you better optimize your campaigns. By integrating the two, you can measure how your online ads drive offline conversions by importing sales funnel data from your Salesforce Sales Cloud accounts.

      Whether during the creation, management, reporting, or optimization of your campaigns, integrating Google with Zapier lets you connect Google Ads with thousands of the most popular apps in use today. You can check out the full list of these apps here.

      Tip #5: Don’t mix channels within a campaign

      Our advice on this matter is unequivocal — choose one channel per campaign. It is much better to have three separate campaigns, each using a different channel, than a single campaign using three separate channels. It’s worth repeating this verbatim, just to drive the point home: do not mix channels within a campaign.

      Why, you ask? Well, let’s think about the big picture for a minute.

      Remember that when you run a campaign, you want to have clear objectives with tailor-made conversions you are able to track as you go along. You cannot associate good results with a good process if the process itself is unclear. Mixing channels effectively muddies the waters and makes it hard, or even impossible, to isolate and track your results with any efficiency.

      It may be useful to think of this issue in terms of cooking.

      You won’t get the same results in the kitchen if you boil, fry, bake, broil or poach an egg. Each of these techniques will lead to different results and allow for the creation of different dishes. The same applies for the various ad channels available to you.

      Mixing channels within a campaign is a little like throwing everything available in your kitchen into a pot and boiling it at a random temperature for an unknown period of time. You can cook this way, of course, and you may even be pretty good at improvising, but it’s safe to say that applying even the most rudimentary method to your cooking experiments will go a long way toward improving your meal. If you have no control over any of the variables, you are likely to end up with a formless and distasteful sludge — much to the disappointment of any dinner guests misfortunate enough to be sitting at your table.

      To use a concrete example, let’s say that you are running a campaign that targets users using both Search and Display. If the campaign is doing well, you won’t know which of these channels is responsible for this success. The data is compromised from the get-go. The only way to maintain visibility is to separate both of these channels into their own campaigns. This will tell you exactly how much each one is spending, what’s the cost per conversion, and so on, thus allowing you to keep tabs on performance and properly optimize your campaign by allocating budget according to results.

      The granularity principle
      Sticking to one single channel per campaign is the most important factor with regards to structuring your account for complete control and visibility, but you can go further.

      There are many ways of reaching your audiences and finding success for your campaigns. If you have the time and resources to do so, there’s no reason you shouldn’t pursue all of these alternatives. The trick is to pursue them separately.

      Be meticulous and segment your campaigns as much as possible. This will allow you to track your progress and isolate the elements that work from those that need attention. By breaking down and honing in on the focus of your campaigns, you will increase your ability to optimize them as they evolve over time. How much you do so will depend on how much time and effort you want to put into your account design. We think of this as the granularity principle.

      The more granularity, the better.

      Here are some of the ways you can break your campaigns down to their core constitutive features:

      • Separate campaigns for Search / Display / YouTube
      • Separate campaigns for markets by geographical reach and language
      • Separate brand from non-brand content
      • Separate campaigns depending on objectives (awareness, traffic, conversions)
      • Separate according to sales funnel (TOFU, BOFU, MOFU)
      • Separate according to user behavior (prospect, remarketing, etc.)
      • Separate campaigns according to the control you need over budgets

      Our advice: define each campaign around at least the following elements: a single main objective, one language, a geographical focus, and a distinct ad channel.
      While it may seem at first like this represents more work, it will clean up your data, allow for better optimization, and the rewards will be worth it.

      Tip #6: Be smart about naming campaigns: use a convention

      Want to run anything more than a single campaign on a single channel? Developing a systematic naming convention, or nomenclature, is the best way to achieve order in your account.

      Not sure if your current naming system is good or not? Here is a quick two-step test you can run on your own. Ask yourself the following questions about the campaigns in your account:

      1. Do you know what’s inside a campaign before clicking on it?
      2. Would someone else know what’s inside your campaigns before clicking on them?

      Answering “Yes” to both of these questions means that, at a glance, you and your collaborators can tell exactly which channel, language, geographical focus, and objective the campaign is built around. If you answered “No” to either of these questions, then the way you are naming your campaigns is not up to snuff. Simply asserting that your campaign “is about teddy bears” or “selling tickets” is not good enough. If it isn’t already slowing you down, it is only a matter of time before it does so in the future.

      Think of it this way: you and your family are moving houses and you have packed up all your belongings into a mountain of small cardboard boxes. The movers arrive and whisk them all off to the new home but, as they begin to unload, they realize that none of the boxes are labelled. Somehow, you forgot to name the boxes or, just as bad, you labelled them in a way that makes no sense. Without opening the boxes, no one can tell what’s inside the boxes or where they are supposed to go. Eager to finish their day’s work, the movers shrug their shoulders and distribute them randomly throughout the house. It will take you days, if not weeks, to sort through all the boxes, and to think that all of this could have been avoided with a little due diligence as you were packing!

      This is exactly what it is like when you have an account full of randomly tagged campaigns. It works fine as long as you have everything in your head, but you are always at risk of losing track and finding yourself at a loss in a sea of inscrutable labels. And this is assuming that you’re on your own. What if the Google Ads account was to change hands? It is going to be very complicated for that person to take over and start optimizing your campaigns. If you work in a team, the likelihood of problems is even greater. It is going to be very difficult for your team members to know what’s inside the campaigns.

      Do yourself a favor and avoid the confusion and waste of resources with a little foresight. Put together a naming convention, or nomenclature. It doesn’t take much to set up, and it will save you countless hours and frustration down the line.

      A logical, functional naming convention will help you navigate your account with ease, even once you have begun to accumulate numerous campaigns that you are now also separating by channel. This will be key for effectively scaling and optimizing your operation.

      Here are a few DOs and DONTs of campaign naming, starting with some of the most common mistakes to avoid, followed by our best practice pro tips.


      • For each campaign, the labeling system you choose should provide all the essential indications of what’s inside, including all its constitutive features. If like us, you run complex campaigns in a variety of languages across multiple countries, then we suggest you include at least the following elements:
        • Language
        • Geographical focus
        • Channel
        • Objective
      • For example: “CH-FR Search Apartments For Rent” as a campaign name clearly states the following:
        • The geographical focus is Switzerland
        • The campaign is in French
        • The ad channel used is Google Search
        • The campaign is built around keywords that mention “apartments for rent”
      • If you manage a large portfolio of campaigns across multiple platforms other than Google Ads (such as Bing, Yahoo!, Yandex, Instagram, or LinkedIn), you might want to include the names of these platforms in the campaign labels. This will give you a leg up in your dashboard analytics and any future spreadsheet planning you might want to do. Following the same logic as above, your campaign names would then look like this:
        • “WW-EN Google Search Apartments For Rent”
        • “WW-EN Bing Search Apartments For Rent”
      • To optimize your efficiency, you might also consider using excel as a naming tool. Create a spreadsheet with all the required fields for naming your campaigns according to the logic of your choosing. Then, include a final column using the concatenate formula, and voilĂ . You can add thousands of campaigns that will be named automatically according to your specifications.


      • Don’t use Google’s default suggestion as your campaign title. We have seen so many “campaign 1” labels over the years that we’ve lost count. If you’re going to write useless and uninformative names on your campaigns, you may as well make them humorous, as in “mystery box” or “wouldn’t you like to know.”
      • Don’t use simplistic labels that give only partial information, even though these may seem logical to you. If you are advertising cat food or accountant services, for example, do not label your campaigns “cat food” or “accountant services.” This does not tell you what’s inside the campaign.
      • Don’t change your nomenclature logic along the way. Once you have a system, stick to it. If, for example, you are an equestrian shop selling gear across Europe, you don’t want to have to manually sort through hundreds of campaigns with mismatched labels like “ITA Gear Horse”, “DE-CH Rider Gear” or “Rider Equipment FRA”. You may not realise it at first, but this is a form of self-sabotage.
      Tip #6: Be smart about naming campaigns: use a convention

      You don’t need to follow the exact same syntax as the example above, but you should devise
      your own system based on your situation and needs. If this task is too much to handle, it might be worth finding someone who can do it for you.

      Chapter 3: Default Settings

      This chapter is intended as a warning: never blindly place your trust in Google’s default settings.

      The labels on these settings are just that — labels. What’s written on the tin is not always what’s going on inside. They are not user manuals and they can, at times, be misleading. Behind the words are sophisticated, and sometimes surprisingly unintuitive procedures and algorithms.

      Simply going with the default option because it’s there and it’s the easiest thing to do may end up costing you more than you bargained for. Make sure you take the time to investigate and understand what these settings do before you rely on them to power your campaign.

