Google Ads Optimization Checklist: Low Effort,
High Value

Aaron Levy
Chief Consultant at Cast Iron Digital

Work smarter, not harder.

I don’t like wasting time or effort on work. 

I apply the 80/20 rule when I optimize a Google Ads campaign so that my work will be profitable without, you know, having to do too much of it.

The irony here is that I work in PPC, where the work never ends because search campaigns require constant optimization.

Behaviors change, competition changes, and, far more often than we’d like, the Google engine and the playing field change. As a result, there’s something to check and do every hour of every day.

With that in mind, I’ll remind you again—I’m lazy. 

But I work in a setting where clients essentially pay me for my time.

So I’m smart about it.

ROI and ROE

It’s my responsibility to deliver the absolute best use of my time to my clients so they get the most out of their investments. Clients focus on ROI (Return On Investment); I focus on ROE (Return On Effort).

I don’t want to waste time.

Logging into accounts every day, navigating to each campaign, and dealing with things like math takes a lot of time. So I created an optimization guide and schedule for reviewing Google Ads accounts. 

These time-saving tips will maximize the value of your time and the return on every ad dollar spent.

Below is a schedule of Google Ads optimizations to review on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it will help you manage your time and increase your ROE (the value you get back for the effort you put in). Most of these tasks are easily automated with alerts and/or scripts.

So without further ado…

DAILY Google Ads Optimization—Is Anything Broken?

Every day, check that your Google Ads are doing what they’re supposed to. Pay attention to the “haywire” indicators.

Check for Fluctuations

Step one: What fluctuation matters?

If an element’s performance changes by 10-15% day over day, I don’t really care. But if a keyword jumps from spending $10 a day to $1,000 a day, alarm bells should ring—it’s even more important if those numbers are reversed. Check for those alarm bells. 

Step two: Alerts

Fluctuations should only require daily tweaks. Set up “major change” alerts for when there’s a disturbance in performance. You can read more about creating Google Ads alerts here.

Step one: Pace your budget

Working for an agency, I’m held to stringent budget standards by my clients. If you run an account for yourself, allocate a dollar amount and set up a budget pacing sheet to prevent running out of cash before the month winds down. 

I use the following equation to pace my budget. It accounts for week-over-week spending fluctuations:

Google Ads Optimization Budget Pacing Equation.

Step two: check for lost impressions

Remember to check the Search Lost IS (budget) column to see the potential impressions percentage, or impressions that could be lost without an adequate budget. If you’re missing out on a lot of impressions, consider investing more.

What time of day does your budget deplete the most? Figure out when you’re missing out on the most impressions.

Go to Reports > Predefined Reports > Time > Hour of Day

Step three: set ad rotation

“Rotate indefinitely” used to be a great method for showing each ad evenly and finding a statistically significant winning ad variant. But Google’s machine learning has improved significantly over the last few years.

Go to your campaign > Settings > Ad Rotation

“Optimize: Prefer best performing ads” is usually the best option to quickly find winners among your ad variants.

Modify Ad Bidding

Bid strategies is a separate deep-dive conversation. But at a high level, bid this way:

  • maximize strong performers
  • improve efficiency for laggards
  • weed out (or kill) poor performers

Step one: automate that sh*t

I’m a firm believer that nearly all bidding should be automated. There’s no need to waste time and headspace doing a Boolean equation in your head, especially if you have a complex portfolio strategy.

Too often, I’ll see accounts where users are manually bidding at the same time every week or month, when they could spend their time more effectively.

If you have a more complex account, by all means enable a portfolio-type strategy to get the most out of your campaigns. More advanced tools like Kenshoo or Adobe have portfolio tools for bucketing a set of keywords with a target metric. Google Ads bid rules in the shared library is technically a portfolio tool that can take care of the bulk of the work for you.

For most accounts, Google’s fully automated bidding strategies like Maximize Conversions and Maximize Conversion Value are enough to reap significant performance gains over manual bidding, or even partially automated bidding like enhanced cost-per-click bidding.I encourage you to use whatever Google Ads tools and Google Ads Scripts turbo charge your laziness.

Step two: Set up performance rules

Put in a system of checks and balances for your Google Ads machine to make sure it’s working right. Set up automated rules that let you know when campaigns that are meeting your goals become limited by budget. And use rules to pause costly keywords or ad groups before they run away with your budget.

Remember to check

  • Search lost IS (budget)
  • Ad group-level performance
  • Keyword level-performance

As much as possible, let the machines handle your bids. Google’s Smart Bidding technology is able to analyze thousands of signals at the time of any given search to help you bid the right amount. That doesn’t mean that every single keyword will automatically generate positive ROI, but that’s where automated rules come in. Combine these two tactics and let the machines save your time for better things.

Reviewing these indicators weekly points out valuable performance insights and highlights new chances to improve your campaign.

Analyze Search Term Reports

Ah, the gold mines (and trash heaps) of SEM.

