Sam Owen – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Wed, 12 Aug 2015 22:48:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What’s A Good PPC Account Structure, Anyway? /just-good-ppc-account-structure-anyway-202476 /just-good-ppc-account-structure-anyway-202476#respond Fri, 05 Sep 2014 14:05:51 +0000 http:/?p=202476 Is there an ideal way to structure an AdWords account, or is every case special? Contributor Sam Owen explores the issue.

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When it comes to PPC account structure, it seems like everyone has a different approach. Even within our office, there’s disagreement about the best way to structure things. (Thankfully, no fist fights have broken out…yet.)

Why is it that there doesn’t seem to be a unified theory of account structure? My take is that the “perfect” structure doesn’t really exist. What you need to focus on is the perfect structure for your account.

special snowflake meme

Each account is its own special snowflake.

An ideal account structure is going to be different for a local advertiser compared with a national or international one. Lead generation accounts won’t be structured the same for e-commerce as for SaaS.

However, there are some rules that apply to all types of accounts. These are:

  • Make controlling performance as easy as possible
  • Be as segmented as required
  • Tightly align keywords and ads

Following these simple steps has helped me cut out a lot of time wasted on overly complicated accounts.

It’s also important to consider that structure determines how manageable your account is. There’s no point having a million tightly themed and segmented ad groups if you just have one part-time PPC manager controlling everything. The scale will actually prevent them from doing anything meaningful.

Boss: “How are our ad tests doing?”

PPC Manager: “I don’t know. I’m busy uploading the 459,000th one right now.”

Let’s take the example of long-tail keywords.

I like to build very large and granular accounts. It can be kind of a problem. The trouble is that there are just so many potential long-tail keywords out there.

For example, if I’m selling televisions, I might start with some simple keywords like:

  • [buy televisions]
  • [compare televisions]
  • [brand1 televisions]

However, just by the process of multiplying everything out, I can start to get some pretty long keywords:

  • [compare 70 inch {brand1} televisions on sale]
  • “find best {brand} {product_name} tv discounts”

These are keywords that basically no one is searching for; yet, because I don’t want to leave anything on the table, I’m making sure I have them in my account. I’ll also have each of these keywords in at least exact, phrase and modified broad and segmented into their own ad groups. What that leads to is a whole load of keywords and ad groups.

Have a look at the data from one such account:

A table showing the number of words in a keyword and performance

Those long keywords (5 or more words) accounted for a lot of work — 139,898 out of 420,354 keywords, or 33% of the total. Despite this, they only account for 5,385 impressions out of over 1.5 million.

Translation: I shouldn’t have wasted my time building my account out this way.

A table showing how the longer the word, the fewer impressions were generated per keyword

What Does This Have To Do With A Good Account Structure?

I’m attempting to show that granularity for its own sake doesn’t help anyone. It adds layers of extra work. I could happily sweep up all traffic from long-tail keywords with shorter phrase and modified broad keywords and save myself a heap of work.

The time I spent organizing bids and ad copy for these long, low-search-volume and unimportant keywords could and should have been invested in testing more important keywords. This is particularly true when you consider that most of those keywords were so long I couldn’t even write an optimized ad for them, anyway.

How, then, should we structure accounts for the biggest pay-off?

The Party Line

Google’s official recommendations when it comes to account structure have always been relatively straightforward:

  • Create campaigns and ad groups to mirror your website’s structure
  • Separate campaigns geographically if needed

Mirroring your existing website structure works well because it aligns ad groups and landing pages. There’s not much point splitting out ad groups if we’re just going to have the same ad copy with the same landing page — we might as well consolidate at that point and keep things simple.

Google AdWords' recommended account structure

Courtesy of AdWords Help: Source

Remember, the whole point of the ad group is to align keywords, ad copy and landing pages. If your structure isn’t doing that as effectively as possible, it’s probably the wrong structure.

An Alternative To The Party Line: Organizing Your Account by User Intention

Instead of having campaigns grouped by product or website structure, an alternative approach is to have customer awareness levels as your key structure differentiator. Keywords that indicate researching go into a “top of funnel” campaign, while more action-oriented keywords are in a high-conversion, lower-funnel campaign.


Why structure your account this way? It might seem overly complex, but it can help with conversion rates. Different customers have different anxieties and buying triggers. Segmenting these visitors allows for a more tightly aligned landing page experience:

  • Top Of Funnel: Focus on helping the user make a decision. Use informational pages with a strong call-to-action that might be a little less committal (e.g., “Read our guide to buying a TV”).
  • Middle Funnel: Highlight your value proposition. They’ve already decided to buy; they just don’t know what or where from. Give them reasons to buy this specific product from you.
  • Lower Funnel: Reduce frictions as much as possible. They’re there to buy — have landing pages align perfectly with your ads, and keep pricing and buying instructions as simple as possible.

This structure tends to work well with lead-generation accounts.

Practical Naming Conventions

However you prefer to name your campaigns, you should always follow the golden rule: If someone else took over this account, could they understand what’s going on?

A very quick checklist for naming conventions is:

  • Start with the most important attribute of your campaign
  • Keep everything consistent
  • Include all the information you need at a glance

A good naming structure is going to make it much easier for you to filter for information and pull pivot tables. Here are a couple of examples of how to name your campaigns:

A table showing 3 alternative campaign naming conventions

I’ve used multiple variations of all 3 of these depending on the situation.

Lead Generation Vs. E-Commerce Variances

The biggest difference between the two is that e-commerce accounts tend to contain more landing pages than lead generation accounts — a lot more. That’s because instead of advertising a small number of services, you’re advertising what can sometimes be hundreds or even thousands of products.

This can (and normally does) get a bit out of hand with the size of the account, especially when you factor in all the different types of campaigns you want to be running:

  • Shopping
  • Text Ads (Search campaigns)
  • Display (Topics, Interests, Placements, etc)
  • Remarketing
  • Dynamic Remarketing
  • Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA)
  • Dynamic Search Ads (DSA)
  • Remarketing for Dynamic Search Ads (RDSA)

If you’re advertising just 20 product groups, that quickly becomes 160 campaigns (and let’s hope you aren’t segmenting by state, too — or you’re looking at 8,000).

The trick for a good account structure here is to be consistent with naming conventions and to label everything. The more clearly defined and separated the above campaign types are, the easier the account will be to manage.

A table showing the value of labels for ecommerce accounts

Labels can help you cut through the mess on huge accounts

Match Types:

There are three main ways to organize match types in your account:

  1. Throw exact, phrase and broad into the same ad group
  2. Segment match types into separate ad groups within the same campaign
  3. Break out match types by campaign

I’ve found that people really don’t agree on which of the above to use. The logic behind splitting out by ad group is that you can use embedded negatives to control exactly where a search query lands. In the example below, we want to make sure that the search query triggers the exact match keyword and not any of the others listed:

A search query for tvs and possible keyword triggers based on match types

So here’s the question – are search queries matching up to less efficient match types? Is there ever a time when a search query for “70 inch tvs” will match up to the phrase of “70 inch tvs” rather than the exact match? Here’s what Google has to say (source):

  1. If you have a keyword that is identical to the search term, the system will prefer to use this keyword to trigger an ad. This is true even if there are other keywords in your ad group that are similar to the search term.
  2. If you have multiple keywords that are the same, the system will prefer to use the exact match keyword.
  3. When several broad match keywords in your ad group broadly match a search term, the system will prefer to use the keyword with the highest Ad Rank.

If you want to see for yourself where your query matching conflicts are, pull your search query data and run it through a pivot table with search queries above keywords in the row labels. You’ll end up with something like this:

A pivot table showing search queries triggering multiple keywords

Now you can scour the list for examples of queries that trigger multiple match types of the same keyword. We couldn’t find more than a couple of examples of it happening across our accounts, and these were due to a couple of exceptions to Google’s rules (on rare occasions Google will pick the keyword with better ad rank to save you money).

Note: There’s a caveat to all of this with the recent close variant changes. If close variants are messing up your CPA, then you’ll need to break ad groups out by match type so you can exclude misspellings and close variants as negatives.

What About Segmenting At The Campaign Level?

If you are budget limited, segmenting broad (or modified broad) and exact queries into separate campaigns makes a lot of sense. I like it because it allows me to decide how much of my account is being used to mine for new converting queries (which are then placed into the exact match campaign).

If my client is really concerned about CPA, I can reduce budgets to my broad campaigns and tighten things up. If they want to push for expansion and more volume, I can open them back up. It’s much easier to control than having to go through and pause or bid down all broad keywords within a unified campaign.

A meme showing cut all the budgets

Broad matches in their own campaign make this client request much easier to swallow

Bid Tiering

One way to avoid complications with the match types issue above is by tiering your bids to give priority to exact matches like so:

Bids tiered by match type

Bids tiered by match type

So why am I not a fan of bid tiering?

