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The Complete AdWords Audit Part 8: Keywords and Match Types

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by netsociety


Thinking about which keywords to add or exclude and which match types to use is something every paid search advertiser has to do at least once when setting up new campaigns.

But as always in online marketing, there’s no such thing as ‘set it and forget it’, and this includes your keywords and match types.

In this post I won’t go into how to do keyword research (and grouping) for new accounts and campaigns, as we’re auditing existing accounts. But you’ll find many great posts when searching for ‘ppc keyword research’. And of course, the tools mentioned at the bottom of this post can also be used to do keyword research for new campaigns.

When auditing your account at the keyword level, these questions come to mind:

  • Are you using the right match types?
  • Do you regularly add well-performing search queries as keywords?
  • Do you have the right negatives where you need them?
  • Do you regularly perform additional keyword research to find and test new keywords?

In this post I hope to provide you some guidelines and useful tools for optimal keyword management and expansion.

Match Types

I assume you already know how the different match types work in AdWords, but in many accounts, there’s still a lot to improve when it comes to the use of match types. Let’s look at some best practices for each match type:

Broad match
I can be short about this one: you should almost never use regular broad match. You’re giving Google more freedom than you’d imagine to match your keywords on synonyms and ‘relevant variations’. To give you an idea, this were some queries the broad match keyword ‘sneakers’ was matched on (in the UK):

Do you see what happens when all these queries share the same ads and landing pages? Indeed, you’re entering a world of pain.

However, there are some exceptions when using broad match can be worth trying out:

  • When you use ‘target and bid’ as targeting setting in a Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) campaign. As you’re only advertising for users that have visited your site, it’s much less risky to show for synonyms and broad match could actually be an interesting way to quickly gather insights in the search behavior of your visitors. I’ll dive deeper into Remarketing in a future post in this series.
  • When you have a hard time generating enough volume for niche or long tail keywords or in small geographies. By adding these keywords as broad match you might just get that additional (and still relevant) volume you’re looking for.
  • When you’re (temporarily) using broad match as a research method to find new keywords to add and exclude.

But even in these cases: watch the search terms report closely and regularly add irrelevant matches as negative keywords.

How to quickly convert your broad match to modified broad match keywords?

Let’s say you find out an account has many broad match keywords and you quickly want to convert them into modified broad match. By using AdWords Editor you can do this in less than a minute:

  • Go to the keywords tab to see all the keywords of your account.
  • Click the Advanced search link in the top right.
  • Set up these filters:
  • Now you’ll only see your broad match keywords that don’t contain a + sign.
  • Select all these keywords (or all keywords you want to convert).
  • Right click on these keywords and select ‘Append text to selected items’ (shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+H) and set up the fields as following:

  • Now select all the same keywords again, right-click and select ‘Replace text in selected items’ (shortcut: Ctrl+H) and set up the fields as following to replace a space by ‘ +’ (a space and the + sign):
  • Congratulations! You’ve just changed all your broad keywords to modified broad match keywords.

Broad match modifier
One of the best things Google ever did with AdWords was to release the broad match modifier in 2010. No more matching on synonyms like broad match and no need to add every word order as with phrase match. 

You’ll want to use the broad match modifier for most of your keywords. Of course, you’ll still need to add negatives regularly and don’t forget to use exact match (as discussed below).

Phrase match
Before the broad match modifier, phrase match was the way to go to prevent showing up for unwanted synonyms and still have a greater reach than exact match. But since the broad match modifier, there’s not much use for phrase match anymore (I almost feel sorry for the match type).

Especially if the word order doesn’t significantly impact performance, there’s no need to use phrase match if you already have the broad match modifier. However, if your search terms report shows you that different word orders perform differently, you’ll want to bid differently and you would need to add these queries as phrase or exact match to be able to do that.

Exact match
Once you know a query is important to you (because it’s high volume, it performs great or you consider it mission critical for other reasons), you’ll want to add it as exact match, preferably in its own ad group. A so called SKAG as discussed in the previous part of this series. 

That way you’ll know exactly how that query performs and you can spend your time on optimizing your ads and bids in that ad group.

Also make sure any phrase or (modified) broad match variants in your account of that same keyword don’t trigger the exact search query. You can achieve this by adding the concerning query as a negative exact match in the non-exact ad groups or campaigns (embedded match).

Near phrase & exact match
By default, your phrase and exact match keywords will also show for close variations. In Google’s words, these are “misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents”. You probably don’t want that if you already have the same keywords in (modified) broad match. But in other cases, these close variations can actually deliver interesting additional volume. It really depends per campaign.
To find out if you should disable this for your campaigns, read the ‘Keyword matching options’ paragraph in the Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments part of this series.

Negative match
Any account that has (modified) broad or phrase match keywords needs negative keywords. The way I see it, there are 3 types of negative keywords:

  • Universal negatives: these are the words you never want to show up for whenever they’re part of a search query. Known examples are: free, game, definition, youtube, and many more. You’ll add these words as a negative broad match.
    This list depends on the industry you’re in and should be added as much as possible before you start advertising. Luckily you can find a great pre-made list with almost 1,500 negatives (segmented per industry) over here. And over 200 suggestions for B2B advertisers over here.
  • Regular negatives: if a search query doesn’t contain any of your (potential) universal negative keywords but you still want to exclude it, you can add the query as negative exact or phrase match.
  • Embedded match: in this case you’ll add the keyword as an exact match negative in an ad group that has the same keyword as (modified) broad and/or phrase match. There are 2 possible reasons to do this:
    • You also have the exact match keyword somewhere else in your account and want to prevent the broad or phrase match to show up for exact matches.
    • You want to show up for related queries, but not for the query itself. An often used example is an advertiser selling Toy Story merchandise. He could have an ad group with “toy story” as phrase or broad match and –[toy story] as negative exact match. That way, he won’t show up when people are searching for the movie, but he will when people use queries like “toy story costumes” and “toy story dolls”.

