Posted by AsherElran
There are many different dos and don’ts of Google AdWords all over the Internet. When writing this article, I felt it was safe to call many of the methods I’m sharing in it unconventional.
In an attempt to resurrect plummeting numbers, and squeeze the last bit of juice from an already producing campaign, I’ve experimented and tested PPC tactics that most users won’t try, either due to fear or because someone says so.
When I take on a client for PPC, I want to help them gain a healthy amount of clicks, with the least amount of spend, and, of course, ensure that they see a return on their investment. I’m of the opinion that you cannot always trust the recommendations of Google AdWords.
Now, I don’t think that Google is a villain behind a curtain, but there are some options in AdWords that aren’t available and that do create budget leakage (and therefore, do create income for Google). So, in order to avoid these potholes in your road to PPC success, you’ll have to do some tedious, manual digging and testing.
Ditch auto bidding
Automatic bid adjustment can be a convenience option for smaller advertisers, but if you are ready to get more hands-on with your bidding, then it’s time to ditch the auto bidding that Google offers.
You see, your keyword bidding directly affects your ad rank. Having that control in your hands can do wonders for your ads.
With manual bids you’ll have:
- More control
- Less leakage
- Lower CPC
Automatic bid adjustments come in handy at the beginning stages. Although they aren’t a perfect estimate, I will use automatic bidding to gain an understanding of a rough bid adjustment. From there, I ditch them and start manually bidding, with a goal of getting my ad rank to somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5.
No. 1 on Google is not always the best position
It might shock you to hear that I don’t aim for the No. 1 position in the SERPs. For me, the position doesn’t outweigh the cost. When I jump on Google, I look at the top three organic listings, and then move upwards to the paid ads in position three and two. Three is closest to the organic results, so I usually start there.
In my research, 57% of paid clicks go to the ad in position No. 1 (based on research we conducted in August 2015, when we analyzed nearly 22,000 incoming search terms at a total cost of over $1 million.)
The other ~43% of the paid clinks were distributed to the rest of the paid positions. If you look at the cost of all the ad positions on a graph, 2+ are all on a pretty even plane, whereas position one is a steep spike. In some cases, bidders will pay double, triple, or even more per click for the first position on Google. Do you think it is always worth it in terms of return? I do not.
Let’s put it another way. If an auto insurance company is paying $25 per click at position No. 2, they could very likely pay $80 for position No. 1. So, you have to ask yourself if you will you see a higher ROI spending for the highest position. I have found that in most cases, I will not, and will find a much better ROI in the “decimal sweet spot.”
The decimal sweet spot is my term for an ad rank of 1.5 – 2.5. I arrive at this rank average by tweaking my bid adjustment little by little. Once there, I will sometimes rank in position No. 1, and sometimes even No. 3. But I can be assured that I won’t be getting numerous 4s (the worst rank based on user clicks – top right corner of the screen).
Here is a basic idea of my process:
- Set auto bid and the Max CPC high until reached at position No. 1
- Turn off auto bid and set manual bid
- Tweak down to cent level until decimal sweet spot is reached
Let’s better understand why positions 2 and 3 have brought me the best results. The logic behind it is simple: Position No. 1 gets a lot more clicks with informational intent, while the rest of the positions are more likely to get clicks with commercial intent.
People shop before they buy. Think about yourself the last time you searched for something online. If you looked for a quick answer, you were in and out, and you were only interested in getting your answer and leaving.
If you are ready to buy something, you compare or even open multiple tabs and dedicate time for the shopping process. By aiming for position 1.5-2.5, you are weeding out a big chunk of informational intent searches and increasing the chances of people (with interest in your product/service) clicking your ad.
Bigger ad real estate
“Bigger is better” is a rule that makes sense in the wild. The same can be understood for your ads. The bigger your ad, the more likely it will be to attract a click.
One of the best ways that you can increase the size of your ads is to take advantage of ad extensions. Each extension adds another layer to your ad, but most importantly, it makes the size of your ad larger.
- Sitelinks extensions
- Location extensions
- Call extensions
- App extensions
- Review extensions
- Callout extensions
Here, you have to get creative in order to use the ad extension feature to its full potential. While many use ad extensions only when they are relevant, my unconventional advice is to create as many as you can, even if it means you have to make changes on your website or the way you operate (to some extent of course).