  • I set my bids based on conversion rates. If a phrase match has a better conversion rate, maybe it deserves to be bid higher.
  • It’s a huge pain to ensure that every time you raise or lower bids, you are doing the same thing across all match types.

Verdict: Keeps things in order, but it’s probably unnecessary and hugely time consuming.

A Perfect Account Structure?

The perfect account structure doesn’t exist in any one form. It’s whatever makes your account easiest to manage. Getting it right will keep the rest of your job simple and allow you to focus on the 20% of tasks that will get 80% of your results — bid changes, ad testing etc.

Go look at your account and ask yourself, Am I getting anything out of this structure?

If you’re segmenting match types into different ad groups — do you actually use that to write different ads, or are you just adding busy time?

If you have one master search campaign — is it too hard to find the information you need? Are your budgets getting eaten up too quickly?

If so, it might be time to rethink your approach.

As always, I’m interested to hear from you if you think you’ve nailed down a perfect account structure. Have you had any luck restructuring an account and why did the new structure work better?

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Why AdWords Dynamic Search Ads Work Better Than You Think /adwords-dynamic-search-ads-work-better-think-194435 /adwords-dynamic-search-ads-work-better-think-194435#respond Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:10:34 +0000 http:/?p=194435 I have a confession: I used to hate Dynamic Search Ads. I’m sure some of you still do. For my part, I had used them unsuccessfully in a couple of accounts and decided they were no good. It wasn’t until a few months ago, when I saw this awesome presentation from Matt Umbro at SMX […]

The post Why AdWords Dynamic Search Ads Work Better Than You Think appeared first on Search Engine Land.

I have a confession: I used to hate Dynamic Search Ads.

I’m sure some of you still do. For my part, I had used them unsuccessfully in a couple of accounts and decided they were no good.

It wasn’t until a few months ago, when I saw this awesome presentation from Matt Umbro at SMX West, that I decided to give them another shot.

Let me say this: Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs) are not only a lot better than they used to be, they can also perform extremely well when optimized properly.

Let’s take a look at how to run a successful DSA campaign.

What Are Dynamic Search Ads?

Think of DSAs as broad match for your landing pages. AdWords uses details from your landing pages to decide whether to enter an ad into the auction on a given search query. Assuming it judges the search query a good fit, it dynamically generates an appropriate headline and landing page to show.

Creating a dynamic search ad in AdWords

Another good way to think of DSAs is like the text ad equivalent to product listing ads. With Google Shopping, you give Google a feed of all your product information and set bids based upon information contained within that feed. With DSAs, Google grabs the information it needs from your site and you target based upon that information.

Who Should Use DSAs?

Anyone with a huge inventory of landing pages can make use of DSAs. Typically, this means e-commerce advertisers with thousands of items in stock.

Making use of DSAs is especially handy for advertising on sites that have a constantly changing mix of products. No one wants to spend hours every week uploading new products and pausing ones you no longer sell. DSAs will take care of this for you without the associated costs that come with using a specialist advertising platform.

For most lead generation sites, DSAs aren’t necessary, as the total  number of unique landing pages is manageable. However, if you’re trying to increase brand awareness by, for example, making ads for all of the blog posts you’ve ever written, it can still be a worthwhile investment.

Let’s say Search Engine Land went to a subscription model and wanted to advertise for new paying members; manually creating ad groups for each article ever written would be kind of a pain. With DSAs, we could have an ad pop up every time someone was searching for anything related to a previous post on the blog.

What’s Good About Them?

There are a number of benefits to using DSAs to supplement your existing AdWords campaigns. The first and most exciting is that you get to throw those stuffy 25 character-limit headlines out of the window (insert “ooooooh” crowd noise):

A dynamic search ad with a long title

Strategically, DSAs are good as a way to mine for new keywords. Where the keyword planner fails to tell you about that extremely specific term for a Nike shoe that gets 5 sales on 20 clicks each month, DSAs will be right there harvesting data. Having them running in the background makes sure you don’t miss out on changes in user behavior or new keyword trends.

Finally, it’s worth noting that you don’t lose out on anything by using DSAs over regular text ads. All of the same extensions can be used, and you can still use mobile preferred copy in your description lines.

What Are The Downsides?

For starters, you’re offering Google a lot of control over your ads — not only where they’re pointing, but also what they say. PPC managers can tend to be control freaks when it comes to their accounts, and just handing everything over to Google doesn’t sit right with everyone.

DSAs have a higher chance to show for less-relevant traffic, in my experience. Whenever you’re running DSA campaigns, you’ll need to be constantly monitoring your search query reports and creating additional negative keywords.

Given that Google uses your website to match search queries to ads, write headlines and pick landing pages, DSAs also cross the SEO-PPC bridge. In other words, if your website contains poorly-optimized title tags and H1s, matching the right query to the right product is going to be trickier for Google.

How To Set Up DSAs

DSAs are currently available as a specific campaign type in the AdWords interface. Whether you want more than one campaign will depend upon how you manage your budgets. In my case, I typically set up one DSA campaign and use ad groups to break out specific category targets.

Creating a DSA in AdWords

Much like with Google Shopping, make sure you begin with an ad group targeting “All web pages” and set your bids low here. A low bid is important because it stops DSAs from stealing traffic from existing search campaigns (something you really want to avoid).

Once you have your main ad group set up, start breaking out new ad groups based around product groupings. How far you go with this breakout will depend on your business needs and will evolve as you start to learn more about your traffic. I currently have a DSA campaign for an online shoe retailer that breaks out each brand (Nike, Adidas, Reebok etc.) into its own ad group.

With your ad groups set up, you’ll need to add some targeting parameters, which can be found in the Auto Targets tab. There are four separate options for targeting:

  • Category
  • URL
  • Page_Title
  • Page_Content

Here’s how my dynamic ad targets look when set up to target specific products through the site’s URL structure:

Dynamic ad targets for a DSA shoes campaign

There’s also a whole host of pages on my site that just aren’t suitable for advertising with DSAs. In my targeting exclusions, I’m avoiding traffic for my shopper rewards program, the company blog, about us and contact pages.

Excluded DSA targets in shoe campaign

If you feel like you need just a little more info before diving head first into a DSA campaign, here’s a link to Google’s help documentation on the issue.

What Needs Optimizing?

Setting up DSAs is relatively straightforward. However, they tend not to do well without careful monitoring and optimization. Check out this warning from Andrew Lolk about the dangers of setting and forgetting your DSAs.

Negative Keywords

As we already discussed, DSAs are designed to sit in the background and catch any traffic that might have fallen through the cracks of your existing campaigns. This means you’ll need to do the fairly arduous job of adding all existing positive keywords from your account in as campaign-level negative keywords for your DSA campaign.

DSAs can have a tendency to pick up extremely broad traffic if left unchecked. If you’ve set up your negatives properly, these are normally keywords you left out in the first place due to high CPCs or perceived lack of value. Make sure to port over your existing negative keywords and to build a list of broad terms your site might show for. Failing this, checking the search query report will help you trim the fat out of your campaigns.

Search Query Reports

Running regular SQRs is the bread and butter of a successful DSA campaign. First, you’ll want to look for search queries with super low click-through rates by filtering for low click numbers and high impression numbers. The reason for this is that it’s a surefire signal something is going wrong with the ads for these queries.

A search term report for dynamic search ads campaign

We’re getting nearly 6,000 impressions for “classified shoes,” but a quick Google search revealed that our ad was for a particular type of classified shoe — highly irrelevant to our searchers’ needs.

Second, you’ll want to make sure you’re harvesting the data from your DSA campaign. Sort all search queries by conversions and pull out anything with more than 2 to be spun out into its own ad group in a regular search campaign. Make sure to add it back in as a negative for your DSA campaign after.

Ad Copy

You might not be able to control your headlines, but you can control your description lines. Ad testing with DSAs is just as important as with regular text ads — more so even, given that searchers are typically presented with a group of identical headlines. Having an offer than stands out is extremely important.

Optimizing ads is also the best way to think about changing up your DSA campaign’s structure. Compare the search queries for each ad group against your ad copy. Could you write something more relevant?

In my case, I had ad copy that mentioned “Nike” but was finding a ton of search queries for “mens nike” and “womens nike” — even though DSAs were selecting the right headlines and destination URLs for those queries, my description copy looked bland and untargeted.


Just like broad matches, changing bids on DSAs can be a bit of a crapshoot. Sometimes bidding up can help you out in the auction as you rank for higher quality searches. Other times it can suddenly kick the bottom out of a small, profitable campaign. You’ll want to experiment until you find the sweet-spot for each of your ad groups.

What We’ve Learned:

Across our accounts, we’ve seen a consistent pattern from DSAs.

  • A small boost in conversion volume
  • An initially poor CPA and ROAS
  • Above average long term performance from optimized campaigns.