      Tip #7: Do not rely on Google’s default settings

      You may be thinking to yourself: Why not follow Google’s suggestions? Surely, Google knows its own platform better than anyone else, so why wouldn’t I allow myself to profit from this insider knowledge? Why would Google suggest certain settings or methods if they are not effective? If this is what you’re thinking, you are taking the wrong approach. The problem is not that Google’s default settings are useless, just that they have very specific functionalities that may not be appropriate for your own needs. Take the time to figure out how Google’s default settings function, and go from there. Make sure you understand the fine print and only make a decision on which one works best for your needs. There is nothing inherently bad about any of Google’s default settings. They just tend to be very specific in their application. If you are going to use them, you should treat them like any other setting and have a good reason to do so. Here are some of the usual suspects you should get familiar with among your default settings:
      • Last click Strangely enough, Google does not recommend that you use its default attribution model, last click. For more on how to choose attribution models, see Tip #8.
      • Location targeting Google’s default geographical targeting option holds a few surprises and is misleadingly broad in its application. For more on location targeting, see Tip #9.
      • Include search partners This setting allows you to extend your reach for Search ads and listings impressions on non-Google websites. We generally recommend avoiding this setting, however, because performance on partner sites tends not to be as good as on Google. It may work for certain objectives, but you should do regular tests and monitor closely to avoid throwing good money away.
      • Frequency capping This setting is easy to overlook. It allows you to regulate the number of impressions your ads or videos will show to a single user in a chosen period of time. If you don’t add a limit value, your content might be displayed an infinite number of times. How do you feel when you’re shown the same ads twenty times in a row? This may well work against the interest of your campaign, or even your brand. It’s best to cap your ads. We recommend setting it to 5 impressions per user per campaign per day as a starting point.
      • Targeting expansion Enabling any of the values in this setting will allow Google to expand your audience and look for what it considers to be high-value traffic. By default, targeting expansion is ON, but we recommend that you turn it OFF. If you have taken the time to properly structure your campaigns, ad groups, and keywords, then you don’t want Google’s algorithms bypassing your carefully-constructed system and siphoning off impressions from the appropriate funnel. (NB: you can change this setting at ad group level).

      Tip #8: Customize your attribution model

      An attribution model is a method for attributing credit to one or several of the various stages of your customers’ conversion journeys.

      The setting you choose for your campaign will influence the story that is told about your conversions, and can thus have an influence on where you decide to focus your energy and ad spend. Thus, taking the time to properly think through your strategy and choose the appropriate attribution model is likely to pay off.

      Consider the following customer journey:
      Summertime has arrived, the weather is nice and warm, and you decide you want to buy a new green dress. You will eventually order a dress online, but between the idea and the act, there are a number of stages you go through.

      Stage one:
      You go online, type “green dress”, and scroll through a number of ads for websites that you don’t know. You click on an ad displaying attractive summer wear and begin to rifle through their collection, looking for one that catches your eye. After some browsing, you find a model that you like, but are interrupted in the process. Maybe your boss walks into your office, maybe your child gets home from school, maybe the phone rings, whatever. You close the browser because you have things to do, and for the time being you forget about it.

      Stage two:
      The next day, you have some more time and decide to go back to look at that same dress. You type in “green dress size M” and scroll through the results until you make it back to the same page as the day before. Your original intuition is confirmed — you like the dress. This time, you begin to seriously consider ordering it for yourself. Once again, however, you are interrupted and you close the page.

      Stages three, four, five, six, seven and eight:
      You really like the dress, but you decide that it’s worth shopping around. Also, it seems a little expensive. You weigh the pros and cons, maybe ask for a friend’s opinion, and think about it off and on as you go about your normal routine. You return three or four times to look at the dress, and then the page just becomes a tab among a sea of tabs in your browser. You forget about it. Several days later, you close the browser window which is overwhelmed with tabs. Tabula rasa.

      Then, some other stuff happens that is clearly more important than shopping.

      Stage nine:
      It’s been about two weeks since this all started, and a week since you last thought about it. You dug out an old dress from a box in the attic over the weekend. Not bad. Sunday at the beach was lovely too.
      One day, as you are answering emails, you are targeted with a remarketing campaign. This re-triggers your desire for a new dress. Nothing wrong with a little extravagance. You remember that one green dress that originally caught your eye and, so, you type “thatdresscompany green dress size M” straight into your address bar. A sponsored link sends you straight to the brand’s website and the desired page. This time, you commit to your purchase and order the dress. Small endorphin rush as you get an email confirming the item will be dispatched within 24 hours.

      From an advertiser’s perspective, what is the relevancy of each of these visits? Which stage should get credit for the sales? Is the first click the most important (green dress)? Should this first stage take all the credit? Or the last click (thatdresscompany green dress size M)? And how important were the middle clicks (green dress size M, plus all the other shopping around)? Is there an efficient and representative way of accurately attributing credit for this conversion? Maybe the credit should be split equally between all stages…?

      The average customer journey is usually at least this complicated, and this is a generic dilemma for marketers trying to nail their attribution model decision-making.

      A few PROS (+) and CONS (—) of Google’s attribution models.
      In order to make an informed decision, you should consider their function and weigh the value that they will bring to your campaign.

      LAST CLICK (default)

      This is Google’s default setting, and the paradox is that Google itself advises you not to use it. Last click ignores all stages except the final one that leads to a conversion. In our example, this would mean discounting the initial discovery stage (keyword: “green dress”), all the intermediary steps, and giving entire credit to the ad clicked at stage nine and its associated keywords (“thatdresscompany”).

      • Good for short, simple sales funnels or if you only care about the final step.
      • Good for fast-moving consumer goods
      • Doesn’t take into account the full customer journey.
      • Produces skewed data and an incomplete picture of campaign effectiveness.
      • Generic keywords will never have a chance in your campaigns, unless your brand alone is enough to prompt a click.


      This model is equally myopic in that it fails to take into account any stages after the first interaction. All focus is on the first interaction. In our example, this would mean that the stage one “green dress” ad would get all the credit for the conversion, regardless of stages two through nine.

      • Can be useful if your campaign objective is simply to generate traffic or raise awareness, since all you want to do is get eyes on your brand.
      • Doesn’t take into account the full customer journey.
      • Produces skewed data and an incomplete picture of campaign effectiveness.


      This model distributes credit to all stages of the customer journey equally, meaning every interaction gets the same percentage. In our example, this would mean that each of the nine stages would get about 11.11% of the credit for the conversion.

      • Every click counts.
      • Good for complex campaigns with multi-phase strategies.
      • Provides a full picture of the customer journey.
      • All clicks have the same weight whatever campaign they belong to, even if these campaigns do not have the same objective.


      This model attributes credit based on a weighted system: the closer to the conversion, the more credit for the ad interaction. In our example, stage nine would get the most credit, stage one would get the least, and the rest would be distributed among the other eight stages according to how far back they were.

      • Provides a full picture of the customer journey, albeit a highly subjective one.
      • Can be useful for businesses with long sales funnels where each step increases the chance of conversion (i.e.: financial services).
      • Useless if your sales process is a fast one.
      • Ignores the “messiness” of the middle stages in the sales funnel.


      This model distributes credit according to the following principle: 40% to first click, 40% to last click, and the remaining 20% to all intermediary stages. The first contact and closing stage of the customer journey get a majority of the credit. In our example, stages one and nine would therefore get the bulk of the credit.

      • Provides a full picture of the customer journey with a focus on awareness and last click.
      • Intermediary stages hold little weight.
      • Weight is subjective. Customer journey is complex and it’s difficult to say that clicks in the middle were not more decisive than the last touch point.


      The latest addition to this list and powered by advanced machine learning, this is the holy grail of Google’s attribution models, but it is not a solution available to everyone. If this option is available to you, we recommend that you use it.

      Google rarely discloses how their esoteric algorithms actually work, but we do know that they compare the paths of customers who convert to the paths of customers who do not. They then identify patterns that serve to calculate conversion probabilities and attribute credit to the ad interactions most valuable to the customer journeys.

      • Highly powerful and fully automated.
      • Attributes fractional credit across all ad interactions in the customer journey.
      • Provides a full picture that is adjusted and improved over time as available data increases.
      • Requires a lot of data to function.
      • Only available as an option for high traffic accounts with large volumes of conversions. (Google’s official requirements are 3’000 ad clicks on Search and 300 conversions over a thirty-day period.)
      • Works as a black box. How campaigns are credited exactly is difficult to know.

      Our advice:

      1. Avoid first and last click attribution models because they do not attribute enough importance to the entire funnel.
      2. Our default suggestion tends to be linear attribution, a very functional model that recognises the entire customer journey and allows you to objectively optimize your campaigns.
      3. If you have enough data, we strongly recommend using data-driven attribution even if it is a black box.
      4. For further optimization, we recommend using the same model for all campaigns within a single account. This way, you can compare campaigns with each other. To do this, use an attribution model that takes into account the entire customer journey (preferably linear or data-driven, but potentially also position-based or time decay depending on your business profile).

      TIP #9: Location targeting is not location targeting

      The default location targeting option in Google Ads is perhaps the most flagrant example on the list of misleading labels. Unless you read it carefully, you may not notice that it encompasses more than you expect. This is an issue that can, and in our experience regularly does, have hidden surprises for campaigns.

      To illustrate, consider the following scenario that we witnessed with one of our clients. They had decided to launch their own display campaign promoting one of their flagship food products. Unfortunately, they didn’t pay attention to the fine print on the default location setting and, during the first week after launching the campaign, they spent over 40% of their budget in countries where they don’t even market the product! The campaign was saddled with a very poor CTR and an unsustainably high CPC. We rectified the location targeting setting and one week later our CTR had improved by 485% and our CPC had decreased by 65%.

