Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new links and content. 🙂
Original Publication Date: April 10, 2017
Let’s get these Google Ads optimization rules out of the way quickly. Full disclosure: I’m lazy as hell.
I don’t mean to say that I don’t like work; I do! It’s more so that I don’t like wasted work, time, or effort. I apply the 80/20 rule when I optimize a Google Ads campaign so that my work will be profitable without, y’know, having to do too much of it.
So it’s a little ironic that I work in PPC, where the work quite literally is never done. When it comes to optimizing search campaigns, there’s no “checking it off the list” for good.
Behaviors change, competition changes, the engine and landscape change far more frequently than we’d like. 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 very, very lazy. But I’ve worked in an agency setting for the duration of my career, where clients are essentially paying me for my time.
ROI And ROE
It’s my responsibility to deliver the absolute best use of my time to my clients, so they get the most Aaron for their investment. 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 ALL the way down to each campaign and dealing with pesky things like math. So I created an optimization guide for reviewing Google Ads accounts and a schedule to follow. These tips will maximize the value of your time and maximize 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 to manage your time and increase your ROE.
Most of these tasks can be automated easily with alerts and/or scripts, which are noted where applicable.
So without further ado…
Daily Google Ads Optimization – Is Anything Broken?
The most important thing to check with regard to Google Ads optimization on a daily basis is just making sure that everything is doing what it’s supposed to. These are the indicators to keep an eye on to make sure nothing goes haywire.
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 – and it’s even more important if those numbers are reversed.
To make sure fluctuations are no more than daily tweaks, set up alerts for yourself to identify any major changes that could indicate a disturbance in performance. You can read more about creating Google Ads alerts here.
Being an agency fellow, I’m held to stringent budget standards by my clients. Even if you run an account for yourself, chances are you have a set dollar amount to spend per month.
Set up a budget pacing sheet for yourself to make sure you’re on target so that you don’t run out of cash when the month is winding down. I use the following equation to pace my budget, as it accounts for week-over-week spending fluctuations:
While we’re discussing budget, remember to check Search Lost IS (budget) column to see potential impressions percentage, or impressions that could be lost due to not having a large enough budget. It might be worth investing a bit more if you’re missing out on a lot of impressions.
Finally, figure out what time of day your budget is getting most depleted and you’re missing out on the most impressions.
If you’re past the beginner level, you might want to switch from default “Optimize for clicks” to “Rotate indefinitely” option for ad rotation.
To test ad variations, you’ll want them to appear randomly and equally for an accurate view of each ad’s performance.
If you can’t raise budget when seeing you’re missing out on impressions, you might want to keep your ad delivery method to standard. If you can increase your budget, focus on the keywords in Google’s “Below First Page Bid” and apply the Accelerated method of delivery.
I won’t go too in depth into bid strategies, as that’s a conversation for another day. Basically, your bid strategy should seek to maximize volume from strong performers, improve efficiency for laggards, and weed out (or kill) poor performers.
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 doing manual bidding at the same time every week or month, wasting a tremendous opportunity to 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 offer portfolio tools which allow you to bucket a set of keywords with a target metric. Even using Google Ads bid rules in the shared library are technically a portfolio tool that can take care of the bulk of the work for you.
That said, you’ll want to put in a system of checks and balances for your Google Ads machine to make sure it’s working right. Set up daily alerts to let you know if top keywords fall below position ~1.2, as that’s a likely indicator that something’s awry.
Remember to check your Average Position on the campaign, ad group, and keyword levels, and perform bid optimization accordingly. If cost per acquisition (CPA) is higher than target CPA, reduce bids and put budget toward those that are more profitable for you.
Weekly Google Ads Optimization – How Are Things Trending?
These indicators aren’t as immediate as those above, but reviewing them regularly can provide valuable insights into your campaigns’ performance and new chances to improve.
Search Term Reports
Ah, the gold mines (and trash heaps) of SEM.
As part of your Google Ads optimization, you should be evaluating search term reports as frequently as humanly possible, but you can very quickly 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.