Here are a few examples:
- Don’t have enough important pages on your website to link to?
Idea: Simply create new pages with helpful information that can bring your prospects one step closer to engagement. The options are unlimited and the idea is simple. You are leveraging the sitelinks extension to first bring the prospects to your site. Then you begin to push them further down in the buyer funnel.
- Don’t have multiple locations, or don’t sell your product online?
Idea: Include your location address and invite people on a virtual tour of your office. People love to see inside a workspace, and how things operate. It might even bring prospects closer to you. Make sure to include a clear call to action on that page too.
- Don’t receive calls and prefer people to email you?
Idea: Consider allowing people to call you directly. Many miss on that opportunity and forget that we all shop differently. I’ve seen everything from SaaS to even e-Commerce websites allow their prospects to call them, and I can attest that making that change in my business helped me to convert better.
Crash to the floor high CPC keywords
Recently, I tried something especially daring. A campaign I was working on had some especially high bids for keywords, and estimates were going higher every week. I had to pay quite a bit to rank amongst the competitors and some of the keyword didn’t even reach the top three, no matter how high I went with my bids. I decided to see if these prices were really worth spending, so here is what I did:
- Tested about 25 keywords originally at $95 per click, on average
- Crashed them by allotting $25 per click, (minimum first page bid) to see what would happen
- Set them all at the same amount and let it run for 7 days
My campaign stats improved significantly. Also, my CTR went up, CPC went down (of course) and those expensive keywords were ranking just a bit lower, costing me about 1/4 of the cost from before.
For those who are one step ahead in understanding where I’m going with this: Yes, my ROI went up too, because I was now getting near the same results, with a lower budget.
I feel that further testing of some of these costly keywords could result in an additional decrease in spend. Therefore, I highly encourage you to avoid paying high $ amounts on core keywords. Be careful with more spend = more clicks thinking. Even if you are showing first on the first page, you are not necessarily doing better.
Stop Google from charging you for people’s mistakes
This is one of those areas where I start to feel like I’m speaking about a conspiracy. Google has the ability to notice when a user makes a typo, and will show my ad for the assumed keyword. However, Google will not avoid my ad for a typo of my negative keywords.
If my negative keyword is bicycle, and a user enters bisycle, I may appear for that ad and pay for a click. Thankfully there is a great resource for this problem: http://tools.seobook.com/spelling/keywords-typos.cgi
This tool will generate many possible misspellings of your negative keywords. So if you have 100 negative keywords, you will likely end up with 10,000 negative keywords generated (or even more). This can seem like overkill, but be worth it if you’re showing up often for these misspellings.
In your negative keyword shared library, open a list for misspellings. It will be easier to manage when you have all misspellings separate. It might take some time to do, but it’s worth the potential funds you can save over a month/year.
Note: I highly suggest reviewing the generated list to avoid blocking words you might want to still show up for.
Per capita income
Every PPC campaign has a target user with a target income. In order to target demographic income level more accurately, I suggest using per capita income instead of regular income level. The difference is that per capita income is the income level in a household. A $150k annual income of one person in a two-person family is not the same of $150 annual income in a six-person family.
In order to find the per capita income of a region, City Data offers a ton of information for you to narrow your region targeting. Here is their website: http://www.city-data.com/ be prepared for a lot of data – a lot of options here.
The goal here is to once again plug your leaks. Why market to a population whose income doesn’t match your target user.
Weed out all informational intent terms
There are three types of searches that your users are performing:
- Informational – searching for information before purchasing
- Branded – searching specifically for your brand
- Commercial – close to the end of the buyer funnel or ready to buy
When your ads appear for informational searches, you are most likely wasting money on users that aren’t going to spend on your product. Leave those informational searches to your organic blog listings.
Make sure that you slowly weed out terms like:
- Questions (what, why, when, where, how come, can I, etc.)
- With extra care, consider removing plural terms (be careful here and use common sense). Words like: fees, costs, rights, doctors, etc. tend to be more informational than those with commercial value. Only testing over time, while looking on conversions stats will determine if the word indeed has to be excluded.