      The bottom line here is: don’t spend one-third of your budget in countries you don’t care about!

      1. Google’s default option: Presence or Interest
      Reach people in, regularly in, or who’ve shown interest in, your targeted locations (Presence or Interest).

      To be fair to Google, it’s all there in the title. But you would be excused for not noticing because, as labels go, this is a long one. If you are running a tight budget, we recommend that you do not use this setting.

      Google’s default and recommended location setting is a strange one. It operates from the premise that when you target a location, you are not just targeting the actual geographical location, but users anywhere in the world that have shown an interest in this location. Presence OR Interest.

      Seems counter-intuitive, right? We agree.

      This means, for example, that if you are advertising real estate in Hong Kong and simply choose “Hong Kong” as your target location, then by default you are also potentially showing your ads to anyone that shows an interest in Hong Kong, whether they live in Moscow, Los Angeles, or Cape Town.

      If you are unwittingly targeting users worldwide with an interest in the locations of your choice, this leads to a great deal of wasted ad spend. In our experience, accounts built around campaigns with a strong geographical component have a tendency to spend somewhere between 10% and 35% of their ad budgets in locations outside of their focus.

      If you are targeting Australia with presence or interest...

      2. Our recommended option: Presence
      Reach people in or regularly in your targeted locations (Presence)

      Google’s second option gets rid of the problem altogether by restricting targeting to users in the geographical location itself.

      No more overstretching your geographical targeting and wasting your budget. Reach users that have a physical presence in the location of your choice — no more, no less.

      We recommend using this setting.

      If you are targeting Australia with presence...

      3. Third option: Search Interest
      Reach people searching for your targeted locations (Search interest)

      The third available option targets only based on interest in a location, regardless of users’ physical presence. This may be attractive to some advertisers in specific situations, but we do not recommend this setting.

      If you are targeting people searching for Australia...

      FYI: Country Specific Surcharges
      You may be interested to know that as of recently, Google has implemented surcharges for ads being shown in certain European countries. When targeting locations such as the U.K., Austria, Turkey, France, or Spain, a digital tax will apply whether you target the
      location itself or those demonstrating an interest in that location. This hidden cost is not itemized in the portal overview.
      You can find out more information here.

      Chapter 4: Keywords

      There was a time when keyword sculpting was a thing. You would have to creatively imagine how users would misspell words. Someone searching for “red wain” would not find your new Cabernet Sauvignon ads.

      Today, Google’s algorithms are capable of understanding user intent and are relying less on semantics and grammar. Things have changed and the algorithms will happily, and very effectively, approximate spellings, meaning that as a general rule you don’t need to spell something correctly in order to get the results you are looking for.

      All of these changes make sense, and they offer great functionality for users and advertisers alike. Nonetheless, they are disruptive to current practices and mean you need to adapt your keyword strategies accordingly.

      For advertisers, these changes are analogous to a racing organisation announcing that the racetrack’s asphalt would be replaced by a mud and gravel road (or vice versa). It means changing the vehicles we drive, as well as the way we drive them. Failing to do so would lead to less efficiency, more fuel consumption, a decrease in our chances of winning any races, and an increase in the probability of accidents. The only choice we have is to develop new tires for the new road, and change our driving style.

      Your keywords are at the very heart of your campaigns, they are the common denominator between you, your offer, your customers and the very architecture of your account. They can also be a source of confusion and a real handful to manage if you’re not careful.

      Words have a tendency to beget even more words and, if you don’t have a system, pretty soon you’re sitting on top of an account full of campaigns and ad groups that are bursting at the seams with all sorts of verbiage — little more than the accumulation of your brainstorming sessions.

      It’s time to put an end to that. This chapter addresses five of the biggest issues that are likely crippling your keyword strategy

      Tip #10: Focus ad groups around a single root

      There are different opinions on this matter and even Google in its FAQ advises beginners to use multiple keywords per ad group. That said, our best practice advice is unequivocal: do not mix keywords within an ad group.
      Too often, we see accounts where the ad groups have turned into keyword jungles that are impossible to navigate because the owners have dumped all their ideas in without a thought for structure. We have seen so many ad groups brimming with parasitic keywords – it hurts just to think about it.

      one ad group = one root keyword

      Our rule for keeping your ad groups focused and effective is simple:

      one ad group = one root keyword

      Building each ad group exclusively around a single root is a simple principle, but don’t underestimate what it can do for you. It provides you with at least the following advantages:
      1. It gives you more tracking options and therefore much greater control over performance.
      2. It makes it very easy for you to manage large numbers of ad groups for as many products or services as required.
      3. It gives you control. For example, if you are an ecommerce company and you have created one ad group per product, you can easily pause an ad group if you are out of stock and enable it as soon as you have stock again.
      4. It gives you the ability to easily interpret your Quality Score (QS) at the ad group level. For example, if you have keywords “shorts” and “shoes” in the same ad group you will have to analyze each keyword individually to understand why your QS is low, whereas with single keywords you know immediately where the problem is coming from.
      5. It gives you the ability to channel Google’s keyword recommendations, since it will be immediately apparent whether these suggestions fit into your strategy, or whether you should create a new ad group to house them.
      As a general rule of thumb, you should create as many ad groups as you have pages or product categories on your website. This might mean a single ad group for each item in your selection and an overall structure within the campaign that mirrors your website structure. So if you sell clothing, for example, you would create at least one ad group for socks, another for pants, another for T-shirts, and so on through your catalogue. Note that if any of your keywords have prominent synonyms, you should treat these as separate entities and create their own ad groups. If you sell car insurance, for example, you might create separate ad groups for the same offer around the following keywords: car insurance, auto insurance, vehicle insurance, and so on. Then, in each of the respective ad groups, use negative keywords to exclude the other synonyms. Statistically, this will pay off. (For more on exclusions, see Tip #13, and for more on close variants, see Tip #15). If your website has a narrow structure with multiple products or services per page, however, then this rule doesn’t apply. You will have the same URL for different ad groups and, logically, more ad groups than pages. In this case, you should still use separate ad groups for the different items on your website, as this will allow for greater control and maximise your ability to optimize campaign performance. In addition, we recommend that you always research your keywords to make sure you understand the ad space you are entering. This might mean undertaking the following actions:
      • Seeking to understand how people search for similar products. For more on search queries, see Tip #14.
      • Looking for semantic competition to exclude, whether these be actors in your field or simply popular matching keywords that generate substantial interest online. For more on negative keywords, see Tip #13.
      • Making sure that your ad groups are not affected by close variants of your keywords (i.e., keywords that Google judges semantically close enough to warrant impressions, even though they do not match your own). For more on close variants, see Tip #15.
      Focus ad groups around a single root

      Tip #11: Develop extensive keyword combinations

      The key to good keyword planning, if you’ll excuse the pun, is combining the simplicity of a focused root with an expansive list of creative variations of prefixes and suffixes.

      Keyword combination = prefix + root keyword + suffix

      To illustrate, here is an example of what a typical keyword combination for a retail campaign might look like:

      “buy shoes near me”

      In this example, “buy” is the prefix, “shoes” is the root keyword, and “near me” is the suffix. This keyword combination will be located in an ad group built around the root “shoes”, and one of many in a list that should reflect all the many different wordings your potential clients are likely to use when searching for items that correspond to your offer – in this case, shoes.

      While you want to keep each ad group focused and on topic (using a single root keyword), you want to cover that precise topic as broadly as possible. You can do this by compiling large numbers of keyword combinations using a variety of prefixes and suffixes carefully chosen to give context to your root keyword.

      Create your own custom lists, make them as creative as you can, draw inspiration from what others have done, get inspired and try out new things.

      Think of this process as an opportunity to hone in your targeting. The keyword combinations you create will go deeper than the root keyword itself, and allow you to focus your ad spend on the impressions that have the most impact over time. In this example, simply having the root keyword “shoes” might get you impressions for search queries specifying “buy shoes near me,” but you will not get the same credit from Google for this as you do when you specify this combination. Narrowing your target will also improve your Quality Score, and this will have a positive effect on your CPC. For more on the topic of Quality Scores, see Tip #12.

      Develop extensive keyword combinations

      Keyword tools
      You can compile your lists of keyword combinations by hand, of course, but if you want to save yourself enormous amounts of time, we recommend that you make use of professional tools that can do the job for you. Or, if you’re handy in that department, you could also create
      your own automated system on a spreadsheet. This is what we do and our template helps us to create thousands of keyword combinations at a click, combining prefixes, roots, and suffixes according to our specifications.
      If you’re in the market for a keyword tool, you should know that there are two categories of tools that will help you compile your lists of keyword combinations. The first are the tools that will help you research keywords and trends, and the second are the tools that help you create and/or combine your root, prefixes, and suffixes.

      Tools to research trends
      These tools will allow you to get a feel for the questions people are asking and the ways they are asking them.

      Tools to research keywords
      These tools focus on keywords and will allow you to find common search queries and word associations.

      • Google’s Keyword Planner
      • Google’s auto suggest
      • Keyword Tool

      Tools to create keyword combinations
      These tools will allow you to generate combinations automatically and to specification. A simple Google search will give you several options. Kombinator is one that we’ve tested and are satisfied with:

      TIP #12: The higher your Quality Score, the less you pay

      Once you’ve set up your ad groups with their respective keywords, you will be able to monitor and optimize performance. One of the major tools at your disposal for this purpose is your Quality Score (QS).