Some things to consider when adding negatives:

  • Negative broad isn’t broad. So you won’t block queries that contain a misspelling, singulars or plurals of your negative broad match. So be sure to add these as well to your universal negatives.
  • Work with shared negatives lists as much as possible. Many of your universal and regular negatives apply to multiple (if not all) campaigns. Instead of adding them manually to each of your campaigns or ad groups, create a negative keyword list and apply that list to multiple campaigns. This is a much more efficient and effective way to manage your negatives in one place.
    If you still only use a bunch of campaign and ad group negatives and don’t use any negative keyword lists, now is the time to do some cleaning up and consolidate your negatives in shared lists. Any negative that applies to multiple campaigns should be in a list and deleted from the campaigns. It may be some work to set this up, but you’ll save quite some time and money once you have your lists in place.
  • Watch out for keyword conflicts. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes adding a negative keyword means blocking some of your positive keywords. Fortunately, by clicking on the top right bell icon, you’ll see if you have such conflicts:
    Be sure to regularly check for these and solve any unwanted conflicts.

Query Mining

Done well, query mining leads to an ever improving account: excluding unwanted queries, more visibility for wanted queries and having full control over which ad shows for which query. Done poorly (or not often enough), your account will deteriorate and get messy.

That’s why it’s important to have a structured way of working when it comes to query mining. Chad Summerhill has created this great flowchart to illustrate how to manage your search queries:

If you really want to take your query mining to the next level, make sure to read his Advanced Search Query Mining series (including Excel template) and to watch his video on Search Query Mining for Campaign Negatives.



Within your AdWords account:

  • Search terms report: this is where you do your query mining. In any campaign and ad group with phrase or broad match keywords, you should regularly analyze this report and take action when needed. Start with your high volume ad groups and certainly don’t forget to mine the queries in your Product Listing Ads and Dynamic Search Ads campaigns (if you have any).
  • Keyword Planner: this is the go-to tool for most keyword research. Especially if you’re planning a new campaign, but also for the expansion of existing campaigns. For those of us that still aren’t completely used to the keyword planner (and miss the keyword tool), make sure you know what the columns and estimates mean and know the differences between the keyword planner and the keyword tool.
  • Opportunities tab: since November 2013, this tab is actually worthwhile checking out. It used give laughable suggestions that were mostly in Google’s interest (or had no real impact) and that’s why most advertisers still ignore it. But I’d suggest to give it a second chance and maybe even make it into a habit.

Free external tools:

  • If you have it: your internal site search terms. It’s always interesting to see what people are searching for once they’re on your website. Often, these queries would also make for good keywords in your PPC campaigns.
    If you’ve set this up in Google Analytics, here’s where to look.
  • Google Trends: a great research tool that can be used in more ways than you’re probably doing right now. It’s worthwhile to learn all about the possibilities and data in Trends by exploring the Help Center. To give you some ideas on how to use Google Trends:
    • Competitive research: trending query volume for Amazon, Ebay, Walmart and Target in the US (2004 to today, within the shopping category). You can even compare the interest in time to the category and see a forecast.
    • Compare locations: interest in Rob Ford in the US and Canada in the past 12 months. You can add News headlines that may explain the trends.
    • Monitor categories: trends for the Apparel category for the past 90 days in the US.
    • Seasonality: yearly trends in the Apparel category for 2011, 2012 and 2013. This can help you to plan your budgets.
    • One of my favorite places to look at within trends is the Rising queries: click on the ‘Rising’ button in the bottom right or download as csv to see more than just the top 10. Monitor these closely for keywords and categories that are important to you.
  • Übersuggest: just enter any root keyword(s) and Übersuggest will provide you with tons of alphabetized suggestions (based on the Google autocomplete suggestions).
  • Soovle: enter a keyword and Soovle instantly shows you suggestions from multiple sources like Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Bing, Amazon and eBay. Great way to get a quick feel for possible themes.
  • WordStream Keyword Tool: based on their own keyword database, WordStream lets you do 30 searches for free, giving you up to 100 suggestions for each search.

Paid external tools:

  • Many of the competitive analysis tools at the bottom of the Impression Share & Auction Insights part of this series can also be used to do keyword research.
  • Queryminer: query mining for negatives can be tedious and time-consuming. However, if you don’t do it frequently, you may waste a lot of advertising dollars.
    That’s why QueryMiner is such a great tool: it will save you lots of time and money by analyzing your search terms for you and suggesting the most effective negatives to add to your campaigns. Or as they like to say “The queryminer algorithm finds negatives no human can”. Pricing starts at $19 a month.


Keywords and Match Types: Your Audit Checklist

checkboxDo you get most (if not all) of your broad match impressions from modified broad match keywords?
checkboxDo you regularly add search queries with significant volume and good performance as (exact match) keywords to you campaigns?
checkboxDo all your search campaigns have a regularly expanded list of negative keywords, preferably through shared lists and based on root words (instead of endless lists of exact match negatives)? Obviously this isn’t necessary for campaigns (or ad groups) that only contain exact match keywords.
checkboxDo you regularly perform keyword research (outside the search terms report) to find new relevant keywords to increase your coverage?
checkboxHave you made sure you have no keyword conflicts (negatives blocking your keywords)?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 7: Account Structure

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by netsociety

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights and Quality Score.


Account organization is one of the most time consuming, but also one of the most important things to get right in your AdWords account. If you have a poor account structure, no amount of sophisticated bidding or great copywriting can compensate for this. However, if you have a great structure, you’ll reap many benefits:

  • Better performance because you’re showing the right ads to the right users.
  • Easier and faster account management thanks to a clear naming convention that makes sense (and that can be used to filter on). Especially if multiple people work on the same account, you’ll want the campaign and ad group names to be self-evident.
  • Better control over your budgets.
  • Expansion becomes easier.
  • Campaign level reporting makes more sense.

Assuming you already know the difference between an account, campaign and ad group, I’ll dive right into best practices for campaign and ad group organization.
At the end of this post I’ll list a few tools that can be huge time-savers for creating and (re)organizing your campaigns and ad groups.

Campaign Organization

There is no one right way to organize your campaigns. Technically, campaigns are mostly about settings (especially budget and reach) and these could apply to all your keywords and ads in which case you could do with one campaign. But that’s rarely optimal.
So the first question about campaign organization would be: when do you need a separate campaign?

