You know that sinking feeling when you launch a Google Ads campaign, only to find that the results are nowhere near what you’d thought they would be—and costs are way higher than you’d estimated?
Although you can’t expect to predict every outcome perfectly, using the right campaign planning tools can ensure that your pay-per-click (PPC) estimates are realistic. That way you can structure campaigns and allocate resources more effectively without as many unpleasant surprises along the way.
In this article, we’ll introduce Google Ads bid simulators and explain how they work so you can start optimizing your campaigns and getting better results.
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What is a Google Ads bid simulator?
Google Ads bid simulators are built-in tools that estimate how various bids could impact weekly ad performance. With a simulator, you can see how potential changes to your campaigns, ad groups, or keywords could affect key metrics like the cost of your Google Ads.
For example, you may currently have a maximum cost-per-click (max CPC) bid of $10. But you may want to see how your reach and conversion rate could change if you set a new starting bid of $9 or $11. A simulator uses historical data to show you the potential outcome of both options—and many more.
For each bid, the simulator can tell you:
- How many impressions your ads could show
- How many clicks your ads could generate
- What your total cost would be
- How many conversions your ads could get
If you specified conversion amounts, the bid simulator may also estimate the total conversion value. In some cases, this tool can even help you understand why your Google Ads aren’t showing. If your bids are too low for your ads to appear, a simulator can clarify how different bids could affect campaign results.
To simulate performance, the Google Ads platform uses data like:
Quality Score: What are the Quality Scores for the keywords in your ad group, based on ad relevance, landing page experience, and expected click-through rate (CTR)?
Keyword traffic: How much search traffic do your keywords generate? Keep in mind that changing keyword match types may affect estimated results.
Competition: How many other advertisers are bidding on your keywords, and how do their bids compare to yours?
Bid simulator vs. Keyword Planner
Both Google Keyword Planner and the platform’s bid simulators can help you anticipate costs and campaign performance. Yet these tools have distinct functions and work best at different points in the process.
Keyword Planner is most useful when you’re mapping out a campaign. This tool approximates search traffic, competition, keyword level of difficulty, and minimum top-of-page bid based on the keywords you’re considering. It can help you set a starting bid, and it can also help you find more cost-effective keywords for your ad group.
In contrast, bid simulators become accessible only after you launch a campaign. In addition to using keyword and competition data, bid simulators factor in your ads’ Quality Score to give you a campaign-specific performance estimate.
Types of Bid Simulators
The Google Ads platform automatically generates simulators based on the bidding strategy and campaign type you choose. Based on your campaign settings, you may have access to these tools:
Regular bid simulators
Google Ads offers a standard bid simulator for campaigns on the Search Network and the Display Network. This tool is also compatible with search campaigns using Display Expansion.
You can use it to estimate how various max CPC bids could affect the cost or the number of impressions, clicks, conversions, and conversion value your ads could generate. Google Ads’ regular bid simulators work at the campaign, keyword, and ad group level.
Campaign bid simulators
In addition to the regular campaign bid simulator for the Search and Display Networks, Google Ads offers several campaign-specific bid simulators:
Video campaigns bid simulator: To see how increasing or decreasing your maximum cost-per-view (CPV) bid could affect traffic to your YouTube campaigns, use the video campaigns bid simulator at the campaign level.
Hotel campaigns bid simulator: You can find this tool at the hotel groups level. It estimates performance based on changes to max CPC, max CPC%, or commission percentage.
App campaigns bid simulator: To project performance for app campaigns, you can use Google Ads’ bid guidance widget, which allows you to change target cost-per-install bids or target cost-per-in-app-action bids.
Smart Bidding simulators
If your campaign uses an automated bid strategy, Google Ads offers a separate set of tools. The platform’s smart bidding simulators use historical data to project key metrics. Available options depend on the bid strategy you choose:
- Target cost-per-action (CPA): Relies on a portfolio, ad group, or campaign target simulator to anticipate conversions
- Target return on ad spend (ROAS): Depends on an ad group, portfolio, or campaign target simulator to estimate conversion value
- Maximize conversion value: Uses a campaign budget simulator to project conversion value
- Maximize conversions: Relies on a campaign budget simulator to anticipate conversions
- Maximize clicks: Depends on a campaign budget simulator to estimate clicks
- Target impression share: Uses a campaign budget simulator to project impressions
Bid adjustment simulators
If you already use bid adjustments—which are percentage-based increases or decreases to your starting bids—then the bid simulator automatically takes them into consideration. But if you’re thinking of applying a new adjustment, then you may find it helpful to estimate the potential results first. The Google Ads platform has two types of bid adjustment simulators:
- Call bid adjustment simulator: This tool projects how increases or decreases in your call interaction bid could impact how well your call extensions perform
- Device bid adjustment simulator: This feature estimates how adjustments to device bids could affect ad performance on tablets, computers, and mobile devices
Why you should use a bid simulator
Bid simulators are essential tools for marketers and a Google Ads agency like ours. Here are a few reasons you should include them in your workflow:
- Model multiple bid changes simultaneously so you can get a holistic view of how your results could vary
- Project what might happen if you were to scale your bid changes—such as increasing or decreasing them all by the same amount
- Estimate outcomes if you were to change your smart bidding strategies to fixed values instead
Because bid simulators are so useful, it can be frustrating when you can’t access them. If you find that the bid simulator icon is grayed out for a campaign, ad group, or keyword, here are some of the most common reasons it might not be available:
Limited data: To provide weekly estimates, the tool relies on historical data from the previous seven days. If your campaign, ad group, or keyword is new or if it received very few clicks during that time, the bid simulator may not function.
Shared budgets: Google Ads doesn’t offer bid simulators for campaigns with shared budgets, as the platform wouldn’t be able to provide accurate estimates.
Daily budgets: If your campaign has maxed out its daily budget one or more times during the previous week, the platform often can’t provide estimates.
Experiments: Google Ads’ built-in simulators aren’t compatible with experiments. You can only access them if your campaign isn’t running experiments or if they ended at least eight days ago.
How to simulate Google Ads bids
To use a bid simulator, open your Google Ads account and choose the campaign, ad group, or keyword where you want to focus. Then click the gray bid simulator icon.
For campaigns, it’s in the Budgets or Daily Budgets column, depending on the campaign type you chose. For ad groups and keywords, you’ll see it in the Default Max CPC or Default Max CPV column, depending on the campaign type you picked.
Then review the various options the bid simulator suggests. You can click any to view the projected results in graph format. Click the Apply button in the lower right to choose any of the bids and to adjust your campaign, ad group, or keyword accordingly.
Start optimizing your Google Ads campaigns
To get better results from your Google Ads campaigns, using a bid simulator is a smart first step. But it’s far from the only way to improve your PPC ads. Take a look at our Google Ads optimization checklist for more tips on how to get the most from your campaigns.