      Your QS is Google’s evaluation of your keywords, ads, and landing page experiences. On a scale of 1 to 10, you want it to be as high as possible.

      Keeping track of your QS will give you some direction as to where you should be making changes to improve performance. The higher your QS, the less you will pay for each click.

      Why? Well, your QS has a direct relevance on your Ad Rank which, in turn, defines your ad positioning and how much each click on one of your ads will cost. And, for once, the math behind this is as simple as they come. Your QS is simply multiplied by your CPC max to determine your Ad Rank, as follows:

      Ad Rank = CPC max x Quality Score

      Now that you know the calculation Google is making, you can play around with the numbers and improve the positioning of your ads by optimizing your QS and your CPC.

      Ad Rank = CPC max x Quality Score

      As this table illustrates, you can achieve top positions without having to pay the most for your ads but you need a good QS to do so.

      Taking action to boost your Quality Score
      There are three factors that will determine your QS:

      1. Ad relevance
      2. Expected CTR
      3. Landing page experience.

      Among the many variables contributing to these factors are:

      • Relevance and coherence of keywords, ad copy, landing pages, and ad extensions
      • Click-through rate (CTR)
      • Account performance
      • Historical keyword performance
      • Performance according to location targeting

      The Google Ads console itself only provides QS data at the keyword level. If you want to accurately estimate your QS at the ad group or campaign level, you will have to use tools that allow you to aggregate keyword performances and run the calculations with that data. We recommend using such tools if you run multiple campaigns, as this will be a time saver. Unfortunately, Google does not provide such tools, so you will have to find them elsewhere and they do not come free. There are a number of options available, such as Optmyzr or Adalysis, but we don’t play favorites.

      That said, even if you don’t have access to these tools, here is a simple step-by-step method that you can follow to try and evaluate and optimize your QS:

      1. Select your campaign that spends the most.
      2. Inside this campaign, select the ad group that spends the most.
      3. Sort the keywords by descending impressions.
      4. Have a look at the keywords that spend the most.
      5. What are the QS for these keywords?
        • If the QS is high, that’s great. Keep up the good work.
        • If the QS is low, evaluate these keywords according to the following questions:
      6. Find the cause of the low QS. Google makes this information available at the keyword level. Is this due to…
        • Ad relevance?
          This means that your keywords and ad copy are inconsistent. You will need to see if you can better match keywords across your ads (especially the title) and in the text of your Landing Page.
        • Expected CTR?
          This means that users aren’t clicking as much as expected. You should start by reviewing your ad copy, which may not be effective enough. Does the ad relate to the search terms people are typing in? Are you getting across? Then, ask yourself whether your CTA (call to action) is strong enough and, if not, strengthen it. Make it count.
        • Landing Page experience?
          Google estimates that the landing page is not as relevant to users as it could be. Is your Landing Page a mirror of your ad? It should be. If it is, and Google still thinks it’s a problem, then you should look into the structure and UX of your website, which may not be up to snuff.

      Your keywords truly are the lifeblood of your account and what holds all the other components together. You want to maintain a good Quality Score, as this will significantly bolster your performance in the long run. To do this, you should think in terms of optimizing the three main QS factors (ad relevance, CTR, and Landing Page experience), but you should also pay attention to the other variables that can influence it, such as using negative keywords and monitoring close variants to focus your ad groups and sharpen your targeting. But more on those topics in the following tips.

      TIP #13: Use negative keywords to avoid wasted impressions

      They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In the case of homonym keywords siphoning off your impressions, this trash may also be depleting your treasury. Be warned.

      New businesses, products, services, and items of all sorts are being launched around the globe on a daily basis. Online marketing is like a semantic mirror of this world of activity in constant flux. Assuming this is not already the case, there is a significant chance one of these items is, whether organically or by design, impinging upon your ad campaigns and siphoning off your ad spend.

      Do your research and get to know the competition.
      With regards to negative keywords, the real issue at stake is managing semantic overlap. You do not want your ad to attract users searching for items that have nothing in common with your offer besides the name. This will only lead to undesired impressions, dead-end clicks, and wasted ad spend.

      To use a fictitious example, let’s say that you manufacture, sell, and install custom-made doors. In order to optimize your ad campaign, you will have to face the task of excluding all interest in the famous rock band. (And good luck with that!)

      It is key to understand that the semantic competition may not be in the same business, it may not be in the same language, and it may not even be commercial in nature. If you fail to integrate this modest insight, then Google is going to waste you a lot of money.

      Find creative ways to exclude competing homonyms.
      Since the homonyms you are trying to exclude are, as the term implies, the same keywords that you use in your campaigns, you will have to find creative ways of excluding the undesired search queries.

      This is where the research into semantic competition pays off. Use the knowledge you’ve gained and exclude the most prevalent associated keywords with your competing homonyms. Address each case individually and create custom exclusion lists of closely-associated keywords.

      To illustrate, we work with a company called “Elite” that sells high-end mattresses around the world. During our collaboration, Netflix released a show with the same name that started to have a measurable effect upon our hitherto smooth-running campaigns. To counteract this situation, we built an exclusion list that included related keywords such as TV show, season, Netflix, all the lead actor names, and so on, you get the idea. This corrected the slump in performance and put our campaigns back on track again.

      Use exclusions to focus your campaign.
      Don’t be shy about excluding keywords that might overlap with your focused keyword strategy. Negative keywords at ad group or campaign level are an important tool to help meet your objectives and reduce waste. It used to be that this was important. Now, because of close variant matching, it is essential. For more on close variants, see Tip #15.

      Keep your negative keywords organized.
      Never underestimate the disruptive potential of quantity. Make lists of your negative keywords and keep them organized. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed because you didn’t keep track of your exclusions.

      This will be useful in a number of situations, particularly if you want to use them across multiple campaigns or accounts. Creating a negative keyword list means centralizing your exclusions once and for all. It means that you will no longer have to spend any time adding countless negative keywords every time you work on a new campaign or account.

      We recommend implementing a script to do this, and organizing your exclusions thematically. Google sheets is one way to do it and it will give you some useful functionality, allowing you to choose which account to link your lists to. And when you want to update these lists, you will add your keywords to a single location and it will automatically be applied to all campaigns of your choosing.

      Don’t overuse exclusions.
      Using exclusions is an important tool in your kit, but you can have too much of a good thing. Keep it focused, and don’t let your exclusion strategy get too complicated.

      First of all, you don’t want to spend too much of your time thinking about what not to focus on. Secondly, if you overdo your exclusions, you risk seriously reducing your chances of getting enough impressions.

      Think of it this way: you’re a business that needs a shopfront and so you find a location that you think is appropriate and sign a lease on a shop. The budget you waste looking for conversions is not unlike paying rent for this shop. Not everyone is going to walk into your store, but some people are. You’re investing in the chance to get the attention of those walking by. If you stop paying rent altogether, no one is going to come into your shop. At the end of the day, it’s a necessary investment.

      TIP #14: Build your keyword strategy with search queries

      Too often, actual search queries, or search terms, are not leveraged as they should be to build a keyword strategy.

      When you are optimizing an account, the true insights are not in the metrics. It’s not because you spot a bad CTR or a low CPC that you will know how to optimize your campaigns. You need to make sure that your strategy, the way you structure your ad groups and keywords, is reflected in the reality on the ground — your search queries.

      Keeping tabs on queries gives you access to a unique, raw-data window into the mind of the users who have — or should have — eyes on your ads. It is one of the best sources of data with which to optimize your keyword strategy.

      How do people look for your product or service? What keywords or combinations do they use? What are the qualifiers? Do users find your ads on purpose or by accident? Are you reaching the right audiences? These questions and more should be going through your mind as you sift through the queries.

      Extracting the right information from this data is like mining for gold. It used to be that we had access to the entire history of search queries, but in the last year Google has removed most of them for, ahem, UX reasons and we are left with only about one-third of the data. So be it. This makes the job more difficult, but it does remain a necessary step.

      Trying to sort manually through all the search terms, however, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Bear in mind that you need to sift through the metadata associated with these queries too. For efficiency’s sake, you need a system, or, better yet, a machine to do it for you.

      Luckily, there are many scripts or software to help you extract information and creatively manipulate the data. We use a proprietary tool and a number of data analysis techniques.

      One of the techniques we are fond of is n-gram analysis, which allows us to aggregate the performances of specific keywords and determine which search queries we should add and which we should terminate. To illustrate, let’s say that we have 1’000 search queries containing the term “bottle.” An n-gram analysis will extract n-grams from all available search terms, then aggregate all of their individual performances and immediately tell us whether the term “bottle” is valuable or not. Looking at all the search terms that contain the keyword “bottle” might tell us, for example, that the search term “aluminium bottle” is particularly valuable, whereas “plastic bottle” is not that valuable.

      For more on how to use n-grams, you can read this article we wrote about it here.