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.
Better yet, use an automated tool like Karooya to identify gaps for you.
If you do find negative keywords, you can add at the ad group or campaign level.
Ad Test Review
You’re running ad tests, right? Right? Ok, good.
Your Google Ads optimization should include weekly reviews (at least) of your tests to check trends and performance. While you’re unlikely to have any 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. Use a simple statistical significance tool to make sure your data is more than just a fluctuation. Reaching 90% significance is usually good enough for me, but 95% gives me real confidence that I’ve made the right decision.
The same concept goes for Ad Extensions. You should spot check your sitelinks, callouts & snippets on a weekly basis to make sure there aren’t any surprise disapprovals, since those won’t show up in standard alerts.
Finally, 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)
If you’re nodding, you’ll want to review your placements frequently to ensure your ads are shown to relevant users in relevant placements. Your ads shouldn’t show anywhere you don’t want them to.
Like search terms, this can turn into a rabbit hole if you aren’t careful. Set a decision threshold for yourself so you don’t wind up spending three hours to save five bucks.
Also, make sure that you’re evaluating 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.
Monthly Google Ads Optimization – Does the Data Warrant Changes?
While your weekly spot checks caught a lot of things, that little threshold we set may have allowed a few bad seedlings to grow into weeds.
A longer-term analysis will help you catch any issues that flew under the radar during short-term Google Ads optimization reviews.
Super Search Term Reports
You can use your monthly review to look for any converting search terms that you aren’t actively bidding on.
Review the search term report for anything that has converted with more than a handful of impressions. You can 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, you should feel confident declaring a winner.
Conversely, if you don’t have enough information to make a decision by now, you may never make one. It’s time to consider stopping the existing test and starting anew.
Bid Modifier Evaluation
(Or, How I Learned to Stop Fighting and Love The Dimensions Tab)
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, or better yet, any strong performers to maximize.
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 will usually hold true for every campaign, but it’s better to be safe and check everything.
You can evaluate geographic performance with the same principles as the bid modifications discussed above. I recommend reviewing on the Designated Market Area (DMA) level rather than the state level. DMA performance can vary wildly within a state. (I’m looking at you, Texas and New York.)
During your review, 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.
Instead, look at the metrics that really reflect where you’d like to shift your budget, like Conversion Rate, CPA, and/or ROAS, and adjust accordingly. 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.
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, you need to enable the audiences like so:
And while we’re on the topic of audiences, it’s important not only to define targets but 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.
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 can vary in Google Search vs Search Partners. You might find you want to enable (or disable) the Search Partners option.
Check Mobile Assumptions
I hear this “mobile” thing is gonna be big. Chances are, however, you set a mobile bid modifier down from desktop/tablet based on lower conversion rates.
This is another assumption you should challenge monthly. Is a mobile click is still worth as much (or as little) as you’d assumed?
And don’t forget cross device conversions. This post from Acquisio can help you incorporate cross device conversion values into your bidding strategy. So, check your mobile data often, as mobile behavior is sure to change.
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.
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.
I recommend killing anything that’s performing 3x worse than you’d hope 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.
Same goes for low-click keywords 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 – Is Our House On Fire?
If you follow the cadence above for a couple of months, your account will look drastically different from where it started.
Imagine if you go even longer. You might wind up being the guy with that house on the block — the one with too many mismatched additions.
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 that middle-aged women in California respond to far different ad copy than college-aged males in Florida.
When you find significant pockets of top (or bottom) performers, it’s likely time to evaluate your segmentation and perhaps the account as a whole. For further reading on performance-based segmentation, check out my post on Search Engine Land.
Wrap Up on Google Ads Optimization
Remember, an account manager’s work is NEVER done.
As your accounts mature and improve, keeping this cadence up may become overkill. That doesn’t mean you should stop doing it though. It just means that you can be more efficient, so you’ll have more opportunities to grow your campaigns in even bigger ways. (Or you can just go back to being lazy. I’m not judging. 😉 )