  • For your branded keywords, which should always be in separate campaigns. You want to be able to monitor and report branded and non-branded results separately, as discussed in the Goal Setting part of this series. Don’t forget to add your brand name (and common misspellings) as a broad negative to all non-branded search campaigns (tip: use a negative keyword list for this).
  • For your display campaigns. Even though it’s possible to target the search and display network in the same campaign, your life gets much easier when you run your display campaigns separately, as discussed in the Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments part of this series.
  • For different goals. Maybe you’ll also want to run campaigns to generate awareness or traffic, that don’t need to be as directly profitable as your other campaigns. By separating campaigns by goal type (or by phase in the buying funnel), you’ll know what to optimize for in each campaign. This also makes campaign level reporting more insightful.
  • For different messaging or budgeting in different locations. If you just want to bid differently for different locations, you don’t need a separate campaign as you can do this with bid adjustments. However, if you want to use different ads or different budgets for different locations, you’ll need to create separate campaigns for each location.
  • For different ad scheduling settings. As these are set at the campaign level, each time you’ll want to use different ad scheduling, you’ll need a new campaign. If you want this because of time zones, this reason hopefully coincides with different locations.
  • For different daily budgets. Although you can also use a shared budget across multiple campaigns.

These are the reasons when you really should (or will simply have to) create separate campaigns. Before enhanced campaigns there were more technical reasons for separate campaigns: devices, sitelinks, bidding methods and bids per location. These are no longer reasons to have separate campaigns, thanks to bid adjustments and sitelinks and flexible bid strategies at the ad group level.

There are also reasons for which you don’t necessarily need to, but still may want to create separate campaigns:

  • Product lines & Services: it’s probably best to have a separate campaign for each product or service (category) you offer. That way you can easily keep track of their performance and know where to find a specific keyword in your account.
  • Brands. If you sell multiple brands, creating a separate campaign for each brand makes sense. Just make sure any product category campaigns you may have don’t target the same queries. For example, the query “sony led tv” could be matched on the “led tv” keyword in a category campaign as well as in your Sony campaign. So you’ll have to add all your brands that have their own campaign as negative keywords to your generic campaigns.
  • Match types. Some people like to separate their match types at the campaign level. For (very) high volume keywords this can be worth the trouble, but doing this for all your keywords means you’ll double or triple the number of campaigns and will have a hard time to keep keywords and ads synchronized across campaigns.
  • Performance or volume. Once you’ve found your proven winners, you want to make sure they get special treatment and don’t miss any impressions. Having separate campaigns for those keywords is a great way of achieving this. It’s what David Rodnitzky calls the ‘Alpha Beta account structure’. I’d recommend reading How to Capture & Control Your PPC Keywords to Achieve a Better Account Structure to learn more about this. You can also download the official whitepaper at 3Q Digital (by the way, I can highly recommend all their whitepapers) or listen to AdWords Keyword Structures with Mike Nelson.
    In short it works like this: your Alpha campaign is for proven winners that are added as exact match, each in their own ad group. Your Beta campaigns contain modified broad keywords that you’re still testing. Once you’ve found a winning query (I’d say at least 2 conversions within your efficiency target to prevent going after false positives or one-hit wonders) you promote it as exact match to an Alpha campaign and exclude it in the Beta campaign. Obviously, poor performers will also be excluded from your Beta campaign.
    I think the Alpha Beta structure is especially useful for high and medium volume keywords.
    If you sell thousands of products (or a niche product) and have low volume long tail keywords, it will take you too long to have enough data for those keywords. So those keywords could stay in a ‘Beta’ campaign forever, which is fine.

All these possible reasons and strategies to organize campaigns may be overwhelming. So let’s not forget to mention the most used way to organize your account: mirror the site structure. If your site has a sitemap, definitely take a look at that to get started. You can always refine your structure later on.

Ad Group Organization

As many ways as there are to organize your campaigns, there’s only one right way to structure your ad groups, which is to always make them tightly themed.

As discussed in the Quality Score part of this series, you can consider your ads as the answers to the queries (questions) that are matched to the keywords in the same ad group. One of the most classic mistakes in paid search is to put too many (different) keywords in the same ad group. What happens in those cases is that you provide the same answer to different questions.
That’s far from optimal and will hurt your results in many ways: lower CTR’s and Quality Scores, higher CPC’s and lower conversion rates if the landing page isn’t the best match you have.

Some guidelines to keep in mind when organizing your ad groups:

  • For your highest volume (or best performing) queries you’ll want to use single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) with an exact match keyword for maximum control. That way, you can fully focus on testing ads and bid management to get the most out of these queries. This is also how Alpha queries are treated in the Alpha Beta account structure.
  • For all ad groups your keywords should be strongly related, each essentially asking the same question. A good way to ensure this happens is by applying the ‘two-word rule’ (as discussed in Brad Geddes’ Advanced Google AdWords). With this rule, you pick two root words that will signify the theme of the ad group. Then every keyword in that ad group should have those same two words in them but may have additional modifiers before or after the root words.
  • Regularly apply the ‘Peel & Stick’ strategy (as discussed in Perry Marshall’s Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords) in your ad groups. This means pulling out low performing keywords (e.g. lower CTR’s and Quality Scores) from an ad group and putting them into new ad groups with better matching ads (and landing pages, if possible).
  • As a general rule of thumb, keep the number of active keywords in an ad group below 20. There are exceptions of course, but less is always better. Use search volume to guide you whether or not a separate ad group is justified.


As mentioned at the beginning of this post, account organization can be quite time consuming. Luckily, there are tools out there to make your life easier and save you lots of time:

  • AdWords Editor: Google’s free must-have desktop tool. Especially powerful in combination with Excel.
  • PPC Campaign Generator: easy to use tool to quickly generate campaigns and tightly themed ad groups. Cost: $127 (one-time fee).
  • SpeedPPC: similar to PPC Campaign Generator, but has more features and it’s also web-based. Pricing starts at $53.90 a month.
  • WordStream PPC Advisor: account organization and keyword grouping is just one of the many features of this PPC management software. Pricing starts at $249 a month.


Account Structure: Your Audit Checklist


Is the naming convention for your campaigns and ad groups clear, consistent and easy to filter on?
checkbox Do you have a separate campaign for your branded keywords and added these as negatives to all your non-branded search campaigns?
checkboxDo you target the search and display network in separate campaigns?
checkboxHave you made sure (by proper use of negatives) that different campaigns or ad groups don’t target the same search queries (from the same users)?
checkboxDo you separate your highest volume (and best performing) queries in single keyword ad groups?
checkboxAre all your ad groups tightly themed? Apply the two-word rule and regularly peel & stick to increase the relevance of your ad groups.

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect|Netsociety, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 6: Quality Score

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by netsociety

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions and Impression Share & Auction Insights.


