Looking at a new account in Google Ads can be overwhelming, with so many settings and reports that could indicate wasted spend or under-performance. What follows is a quick guide to some of the steps that I take when I audit a new account.
It makes no sense to view Google Ads account performance as a whole without separating this into branded and non-branded performance as a minimum. Branded keywords tend to have a higher click-through-rate (CTR), lower cost-per-click (CPC) and lower cost-per-acquisition (CPA) than other keywords. Splitting branded and non-branded into different campaigns not only gives you better clarity into performance, but also allows you to manage your budgets more effectively.
Most PPC practitioners know to do this, but I’ve reviewed accounts where the PPC specialist has failed, by overlooking some unusual circumstances. For the sake of this example, let’s assume our client operates in the Fitness industry and is called Acme Fitness.
An ad group is created including broad match keywords, which are those that work contextually, rather than by matching the words in the keyword against the search term of the user. An example keyword might be fitness companies, and a search term that matches this might be Acme Fitness Company (branded) while another search term matching this could be fitness companies sydney (non-branded).
A dynamic search campaign may exist. This is a campaign in which specific keywords are not entered, and instead Google Ads matches dynamically-created ads against search terms that it considers relevant to pages on a website. Again, in this instance, somebody searching for Acme Fitness and somebody searching for best fitness company could both be served ads from this campaign.
The solution to both these scenarios is to add brand terms (and misspellings) as negative keywords against these campaigns, and all campaigns other than those specifically targeting brand searches.
It’s amazing how often negative keywords are not applied correctly. I’ve looked at accounts recently where a third of the total spent was going on searches that were not relevant. My approach to applying negatives is to go as broad as possible. There is no point in adding a long-tailed search term as a negative if that search occurs twice a quarter. Instead, try to find those words or phrases that occur relatively frequently, and compare the CPA of searches including that word of phrase over a long period against the overall CPA for non-branded keywords. Even if searches including that word do sometimes lead to conversions, be prepared to exclude it from searches if overall CPA is high.
Doing this properly does take some time, but when performed as part of a quick audit, it is usually possible to come up with some quick examples of wasted spend. A recent audit revealed that compared to the overall non-branded CPA of $72, search terms including one particular word had spent over $15,000 at a CPA over $600 in a six-month period. Adding that word as a negative was a non-brainer. Negative keywords should also not just apply at the campaign level. It is very helpful to apply negatives to the ad group level as well, in order to prevent cross-contamination of keywords and better attribute performance at the keyword level.
In the same way that you want to prioritise spend on keywords that data suggest lead to better performance, your preferred spend should also be weighted towards those devices, demographic groups, days and times that perform the best.
A recent account I looked at advertised accommodation options to corporate travelers. Ads were shown across all age ranges, but unsurprisingly the CPA within the 12-25 age range was much higher than for older searchers. A sensible approach would have been to either exclude this cohort altogether or reduce the bid for these users. However, no such steps were taken.
Sometimes bid adjustments are made by device which make sense at the time, but less so at some later date. I’ve looked at accounts with large positive bid adjustments for mobile devices, despite the fact that data over the previous 6-12 months showed that these were the most expensive conversions. Now it’s possible that this was an attempt to gain a specific type of conversions, and the report was inaccurate, being for all conversions. But generally, the approach should be prepared to bid more to show ads that historically exhibit a low CPA, and so i’d expect a negative bid adjustment in this scenario.
For campaigns with proper automated bidding strategies applied (tCPA, tROAS), this is less relevant, as Google ignores all adjustments with the exception of device-based adjustments, which apply in all cases.
Talking of these, I’d recommend moving all search campaigns across to either tCPA or tROAS as long as they meet the following criteria:
With Google having access to thousands of contextual signals at auction time to best identify the right searcher to put your ad in front of (including demographic, audience membership, browser, past history, browsing patterns, date and time), our ability to compete as human PPC specialists is severely limited. Wherever possible, we should rely on the advanced AI that powers Google Ads to make the right decisions. How many times have you heard a client say they want to dominate a space and ensure their ad appears 100% of the time.
What courts is not showing your ads at all times, but showing them at the right time, and to the right people.
I’d recommend moving campaigns over in small chunks, starting with those smaller campaigns. Accept the initial recommendation from Google in terms of target, and then once a month reduce tCPAor increase tROAS depending on results. For those accounts that fail the two criteria checks above, strategies might include combining more granular campaigns into larger campaigns, trying a strategy like Max Conversions, or simply making them less targeted.
Whether using automated or manual bidding strategies. the presence of some appropriate audiences on a campaign can really improve CPA. It used to be the case that you would build out separate RLSA campaigns targeted at relevant site visitors, and control budgets, bids and messaging in this way. Now Google advises that you are likely to get better results by stopping search campaigns targeted at specific audiences, and instead just apply the right audiences to all your search campaigns. These could be remarketing audiences, similar audiences based on site converters, affinity audiences with similar properties to site converters, or customer match audiences. Messaging can be different for audience members compared to regular searchers by using IF functions in your ad copy.
Depending on the level of relevance, a different positive bid adjustment should be applied to each audience. In the case of automated campaigns, as discussed in points 3 and 4, there is no point in manually adding bid adjustments. But the very presence of these audiences allows Google’s AI to make more informed decisions on bidding. Apparently, the method of creating separate RLSA campaigns is now our of favour with Google and their research indicates that doing it gets fewer impressions than by simply adding remarketing audiences to existing search campaigns.
So, there you have it – 5 points that you can quickly review when coming across in a new Google Ads account for the first time. Coming up with the right audience strategy or reviewing negative keywords properly will certainly take more than 15 minutes, but this should be enough time to perform the above steps at a high-level and see if there are any likely quick wins.
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Garry is one of our co-founders, and oversees search engine marketing for Rocket clients.
After a few years working in quantitative analysis for investment management firms, Garry moved specifically into web development in the late '90s – including a stint in New York for a loan syndication platform. Since Rocket's foundation, Garry has managed teams in such areas as web dev, marketing automation, data analytics and tracking implementation, before finally settling into the area of SEM where he runs paid campaigns for our biggest clients as well as leading the direction of our SEM strategy across the company.
Scottish-born Garry has traveled to over 30 countries and only been arrested in six of them. He’s into music, books, cheese, film, travel, football, cheese, long romantic walks in the moonlight, world peace and cheese.
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