As part of your Google Ads optimization, evaluate search term reports as frequently as humanly possible. But hold on to the guard rail because it’s too easy to get lost if you dig too deep. I recommend at least a light evaluation of search term reports on a weekly basis to harvest high level negatives.

Step one: set your threshold

Set a threshold for yourself to make sure you’re spending time efficiently. Depending on the account size, I generally won’t worry too much about anything with a few clicks or less.

Step two: identify gaps

Use an automated tool like N-Gram Script to identify gaps. If you do find negative keywords, you can add them at the ad group or campaign level.

Go to Keywords tab > Negative Keywords.

Review Ad Tests

You’re running ad tests, right? 

Right? 

[Nods no]: OMG, run ad tests.

[Nods yes]: Ok, good.

Step one: Review ad tests weekly

Review your Google Ads optimization weekly (at least) to check trends and performance. While you’re unlikely to have statistically significant data at the one-week point, you’ll be able to preview how things are going and how long you have to make a decision.

If you do identify a clear winner in a week, even better

Step two: use a statistical significance tool

Use a simple statistical significance tool to make sure your data is more than a fluctuation. Reaching 90% significance is usually good enough for me, but 95% gives me real confidence that I’ve made the right decision.

If you can be scientific, be scientific.
If you can be scientific, be scientific.

Step three: Check Ad Extensions

The same concept goes for Ad Extensions. Spot-check your sitelinks, callouts, and snippets on a weekly basis to make sure there aren’t any surprise disapprovals, since those won’t show up in standard alerts.

Keep track of any expiring or promotional sitelinks and replace them after they go dark. Nothing is worse than only having two sitelinks for your beautiful ads.

Placement Reviews (and Bing Search Partners)

Are you running ads on the Google Display Network or on Bing’s Search Partner Network?

To all yes nodders, review your placements frequently so your ads show to relevant users in relevant placements. Don’t show your ads anywhere you don’t want them seen.

Like search terms, this can turn into a rabbit hole if you aren’t careful. 

Step one: Set a threshold

Set a time-based decision threshold so you don’t spend three hours to save five bucks. That never feels special.

Step two: Evaluate the domain

Make sure you evaluate the root domain and not a subdomain. In both instances, you may find placements that show a url such as 1234412312.keywordblocks(dot)com (a common Bing partner). While the data for this particular placement may look minuscule, the volume may have more impact as you roll it up to every iteration of the keywordblocks domain.

What do your placements look like?

MONTHLY Google Ads Optimization—Does the Data Warrant a Change?

Your weekly spot checks caught a lot of things—buzzango!—but that little threshold we set may have allowed a few bad seedlings to grow into weeds.

A longer-term analysis will catch any issues that flew under the radar during short-term Google Ads optimization reviews.

Super Search Term Reports

Use your monthly review to look for any converting search terms you aren’t actively bidding on.

Review the search term report to find anything that has converted with more than a handful of impressions. Add these to your campaigns for exact match.

Don’t worry about adding everything that converted, especially if there was only one impression and one click. Those terms will likely get hit with Low Search Volume tags and never be seen again.

Ad Test Decision Time

I recommend doing a more in-depth evaluation of your ad tests every 30 days or so. At this point in your Google Ads optimization, if you hit any level of statistical significance, confidently declare a winner.

Conversely, if you don’t have enough information to make a decision by now, you may never make one. Perhaps it’s time to stop the test and start anew.

Bid Modifier Evaluation

(A story about how I stopped fighting with the Dimensions Tab—and now I love it).

Step one: check performers

On a monthly basis, conduct an in depth review of the major available bid modifiers. See if you can isolate any poor performers to pull back on/cut. Better yet, do you see any strong performers to maximize?

Step two: time-based performance checks

Review day of week and time of day performance both on an account level and a campaign level to see what you find. Account-wide assumptions usually hold true for every campaign, but it’s better to be safe and check everything.

Here’s a look at day-of-week performance you can pull.
Here’s a look at the hour-of-day data you can pull.

Check Geographic Performance

Evaluate geographic performance with the same principles as the bid modifications discussed above. 

Step one: Select DMA (H4)

I recommend reviewing on the Designated Market Area (DMA) level rather than the state level. Why? Because DMA performance can vary wildly within a state. (Here’s looking at you, Texas and New York.)

Step two: Look at the right metrics

Look at relative metrics, not just the raw number of conversions or clicks. New York, Texas, California, and Florida will always have the most volume, because they have the largest populations. 

That doesn’t mean they’re the best performers.

What does your geographic performance look like?

Look at the metrics that actually reflect where you’d like to shift your budget:

  • Conversion Rate
  • CPA
  • ROAS

Adjust accordingly. 

Step three: Break outs

If you find a clear-cut winner, you can do more than just increase bid modifiers — you can break it out into its own campaign.

Step four: demographic performance

This is also a good time to review demographic performance in the Google Ads optimization process. There can be a major difference between HHI (household income) levels or gender/age. 

To collect data on these categories, enable the audiences like so:

Enable audiences to collect demographic performance data.