- Clear informational terms such as jobs, become, hiring, career, about, maps, books, news, guide, images, free, tip(s), laws, article, etc. Here is a list to start with https://goo.gl/h33QVT.
- Celebrity names. Yep, any popular noun could be your next budget leak. Ask, who are the ones in my industry, or use a resource like this one: http://candiest.com/celebrity-directory/.
Knowing the difference between information and commercial intent keywords, and knowing how to take action about them, is one of the most powerful ways to increase ROI in your AdWords. I find very little information about it and even less on Google forums. This is where you’re likely leaking the MOST.
Call-only campaigns: Are they really worth your money?
No. Previously, the only call option you had as an advertiser was to add a call extension to a pre-existing ad. Call-only campaigns are an exciting and recent feature which ditch the idea of landing pages, and offer a direct phone call link right to your business. Considering that mobile searches have outweighed desktop searches in 2015, a mobile phone driven campaign seems like a good idea.
Call-only campaigns are tricky. I’ve found that they do not work for most industries. Unless you don’t have landing pages and/or you are running a call only campaign for brand keywords, I suggest you stay away from them.
For example: I call Pizza Hut. I can order my pizza as soon as I speak with an employee (brand). However, a click to call for almost anything else but brand will often result in searchers declining the call altogether (closing that pop up push notification window in your phone). Most people desire to shop before they buy. They are looking for the visual (landing page) before making a decision to click or call.
Case in point: A non-branded call-only campaign with a budget of $1,350 returned 52 clicked and only 2 calls. We converted this campaign to a branded one and for about the same budget we got 61 clicks and 26 calls. We also specified in the add “click to call.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures
Recently, I had a client come to me because their CTR tanked. There are lots of reasons that this could happen, but in this particular case, their ad history had been lost due to URL changes through Google AdWords Editor. Google has been updating there destination URLs in AdWords and the off line tool AdWords Editor does not let people know that URL changes, forced by a certain date, will cause ALL ad data to be lost. They do mention this in a blog post, but how would anyone know to look for it?
If you do URL updates through AdWords Editor, they will delete your ads and create new ones. Here is a section of the post they sent me:
“Good to Know (seriously? “Good to know”?)
When adding final URLs to existing ads, make sure to post the URL upgrades before posting the rest of your changes. If you post normally without upgrading the URLs, you will lose all stats and history associated with that ad.”
A Google rep did agree that this is somehow deceiving and advised to escalate the case higher. Which I did, but no results to share so far.
To fix the CTR drastic drop, I took a daring approach that might terrify advertisers. I went all in. I took a campaign with a full budget of $3,500 per day and gave it a budget of $60,000 to spend in a day. No, I didn’t really spend 60k for that day, but about 30% higher than what I usually end up spending in 24 hours.
Halfway into the second day, I noticed a higher impression share, much better CTR, and an overall improvement in performance.
The logic behind this method is simple. Budget limitations cause the system to create multiple obstructions (specifically with impressions share), and therefore decline in performance. With negative keywords, you can limit your campaigns to the point that you can actually set all campaigns on “unlimited budget”, but really stay within your daily spending. This approach helped me recover quickly and saved money in the long run.
Block all countries
Here is an effort that is totally manual, and labor intensive. It’s unlikely that any searches coming from outside the country are going to be beneficial for a local business, unless they are a travel agency/car rental, etc. which rely heavily on searches outside a user’s destination.
In order to block searches and clicks coming from outside a desired country, users have to search and list every one of the locations as an excluded area. Otherwise, a campaign will bleed slowly to these useless searches. There is no quick way to do this (no bulk upload) and Google AdWords editor doesn’t offer a solution either.
Here are the actions to take
In your settings tab, under the targeted locations section, there are the advanced location options. If you click to expand the options, you will see the following five, and be able to choose a combination of two (one from each) to adjust according to your needs.
If you read the options carefully (read more in detail here), you also realize that there is one missing option:
People in, search for, or who show interest in my target location but are NOT outside a specific geographic area.