Let’s look at the following data from May 2014 for one of our accounts:

A chart showing DSA with better ROAS than search campaigns

DSAs are currently generating around 5.5% of all conversions in the account. This number has actually decreased over time — from 121 conversions 4 months ago. That’s because we’ve been spinning out our top performing DSA search queries into their own ad groups.

The Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) is also way higher than non-branded search traffic over the past month. That’s mainly because of two factors:

  1. Our ads are more relevant than our competitors’, who are broad matching ads to these product-specific queries
  2. CPCs are much lower due to less competition and lower starting bids

Looking back at our online shoe retailer, you can see the impact that spinning out product specific ad groups had. Our click conversion rate and cost per conversion were markedly better than for our generic targets:

DSA conversion rates and cpas by ad group and target

Finally, make sure you’re using mobile preferred ads. While my conversion rate from desktops and laptops is okay for DSAs at 0.51%, from mobile devices it’s at a paltry 0.07%!

Device data showing poor mobile DSA data


Dynamic Search Ads, when optimized, can be a great way to push a stagnant e-commerce account into new territory without spending hours on keyword research. We’ve enjoyed an average lift in conversions for all of our clients that utilize them and recommend that you try them out. I’d be particularly interested to hear your experiences, good and bad with DSAs in the comments below!

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3 Key PPC Metrics Are Lying To You. Find Out How /3-key-ppc-metrics-lying-191172 /3-key-ppc-metrics-lying-191172#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 13:42:03 +0000 http:/?p=191172 When it comes to PPC, metrics are everything. We consume ourselves in pouring over numbers and analyzing our accounts down to the smallest detail. However, it turns out we are being misled by the data we rely on the most. We’re too quick to take our figures at face value without thinking about what we’re […]

The post 3 Key PPC Metrics Are Lying To You. Find Out How appeared first on Search Engine Land.

When it comes to PPC, metrics are everything. We consume ourselves in pouring over numbers and analyzing our accounts down to the smallest detail. However, it turns out we are being misled by the data we rely on the most.

We’re too quick to take our figures at face value without thinking about what we’re not seeing. I’m going to explore what I consider to be the three most misleading AdWords metrics (and discuss how we should be thinking about them differently): Click-Through Rate, Average Position and Average Cost-Per-Click.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Click-through rate (CTR) is the lifeblood of any good AdWords account. It is the primary way our ads are evaluated by Google, and it makes up the majority of our quality score. Given the importance of a good CTR, a lot of us still make the mistake of looking at our ad tests with the view that every click is equal.

We take a table like the one below and conclude that Ad 1 is the best ad. We’ll pause Ad 2 and then go write a couple of new ads to test against our winner.

2 ads testing against one another in AdWords

Although Ad 1 does have a better CTR, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best ad for all impressions. Turning off Ad 2 causes us to leave thousands of potential clicks on the table. We’re concluding our tests without segmenting our ads far enough.

Let’s look at five ways that CTR is currently being blurred in our AdWords accounts.

1. CTR Varies By Device

At SMX West, Brad Geddes mentioned that in a review of 250 million ads he conducted, only 3% were currently listed as “mobile preferred.” That number should be more like 50% (maybe a little less given that some of us don’t advertise on mobile). Why is this important? Because, there’s a good chance your best overall ad isn’t your best for both desktop and mobile. Take a look at this example from one of my accounts:

Mobile vs. Desktop CTRs in AdWords

If we had separated our ads by device type, we’d be gaining a significant number of clicks over using only our “winning” ad.

2. Traffic From Google Search Vs. Search Partners

Traffic on Google and traffic on Google search partners are not the same thing. They’re just not. We need to stop looking at CTRs that combine the two. This mainly happens when I’m feeling too lazy to hit “segment” — the combined CTR is the default and it looks kind of like a number I should care about.

Search Partners (which I discuss in more detail below) can vary from large retailers’ websites such as Amazon, Walmart and Target to traditional search engines that mirror Google like or AOL.

The CTR of ads showing on the Walmart website search page is so far removed from the CTR of ads on the Google search page that combining them removes almost all meaning from our ad tests.

search partner differences in adwords ctr

3. Ad Position Impacts CTR

If your ad shows top of page, a lot of things happen. You get ad extensions like reviews and sitelinks. You also have an elongated headline if your description line 1 has punctuation at the end. These factors drastically change how your ads perform.

I’ve found that ads with punctuation at the end of line 1 perform about 9% better in the top positions, but perform worse on the side. This is because when I take all 70 characters to write a line of copy, I can write something more persuasive.

To fix this, segment your ads by top vs. other before making any decisions about which is your winner. If you’re being told you need to push for position 1, or need to cut bids, you’ll want to know if you should be switching to an ad that is better optimized for the position it’s going to be shown in.

4. Your Ad’s CTR Is Product Of Multiple Search Queries

How many of you have every single keyword in your account in its own ad group? I wish I did, but I don’t. This was highlighted to me as a problem recently when I tried to conclude an ad test in an ad group I have with 4 keywords:

Click through rate by keyword in an adgroup

Ad F was the overall winner on CTR. If I hadn’t segmented my ads by keyword (available in the segment drop-down), I’d have concluded the test and turned off every ad but ad F. However, for three of my four keywords, ad F wasn’t the best ad.

5. Some Ads Work Better On The Weekend

When you take an aggregate of your data, you are combining people searching before work, at lunchtime, on a slow Friday afternoon at work, and those sitting watching TV on a Sunday morning.

These are very different situations for people to be searching in. Their urgency, desire to buy, and overall place in the marketing funnel (e.g., researching vs. buying) will vary depending on time and day of the week.

At the very least, please judge your ad tests in multiples of seven to account for an even spread across the week. Even better is to pull your data with segments by hour of the day and day of the week.

Average Position

If you’re a bit lazy like I am, it can be tempting to simplify average position down to just a number. “My average position was 3.4 today; I should boost bids and maybe get up to 3.0. That way I can have my Sitelinks show!”

The first major issue with this comes in the form of the search partner problem (something my colleague Eric Couch did a great job explaining in a presentation recently).

Essentially, the scope of placements on the search partner network are so wide, that using any average position data that includes search partners is pretty much useless.

Let’s take a look at this ad that appeared in top position for [Xbox One].

An Xbox ad on Google

Now, I decided to go to Amazon and use the site search function to search for the same thing again.

Amazon search partners results

Take a look at the bottom of the page there, under Sponsored Links. Recognize that ad? Let’s zoom in on it for a closer look:

An Xbox search partners ad on Amazon

(Click to enlarge.)

It’s the exact same ad as the one above that appeared in the top position on Google Search. This ad, now in 16th position on Amazon, will record in AdWords as having impressed in first position. After all, it’s in first position for the Google results on Amazon!

However, you and I can both see that this position 1 is meaningless. If we have all of our ads showing in position 4.9 on Google SERPs and position 1 on Amazon, and we split impressions evenly between the two, we’d be under the mistaken assumption that our ads were getting top billing (and all the nice extension-related bonuses that go with that).

Another problem is that average position doesn’t tell us much more than (obviously) the average. To fully understand what is happening with our ads, we need to know more about where they are being shown. At the very least we want to see:

  • The standard deviation. This tells us how far from the average our ads were distributed. Were our impressions clustered around the position AdWords is showing or did we have impressions in a much wider range of positions?
  • The range our ads fall in. Is our 3.0 average position representative of our ads showing in 2, 3 and 4? Or did we have ads run from 1 to 10?
  • The skew of our ads. Were our ads evenly distributed above and below the average? Did we have a lot of ads in positions 2 and 3 and then a long tail of impressions from 4 through 10?

This stuff is important because it tells us where the bulk of our impressions are coming from. If we’re getting 95% of impressions in 3rd place, our ads show ad extensions a lot more often than if we have a wide split from 1st to 5th.

What can you do to fix this? The first thing is to just exclude search partners when dealing with AdWords data (other than when specifically looking at search partner conversions and CPA).

The second is to use Top vs. Other as much as you would use average position. This helps with the problem of not knowing the range and standard deviation.

Average CPC

How do you make bid changes? The traditional formula is to set your Max CPC to your desired cost-per-conversion multiplied by your keyword’s historical conversion rate.

However, there’s one thing that throws a spanner into the works with this. The CPCs we bid for aren’t the amount we end up paying. Take a look at this example from one of my accounts of the average bid Max CPC and overall average CPC.

average cpc vs max cpc for an adwords keyword

The question that you want to ask yourself then is should I just lower my bids by say 53%? Am I overbidding here? The answer is more complicated than you think. Let’s look at an example keyword. I’ve pulled our average position and CPC by hour of day (get this in your dimensions tab):

An hour of the day conditional formatted keyword report

For this keyword, the range of our CPCs is $1.37 (from $0.97 to $2.34). Our competition are bidding higher in the evenings when users are more actionable and pushing us lower down in position. If I were to have cut my Max CPCs down to my average CPC, I would have taken a big hit in this key period of the day when my customers are buying.