      We use a number of custom-made tools that help us work with the keywords, including:

      • An n-gram extractor
        This tool allows us to quickly spot n-grams that cost us a lot of money and generate little value (these ought to be excluded). It also allows us to isolate those n-grams that may cost a lot of money but are also extremely relevant (these ought to be included in campaigns). Note: N-grams are aggregated at the account, campaign, and ad group level.
      • A search integrator
        This script provides daily suggestions of search terms that are performing well. A nice feature is that we can define what we want to see in a “good performance” and thereby customize the suggestions. For example, we might set it so that we want to see only search terms with 10+ impressions, 3+ conversions, and a ROAS more than 2. Then, with just a couple of clicks we can add as many keywords as we want.
      • A search terminator
        This script does exactly the opposite of the search integrator. Instead of showing us good search terms, it shows us bad search terms and lets us choose if we want to add them as negative keywords and exclude them from our ad groups.

      Finally, you can also use Google’s close variants matching for new keyword ideas. This relatively new feature enables closely related keywords to trigger your ads. The fact that search terms have this broader reach by association provides opportunities for you to get inspired and find new ways of reaching your audiences. Incidentally, this also allows you to get a much better idea of what’s going on in your market. For example, if your keyword is “portfolio tracking”, keywords such as “portfolio monitoring” or “portfolio auditing” might also trigger your ads. Note that close variants can also create problems, however. But more on close variants in the next tip.

      Whatever tools, tricks, or data-analysis techniques you use, keeping tabs on the search queries in your market is an essential step toward understanding how to build your strategy and deciding which terms should become keywords, and which ones should be excluded.

      TIP #15: Monitor close variants for your keywords

      Close variants are the new normal in keyword match type and, as Google so eloquently puts it, “there is no way to opt-out.” This has been a recurrent theme throughout this chapter, and with good reason. It has become essential to monitor close variants.

      The new close variant matching means that keywords will trigger search terms that don’t quite match, but are nevertheless judged to be “close” enough. Google takes into account words with closely related syntax, words in the wrong order, words that might be implied, synonyms and paraphrases, and is generally preoccupied with the question of intent.

      As we have seen, the more precise and exclusive you make your campaign, the better. Close variants throw a wrench into the works because, by broadening a keyword’s reach, they are designed to do the exact opposite.

      On the one hand, close variants provide an opportunity that speaks for itself: the semantic blinders are off and all search terms suddenly benefit from a broader reach. This is very good when you want to get more eyes on your ads.

      On the other hand, the amount of ad spend currently being lost to close variant matching is astounding. This is bad news for your budget. If what you need is the right eyes on your ads, rather than just any eyes and more of them, then your close variant matches might be working against you.

      To illustrate, let’s say you’re an import-export company specializing in alcohol. Your ads are out there to find new customers and the keywords for one of your ad groups is “ship alcohol” (with keyword combinations such as “companies that ship alcohol”). Close variant matching means that queries like “drink order online” or “get liquor delivered” will be able to trigger your ads. You do country to country, not door to door, and these clicks are going to be a complete waste of your budget.

      Tip #15: Monitor close variants for your keywords

      In addition to siphoning off ad spend, there is a second danger to letting Google’s algorithms waste impressions on prominent synonyms: your Quality Score (QS) will suffer as a result. It is paradoxical, but Google will show your ads to queries containing close match keywords you haven’t specified and then penalise you for not specifying these keywords. Yes, it’s absurd, but that’s what happens.

      To illustrate, we recently ran a campaign for a client who sold, among other things, a selection of bicycles. Our ads were well constructed, optimized, and we saw good results across the board. After some time though, we noticed that our QS for the bicycle ads was an unusually low 3.8 out of 10. Some digging around told us that Google had been displaying our ads to users searching for “bikes” which, of course, is a perfect synonym for bicycle. The algorithms, however, had also been penalising us for not including “bikes” as a root keyword in our ads, hence the disappointing QS. For more detail on this particular case, you can read the full story here.

      Luckily though, there is a fix. And this is where the monitoring comes in. You need to be attentive to search terms and how these are matched to your keywords. All that is needed to stop this waste of valuable funds is a few negative keywords, but you need to know which keywords to exclude.

      There is something Sisyphean about the task of monitoring your keywords. But despite the daunting nature of monitoring what search queries are triggering your keywords, this work will pay off. The first outcome is that you will get your exclusions. The second is that, by providing the opportunity to research new roots, suffixes, and prefixes, you will improve your targeting precision, your QS, and therefore your ROAS.

      Chapter 5: Ad Copy

      Good writing is a good place to start for good ad copy. Without it, you’re in trouble and probably won’t get very far. That said, the art of writing good ad copy is about more than just the gift of gab or a virtuosic use of adjectives.

      In an ideal world, everyone reads your words with consummate interest and your perfectly crafted pitch is received exactly the way you intended it. In the real world, that’s not how this works. Many if not most of your readers are likely to be distracted, disinterested, doubtful, or dismissive. Your audience will often be in the middle of something else when your ads appear, and even if they are looking for what you have to offer, they will likely need some convincing before clicking, let alone converting.

      Your job as an advertiser is not only to put the right ad in front of the right person at the right time, although that is a big part of it; you also need to find the right words associated with the right emotions, and deliver them in the right way. You need to know when to put pressure, when to offer help or a suggestion, when to be explicit and straightforward, and when to rely on mystery. You want, in turn and when appropriate, to be forward enough to make an impression, substantive enough to generate interest, flashy enough to arrest attention, and enticing enough to trigger curiosity.

      Once again though, it’s not all about the adjectives. It’s about understanding your audiences, and the people within them. If you really want to be successful with your advertising, take an interest in human psychology — pay attention to how people think and how this affects what they do and desire.

      It’s also about making good use of the resources and tools at your disposal, whether in and out of Google Ads. From the research happening in neuromarketing, a field that has emerged out of decades of studying human psychology and behavior, to the multitude of settings you can play with when building your campaign strategy, there are many things you can do to put the chances on your side and really send your message home with your audiences.

      Several years ago, we received a mandate for a European contact lens company. We launched their Google Ads campaign in seventeen countries. In its initial stages, we had trouble getting the campaign off the ground. This was very puzzling because the product itself was unrivaled at the time, and the offer was excellent. We were selling a progressive contact lens for presbyopia, the first of its kind, and customers could try it for a month free of charge. Yet, for some reason, no one was interested. The campaign wasn’t working. We were horrified, but convinced something was awry on the advertising end. What was missing? What were we doing wrong? We checked and double-checked all the parameters, and it took a good deal of investigation and A/B testing to finally crack the enigma.

      What we found was remarkable. The problem, it turned out, was that our ads did not include any numbers. Simple as that. All the competitors, despite their inferior products, were either giving prices or percentages. As soon as we adapted our ad copy to include numbers and percentages, the CTR immediately began to rise. Where previously our headline had read “try us for free,” it now reads “try us for 100% free,” and this was the winning formula. The contrast was incredible. The campaign took off and sales skyrocketed. It was both a roaring success and a valuable lesson. Sometimes your success hinges on little more than a handful of symbols.

      Tip #16: Strengthen your copy with neuromarketing

      To get the most out of your ads, you must understand the art of navigating psychological bias. You want your audience to be moved by your words and you need their attention for this to happen.

      Your words are your calling card and a window into your world. Not only do they set the tone, they are intimately responsible for the impressions your ads will make, pun intended. The way you write, present, and position your ads has a big impact on the way they are received. There are a number of measurable elements that come into play, such as clarity of message and purpose, perceived value, presence (or absence) of an appealing call to action, good understanding of user intent, and so on.

      Over recent years, there has been a growing interest in what is loosely referred to as neuromarketing. Drawing from research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, business, and marketing, this refers to the interest in understanding and acting upon the motivations, behaviors, and decision-making processes of consumers. Beyond that, there is a strong focus on neurobiology and the idea that there are physiological processes at work that fall outside the control of consciousness.

      As consumers, we tend to believe in our own faculties of unbiased, rational decision-making. This could not be further from the truth. In reality, we are highly likely to act impulsively, and prone to making decisions based on our emotional state and intuition. Whether we like it or not, this makes us highly subject to influence. The information we are exposed to changes the way we think. Reason is part of the picture, but it is also highly subjective. Good ad copy builds on this understanding.

      Here are a few concepts (among many) from neuromarketing that we put to use on a regular basis:

      • Visual Cues
        As there are many ads on any search results page, it is important to use visual cues to attract users’ attention. One example implicated in the case study already mentioned above would be to include numbers in ads. Instead of writing “Free Shipping” you could write “100% Free Shipping”.
      Cat food ad
      • Shallow Processing vs. Deep Processing
        On Search results, it is good to capitalize the first letter of each word, prepositions and stop words excluded. Consider, for example, the impact of the following two examples:

      “discover our new products now”
      “Discover Our New Products Now!”

      The second version forces us to read, and pay attention to, each word, which also means that we process the content of the ad more deeply, leading to a better memory trace of the content itself.