Case in point: I have several clients that operate locally, but do want to show up for searches outside their main service area, to allow prospects located remotely to shop first and then obtain their service in person. Business like, doctors, attorneys, architects, etc., are great examples. The only option they have is to choose “People in XXX, searching for XXX, or who show interest in my targeted location.”
The farther the search from the target location there is a smaller chance to convert. Professional’s like doctor, attorneys, and architects might want to allow search within remote locations from their office but block anything outside their state or country. AdWords doesn’t have the options to do so. The result, searches coming from around the globe that are either informational or pure spam. The solution is to target the main areas, and manually exclude the rest of the world:
Tedious and time consuming, but worth the effort!
Note: Google does offer bulk location upload to exclude but it doesn’t work for countries:
This is also an area, which I think Google needs to improve; such a labor intensive process is likely to be overlooked by most advertisers, resulting in wasted spend for campaigns, and additional income for Google.
Daily optimization (yesterday)
The next four sections are a quick overview of the ongoing action plan I execute on behalf of my clients. I use Ignitur https://www.ignitur.com/ to manage my PPC tasks, but you can use excel or notepad if you wish. Please note, I create a checklist, but didn’t go in depth on the how to, which is a topic for a different post. After the initial optimization phase is completed, comes the ongoing part of the plan, which includes further tweaks and testing. I do that daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly.
The daily routine includes the following:
- Keywords review bid adjustments
- Incoming search terms to discover new negative keywords
- Change keyword match as necessary
- Notification review and new keyword consideration
- Keyword quality score improvements by moving keywords in or out of ad groups, and updating ad text to increase relevancy
Weekly optimization (past week)
It is important that you maintain and make adjustments to your campaigns often. Here are some things I suggest you review on a weekly basis:
- Campaigns’ CTR review to locate trends, and take action upon them accordingly
- Delete/adjust ads with low CTR
- Delete/further adjust keywords with low CTR
- Review conversion and conversion funnels to locate trends, and take action upon them accordingly
- Budget adjustments if necessary
- Review impressions share, and take action to improve, if necessary
Monthly optimization (last 30 days)
The monthly level review is meant to go in greater depth in the analysis. I usually combine Google Analytics insights to discover more about the various metrics trends and brainstorm with my colleagues what would be the best course of action to improve the performance in the next 30-day period. The things we go over are pretty much everything mentioned in the daily and weekly reviews, plus the following:
- Ad extension performance, and take action as necessary
- Dimension -> Time -> Hour of the day report for bid adjustments
- Dimension -> Time -> Day of the week report for bid adjustments
- Dimension -> User location report for bid adjustments
- Dimension -> Top Movers report to be able to compare to a previous period, and see the changes
- Landing page’s bounce rate improvement
Quarterly rinse and repeat
Every quarter, this is the time to run a full analysis on the account, just like the one you did when you just started to work on it. This is the time to use any analyze tool you prefer and ask for other people’s insights. The quarterly check mark is when you set the next 90-day milestones. Keep it realistic. Here are the metrics I look at and set my new goals for:
- Improve campaigns’ CTR by X [write your action plan here]
- Improve conversions by Y [write your action plan here]
- Reduce cost by Z [write your action plan here]
Other general suggestions [write your action plan here]
Ask to be assigned to account strategist
Asking Google to assign you an account strategist is one of the best things you can do for you PPC campaign. Despite all my “finger pointing,” a great account strategist from Google can be a real asset, and can be very knowledgeable too. Some are better than others, but the longer they work with your account, the better they know and understand how to help you. The regular customer service Google offers is only helpful to a point, and oftentimes they are very limited with their knowledge.
Once you’ve set up your account, call Google and ask for a specific strategist to be assigned to you. The assignments happen quarterly, so it may not be immediate.
I generally call AdWords once a month, just to get an external opinion on my account, and the way it’s taking shape. Often times you’ll find that they have some great idea, new insights and suggestion that might help you improve your PPC operation. Another big advantage is the fact you can communicate with them by email, between your periodic calls. I usually have my questions ready and ask my rep to review the account before our call. Don’t be shy to ask and take the time you need. You/your clients are paying high dollar amounts and deserve the attention.
I’d really enjoy reading your thoughts in the comments.
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