Quality Score is probably the AdWords topic that has been written most about, with blog post titles varying from All Hail Quality Score – King Of The AdWords KPIs! to Why I Don’t Optimize for Quality Score. These sort of contradictory statements may confuse the less experienced paid search marketer, and I hope to reduce some of that confusion here, without rehashing too much of what has already been said.

But before diving into why Quality Score matters (and when it doesn’t) and how to increase and track it, Iet’s first discuss why Google uses Quality Score.

Quality Score is Google’s way to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior from advertisers. And the rewards and punishments are significant: higher positions and/or lower CPC’s for high Quality Score keywords and the opposite for low Quality Score keywords.

So the first question we should ask ourselves is: what kind of advertisers does Google like?

  • Advertisers that provide a good user experience. This means the searcher gets satisfying search results, i.e. relevant ads and relevant, high quality landing pages. Providing a good user experience will make searchers continue to use or switch to Google (if they were using a different search engine) and that’s how market share is preserved and increased.
    If you consider a search query as a question, then providing a good user experience means answering that particular question in your ad and landing page.
    Even without the existence of Quality Score, you would want to give searchers a good user experience, as this is also the best way to get positive results from paid search.
  • Advertisers that make them money. World domination doesn’t come cheap, and most of Google’s revenue comes from advertising. When you pay per click, Google will prefer the advertiser that generates more clicks in the same position and reward that advertiser.
    For example, if your CTR is twice as high as your competition’s CTR for the same position, Google can charge you half their click price and still generate the same revenue. Add to this that a high CTR is also an indicator of relevant ads that provide a good user experience, and we can safely say that Quality Score is mostly about CTR.

The visible Quality Score is not the actual Quality Score

Before going any deeper into Quality Score it is important to realize that the scores you see in your account are just an approximation and an average. Their role is to provide advertisers feedback about their performance.
The actual (or real-time) Quality Score is different in many ways (many thanks to Craig Danuloff for clearly laying this out in his book Quality Score in High Resolution):

  • Visible Quality Score is only updated once per day, at most. The actual Quality Score is calculated real-time, for every search query.
  • Visible Quality Score considers only search queries identical to the keyword. So you don’t get a Quality Score for the queries you don’t have as a keyword in your account (and that could easily be thousands of search queries). These queries will ‘borrow’ the Quality Score from the keywords they were matched on.
  • Visible Quality Score is an average of different geographies, devices and text ads. The actual Quality Score that is calculated real-time can differ strongly per geography, device and corresponding ad.
  • Visible Quality Score is an integer between 1 and 10. However, the number Google uses in Ad Rank and CPC calculations does not fall within this range (and we don’t know which range they do use).

So you shouldn’t consider the visible Quality Score as the absolute truth, neither can you take it at face value. However, it’s the number we have to work with when talking about Quality Score.

The benchmark for a good Quality Score still is 7

This is something that has been considered true for years, but in Revisiting the Economics of Google Quality Score: Why QS Is Up to 200% More Valuable in 2013 Larry Kim declares “A Quality Score of 5 is the new 7”.
Call me old fashioned, but I have to disagree. Besides, there’s a difference between an average number and a healthy number as the average will depend on the population you’re analyzing.
When looking at all the keywords for our clients in the past 7 days (to have a recent view), I see the following distribution (impressions by Quality Score):


The numbers above are based on 107 million impressions and $2.4 million of AdWords spend. The impression-weighted average Quality Score is 7.1.

Either way, I don’t consider a Quality Score of 5 as the new benchmark I’m willing to accept. Even in 2014, a score of 7 is very common and achievable for most keywords with a clear commercial intent.

To give all the numbers meaning, I gladly refer to Tenscores’ fantastic Quality Score infographic, which shows this categorization (amongst many other things):



How Quality Score is calculated

I’ll be very short about this one, as you can find a list of all the factors on the official Quality Score support page. In short it can be summarized as:

By hovering over the speech bubble icon next to a keyword, you’ll find the status of that keyword for each of these 3 factors:





As said before, CTR is by far the most important factor, but there’s no official weighting for each of these factors. In this classic introductory video about the ad auction, Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian shows a pie chart to give you an idea of the importance of each factor for Quality Score.

But actually, the factors are hard to put in a pie chart. Once your landing page experience is above average, you can’t further increase your Quality Score by improving your landing page. Of course, you can always improve your conversion rate, which is an excellent reason to work on your landing pages.
On the other hand, you can always increase CTR (even if it’s above average and even if you have a Quality Score of 10) to further increase your actual Quality Score.



So what is a good CTR?

This is one of the most often asked questions, especially by those new to paid search. And of course the answer is: it depends, mostly on position. Or: any CTR that will give you a good Quality Score.

I understand that isn’t satisfying, so to somewhat satisfy your need for benchmarks, a couple of interesting studies have been done on this to give you an idea of CTR’s by position:

Decoding the Quality Score by Steve Baker.
Some very interesting charts and analyses based on Steve’s findings for non-branded, exact match, Google Search only keywords. So it’s important to also exclude branded, non-exact and Search Partner data when comparing these numbers to your own:position-vs-ctr-qs

Going Unicorn Hunting: The Secrets Behind Ads with 3x the Average CTR
Yes, it’s Larry ‘Quality Score’ Kim again, but this time I fully agree and I’m impressed by the great insights he shares in this thorough article, where you’ll find graphs like these and many more unique nuggets about CTR, Quality Score and great ads.



How Quality Score affects you

Again, you’ll find a complete list at the bottom of the official support page, but Google doesn’t show the Actual CPC and Ad Rank formula anymore.

So next to eligibility and bid estimates (first page and top of page), Quality Score affects two things advertisers care deeply about: the Ad position and the actual CPC.

Quality Score & Ad Position

Ads are ordered by Ad Rank, and since October 2013 this also includes your ad extensions so the formula isn’t as straightforward anymore:

Ad Rank = (Max Bid x Quality Score) + the expected impact from your ad extensions and formats

This is no official formula, just my way of putting the old and the new together. What remains true however, is that Quality Score still plays a large role in the position of your ad.

Quality Score & CPC

Let’s start with the well-known Actual CPC formula Google used to show on their support pages:

Actual CPC = (Ad Rank to beat / your Quality Score) + $0.01

The Ad Rank to beat is the Ad Rank of the ad beneath yours. This formula makes it very clear that Quality Score plays a large role in the price you’ll have to pay for your clicks.