      Shallow Processing vs. Deep Processing
      • Social Proof
        People have a tendency to copy behaviors of others, and this also extends to trust placed in products or services that other people appear to place their trust in. Getting your customers to review your products or services is a good idea, as you will then be able to use these reviews to your advantage. You could, for example, include a review of your product in one of your sitelink extensions. This would give a very prominent position to your review.
      Social Proof
      • The Rule of Seven
        Originally dubbed the rule of six, this is one of the oldest marketing concepts in the book and much older than neuromarketing itself. It suggests that a prospect needs to see or hear your offer at least seven times before they take action to buy from you. A 19th century newspaper in Augusta Georgia called the Weekly Constitutionalist wrote about it in 1859, saying:

        The first time a man sees an advertisement, he takes no notice of it; the second time he looks at the name; the third time he looks at the price; the fourth time he reads it; the fifth time he speaks of it to his wife; the sixth time he buys.

        The insight of this principle which has, admittedly, been used and abused over the years, is that repetition and consistency are key to getting people to pay attention to what you have to offer.

      Know when you are using clichés
      While it is important to make use of insights from neuromarketing, you should also be aware that the entire industry of online marketers is essentially doing the same thing. So, when you prepare your pitch and roll out your call-to-action, you might want to think twice before using the same go-to strategies that have been overused by advertisers for years already. It’s not that they don’t work, but you want to make sure you are using them with tact. Stand out from the crowd. Don’t hesitate to put your own spin on things. Here are just two examples of concepts that you will run into everywhere:

      • Time pressure (as in: “buy now for a limited time”)
      • Illusion of scarcity (“only a handful of _____ left, grab them before they’re gone”)

      Ad copy and landing pages should reflect keywords
      Remember to make sure your ad copy matches your keywords, especially when it comes to your first headline. Google automatically puts in bold any search queries that appear in an ad as this will increase visibility and likelihood of attracting clicks.

      The keywords that you use need to be coherent and consistent across the board. The keywords in your ad groups must be the same as those in your ads and on your landing page. From start to finish, your funnel must reflect the same keywords or your Quality Score will suffer as a result. For more on Quality Scores, see Tip #12.

      Use the Ad strength adviser
      There is a feature integrated into the Google Ads console called Ad strength that will help you ask yourself the right questions about your ad copy and messages. It will also provide suggestions for your content along the following lines:

      • Products or services: What does your business offer?
      • Online availability: Can customers buy your products or services online?
      • Shipping and returns: What shipping and pickup options are available to customers?
      • Benefits: How do your products or services help people?
      • Brand: What phrases does your brand use?
      • Call to action: What do you want your customers to do?
      • Inventory and selection: What categories, options, and selections do you offer?
      • Pricing and fees: What are your prices, taxes, or fees?
      • Promotions and discounts: What type of deals do you offer?

      Feel free to experiment, but stay true to your brand identity
      No matter what you do, keep experimenting and testing out new strategies. Remember, however, to think about and stay true to your brand identity, brand objectives, and brand positioning. Don’t go too crazy. Be bold and take risks, be creative, but do assess the risks you are taking on.

      One way of doing this is by taking advantage of Google’s good practice standards. In order to comply, you need to have three ads within a campaign. You can use this as an opportunity to experiment creatively with your ad copy. You could, for example, create the first two ads in a traditional fashion and, then, craft the third ad a little differently, with a little something extra. Think of this third ad as an opportunity to take risks and try out some new ideas

      TIP #17: Leverage extensions in your favor

      Google Ads extensions, as the name suggests, are a way of enlarging and enlivening your advertising real estate. They are a way to get more window space for your shop front, and to make this space more interesting. Use extensions to include essential information about your products, services, or business, without worrying about maxing out the character limit on your ads. In our experience, extensions tend to be either ignored or misunderstood. Once, during an audit, we even found that the client had active extensions in their account that were linked to another business altogether and completely irrelevant to the ads! While this was an unusual case, extensions are often left out or thrown aside because they only register to inexperienced advertisers as an afterthought. If used correctly, however, they have just as much conversion potential as the ads themselves. You should make use of extensions but do not overuse them. They have the potential to improve your Google Ads performance, but if they are not used in the right way they can also backfire and hinder your results. The rule of thumb is that if an extension doesn’t add anything, then don’t use it. If, after all, you are going to add an extension, then you should know why. Everything you include in your ad should have a specific purpose. Adapt your extensions to your campaign goals and the kinds of conversions you are looking for. Things extensions can do for you Extensions can do a lot of good things for your ads, such as:
      • Add credibility to your business on search by providing, for example:
        • Social proof in the form of review
        • Location details
        • Contact information
      • Provide further relevant information on your offer or on your business
      • Distinguish your ads or business from other competitors in the industry or field
      • Create more visibility for your ad simply by taking up more space (and simultaneously leaving less space to the competition)
      • Improve your CTR, grow your QS, and lower your CPC
      Leverage extensions in your favor

      Still not quite sure about the power of extensions? Consider the following example: you are on the market for a new home, and you happen to see a few ads on a community board at a local cafe. There are two real estate ads, one of which is a piece of paper with the following note: “nice house with 5 bedrooms, good for family.” OK, you say to yourself, that might be good. Next to it, there’s a full-sized A4 page with a color photo of a good-looking house featuring several of the rooms and, underneath that, a bullet point list of important information, including: number of rooms, asking price, location, a few local amenities, availability of a parking space, as well as the name and number of the real estate agency in charge. Which one do you contact first? Do it right, and this is what extensions can do to your ads.

      Things to look out for when using extensions

      Not all the available extensions are equally appealing or effective.

      • The structured snippet extension that Google will often want you to add very often only makes your ads more cumbersome. If the structured snippet doesn’t provide anything, don’t add it.
      • Image extensions, which can often add value, are not always worth adding. If you have a limited budget, you don’t want to accumulate curiosity clicks. Unless you are going for pure exposure and notoriety, you need to be careful not to just generate interest that won’t lead to conversions.
      • Extensions that are clickable are the ones that you can analyse the metrics for (sitelink extensions) but for others it’s difficult to say.
      • Extensions are going to affect Google’s estimation of your ad’s relevance, as well as your expected CTR, so if you misuse your extensions both of these factors then have a negative influence on your QS.
      • Lead extensions are only applied and approved if the website has a dedicated privacy policy page.

      Chapter 6: Audiences

      Your audiences are the groups of people that are going to see, and hopefully click on or react to, your ads. The results of your ad campaigns are inherently and inevitably linked to these users. It will come as no surprise to anyone, therefore, that addressing the right audiences is essential for achieving your desired results.

      You could have the greatest, most technologically advanced, innovative, affordable, and comfortable baby strollers in the world with the most beautiful, well-crafted, engaging, irresistible ads to promote them online, but if the only people seeing those ads are single adults, pre-teens, and parents with children aged 10 and over, then you are not going to get any conversions and your revolutionary bambino carriages will stay on the shelf.

      Tip #18: Be creative when crafting audiences

      Your ability to reach the right people is inherently linked to your ability to use the right audiences. Creating and customizing audiences is an essential feature of Google’s already impressive and powerful toolbox. We recommend that you take the time to understand and work closely with Google’s audience targeting capabilities. Taking creative control of your audiences will help bolster your efforts to target users, extend your reach, and reach your future customers.

      Your options for audiences are the following:

      • Demographic audiences,
      • Affinity audiences,
      • Custom audiences (formerly custom affinity audiences),
      • Remarketing audiences,
      • In-market audiences,
      • Seasonal audience targeting,
      • Similar audiences,
      • Layered audiences,
      • Customer match audiences,
      • Combined audiences.

      While there are surely arguments for using any or all of the above in the right situation, it is our experience that there are four audience settings in particular that tend to be the most effective and versatile for regular use. These are the ones we will focus on here. They are:

      1. Detailed demographics
        This setting segments users according to specific traits, such as gender, age group, whether or not they are parents, etc.
        NB: putting audiences under observation helps you collect data to learn more about the people who click on your ads. On top of that, it helps Google’s algorithms do a better job.
      2. In-market
        This setting allows you to target users that Google’s algorithms evaluate as likely to complete a purchase.
        NB: putting in-market audiences under observation can help Google’s algorithms understand which customers are of particular interest to you, which can pay off in the long run.
      3. Remarketing
        This setting allows you to reach users that have previously engaged with your ads or website.
      4. Custom Audiences
        This setting allows you to segment users according to a number of lifestyles, habits, and interests. It is a more powerful option than the affinity setting listed above because it gives you more power to finetune and, as the name suggests, to customize your segments to fit your brand and campaign objectives.
        If your business targets an audience that is readily available in Google’s list, custom audiences is the way to go. A fusion of what previously were known as custom affinity and custom intent, the new custom audiences setting allows you to target nearly anyone — provided you approach this challenge with a little imagination. For more on this topic, you can read our blog post on custom audiences here.
      5. Combined Audiences
        This setting, as its name implies, allows you to combine multiple audience criteria together to create your ideal customer persona. This can be very useful, especially if your target audience is very narrow or if you simply want to focus on reaching a specific person at a specific time. For example, we have a client that sells insurance, but only for people working in hospitality. This setting is perfect for them to reach potential clients.

      Creatively crafting your audiences

      Creatively crafting your audiences is essentially a way of improving your targeting.