Step five: Redefine targets

While we’re on the topic of audiences, it’s important to define targets. But it’s more important to redefine them periodically as well. Cost and CTR can vary depending on your conversion rate and the amount you earn from each click.

Consider the lifetime value of a customer, for example. If a customer segment has a higher cost per acquisition but great potential to make multiple high-priced purchases from your brand, they might be worth a higher upfront cost.

Whenever you redefine targets, this should be reflected in your automated rules and bid strategies.

Kill or Keep Search Partners

I always recommend starting with search partners both for Google and Bing; however, they don’t always perform as we’d hoped. Take a look on a monthly basis to see if your KPI’s dictate a change in strategy.

Results vary in Google Search vs Search Partners. You might find you want to enable (or disable) the Search Partners option.

Go to Campaign > Settings > > Networks > check/uncheck “Include search partners”.

Check Mobile Assumptions

Mobile’s where it’s at. We’re all mobile consumers now. Google puts a lot of attention on mobile.

Did you set a mobile bid modifier down from desktop/tablet based on lower conversion rates?

Step one: Check device performance

Is a mobile click still worth as much (or as little) as you’d assumed? Most traffic is mobile now, so it may make more sense to set mobile-first bids and adjust other devices as needed.

Check to see the performance difference between devices.

Step two: Check Cross device conversions

Don’t forget cross device conversions. 

Cross-device conversions happen when a user clicks an ad on one device (say, on a laptop in the kitchen while making morning coffee) and then completes a conversion on another device (say, on a phone during the morning commute). 

Cross-device-conversion behavior is valuable for ad placements and bids. If a desktop-to-mobile path shows the highest conversion rate, then you know to place upper-funnel ads on mobile and bid higher.

This post from Acquisio shows you how to incorporate cross device conversion values into your bidding strategy. 

Sometimes, we have to dig a little deeper to get to the root of a problem. One might look at a campaign that isn’t performing well and assume running for mobile traffic was a problem, when in fact, it may just be that placements on apps was where lost clicks were taking place.

Go to Tools > Attribution > Top Paths

This post from Acquisio shows you how to incorporate cross device conversion values into your bidding strategy. 

Sometimes, we have to dig a little deeper to get to the root of a problem. One might look at a campaign that isn’t performing well and assume running for mobile traffic was a problem, when in fact, it may just be that placements on apps was where lost clicks were taking place.

Cut/Change/Create

We spent all month waiting for our brilliant bidding bots to maximize the value of every single keyword.

Did they do what they were supposed to? Or do we have a bevy of keywords sitting in position 900 that never get seen?

Every month or so, deep clean your account and trim any fat.

Step one: Kill the “3x worse than hoped fors”

I recommend killing anything that’s performing 3x worse than you’d hope for during your Google Ads optimization. If your CPA goal is $100 and terms are converting at $300 after bid modifications, you’re probably safe to pause them.

Step two: Kill low-clicks with high impressions

Don’t bring yourself down with low quality scores. If you find a keyword with a significant number of impressions (say 1,000+) and few or no clicks/conversions even after your house cleaning, you should clean them out to preserve and protect the rest of the account.

Quarterly Google Ads Optimization Checklist—Is Our House On Fire?

If you follow the steps above for a couple of months, your account will look drastically different from where it started—break out your stemless cocktail glasses!

But wait.

What does the view look like as time goes on?

You might wind up being the guy with that house on the block—the one with too many mismatched additions.

Not good.

Final step: Evaluate your segmentation

I’m not advocating a full-blown account teardown every quarter. Remember, this is about laziness efficiency. Instead, every 90 days or so, challenge the assumptions you made when you built the account to make sure they still hold true.

You may find that a specific region or keyword performs so well that it warrants its own campaign. Or you may find that middle-aged women in California respond differently to certain ad copy than college-aged males in Florida.

When you find significant pockets of top (or bottom) performers, it’s time to evaluate your segmentation and perhaps the account as a whole. 

For further reading on performance-based segmentation, check out this post on Search Engine Land.

Wrap Up on Google Ads Optimization

Remember, an account manager’s work is NEVER done. But that’s the daily fun that comes with this job.

As your accounts mature and improve, you might find this checklist keeps you on your A-game. Or you might develop your own checklist that expands or modifies any of the steps above. But a checklist is essential for effective optimization. Google Ads optimization checklist gives you what you need to have more opportunities to grow your campaigns in even bigger ways. (Or you can just go back to being lazy. I’m not judging. 😉 )

Happy optimizing!

Chapter 8:
Google Ads Optimization

What You’ll Learn: Learn the optimization routines we use to take poor-performing Google Ads accounts to turn into the envy of your competitors.

Chapter 9:
Google Ads Tips

What You’ll Learn: Discover the unknown strategies we use to take your Google Ads performance to a whole new level.

Chapter 10:
Google Ads Statistics

What You’ll Learn: Dive deep into the industry averages and see how you compare to the different industries that advertise through Google Ads.

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