That is, in essence, why you can sometimes take a big hit in conversions when you cut your bids by just a small percentage. Your average CPC gives you a false sense of security because it pulls in those clicks that might not cost you as much as the clicks you actually want. Again, segment by day, hour, search partners and device to get a clearer picture about what you actually should be doing with your bids.

Average CPC is a lie because it makes us think of CPC as a flat number. Really, we should be thinking about it as a curve, for which we need to know more about the standard deviation again. We control the top end of our CPCs (our Max CPC), but our competitors control the bottom end (the amount we actually end up paying). Once again, I’m going to link you to another great analysis by Eric that goes into more detail on this.

Final Thoughts

With all this in mind, I hope we can start to be more educated about what we’re actually doing when we pick ad test winners, or change keyword bids. Some of these revelations have helped us as an agency to find the particular changes we’ve made that have caused damage behind the scenes. I’d love to hear from you about how you judge tests, and how you decide on bids. As always, share away in the comments section below!

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Prepare Your PPC Plans For The Search Engines’ Inevitable Pivots /search-query-provided-world-look-like-ppc-189166 /search-query-provided-world-look-like-ppc-189166#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:01:34 +0000 http:/?p=189166 Last week, Google announced some panic-inducing security enhancements, essentially removing search queries in referring URLs for PPC clicks. Plenty has already been written about this topic and, without getting into it too much, I think it’s a bit of a storm in a teacup. Larry Kim summed it up well last Thursday: It’s pretty much […]

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Last week, Google announced some panic-inducing security enhancements, essentially removing search queries in referring URLs for PPC clicks. Plenty has already been written about this topic and, without getting into it too much, I think it’s a bit of a storm in a teacup. Larry Kim summed it up well last Thursday:

It’s pretty much a non-issue for most of the people who actually do paid search work. But you wouldn’t know it based on the all the hysteria.

shutterstock_101441059-emergency-preparednessHowever, before we knew the scope of Google’s planned changes, the team at Hanapin sat down to prepare an action plan for adapting to (not provided) in our accounts.

The point to our exercise was more than just coming up with the most interesting “what if” scenario. We needed to understand if we, as an agency, have a good system in place to pivot when Google “alters the deal” — which it is known to do with some regularity. In this case, we aren’t really going to end up losing much, but it’s still very much a possibility for the future.

Let me take you through our thought process in this case, which we think provides a good framework for preparing for any kind of dramatic search engine change. 

Account Structure

We began by analyzing the effect the change might have on account structure. Our conclusion: Rest in peace, broad match!

The consensus was that any well-run account would become heavily reliant on exact match in this scenario. Some accounts would start to look ridiculous. For the past three months, one of my accounts has had 400,000 unique search queries generate clicks. Trying to retain that level of coverage in an exact-only model would be tricky, although not impossible. Given that the account has 1.7 million keywords in it already, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it could be done.

One concern was how Google would treat “Low Search Volume” keywords in an exact-only model. No longer would a modified broad suffice to sweep up the long-tail, low volume queries.

low search volume keywords

Could really use more of this in my accounts!

Our imagined implementation of “(Not provided)” would have put an end to the alpha-beta style of account structure. This is where one campaign (beta) is filled with broad and modified-broad terms and then mined for converting search queries as data starts flowing. You then take these converting queries and put them into your alpha campaign as exact match, single keyword, ad groups.

It’s quite a successful way to operate that we use in a lot of our accounts. However, no search queries would mean there would be no way to set up the beta campaigns any more.

Given this, we began to think about making a big switch in account structure to focus on search funnels, especially in smaller accounts where it’s not worth the time to build out half a million exact-match terms. Ideal campaign structure would be more along the lines of:

  • Campaign A: Top of funnel – research keywords
  • Campaign B: Middle of funnel – why this product in particular?
  • Campaign C: Bottom of funnel – brand traffic / “buy now” searchers

This is something we do with some of our accounts right now, but other structure types (such as alpha-beta) can prove more effective. Combine this with a higher reliance on Analytics data (which broad-match keywords are driving engagement?) and we could still have some really successful campaigns.

Less Optimization

Another scenario we pondered was that people don’t switch to using exact-only, as traffic volume is too important; they can’t afford to cut a vast swathe out of their click profile by removing modified broad-matches. That means one of two things – higher CPAs or lower bids. One is bad for advertisers; the other is bad for Google.

A number of other reports would also be totally worthless, such as close variant analysis (back to having misspellings we go — boo!) and cross-pollination (queries showing for multiple keywords).

Search Partners

One of my previous posts covered how to go about optimizing search-partner traffic. Without search query data, this would have become almost impossible.

Right now, the only option we have for improving search-partner traffic comes from the search term report and applying relevant negatives. If we had to do without it, we’d be forced back to an all or nothing strategy that will result in a lot of advertisers just turning them off – something Google really doesn’t want.

search partner queries

An example of a search partner query

Negative Research Would Become A Big Deal

Right now, negative keywords tend to be added to the account in two ways. An initial brainstorm and then an ongoing trawl of the search-term data.

However, without search queries, we’d have had to shake this up. First, the initial negative-keyword additions would become a much bigger project to which we’d need to devote a lot more time. No more cutting corners and waiting for the data.

Second, any new negatives we thought would help CPAs would have had to be tested. I can envisage creating test negative keyword lists that get added to campaigns and then judged on a before-and-after basis. Much messier and less scientific.

Big Wins For Bing

The guys over at Bing must have been licking their lips at the prospect of Google ever removing search queries. It’s a simple fact that budget-limited advertisers will spend where the returns are best. If Bing lets them optimize down to the search query, chances are they’re going to have better CPAs.

budgets in Bing adcenter

Yo ho, and up she rises!


We couldn’t decide if our imagined “(not provided)” scenario would be a boon to automated tools or not. On the one hand, the need for extracting search queries (both positive and negative) would be lost.

On the other, there would be a spike in demand for help building out huge and cumbersome exact-match-only accounts. We also wondered if Google would retain search query data for themselves or if it would never be recorded in the first place. In the former instance, I imagine the Conversion Optimizer would pull ahead of other bid automation platforms.


Given the power that inertia holds over most advertisers, “(not provided)” probably wouldn’t have been that bad a move for Google. Sure, they would have had to weather a storm of complaints, but they already proved they can handle it with Enhanced Campaigns (Who’s even talking about those any more?)

Most people would keep doing what they’re doing, but maybe with less optimization. The good publicity and public goodwill that increased-user-privacy would generate for Google would be worth it to them over the long-term.

Heck, an all-encompassing “(not provided)” situation might have forced us to be smarter, just like Enhanced Campaigns forced us to take mobile and tablet web design more seriously.

We’d have had to invest far more effort into retention, conversion rates and nursing our funnel. This development would be a good thing for PPC Pros. Rather than generating complaints, such a chance should engender rejoicing! Great PPC would go back to fundamentals and be less data-obsessed.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be totally against spending my time writing great ad copy and creating exceptional user experiences over digging through data.

Contingency Planning For The Future

star wars meme for Google altering the deal

Courtesy of user plsearch on warrior forum

Though our all-encompassing “(not provided)” scenario didn’t come to pass, going through the thought experiment we did was still helpful to us as a company.

The last time something like this happened was with per-device campaigns when Enhanced Campaigns came along. Our agency policy up until that point had been to always triple up campaigns into mobile, tablet and desktop. Luckily (or unluckily depending on if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty person) Google gave us a few months to get our accounts in order before pulling this rug from under us.

However, it meant a great deal of work and lost optimization (all our carefully researched bids and targets were thrown out, as was our tablet-specific ad copy). I saw examples from other agencies in which mobile wasn’t just in another campaign but completely different mobile-specific account — that must have taken some adjustment.

What we learned is that we needed to start having plans in place to deal with the potential problems of another such thing happening.

What did we come up  with for “(not provided)”?

  1. We should tweak the way we do alpha/beta campaigns to include more exact-match from the start. Instead of exact/broad campaigns we are going to have “top-performing, exact keywords in single-keyword ad groups” / “all other keywords we can think to build out from the start in modified broad and exact.” I’m not too worried about the super long-tail stuff as it’s such a minor percentage of my traffic in the first place.
  2. Being great at the technical side of accounts is a huge plus, but being great at marketing will always win out. We should start to focus more on the core components of our business like writing great ad copy and helping clients make appealing landing pages. If we can do these two things well, then other changes won’t hit us as hard.

Of course, such exercises are always a work in progress, but big changes are something we are now much more actively thinking about and planning for. The worst thing you can be in the modern world is slow to adapt. Remember, it’s not the strongest that survive, but the most adaptable to change.