If the scores from 1 to 10 were the actual scores Google used in this formula (and they aren’t), the impact of changes in Quality Score (compared to a 7) would be as following, as calculated by Craig Danuloff in 2009:

Again, don’t take these numbers at face value, they’re just illustrative of the potential impact of Quality Scores changes on your CPC.

Other numbers concerning the impact of Quality Score on CPC can be found at Fact number 5 of the 5 Surprising Facts On Quality Score Change by Kohki Yamaguchi. He found that a unit change in Quality Score affects CPC by 5%. That may sound disappointing, but the effect is cumulative so it adds up if you increase your Quality Score with multiple points. The effect also appears to be stronger in the lower ranges of QS as you can read in Frederick Vallaeys’ comments.

The takeaway here is that improving your Quality Scores, especially the lower ones, will greatly reduce your CPC and who doesn’t want that?

When not to worry about Quality Score

By now you may think Quality Score is the most important number in your account, so it’s time to put it into perspective as in some cases a low Quality Score isn’t your biggest problem.
These scenarios can be found in Learn When To Ignore Low Quality Scores by Brad Geddes. In short they are:

  • Google isn’t calculating it correctly
  • You don’t have enough data (new keywords)
  • It’s your industry
  • It’s a brand name (not yours)

In these cases, especially if the keywords are profitable, your time is probably better spent at improving other areas of your account.

Where and how to improve Quality Score

Improving Quality Score is mostly about account structure and creating great ads, and as both will be future parts of this series, I’ll dive much deeper into these topics later on.

As you probably have many ad groups and keywords and little time, the first question is: where in your account should you start improving your Quality Score?
Google shows it at the keyword level, but it’s actually much more useful at the ad group level (cost or impression weighted). This is because improving Quality Score is about improving the relationship between search queries and ads (and landing pages), and this happens within an ad group.

To find these ad groups, you can follow the steps in this video, where Brad Geddes shows how to use Pivot Tables to find out your account wide Quality Score distribution and how to prioritize the ad groups based on their normalized Quality Score and weighting ad groups by cost (you could also weigh by impressions).
As you should do this regularly, you could save yourself quite some time by using the Quality Score Analyzer, that will generate a prioritized list of ad groups weighted by cost and normalized Quality Score.

Once you’ve found an ad group with high costs or impressions and a low normalized Quality Score, you can follow these steps to increase its Quality Score. Again, many credits go to Craig Danuloff and his book Quality Score in High Resolution:

  1. Rule out landing page issues. Just to be sure, check if you have a below average landing page experience by hovering over the speech bubble icon next to the keywords. If that’s the case, this is the first thing you should fix, by following Google’s guidelines for improving landing page experience.
  2. Decide if the keyword is worth fixing. Before going any further, look at the keyword(s) with the most impressions in that ad group and ask yourself: does this keyword attract searchers with a clear intent? Is it relevant to my business or my offer? If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to these questions, go on to the next steps.
    But especially if the CTR is very low (let’s say below 1%), chances are, it’s a keyword that ‘reaches’ a lot of people, but hardly generates any clicks or conversions. If you have a direct-response mindset you will have no problems pausing or deleting such a keyword.
    However, if you (or your client or boss) have a traditional marketing mindset, you may have added keywords that are informational, ambiguous or have no clear (commercial) intent for branding purposes (look at all those impressions!).
    But do you remember the text ads you didn’t click on yesterday? You probably don’t, but Google does and it won’t play along with your branding fantasy. In a pay per click and relevance world, keywords with lots of impressions and very few clicks don’t serve Google and apparently they also don’t serve the searchers as they hardly click on it. This is an undesirable situation for both Google and the searcher and they will make it an undesirable one for you too by lowering your Quality Score and make the few clicks you do get very expensive.
    There’s nothing wrong with trying to generate awareness, but paying per click simply isn’t the most effective and certainly not the cheapest way of doing so. Instead, create some great looking banners and run a CPM based campaign on the Display Network, you’ll get much more bang for your buck over there.
  3. Review and react to the search queries. As mentioned before, the visible Quality Score is only calculated for exact matches. So if you have (modified) broad or phrase keywords in that ad group, you’ll want to review the search terms report and add relevant queries as keywords (and irrelevant ones as negatives), so these queries can earn their own Quality Score. This could mean these new keywords need their own, separate ad groups, which brings us to the next step.
  4. Create smaller ad groups. As said in the introduction, you can consider your ads as the answers to the queries (questions) from the ad group. So take a good look at the ads and (high volume) queries from an ad group: are the ads the best possible answers to the questions asked? Or are there simply too many different questions in 1 ad group to be able to share the same answer? If that is the case, you’ll need to split up the ad group in smaller ad groups and write new, better tailored ads for these new ad groups.
  5. Write better ad copy. At one point this will be the only way you can further increase your Quality Score. There’s always a better ad to write, and you should relentlessly test and write ads for ever increasing CTR’s. As your display URL’s past CTR is also one of the Quality Score factors (albeit a small one), you could also try out a new display URL or use one that has performed well in the past.
  6. Try a higher average position. Yes, CTR should be normalized for position, but if you don’t have many impressions or haven’t been in high positions for a while, temporarily bidding higher to appear in higher positions can accelerate the evaluation of your performance. There’s more data in the top positions, so it’s easier for the algorithm to compare performance in those positions. If you believe in your keyword and ad copy and nothing else helps, you could try this out. Of course, in the end, you should set your bids based on the value per click and your targets.
  7. Exclude poorly performing geographies. Take a look at the performance of different geographies in the Dimensions tab. If you see locations that have a significantly and substantially lower CTR and also perform worse in terms of CPA or ROAS, you could considering excluding those locations to boost your numbers.
  8. Add mobile preferred ads. Most advertisers still don’t have mobile preferred ads in their ad groups. That’s fine if your mobile bid adjustment is -100%, but in all other cases you’re advertising on mobile devices. If you see a substantial amount of impressions coming from mobile devices, you should definitely add mobile preferred ads and sitelinks to your ad groups. And of course, these ads and sitelinks should be mobile friendly. So shorter sitelinks, ‘call us now’, a display URL that indicates a mobile friendly website, etc. This should increase your CTR on mobile devices, which should increase your average Quality Score.

If you like flow charts (I know I do), Tenscores created a great flow chart you can follow to increase Quality Scores. Worth printing out and keeping on your desk.