      What you need to do is try to put together a picture of the users and potential customers you would like to reach. Who are they? What are they likely to be interested in? What activities are they involved in? Where do they spend their time? How do they spend their money? Which services do they subscribe to? What platforms do they use?
      Once you begin to formulate answers to these and any number of similar questions, take a step sideways and try to imagine how this information can help you create new audiences. This should get you thinking outside the box.
      To get you started, here are a few ideas and concrete examples from our archives to illustrate what we mean:

      1. Tap into competing brands
        If there are firmly-established players that dominate your field, why not piggyback on their reach in order to extend your own? Their reputation will serve as a filter for audiences interested in the types of services or products you offer. Use them as an opportunity to stand out and to leverage your own USP in relation to theirs.
        Targeting custom audiences who either searched for your competitors or visited websites similar to your competitors’ websites is a very effective strategy. It means you can target people who used competitive keywords on the search network without actually bidding for them. Compared to traditional audiences, the CTR is higher by more than 30% with a lower CPC, a lower bounce rate, and a higher conversion rate.
        To illustrate, imagine you are an up-and-coming musician looking to broaden your reach. The ability in Google Ads to tap into the audiences of established brands is the show-business equivalent of sharing the stage with the biggest stars of your musical genre. It’s an incredible opportunity that will greatly improve your chances of getting seen by the right people. This is an audience that is very likely to take an interest in what you have to offer.
        We recently used such a strategy on one of our campaigns for an established Optician. In order to boost our campaigns, we built custom audiences around competitors and brands such as Ray-Ban, Michael Kors, and others.
      2. Use related concepts, topics, locations, or products as a lever
        A little lateral thinking can go a long way towards positioning your ads in front of audiences that are not actively searching for what it is that you offer. Targeting concepts, topics, or products that are different from — but relevant or related to — your own is a very efficient tool that you might want to include in your campaigns. Whether as a complement to more straightforward targeting, or as an alternative strategy, it can be a great way to generate interest in your offer among audiences that are not actively seeking you out.
        For a number of years now we have been managing campaigns for a prominent news outlet. After some time, we concluded that our Search campaign was unnecessary because anyone looking for a newspaper subscription would naturally find the website and at the top of the organic results. If we were going to generate further interest, we would have to do it through creative strategies.
        What we did was to create custom audiences built around each city that this newspaper cared about. We created prospecting campaigns targeting users interested in these cities, tightly associating the newspaper with these locations. This proved to be a very effective strategy and continues to generate a steady stream of conversions.
      3. Attach your ads to popular content
        Anyone watching the matches of a big international sports event such as the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, or the UEFA Euro Cup will intuitively grasp this particular point. Marketers are quick to bandwagon on the energy and aura of these events and the interest they generate. Every four years during the FIFA World Cup, for example, companies selling anything you can think of from cars to life insurance, spirits, furniture, fast food, and baby clothing suddenly begin to embellish their ads with football paraphernalia. Around this time, our screens are full of babies scoring goals from half-field, burgers adorned with national flags, and sweat-soaked fans quenching their thirst from beer cans and pint glasses dripping with condensation. It’s a classic trick, but it’s very effective.
      4. Do not underestimate the power of remarketing
        At the risk of stating the obvious, it is worth paying special attention to those users that have already demonstrated an interest in your ads or website. Whether they have already purchased your products and are potential return customers, or merely prospects who you know have either clicked on your ads or spent time looking into your offer, the remarketing audience should be a priority segment for most marketing strategies.
        Your website, your CRM, and all your fist data are a gold mine of information that you can leverage to close a deal or build customer loyalty. One way to think of it is that you can support your audience members in their decision-making process by presenting them with relevant ads at each stage, especially if you know that your conversion funnel is complex.

      Chapter 7: Google’s AI

      You will have noticed by now that we always recommend a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to Google’s AI. This is not because we are prejudiced against it, but because — just like any tool — you need to know how and when to use it.

      They say AI is the future, but the truth is that AI is already here today. And it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The challenge ahead of us is how do we maintain control over the output and influence that AI machine learning brings to the table.

      Google’s algorithms function by processing enormous amounts of data from across the Google ecosystem and the conclusions they draw from this data will not necessarily reflect your own situation, business environment, or campaign strategies.

      Think of it this way: would you let Amazon do all your shopping for you? Probably not. Letting Google’s algorithms make all the important decisions in your ad campaign is not that different. You wouldn’t give your credit card to Amazon’s AI and ask it to purchase everything it thinks you want, similarly you shouldn’t surrender your campaign budget to Google’s AI.

      You should always work from the assumption that the wisdom of Google’s algorithms is highly questionable. It’s not that they’re always wrong, just that they’re not necessarily right, either.

      “This Is The World Now. Logged On, Plugged In, All The Time.” (John Connor, Terminator: Genisys)

      Fighting automation altogether is a battle that none of us have any chance of winning. In the world of online marketing, automation is unavoidable. You might as well embrace and harness the power of AI, understand its limitations, work around these, and make the machine work for you.

      AI under human control is better than AI alone.

      The tips in this chapter cover two of what we consider to be the most important issues with Google’s AI: recommendations and insights, and bidding strategies.

      Tip #19: Contextualize recommendations and insights

      Google’s AI will have good advice for you, but it’s hidden among bad advice that is given with just as much conviction. Formerly referred to within Google Ads as “opportunities,” we recommend that you pay attention to recommendations and insights, which — used in the right way — can provide real advantages. Implement them with caution, however, and always with a consideration for context.

      Optimization score
      Google attributes an optimization score from 1 to 100. In order to get the highest score possible, you need to follow best practices. So far so good. The problems begin with the realization that what Google considers to be the best practices are not always the best ways for achieving actual results in your campaigns. Typically, this could be as simple as the fact that Google might recommend spending more money whereas your budget has been decided and further investment is not an option.

      Google’s recommendations are automatically-generated changes suggested by the AI for you to implement in your campaigns for an increase in performance. They are generated from your campaign data by comparing performance history, campaign settings, and trends across Google.

      Google’s Insights consists of a curated list of new trends judged relevant to your campaign. This is a new feature, and it’s a tool that looks promising, especially given the unthinkable amounts of data Google has access to, but so far it’s hit or miss and very much a work in progress. We recommend using only with extreme caution.

      The importance of context
      Google has access to enormous amounts of data, but turning that data into profitable insights and recommendations is a process of trial and error.

      Google’s recommendations will always be very specific and yet they are generic in the sense that they are not very good at understanding the specificity of your offer and the unique circumstances of your business. They won’t always understand your needs and are not plugged into your overall strategy.

      To illustrate, consider the case of one of our clients that markets sextoys online. Google’s AI realizes certain things about the products they are selling, but it registers neither the awkward nature of this market, nor the need for privacy surrounding these transactions. You don’t advertise sextoys the way you advertise basketball shoes, potato chips, or deodorant.

      Recommendations for this client are all over the map, and mostly to be ignored. Imagine the negative exposure our client would receive if we start broadening audiences to include children or targeting users looking for birthday gifts. It’s hard not to laugh at some of the recommendations we get. Worse, however, is the fact that some of Google’s suggestions contradict Google’s own rules, as when it recommends that we run a Display campaign, which is not allowed for sextoys.

      Whatever you do, do not blindly follow every suggested change that Google throws your way. Be critical and make sure that you understand how the recommendation in question will affect your campaign.

      Here are a few of the most common recommendations, good and bad, that we regularly come across:

      Good recommendations

        • When Google tells you to reallocate a budget from one campaign to another, 80% of the time it’s a good idea. That said, be careful because if your strategy is to limit one campaign in order to give more leeway to another, then this recommendation will ruin your plans.
        • When Google tells you to add new audiences in observation, do it. This doesn’t cost you any money and it seems to make the algorithms happy. If you can help the algorithm do its job, you might as well play along.
        • Recommendations in the “Repairs” category are worth investigating, if only to understand what the issue is and what is at stake. Here are two examples of what Google might tell you:
          • Make sure that you’re not missing users on remarketing lists used by your campaigns. Fix the audience source so that users are added to your lists correctly.” If this happens, there are two possibilities: either there really is a problem with your tracking and you need to fix it, or, your audience is just too small to run.
          • “Get your ads running by adding keywords to each ad group.” It might be that you have keywords in place, but that they are all deliberately paused. If this is the case, maybe the best option is to pause the ad group altogether.

      Bad recommendations

          • When Google tells you to “Remove conflicting negative keywords” so that more people can see your ads, you might want to make sure you didn’t block the wrong keyword by mistake. Remember that Google doesn’t have access to your overall strategy though and it might be missing the bigger picture. Two examples:
            • If you mistakenly added “orange” (for the fruit) in your “orange skirt” ad group, then you should listen to Google and get rid of it. Honest mistakes happen.
            • If, on the other hand, Google wants you to delete the word “free” from your negative keywords but you added it because you know it leads to poor performance, then do not follow this recommendation because the algorithm is not picking up on the nuances of your keyword strategy.
            • NB: an intermediary solution to make the algorithm happy and stop it from sending any more annoying notifications is to pause all keywords that are blocked by negative keywords.
          • When Google tells you to upgrade your existing keywords to broad match, we advise not to follow this recommendation blindly. Treat it as a separate strategy. To see its effect on your campaign, which might be positive, test it on a small sample of your campaigns before making the big jump.
            • One way you can do this is to duplicate your existing ad groups in one campaign and change all your keywords to broad match. Observe these new ad groups for a time and analyse their results. This will give you the data to make an informed decision about this recommendation’s viability for your campaign objectives.
          • When Google tells you to “Get more conversion value by adjusting your budgets,” all it is saying is that you should put more money into your campaign. The assumption is that more of the same will be good for your results. Sometimes this may be the case, but oftentimes it will not. If you have an unlimited ad budget and like taking risks, then go for it. Otherwise, you should consider other strategies for capturing more conversions

      Overall, Google’s recommendations give any experienced marketer the right tools to optimize his or her strategy, but these same tools can also lead to a lot of wasted time and ad spend. Think of it as a tradeoff. Our estimate is that roughly ÂĽ of opportunities are relevant. This is not a bad ratio, but you need to know how to choose which ones are worth it. Implement Google’s recommendations wisely or they might backfire.