What’s your most dramatic what-if scenario? How are you planning to deal with it? Let us know in the comments below!

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Unicorn Accounts Don’t Use DKI & 9 Other PPC Lessons From SMX West /unicorn-accounts-dont-use-dki-9-other-ppc-lessons-from-smx-west-186719 /unicorn-accounts-dont-use-dki-9-other-ppc-lessons-from-smx-west-186719#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 14:10:50 +0000 http:/?p=186719 Freshly back from the excitement of SMX West in beautiful San Jose and full to the brim with insightful PPC notes (if Evernote can technically get full to the brim), I’ve set about compiling a list of my top PPC-related takeaways from the event. The following are the ten that most caught my imagination. 1. […]

The post Unicorn Accounts Don’t Use DKI & 9 Other PPC Lessons From SMX West appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Freshly back from the excitement of SMX West in beautiful San Jose and full to the brim with insightful PPC notes (if Evernote can technically get full to the brim), I’ve set about compiling a list of my top PPC-related takeaways from the event.

The following are the ten that most caught my imagination.

1. Good Accounts Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion, The Best Don’t

In his excellent presentation on former PPC Best Practices gone wild, Larry Kim outlined a great way to think about ads that make use of Dynamic Keyword Insertion.

Essentially, DKI is a great way to bump your ads into “above average” relative click-through-rate territory. I’ve never been a huge fan of using dynamic keyword insertion simply because of the number of times I’ve seen it go wrong — just search Google for [add your keywords here] if you want some horrific examples. (Please do search for this; it’s hilarious.)

Still, it does seem that the benefit of  DKI headlines translates into good CTRs (at least according to WordStream’s data) and therefore, good quality scores and cheaper clicks.

DKI vs non DKI general performance

However, for those looking to join the elite — the crème de la crème of AdWords advertisers — writing your own ad copy is still the way to go.

Larry calls these “unicorn accounts,” the ones with CTRs so far beyond the competition as to be rare and mysterious. These are accounts where the ads are so good that they can beat the competition by six times and up. This translates into very high quality scores, great average positions and  very cheap clicks.

DKI vs Non DKI CTR performance

Therefore, it seems like we should all be following a new pattern with our ad testing. Start with DKI ads running in every ad group, then use all of our creative brainpower to write unique and exciting non-DKI ads to go up against them.

This way, we can ensure our baseline relative CTR is likely to be above average while giving us some extra freedom to be the best marketers we can be, developing powerful “unicorn” ad copy that resonates at a level beyond just a correlation to what our searcher is interested in.

2. Dynamic Search Ads Can Be Very Effective

Up until last week, I had never really been a fan of Dynamic Search Ads. However, Matt Umbro put forward a really strong case for trying them out on some of my e-commerce accounts.

For those of you unfamiliar with DSAs, they work as a kind of landing page broad match, with Google automatically showing ads on searches it thinks are relevant to pages on your site.  This is most useful for big e-commerce websites with tens of thousands of products that are nigh on impossible to keep track of.

By enabling DSAs, you can maintain full coverage on the products you haven’t had time to build into your account just yet. It also takes away some of the arduous tasks of keeping track of which specific products you are and are not selling.

The trick is to set very low bids and to use DSA as a giant net to capture those cheap, long-tail clicks you weren’t able to focus much time on before. We set this up immediately after getting back from SMX, and we’re already seeing conversions at better than our return-on-ad-spend target.

If that didn’t convince you, something I thought was pretty cool was that DSAs can generate headlines way longer than the standard 25 characters. For specific, long-winded product names, this is a huge plus.

3. Bing Broad Match Is Broader Than Google Broad Match

There were two interesting takeaways I had here. The first is that for specific products, Bing is a lot broader than Google with its broad match. Take a look at the example in the table below:

Bing vs. Google broad match

While not necessarily a bad thing, it was a wake-up call for me to jump back into my Bing search query data (which has been neatly expanded recently) and make sure that my brand terms aren’t picking up non-branded traffic.

The second revelation was that Bing broad match uses data from your ad copy to decide on relevant search queries. This is something to watch out for in those ad groups where your ads are using general sales copy rather than anything super specific.

4. Location Extensions Borrow From Call Extensions

When you use call extensions and location extensions in the same campaign, your location extensions will prioritize showing the phone number from your call extension over the one specifically in the location extension.

For anyone else out there who, like me, relies heavily on phone tracking in their accounts, this was helpful to learn — especially as I had been mistakenly assuming I just wasn’t getting calls from the location extension tracking numbers I had set up.

5. Mobile Sitelinks Should Be Limited To 17 Characters

Ever wondered how to make sure your mobile Sitelinks all fit on the page? Wonder no longer, the magic number of characters is 17.

For regular Sitelinks, you might also want to stick to 22 characters to make sure you get 4 showing up when limited to just one line. Along these same lines, writing mobile preferred ads with just 60 characters helps you avoid having your ad copy truncated on those small smartphone screens.

6. 26 Percent of Accounts Use No Ad Extensions… Still

This statistic comes courtesy of Marin Software. This seems crazy to me given the impact to CTR from simply turning Sitelinks on — without doubt the single quickest, easiest thing you can do to improve your quality score overnight.

A graph showing adding sitelinks leading to a 64 percent jump in CTR

7. Bing Ads Let You Use Exclamation Marks In Headlines!

I did not know this…

An example Bing ad with an exclamation mark in the headline

8. Bing Product Ads Are Coming To The Masses!

Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have undoubtedly been a huge success for Google, and the good news is that Bing will be following suit by bringing their Product Ads offering out of beta very soon.

Bing Product Ads in the SERP

9. Target All The Languages!

Did you know that 21% of people in the US don’t speak English as their first language? By making sure that your language preferences aren’t set to English-only, you can broaden your campaign reach significantly.

Remember, Spanish speakers in the US reading Spanish-language sites are still likely to understand your English-language ads. ( This applies mainly on the Display Network side of things.)

10. AdWords Query Data Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon (Is It?!)

After the Tuesday keynote discussion with Google search chief Amit Singhal, the playground whispers started up that Google might be taking away search query data for PPC advertisers, similar to what they did to organic search half a year ago.

“Evidence” cited included AdWords announcing “new innovations” to come on April 22, a load of news buzz around the fact that Google will be pushing their secure search global, as well as the following quote from Amit Singhal:

Over a period of time, we’ve been looking at this issue. We’ve heard from our users that they do want their searches secure — this is really important to users. We like how things have gone on with the organic side of search. So, in the coming weeks and months, we’re looking at better solutions for this. We have nothing to announce, but we have discussed with the ads side about how we should handle this in the future.

Amit Singhal and Danny Sullivan chat Google Search

Amit Singhal and Danny Sullivan chat about the future of Google search

To my ears, Singhal seemed to refute the possibility of removing search query data from advertisers, explaining the need to be aware of the cause of certain traffic spikes.

He gave the example of an advertiser in the travel sector suddenly getting high click volumes on their Malaysia Airlines ads in the wake of the news interest surrounding the tragedy of flight 370. Without search query data, the advertiser wouldn’t be able to diagnose the cause of their spending spike and set appropriate controls in place moving forward.

My impression was that Google isn’t yet in a place where they can take away search query data without hurting their relationship with advertisers.

There was a ton going on at SMX, and I wasn’t able to see every presentation — so feel free to share your own personal top takeaways in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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6 Tasks To Automate In AdWords Without Scripts Or Tools /6-tasks-automate-adwords-without-scripts-tools-184902 /6-tasks-automate-adwords-without-scripts-tools-184902#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 14:30:16 +0000 http:/?p=184902 When we think about automation in PPC, our minds tend to jump to expensive tools like Marin, Kenshoo and Acquisio or advanced algorithms and Google Scripts. However, you shouldn’t let the word “automation” scare you into forgetting the simple things that make it great: speed and consistency. Today, I’m going to take you through six […]

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When we think about automation in PPC, our minds tend to jump to expensive tools like Marin, Kenshoo and Acquisio or advanced algorithms and Google Scripts.

However, you shouldn’t let the word “automation” scare you into forgetting the simple things that make it great: speed and consistency. Today, I’m going to take you through six common PPC tasks you can do yourself for free in AdWords through the magic and wonder of automation.

Search Query Reports

Working with multiple clients, there are certain tasks I want to do at least once a month — things that can be fairly time consuming and also will look amateurish if I forget to do them. Mining search queries is one of these tasks. You certainly don’t want your boss or client looking through your broad match terms and finding that your “Honda Cars” campaign has spent thousands on Honda lawnmower queries (I’ve seen it happen).

With this in mind, I decided to start automatically emailing myself the data I need, saving at least 15 minutes per week, per account and much more importantly, reminding me to actually pull the reports I’m supposed to.