Tools to track Quality Score

Unfortunately, in AdWords, Quality Score is an attribute, not a metric. So you can’t see any trends or graphs for Quality Score, the score you see is today’s score.

The good news is there are different tools that can do this for you and they generally make life easier when it comes to tracking and identifying Quality Score issues. It’s also a great way to monitor if your hard work pays off.

Free AdWords Scripts

AdWords scripts are a great way to generate customized reports. However, most of us can’t write JavaScript. The good news is that others have already created some very useful scripts and have been so kind to publish these for you to use:

AdWords Quality Score Tracker Version 2.0 by Martin Roettgerding
How Account Quality Score Can Guide AdWords Optimization by Frederick Vallaeys
Store Account, Campaign, AdGroup, and Keyword Level Quality Score by Russel Savage, many more AdWords scripts can be found on this site

Third-party tools

To make life even easier, these very affordable tools will help you track Quality Score in a more user-friendly way than using scripts. Each has its pros and cons and their websites will give you a good impression of their features:


Quality Score: Your Audit Checklist


Is your account impression-weighted Quality Score 7 or higher?
checkbox If it’s lower: have you identified and prioritized the ad groups that need fixing?
checkboxIf it’s lower: have you followed the steps above or the Tenscores flow chart to increase Quality Scores in those ad groups?
checkboxBonus: do you use a script or third-party tool to track Quality Score?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect|Netsociety, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 5: Impression Share & Auction Insights

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by netsociety

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments and Ad Extensions.


Whenever I think of impression share (IS) in AdWords, these quotes come to mind:

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
For the keywords (and ad groups & campaigns) in your account that meet your goals, you’ll want to be as visible as possible. Every missed impression is a missed opportunity to generate additional clicks and conversions to further increase your profit.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to be in the top position all of the time, as the CPC of those positions may not be profitable. But it does mean that if you’re profitable at the current level, you don’t want your ads to show up some of the time, but all the time.

“If it’s not worth doing right, it’s not worth doing at all.”
Maybe a campaign isn’t meeting your goals and you decide to lower its daily budget, which leads to lost impression share due to budget.
This, of course, is just damage control and not solving any underlying problems. In that campaign there are probably profitable and unprofitable keywords. So lowering the budget also leads to less impressions for the profitable keywords, while still leaving impressions for the unprofitable ones.
To prevent this, make sure you fix your problems at the right level: adjusting bids, adding negatives, pausing keywords, improving ads and landing pages, etc.

“If it can’t be done right, do something you can do right instead.”
If you’ve tried everything to improve the performance and impression share of a keyword but it doesn’t pay off, your time is probably better spent at improving other areas of your account. Don’t obsess over Ad Rank and quality score for every one of your keywords, and certainly don’t indulge yourself into ego bidding to ‘solve’ the problem.

Also, don’t obsess about reaching a 100% Impression Share, once you’re above 90%, you’re in great shape. A 100% Impression Share is almost impossible to reach, with the exception of your branded keywords.

With these philosophies in mind, let’s dive into detecting and solving various IS problems, starting with the easy to solve Lost IS due to budget to the harder to solve Ad Rank issues. I’ll use Search Impression Share in the discussion below, but the same logic can largely be applied to Display Impression Share (with the exception of Exact match IS).
Display however, is much less predictable than search and could have an almost infinite number of impressions, depending on the targeting settings. Nonetheless, for profitable and narrowly targeted Display campaigns (e.g. Remarketing), you’ll also want to make sure your IS is as high as possible.

Are you losing Impression Share due to budget?

To find out in which campaigns you are losing IS due to budget just add the IS columns, look at a recent time frame and sort by the ‘Search Lost IS (budget)’ column. I like to look at the last 7 days for the most recent IS data as search volume may fluctuate:


For some campaigns, Google may also show the ‘Limited by budget’ status, including a daily budget estimator (click on the graph icon to see the estimates):


Once you’ve found the campaigns that are losing IS due to budget, there are 3 possible scenarios:

  1. The campaign is meeting your goals and you have enough budget to spend more.
    In this case the solution is very simple: just raise the daily budget with the percentage of Lost IS (budget), or a bit more to be sure.
  2. The campaign is meeting your goals, but you don’t have enough budget to spend more.
    This can be a frustrating situation. If you have other campaigns that are performing worse you could lower their budget and use that budget for better performing campaigns. But that isn’t a sensible growth strategy, especially if you have a mature account where all campaigns are performing well.
    In that case you can quite easily build a case of missed conversions or revenue by keeping CTR, CPC, conversion rate and average order value constant and applying those to the missed impressions. Benjamin Vigneron’s article How To Estimate Incremental Revenue Opportunities With Impression Share Data gives in-depth examples on how to do that.
    Show the missed revenue or conversions to whoever decides on the budget, and chances are you’ll get the needed budget to capture that additional revenue.
  3. The campaign isn’t meeting your goals.
    Whether or not you have sufficient budget is of secondary importance in this case. As mentioned under the second quote in the introduction, you should fix any underlying problems first.
    Next to adding negatives, lowering bids, pausing keywords and improving ads and landing pages, you can also use bid adjustments to spend your budget more wisely. Investigate your performance in different locations, on mobile devices, days of the week and time of day and use a negative bid adjustment for underperforming segments, or even exclude your worst performing segments. You could also opt out of Search partners if these underperform.
    In any case, make sure your best performers don’t suffer from a too low daily budget. One solution could be isolating your best performers in their own campaigns and make sure these always have a high enough daily budget.

Do you have a low Exact match Impression Share?

A low exact match IS is a very bad sign, as it means your ads often didn’t show up, even when users exactly searched for your keywords (regardless of the actual match type).
You added those keywords for a reason, and if your ads often don’t show when users exactly search for those keywords, your bid or quality score (or maybe even both) is probably way too low.
Since the summer of 2013, Impression Share data is available at the keyword level and that’s exactly where this metric is most useful. To find your low exact match IS keywords simply go to the keywords tab of your account and create a filter:


In this view, it can also be helpful to add the Quality score column so you can directly see if quality score is low as well for those keywords. If that is the case you’ll need to do some work to increase quality score. More about this in the next post of this series.
But maybe you just need to raise the bid (or budget, as discussed above) for a higher exact match IS. Obviously, don’t raise bids any higher than is profitable for you (and fix QS first if it’s below 6).
To quickly find out if you just need to raise bids, you could create the following filter for your keywords:


Now you could simply select all these keywords, click Edit > Change max. CPC bids… > Raise to estimated first page bid and set an upper bid limit of your choosing.
If you’re uncomfortable with blindly raising your bids like this, you can also review these keywords manually.
In any case, realize there’s usually just crumbs left of the pie when your bid is below the estimated first page bid.