      Tip #20: The right bidding strategy will help the AI help you

      Google has bidding strategies appropriate for each of your goals. The trick is finding the right one.

      Except for the manual CPC option, all of its bidding strategies are powered by AI. The idea is, in Google’s words, to take “the heavy lifting and guesswork out of setting bids to meet your performance goals.” Fair enough. Our recommendation is to let the machine do the lifting, but don’t take your eyes off the prize or the process in case it veers off course and carries the weight in the wrong direction entirely. AI under human control is more efficient than AI alone.

      In theory, Google’s bidding strategies are designed to achieve optimal reach, traffic or conversion targets. In practice, however, it’s a constant process of trial and error because Google’s algorithms are constantly learning. The profitability of automation depends on the quality and the quantity of data. Initially, Google doesn’t necessarily know which combinations of keywords, ads, audiences, and so on, will yield the best results. Therefore, it needs to run tests, and this process can be quite expensive and painfully irregular in terms of campaign performance.

      You may want to test run a number of different bidding strategies yourself in order to compare performance on your campaigns. This is a good idea, but you should know that in order to get accurate results you will need to let the experiment run for at least two weeks (a full month is even better). The reason it takes this much time is because the algorithms have to adapt to any changes you make. Beware that this can quickly turn into a significant investment of time and resources, so make sure you evaluate the costs from the outset. Know what you’re getting into and plan your budget accordingly. Note that if you see, after two weeks of testing, that the strategy you are trying out doesn’t work for you, don’t expect to be able to instantly return to your previous results once you revert back to your original parameters. This too will take time.

      The right bidding strategy will help the AI help you

      Listed below are some of our favorite, go-to bidding strategies. If we had to pick a one-size-fits-all solution, we would recommend opting for “maximise conversion value” for Search and “Maximise Conversions” for Display, both of which provide the most reliable results, even in situations where data is scarce. That said, every strategy has advantages and disadvantages depending on your objectives, channels, and so on.

      Maximise Conversion Value is, in our view, your best all-round option for Search campaigns, as it performs well in all situations except one (see below). Even if you’re not tracking something with a real value, you can easily go under the parameters to provide a fictional conversion value in order to use this bidding strategy.

      There is one exception, however, where Target Cost Per Acquisition (tCPA) will work better than “Maximise Conversion Value” for your Search campaign, and that is when you have a BtoB operation with a modest budget. In this situation, tCPA will give you more control over the budget and a better ROAS. Note, however, that Google is constantly evolving its algorithms and tCPA is destined to disappear. When this happens, its functionalities will be integrated into the “Maximise Conversions” bidding strategy.

      Maximise Conversions is good for Display campaigns with reach objectives. Whether you are aiming to get clicks or impressions, this option is better than “Maximise Clicks” because when you maximise conversions you will maximise clicks anyway as these conversions take place. If the number of conversions you may get is too small for this strategy to work, use micro-conversions or smart goals. This will definitely improve the quality of traffic compared to maximizing clicks.

      … and here a few bidding strategies that are problematic in our view:

      Manual CPC is a strategy that gives you a lot of freedom because you decide exactly how much you want to spend for each click, but with freedom comes responsibility and unless you have your own automated system to calculate the ideal CPC, we don’t recommend using this option because it is highly likely that you will either underspend and miss out or spend too much without making a conversion.

      Target Impression Share might make sense in some cases, as for brand protection, for example, but there are serious tradeoffs. It is a strategy that we have tested numerous times, always with disappointing results. The pattern we observed was an initial CPC increase followed by a decrease in impression share, and this we observed also on brand campaigns. In one case, we tested this bidding strategy for several months, monitoring and regularly optimizing our target impression share and max CPC value. The results convinced us to switch strategies back to maximise conversion value. Results from the week before the change were a CPC of CHF 0.37 and an impression share of 42.32%. One week after the switch to max conv value, CPC was at CHF 0.38 and impression share had risen to 65.29%.

      Target Return On Ad Spend (tROAS) is a strategy we tested with several clients. We set the target ROAS and observed a phenomenon similar to the target impression share scenario: there was an occasional moderate increase in ROAS, but what did happen every time was a dramatic drop in conversion value. Here are numbers from one of the test campaigns we ran: two weeks before switching to tROAS, our ROAS was at 16.41 and our Benefits at 145’671.31; two weeks after we implemented this change, our ROAS had dropped to 11.66 and our Benefits to 47’346.25!

      Pairing the right campaign strategy and bidding strategy.

      You can have done everything right setting up your ads account and campaign strategies. Set the wrong bidding strategy, however, and it all falls apart. You must make sure that you choose the right bidding strategy for the right campaign strategy.

      Below are a few of the most common pairing scenarios, as well as combinations you should avoid at all cost:

      • If you want to run an awareness Display campaign
        • Very good: “Maximise Conversions”
          Because, as we already explained above, this strategy is good at maximizing both clicks and impressions.
        • Very bad: tCPA or tROAS
          Both of these will look for people who want to buy your product so you will have a higher CPC and less impressions, so more money spent for a much smaller audience.
      • If you want to obtain qualified traffic with a Search campaign
        Qualified traffic is like awareness but with people that are already interested in your type of services or products, meaning they are already in the middle of the funnel.
        • Very good: “Maximise Conversion Value” or tCPA
          As explained above, “Maximise Conversion Value” is good across the board, and tCPA is good for BtoB operations with a modest budget.
        • Very bad: “Target Impression Share” or tROAS
          For “Target Impression Share”: this strategy doesn’t care if the audience will click on your ad or not. It will display the ad every time it can meet your target impression share. If you put a low value for your max CPC, it will probably show this to an audience of secondary importance to your industry because it will be cheaper.
          For tROAS: you will most likely not reach enough people with this strategy.
      • If you want to Maximise Conversions with a Search campaign
        • Very good: “Maximise Conversion Value”
          Once again, this strategy is the most efficient in our experience.
        • Very bad: Manual CPC or “Target Impression Share”
          For “Manual CPC”: you will miss out on opportunities with this strategy because you will probably set a max CPC that does not take big spenders into account.
          For “Target Impression Share”: the reasoning is the same as explained above for obtaining qualified traffic.

      Conclusion: What changes? What difference?

      We began with a simple scenario: two airplanes flying across the Atlantic on the same flight path. One of the two planes makes a slight shift in its trajectory. Small changes, big differences. We know how the story goes.

      The question you should be asking yourself now is: what changes will lead to what differences?

      The answers provided to this question will decide the future of your Google Ads account and campaign successes. They will define whether you are actively negotiating your flight path or simply enjoying the flight as a passenger onboard the aircraft.

      The trend in Google Ads today is leaning towards more automation and a hands-off management style that relies on automation to do the job and assumes everything works out of the box. Truth be told, with the fast advancing power of AI and a seemingly endless trove of data from around the globe, this scenario may not be far off.

      The automated functionality of Google’s products is increasingly precise and, by all standards, pioneering the field of online marketing. But the days where a marketing manager can order conversions like you would order drinks at the bar are not yet with us. To stay within our airline analogy, the airplanes don’t fly themselves yet.

      It still pays off immensely to understand exactly what is happening at ground level in your ad campaigns.

      If we had to dilute the advice contained in the tips we’ve covered into a few simple, easy-to-follow principles, it might go something like this:

      1. Define your objectives as clearly as possible.
      2. Take the time to structure your account properly.
      3. Privilege the granularity principle to get maximal control over your campaigns.
      4. Monitor your campaigns closely and use this tracking data to ground your decision-making process.
      5. Take a holistic approach to manage your account: all individual parts should function together.
      6. Do your homework to figure out how all the various AI settings work (or don’t work!).
      7. Stay informed about the regular changes that Google implements to its products for these can sometimes radically alter campaign performance.
      8. Take a creative approach that will allow you to capitalize on strengths, work around weaknesses, and consistently deliver results whether they are obtained from inside or outside the box thinking.

      The grand design may ultimately be to provide algorithms powerful and agile enough to adapt and excel in any situation, but this is still far from being a reality. For now, your Google Ads account still needs you as a pilot.

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        About the author

        Jean-Michel Fontaine
        Jean-Michel is a well of knowledge in all things digital, as well as an incurable spreadsheet fanatic. He genuinely likes to share his experience and to build up our clients digital competencies.