Now, that Honda example I alluded to might be an extreme example, but consider the other end of the spectrum: a small account that hardly changes from month to month. After doing SQRs for a year, ignoring the need for them can become an easy thing to do — “I’m pretty sure there are no useless terms showing up, so I won’t check it this month” (or next month). What happens when new search trends or products start sneaking in and your own laziness has caused you to miss them? The answer is not “good things.”

To create a useful and automated search term report, you need to first open up your Search Terms data from the Keywords tab by selecting “Details” > “Search Terms” > “All.” From here, apply the filters relevant to your particular account. In my case, this first report is looking for all Keywords that have spent twice my cost per conversion target without converting.

setting up an sqr filter in AdWords

Once you apply this filter (or any filter that applies to how you normally do your search query mining), click on the download button to schedule this report. I do this on the first of the month for my small biz clients and weekly on specific days for larger accounts that need checking in on more regularly.

SQR Weekly Email In AdWords

Rather than jump through these hoops every time, I just open Excel straight from my email, select the queries that look like they’ve wasted money or aren’t too relevant, and drop them back into the AdWords Editor as negatives.

An SQR report in Excel

I call this my “money wasting terms” report. Another SQR report I email myself is “CTR killers” — a list of irrelevant search terms sorted by high impressions and a low number of clicks, e.g. clicks < 2, Impressions > 1000.

Work out what you “need” to see every week/month and set up the report. I also recommend setting up a report for “terms to add,” which might look something like: Conversions > 2, Added/Excluded matches “None.”

Automated Bid Changes

There are plenty of ways to automate bid changes that don’t involve paying any money to anybody (other than our good friends at AdWords). You could just use the Google Conversion Optimizer, and I’ve seen good success from it on larger campaigns.

However, for smaller campaigns or accounts without conversion tracking, automated bid rules can save you a ton of time as long as you make sure to check in on them.

A dropdown showing change max cpc

I have one client whose ads perform way better in position three than any other position — it seems to be the sweet spot of conversion rate and cost.

For them, we have a relatively simple automated bid strategy set up, which utilizes two rules running concurrently. The first increases bids every day on keywords that have an average position less than 3.2 (with a max bid set to avoid things getting out of hand). The second rule runs exactly the same way but bids keywords down 5% that are higher than position 2.5.

A set of rules for changing max cpc

There are lots of options out there for automated bid adjustments. For accounts without conversion tracking, you could try bidding down all keywords with bounce rates way above your average.

Rules for decreasing bids

You can overlap a lot of these different bid rules to build a system that is much more robust and complex than could be done manually, and without wasting a lot of time. Make sure any overlapping rules make sense and aren’t causing anything crazy to happen (use min and max bids if worried).

Changing Ad Status

For offer-based ads, try using “Enable ads when…” and “Pause ads when…” from the “Automate” button within your ads tab.

I have a client who shows different messaging based upon the day of the week. During the week (Mon-Thurs), they run weekday package specials and for Fri-Sun they have ads showing their weekend pricing. I can automate to pause my weekday ads and unpause my weekend ads on Thursday night and vice versa on Sunday night.

The same thing can be equally useful for one-time events like pausing holiday specific ads. Nothing looks worse than ads where the content has expired — “Great Xmas Deals” tends to lose impact in February.

An ad automation rule pausing ads with xmas in

Dimensions Reports

Ever been in a meeting with your boss/client and have them ask something like, “Which countries are we selling well in?” or “How’s our traffic from tablets doing?”

These are the kinds of questions that, when answered quickly, show that you’re on the ball with your account — allowing you to send out exactly the kind of positive “this guy knows what he’s doing” vibes you want to be oozing with. They’re also the kind of questions for which I all too often have to stumble and say, “Err, I’ll get back to you on that.”

There are loads of these different insights you probably want to schedule for yourself:

  • Geo performance
  • Top landing pages
  • Device performance
  • Time of day
  • Day of the week
  • Call data
  • Etc.

I schedule these reports at the start of the month for each client. That way, I can quickly go through each report and mentally check off the major areas I need to be monitoring for each account.

A top cities report downloaded from the dimensions tab

The automation here is all done from within the download box in your dimensions tab. Essentially, all you have to do is set up your data in a way consistent with how you regularly want to see it — for example, the past 30 days for Geo data, filtering out non US traffic and sorting by conversions. Once you’ve done that, just open up “Email and schedule report” and send on the first of the month.

Account Alerts

An easy piece of AdWords automation you should set up is email alerts.

Account email alert options

I typically have at least 3 daily alerts set up for my accounts: one for Conversions coming in below my daily “low goal” (see example below), one for cost-per-conversion spikes, and one for costs being way over my daily average.

I set my alerts to email me at 7:00AM if the data from the previous day matches any of these conditions. This means that first thing when I check my email, I know if I have any fires to be fighting. Of course, your fancy software platform might do this for you, but there’s no reason you couldn’t be doing it easily and cheaply yourself.

An alert for a day with a low number of conversions

Pausing Campaigns

“I want my [insert holiday] campaigns to go live at [insert unsociable hour in the morning]” is a phrase that doesn’t have to depress the account manager who is in tune with their automation inner peace.

I regularly use the “Enable campaigns when…” and “Pause campaigns when…” options in AdWords to do exactly that for me.

Dropdown showing the options for pausing AdWords campaigns

The most recent example I can think of was for a client whose site was going to be down on a Sunday between 2:00AM and 4:00AM for essential maintenance. I simply set up two rules: one pausing all live campaigns and another re-enabling them.

Another good example is from a client whose sales team could only handle a set number of leads per day — once campaigns hit a certain number of conversions, the automated rules which ran every hour paused for the day.

The goal with all of these automation tips is always the same — making things easier on you and eliminating errors and mistakes. If there are any others that you regularly use in your accounts, let us know in the comments below!

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How To Understand And Optimize AdWords Search Partners Data /how-to-understand-and-optimize-adwords-search-partners-data-180538 /how-to-understand-and-optimize-adwords-search-partners-data-180538#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:30:15 +0000 http:/?p=180538 Here at Hanapin, we have a monthly training day. We shut down the office and all the account managers spend the morning researching and learning new tricks and techniques, which we teach to each other later in the afternoon. This month, we spent some time diving into the exciting world of Google Search Partners, and […]

The post How To Understand And Optimize AdWords Search Partners Data appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Here at Hanapin, we have a monthly training day. We shut down the office and all the account managers spend the morning researching and learning new tricks and techniques, which we teach to each other later in the afternoon. This month, we spent some time diving into the exciting world of Google Search Partners, and I wanted to share some of the insights our team came up with.

What Are Google Search Partners?

When it comes to buying clicks from Google AdWords, the Search Partner network remains one of the least transparent and hardest to optimize areas to work with. The official Google help page for Search Partners is pretty vague about exactly what you get from Search Partner traffic:

“On our search partners, your ads can appear on search results pages, on site directory pages, or on other pages related to the person’s search.”

In layman’s terms, depending on how liberal Google want to be with “other pages related to the person’s search,” you really can’t control anywhere near as much of your search partner traffic as you would like. I had always been under the mistaken assumption that Search Partners referred to search results pages for AOL or and the like — search engines that decided to use Google’s algorithm and in turn get a share of the advertising profits.


An example of a Search Partner results page.

However, the scope of the Search Partner network is actually much broader than this. Both internal search results and product pages on sites like eBay, Amazon, Walmart or Target can be part of the network. Let’s take a look at whether Search Partners are right for your AdWords account and then dive into how we might start to identify the sources of your traffic.

Should You Be Using Search Partners?

From analysis across the accounts we manage, there really is nothing inherently wrong with Search Partner traffic. It tends to run at a similar (sometimes slightly higher) cost per conversion to the Google Search Network, and CPCs can be cheaper, too. As a rule, I tend to leave Search Partners turned on when starting a new campaign.

AdWords Search Partner Options

If my account is severely budget restricted from the get-go, I might consider turning them off — but otherwise the additional 20-60% of clicks that Search Partners bring is worth it (at least until you have data to suggest otherwise). If you have a more mature account and you’ve been running with Search Partners long enough to generate statistically significant data, you’ll want to judge the results for yourself. For a quick analysis, you can try using the segment button in your “all campaigns” menu and segmenting by “Network (with search partners).”

How Search Partners look when segmented

To manipulate this data, click segment by “Networks (with Search Partners)” when downloading a campaign report and then use a pivot table that has Campaigns for rows, network for columns, and a custom formula for either CPA or ROAS in your values. Here’s an example I pulled from one of my accounts earlier:

A pivot table showing Search Partners CPA performance

Notice that there really isn’t all that much difference CPA-wise here and that Search Partners are actually performing better in five out of eight campaigns. You might use this data to pause Search Partners anywhere that they are heavily underperforming by going back into your settings and switching to Google Search Network only. The bad news is that despite all of the recent upgrades to bid adjustments, a Search Partner bid adjustment is still nowhere in sight. Also, as a sidebar, don’t worry about your CTR from this traffic dragging down your overall as Google claims it has no impact on your keyword quality scores.