Are you losing Impression Share due to Ad Rank?

If a keyword is losing IS because of a low quality score and/or bid, you’ve probably already spotted it by looking for keywords with a low exact match IS. In those cases you should raise the quality score (easier said than done) or the bid to increase Ad Rank. And don’t forget to add relevant ad extensions if needed, as these are now also part of Ad Rank.

However, even if your exact match IS is high (at least 80% I’d say), you could still be losing a significant amount of IS due to Ad Rank.
Those situations can be quite puzzling: you have a high position and quality score, but you still lose IS due to Ad Rank. See the stats below of one such keyword (it’s a broad match keyword):


In these cases, the only explanation for a low impression share is that your ad didn’t show up for all possible search queries that your keyword could have triggered.

The question remains: do you care? To find out, you should analyze the search terms for that keyword and add all search terms as keywords that are relevant for your business, especially if they’ve converted within your target CPA or ROAS. From that moment on, you can track the exact match IS for those keywords, so you’ll know how often you show up for queries you really care about.

Auction Insights

While Impression Share shows you the size of your slice of the pie, Auction Insights shows you who else is eating that pie. Launched in May 2012, this provides very welcome additional insights to see who you’re up against and how your visibility stacks up against theirs.

Your most visible competitors are worth investigating:

  • Are they bidding on your brand name?
  • Is there anything you could learn from their ads and extensions?
  • How about their website? Could it be it converts better so they can afford to bid higher?
  • And of course: their products and pricing. Is their offer more competitive than yours?
  • Or are they just big spenders with more money than brains? In that case, don’t go into a bidding war, as you’ll probably lose. Let them increase Google’s profits, while you focus on increasing yours.

If you want really cool insights from Auction Insights you should trend competitor data over time so you can see how they manage their budgets and how new competitors may enter the auction and move their way up, while others may leave the auction.

Sean Quadlin at PPC Hero wrote a great guide on how to do so with Pivot Tables in Use Google’s Auction Insights to Find Your Competitors’ Mistakes. The good news is that since June 2013, you can get data for multiple keywords (or ad groups or campaigns) simultaneously. If you filter your keywords in a meaningful way before pulling the Auction Insights report, you’ll get a good view of your competitors for different topics.

Third-party tools for competitive intelligence

Spying on the competition is addictive, I know. And so do many third-party tools that will give you give more competitor data than you’ll know what to do with. I’ll simply alphabetically list the most used tools for spying on advertisers below. Many offer a free trial or demo that should give you a good idea if the tool fits your needs.

To learn more about these and other tools, there’s a great post on the KISSmetrics blog by Chris Kilbourn: How to be the James Bond of the Web: 37 Best Marketing Tools to Spy on Your Competitors. Also check out Matt van Wagner’s post with Tips For Spying On Your PPC Competitors.

Although you can learn a lot from studying your competition, in the end you should worry more about bettering yourself.


Impression Share & Auction Insights: Your Audit Checklist


Aren’t you losing any Impression Share due to budget?
checkbox Do all your (important) keywords have an Exact match IS of at least 80%?
checkboxDo all your high Quality Score keywords have a bid that is at least the first page bid estimate (unless this has been proven to be unprofitable)?
checkboxHave you added relevant search terms from keywords with high Exact match IS and a high Lost IS (rank)?
checkboxHave you analyzed the most visible competitors from Auction Insights to gather any learnings?
checkboxBonus: do you use one or more of the mentioned tools to keep a close eye on your competition?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect|Netsociety, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

Avatar of brad

by brad

Should You Create Ad Group Sitelinks in Enhanced Campaigns?

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by brad

One of the nicest things about AdWords enhanced campaigns is that you can now control sitelinks at the campaign or the ad group level. From a feature  standpoint, this sounds great. However, when you start considering the execution phase of creating sitelinks for every single ad group, the task can suddenly seem quite daunting.

First we’ll cover how sitelinks work. Then, we’ll need to examine if we should upgrade our ad groups, and if so, create a priority order.

About Sitelinks

Sitelinks allow you to add additional information below the ad.


Each sitelink can also be customized with ad scheduling, destination URLs, and mobile preference options in enhanced campaigns.


Sitelinks can be created at the campaign or the ad group level. If you have a campaign sitelink, that sitelink will be used for every ad group in the campaign, unless the ad group also has a sitelink, in which case the ad group sitelink will be used.

Therefore, if you have a campaign showing to mobile devices and to desktops, you have only 20 ad groups, and you want to create 6 sitelinks per ad group, you suddenly can have 240 sitelinks to create and manage.

If you have 10 campaigns with 100 ad groups each, that suddenly becomes 6000 ad group sitelinks to create an manage. You can see how this quickly becomes a lot of work. So the question is, should you create ad group level sitelinks?

A Quick Case Study

The Case Study Layout

For this case study, I took 9 ecommerce accounts that spend $75k to $200k per month and combined spend around $1 million per month to get a cross section of mid-sized ecommerce accounts.

The way the sitelinks were created at the ad group level depended on the keywords in the ad group:

  • For low value items, the sitelinks were focused on cross sales
  • For high value items, the sitelinks were focused on upsells
  • For ambiguous searches, the sitelinks were focused on the specific items to narrow down the user interest

For each of these types of sitelinks, I calculated these metrics:

  • CTR
  • Conversion rate
  • Average order value

These metrics are not completely apples to apples. There isn’t a good way to test ad group level sitelinks versus campaign sitelinks as you can’t easily rotate what type of sitelink is being used. The only other way to test these items would be with two identical campaigns that had different sitelinks. At present, the effort to do this is not worthwhile due to how difficult ad group sitelinks are to create (more on this later).

Therefore, I compared a month of ad group level sitelinks versus the previous month where only campaign sitelinks were used. None of these accounts had any ‘peak periods’ during those two months and the ads remained static for the entire test. So there aren’t any outliers affecting the data. However, this isn’t a 100% scientific test as its examining different timeframes.

The Results

Low Value Items


The low value item sitelinks focused on cross sales to try and increase the average order value by getting the user to buy more total products. The CTR and conversion rate changes for the low value ad groups was negligible. However, using more cross sale ad groups did have a positive impact on the average order value, even though it was quite low.