What Are These Weird Queries In My Search Term Report?

Ever seen something in your search term report that looks like this?

Strange Account Keywords

If so, you might have been confused as to why someone could possibly be searching for such a strange term. What’s even weirder is that the term apparently generated 571 impressions. A lone person copying and pasting that into Google might fly with me, but 571 people? Something weird is going on.

These queries are actually the result of Search Partner “searches” — it kind of shook my world to learn this (I’m a little slower than the rest of you who figured this out years ago.) As Google counts product pages on sites like Amazon as Search Partner pages (rather than just regular display), they have to pull a search query from somewhere. In this case, they are pulling the search query from the links that users are clicking to get to that page.

If you want to follow along in your own account here’s how: First, pull a Search Term report and filter for “clicks=0”. Then, sort by impressions and segment by search partners. If you find a query with 0 impressions on the Google Search Network and a ton on the Search Partners Network, you’ve probably found one of these terms. Weird formatting is another giveaway for these. In this case, I’m going to take that search query and type it into Google:

searching for a search partner query in Google

The organic search results should pull up the page your ad was triggered on as that combination of phrase and formatting is normally fairly unique. In this case my search turned up a page on Gumtree:


Notice in the above that Google is pulling the navigation options for “Cars, Vans & Utes” into my search term report? A quick scroll down the page also reveals the placement of the Search Partner ads:


This page seems fairly logical as a Search Partner to me. Someone was clearly searching Gumtree for Nissan vehicles and was shown one of my related ads. Makes sense, right? Well, what about on product results pages (which I find a little more dubious to label as “Search” rather than “Display”)? Here’s a search term from another one of my accounts:


Once again, via the Google search results page, I was able to tie the query to this page where my ad was shown:

An Amazon product page for furniture

Now I don’t know about you, but to me, this really isn’t a search results page — it’s a product page. Yet the ads shown in this page are clearly being counted as Search Partner results (as the user was searching to get here and Google followed them down the rabbit hole):

Search Partner ads on Amazon

I’m not entirely sure how much Display and Search Partner traffic are overlapping in these placements. I know that they work a little differently in AdSense, so my guess is that they are still kept separate.

How Can I Optimize My Search Partner Settings With This Information?

Short answer: with a great deal of effort and patience that might not even be worth it. If you have the time, you could categorically go through your search term report and start spinning queries with lots of impressions out into their own Search Partner ad groups. Take a look at an example I’ve created below:

Search Partner Ad Groups

Through some tireless checking of pages, you can separate out these strange terms by the site they appear on and start to learn more about CPAs by Search Partner. However, I don’t really like the structure of an account organized in this way and the volume of traffic will probably still be too low for the cost of the time you would have to sink into this.

Another hack attempt that I’ve seen before is duplicate campaigns, one with both Google & Search Partners, and one with just Google. By having the Google one set to slightly higher bids, the Google-only campaign tends to win the auction, which leaves just Search Partner traffic for the campaign with both. I don’t really like this method either, as it kind of defeats the point of wanting to optimize search partners on a keyword basis and any CPC changes have to be meticulously recreated for both campaigns. (Accidentally bidding up the Search Partner-only one would break everything.)

For now, we’re left with two real options:

  • Use negative keywords to remove poor performing search partner pages.
  • Turn search partners off entirely if the CPA/ROAS is bad.

Of course in an ideal world, Google would be up front with us about Search Partners. It remains a fevered dream that we will be able to set up Search Partner-only campaigns, segment by specific search partners, and bid adjust for search partners. (It is worth noting that Bing already offers all these things with their partner network, so perhaps we’ll see Google catch up to them eventually.)

As always, if you have questions or want to speak about your own experience with search partner data, let us know in the comments below!

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When Should You Overhaul Your PPC Account Structure? /when-should-you-overhaul-your-ppc-account-178285 /when-should-you-overhaul-your-ppc-account-178285#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 14:30:54 +0000 http:/?p=178285 Let’s start by looking at a hypothetical scenario: You’ve just been put in charge of a PPC account — either in-house or as part of an agency shakeup. It’s an account with a lot of history, and it is hitting goals, but… After a few days spent familiarizing yourself with this account, you come to […]

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Let’s start by looking at a hypothetical scenario:

You’ve just been put in charge of a PPC account — either in-house or as part of an agency shakeup. It’s an account with a lot of history, and it is hitting goals, but…

After a few days spent familiarizing yourself with this account, you come to the conclusion that it’s not structured the way you would like. You sense a lot of opportunities for improvement: ad groups with too many keywords, budgets being eaten up by broad terms, keywords cannibalizing traffic from each other… and so on.

It’s at this point you need to come to a decision about how you’re going to move forward with the account:

  • Start gradually tweaking things within the current structure to generate improvements?

– Or –

  • Knock it all down and start from scratch?

Which would you go for?

This is a question we ask ourselves a lot when a new client comes on board, and it can be trickier to answer than you think. There are many different factors that determine which path to take. For one, building out a new structure is time-consuming. If the account is in good shape, you might be able to generate much better short-  and medium-term results by working with what you have. On the other hand, an account that’s in bad shape is going to be tough to work with and might not be able to hit the goals you’ve been given.

Some agencies will always redesign accounts completely from scratch. This can be helpful for a couple of reasons:

  • You can easily train people to understand all the accounts you manage
  • It speeds up repetitive tasks that are handled across a team of people

I’m not personally convinced it is always necessary or the right thing to do. If I came in as an in-house PPC manager, would my first actions be to tear down the current account and replace it with one I had built? Unless the account was in dire straits, probably not.

When Should You Restructure/Start Over?

I have a few personal metrics that I use:

  • An account more than 25% away from goal that doesn’t show improvement month-over-month
  • An account hitting goal that is showing non-seasonal, non-competitor related decline month-over-month for 3 straight months
  • Accounts with median keywords-per-ad-group over 30

Is Restructuring Always A Good Idea?

There are two competing ideologies at play here: “PPC Best Practices” and business reality. Take a look at the following graph, which highlights what we typically see after an account restructure for an account that is in the “good, not great” mold:

A chart showing performance dropping after implementing a new PPC structure

Performance initially drops with the shakeup. New keywords, bids and ads all come into play. It can take up to a few months for performance to get back to where it was under the old system.

Accounts that don’t respond well to change initially seem to have a peculiar trait in common: a ton of history and very little activity. Huge accounts that have just kind of sat there for years with very few changes tend, for some reason, to give us the biggest headache. Internally, we speak of accounts having their own personalities. In this case, I picture a grumpy old man in his chair — when you wake him up, he starts cursing at everyone and heads back to sleep.

For the business side of things to go smoothly, you’ll need to project at what point you break even. Take a look at the cumulative frequency of conversions from the previous chart. The red line below represents overall sales had we not rebuilt. The blue line shows post-rebuild performance.

Notice there is a 6-week period in which our total sales were below expectations. I like to call this the “valley of client unhappiness.” The trick to surviving it is setting expectations, showing incremental gains every week and communicating constantly. Make sure everyone is aware of the long-term reasoning behind your account changes so there is a reduced chance of knee-jerk reactions.

A cumulative graph of PPC sales with and without a restructure

Rules To Follow For Restructuring An Account

I went back and analyzed post-rebuild account performances for our clients. There was a fairly even split between this delayed improvement and immediate improvements being seen.

I’m sure a few of you, particularly within specialized verticals, haven’t ever had to deal with accounts that drop after “improvements.” You are either great at PPC or very lucky. For those of you like me who are neither, the following are the steps I put in place to maximize the chance of success with restructuring:

1. Make Sure Everyone Buys In

This is absolutely crucial if you want to succeed long-term. Sit down with your boss/client and spell out why you think the restructure is needed (it will improve long-term performance), what the negatives will be (short-term problems), and a rough approximation of how long it will be until this change pays off. If you can lay this out ahead of time, you won’t have to scramble to explain performance in the short term.

By ensuring you have buy-in, it also gives your boss/client another chance to stop you and say, “Hang on, we need every sale we can get right now, don’t blow things up until after Black Friday.”

2. Keep Bids The Same Where You Can

One of the simplest practical tips you can use when rebuilding an account is to keep things as similar as possible bid-wise at the start. New blanket bids will be much less efficient than ones that have been reached over months of tweaking.

I find the easiest way to do this is with a VLookup formula in Excel. Find out what your existing bids are and apply them anytime that same keyword and match type combination shows up.

3. Have An Overlap Period

Very rarely do I transition account structures without some kind of overlap period. This involves uploading the new structure without deleting the old. This allows time for my ads to start impressing and my image ads to be approved — and for me to fix any issues that almost always arise.

4. Recognize Your Failures

In business language, sticking with a failed change because you invested too much time and money into it is known as a sunk cost. Make sure your best AdWords efforts don’t turn into sunk costs of your own. Give your new account structure time to work, but recognize when it isn’t making things better. Typically, after a month or so, you should be able to tell if things are improving.

Along this train of thought, always download a backup of your account when you make big changes. There’s nothing worse than messing everything up and not being able to hit the reset switch.

5. Start With The Best Ad Only

If you want your restructure to be successful in the very short term, starting with only your historically best performing ad copy is a good way to go. By beginning with 3+ ad tests, you are dividing your new traffic amongst ads that might well be much worse. Typically, I tend to build out my ad testing with my structure, but then hold off uploading all but my best ad until a week or two later.

6. Put Top Keywords In Their Own Ad Groups

A lot has been made of single keyword ad groups in the past year, and personally I like them for my top keywords. By putting your top 100 or so into individual ad groups, you can check on them more easily and tailor better ads for them.

Adding “Important Keyword” labels is a really good idea, too — just in terms of keeping track of everything. You don’t want to think to yourself, six months down the line, “Hmm, I’m sure [x] used to be a really important keyword for us….”

7. Use A Consistent Naming Structure

There are many different ways to name your campaigns and ad groups. From the hundreds of accounts I’ve looked at, it seems like almost all of them do things slightly differently. Sometimes it’s “Nike – Shoes – Search,” other times “Google | Search | Brands | Nike | Shoes.” Keeping things consistent from the start is going to help a lot down the line (and it’s probably half the reason to restructure an account in the first place).

As always, I’d love to hear your restructure success and horror stories. Have you ever had troubles with changes you thought should have been massively beneficial? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Case Study: How Should You Be Using RLSAs? /case-study-how-should-you-be-using-rlsa-170578 /case-study-how-should-you-be-using-rlsa-170578#comments Fri, 01 Nov 2013 13:20:05 +0000 http:/?p=170578 If you were paying attention, you might recall that Google launched Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) at the end of June this year. Now that we’ve had a few months of experimenting with how to best make use of this feature, we’ve managed to come to some interesting preliminary conclusions. First, let’s revisit a couple […]

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If you were paying attention, you might recall that Google launched Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) at the end of June this year. Now that we’ve had a few months of experimenting with how to best make use of this feature, we’ve managed to come to some interesting preliminary conclusions.

First, let’s revisit a couple of the basics:

What Are RLSAs?

RLSA campaigns use your remarketing lists to remarket to users on the Search Network. In layman’s terms, if someone has been to your website before, you can now use RLSA to set up a separate strategy for targeting them on and other sites in the company’s search network.

Why Are They Important?

RLSAs are potentially a game changer, and there is a reason that Google refers to it as “Remarketing 3.0” — it allows us to reap all the rewards we’ve had from regular remarketing on the extremely-focused and targeted search platform.

How Do You Implement Them?

Go into any Search Network campaign you have running, and open up the “Audiences” tab. From here, you should see the option to “Add remarketing.”

The AdWords Interface Section For Adding RLSA

The AdWords Interface Section For Adding RLSA

You’ll need to assign your remarketing list to each ad group and to set a bid strategy.  This bid strategy will be dependent on how you intend to structure RLSA campaigns within your account. You have two options: “Target and bid” or “Bid only.”

Target and bid means that your ads will only show when both your keywords and remarketing list are triggered (essentially an RLSA only campaign). Bid only, on the other hand, allows you to have a campaign continue to show ads to users not in any of your remarketing lists, while setting bid adjustments for those that are in your list.

Increasing a bid for RLSA by 25%

Increasing a bid for RLSA by 25%

In the above example using Bid only, search queries will continue to trigger my ads at the existing bid, but users who have visited my website before will cause my ads to go into the auction with a 25% higher bid — hopefully showing the ad to that user at a higher avg. position and getting more of that high-value traffic.

Note: You currently can only use RLSAs through AdWords remarketing lists. There currently isn’t the functionality to make use of Analytics remarketing or YouTube remarketing lists — although you can use combinations as long as at least one of those lists is an AdWords one.

What Different Strategies Are Available?

There are 3 main ways in which you can make use of RLSAs. Google calls these the “3 levers.”

  1. Tailored Ad Text
  2. Optimized Bids
  3. Broaden Keywords

Tailored ad text is potentially huge. Our familiarity with a company or product plays an enormous role in how our brain reacts to it. Within conversion rate optimization circles, people are scrambling for ways to separate traffic into different buckets to market to. I recently bought an exercise bike and my own purchasing cycle looked something like this:

  1. Researching gym equipment for people who have slipped a disc in their back
  2. A recumbent exercise bike seems like a good idea!
  3. Which recumbent bike should I buy? Comparing models/prices/reviews
  4. Which company can get me that bike at the cheapest price

At each stage of that research, a Google ad/landing page combination would have had success using different approaches. At stage 1, a company would have been much more likely to make a sale by telling me about gym equipment great for people with bad backs and telling me stories about users who had helped improve their back problems. By stage 4, all I wanted to see was the product I knew I wanted, a good price and free shipping.

Take a look at this awareness scale (based on an awesome presentation from Brian Massey at Conversion Conference Chicago 2013) to get an idea for how you could alter your ad copy based upon awareness levels:

A graph charting the different approaches to CRO based on awareness

Graph charting different approaches to CRO based on awareness

A super-advanced RLSA set up might mean that you have multiple campaigns for each stage at which users left your site. When you take in all the possibilities from RLSA, it starts to feel like staring down the rabbit hole.

Optimized Bids

Alongside tailored ad copy, RLSAs give you options for bidding more optimally. Clearly, someone who has heard of your site should be valued differently from someone who has not. RLSAs allow us to take advantage of this. I prefer to double up my Campaigns as shown in the image below and then set bids based upon performance rather than use broad adjustments. Make sure to exclude your lists from your non-RLSA campaign if using this method.

An example of how RLSA might be set up

An example of how RLSA might be set up

If you want to get a good idea for what your RLSA performance is naturally at (maybe for a month or so before optimizing bids), go ahead and add your remarketing lists to existing campaigns on bid only without having a bid adjuster — that way you’ll pull in stats without interfering with anything.

Generating Broader Reach

If you are looking to grow conversions rather than focus on CPA, trying out the broad reach approach to RLSA might be a good strategy.

Essentially, the premise is that you know a user is interested in your site, so why not try and serve them an ad when they are only searching for something semi-relevant. It’s as close to a search/display hybrid as there is. An example might be serving an ad based upon the Nike shoes they came to look at on your site earlier when they are just searching for any terms under broad match [clothes]. You know they are clothes shopping, so perhaps your Nike shoes ad is likely to tempt them back.

My recommendation at this stage is to keep these broad RLSA campaigns separate for budget reasons and to keep your bids low until you start to see success. A key to success with these campaigns will be having relevant ad copy that can play on both the broader keyword you are targeting and the user’s previous interest in your site.

“Nike shoes that compliment your new look. See all styles from $69.99!” might be an example that plays on the fact the user is now clothes shopping but previously had interest in your shoes.

What Have We Learned So Far?

Finally, we reach the crux of the article. All of these ideas work well in theory but not necessarily in practice. I pulled data from a mixture of our enterprise-level accounts that have been using RLSAs for a while now. Here is what we learned:

The most effective strategy for RLSAs is to focus on your “Top Keywords”

In accounts where our key goal was bid optimization — in other words, bidding up our top performing keywords to better positions for previous visitors -– we saw strong improvements in conversion numbers. Our most successful attempt at this saw really strong numbers:

A Table Showing RLSA vs Non-RLSA stats

What’s crazy is that this didn’t include any brand terms; those are just raw, great numbers.

The big question I had after seeing these numbers was: “Is this cannibalizing my existing traffic?” This is a pretty tough thing to check, as looking back over previous data leads to issues with changing market conditions, ad copy, competitor bidding etc. Anecdotally, I can say this account definitely saw an upward trend in conversions and improved CPAs. Google also maintains that their studies show incremental growth figures for accounts utilizing RLSA.

Overall, We Saw:

  • Conversion Rate for RLSA campaigns better than average in 66% of accounts
  • CPA better in 77% of accounts
  • For accounts focusing on Return on Ad Spend, we saw a boost of 34%
  • Total conversion rate across all accounts improved 5.88%
  • CPA across all accounts got worse by 26.7%

So, despite the fact that in a majority of our accounts CPA was better, it was actually worse overall. This is due to the mix of strategies we were testing for RLSA. Accounts that focused on the “broad reach” approach generally had poor CPAs.


You can’t just expect RLSA to be a home run for you like display remarketing. However, you definitely should be expanding your RLSA efforts and working out how best to make use of it.

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