In a high volume account, this is a potential great strategy. In low volume account, you might make better use of your time with landing page and ad testing over spending hours creating lots of sitelinks.


High Value Items


The high value ad group used upsells in the sitelinks to try and increase the number of accessories bought with the expensive product. In all cases, the upsell products were  50% or less than the average value of the product being searched.

The high value ad groups saw a bit of a bump in both CTR and conversion rate. However,, there was a negative effect on the average order value. What happened is that some people ended up buying just the upsells and not the actual product.

For some of the accounts, the increase in CTR and conversion rates more than made up for this negative average order value; however, in 3 of the 9 accounts, the average order value change made it so this type of sitelink was less profitable than just using standard campaign sitelinks with new items, shipping policies, etc.

Ambiguous Queries


The ambiguous ad groups are the ones I had the most hopes in increasing with ad group sitelinks. These were commercial type queries for which the sites had to send the traffic to fairly generic category pages as they could not guess the type of product the user wanted.

For instance, a query such as ‘Women’s Dresses’ could use sitelinks such as evening dress, cocktail dress, summer dress, etc.

Using these specific sitelinks lead to a positive change in both CTR and conversion rates. The average order value dropped an insignificant 0.5%.

Within this test, the ambiguous ad groups were definitely the ones with the best overall change due to using ad group sitelinks.

The Difficulty of Creating Sitelinks

If you are dealing with hundreds of sitelinks, in the UI, you have to hunt for each individual sitelink you want displayed in a UI that does not have a sort or search feature. While this can be difficult in ecommerce examples, its very difficult in lead generation campaigns where the sitelink name might be the same for multiple geographies, but the destination URL changes by geography.

Just to create sitelinks for an ecommerce account with 50 ad groups takes this type of effort:

  • List out the ad groups
  • Choose the sitelink per ad group
  • Go into the UI for every single ad group to create ad group level sitelinks
  • For each ad group, hunt through the list of sitelinks to add them to the ad group
  • Save the ad group sitelinks and move on to the next ad group

In a campaign of just 50 ad groups, it took about two hours to customize all of the sitelinks.

The AdWords Editor now supports campaign and ad group level sitelinks. I find for large sites, its easiest to get some type of website export and then manipulate the data in Excel before importing the data into the AdWords Editor. For smaller sites, you can easily create the sitelinks in Excel and then use the Editor. Regardless of your initial data set, the AdWords Editor and Excel are a much better combination than the AdWords interface to use for creating many ad group level sitelinks.


For most accounts, it is not worth the time and effort to create sitelinks for all of your ad groups right now. This is not because of the results, it is because of the difficulty in creating mass amounts of ad group sitelinks

At the moment, the best course of action is to examine the ad groups with the most impressions in the ‘top’ positions that are ambiguous types of ad groups and create sitelinks for those ad groups.


Once the AdWords editor supports the bulk import of ad group sitelinks, it will be worthwhile to create ad group sitelinks for most of your ad groups.

Just once you create them, compare the results to what you were getting to make sure that your ad group sitelinks are helping you reach your overall account goals.

Avatar of brad

by brad

4 Life Lessons to Help Make CPA Bidding Work for You

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by brad

I’m a huge fan of Google’s CPA bidding system. Setting bids is necessary; but it leads to only short term progress. Your bidding work is only useful until the data changes and you have to set bids again.

Now, the statement ‘your changes are only good until the data changes again’ can be applied to ads, landing pages, placements, and any data point within your account.

The issue that needs to be examined is frequency of data changes. Rarely do ads need to be changed every few days. An ad or landing page can perform for long periods of time. However, bids rarely do. Rarely do you have an optimal bid set for a keyword for a month straight. So, when you consider areas of your account where you can make long term gains, they are not in bidding. Bidding is a short term gain, but a necessary action.

Therefore, when CPA bidding works well for an account, the PPC manager can spend more time focusing on these long term gains and less time on bidding.


However, I often find a simple mistake with CPA bidding, or even with 3rd party bid systems. Once CPA bidding (or a 3rd party system) has been enabled, the PPC manager sits back and thinks their work is done.

For the purposes of this article, we will leave out all of the testing you should be doing regardless of your bidding methodology, and focus on making CPA bidding work for you.

I find that when CPA bidding fails, it does so for one of three reasons:

  1. The campaign’s conversion data is sporadic by keywords and ads. An example is when you have thousands of keywords; but only 20% of them receive a conversion in the past 30 days; however, all contribute to the total conversion amounts over the course of a year so you can’t really delete any to increase the conversions between fewer data points.
  2. ‘Best Practices’ of account management are ignored because the bidding is being taken care of by Google
  3. It just doesn’t work for totally unknown reasons. I do see this happen on occasion where everything is setup and managed perfectly, but for unknown reasons, the CPA bidding just can’t seem to get the bids correct

Let’s look at a few scenarios where CPA bidding failed, but with some minor changes, the bid system ultimately succeeded.

Data Problems

The first example is one that amazed me. I was doing an audit on an account that was using CPA bidding. The company had failed to put the conversion tracking on their mobile device (so it was not Google’s fault conversions weren’t being tracked) and the campaign was set to all devices. The desktop performance was high enough to ensure that CPA bidding had enough conversion data to keep running.

After using CPA bidding for 3 moths, 25% of all traffic was still being sent to mobile devices.

CPA bidding does take into devices into account when setting bids. However, it rarely ‘gives up’ on a device, instead, it keeps trying to find a bid that will work. By just adding the conversion code to the mobile site, CPA bidding because much more effective.

The Lesson: Make sure all your tracking is correct.

Using Call Extensions to Create Goals

The second example is an ecommerce site. They were B2B ecommerce, so they did use the phone extension as calls often converted into sales; however, they were all sales on the phone that were not put back into analytics to see the actual revenue per conversion.

When this company upgraded to an enhanced campaign, they liked the fact that they could count calls as conversions and thus used the ‘report phone call conversions’ option in their account.


They continued to receive phone calls, but their CPAs climbed considerably for all ecommerce goals and were well above their target CPAs. While CPA bidding didn’t technically fail, as it was getting calls, the ecommerce manager was quite unhappy as the overall site ecommerce was declining and there wasn’t data to show them exactly what data points were generating the calls.

They disabled the option to report calls as goals. After the disabling, they still received calls (as they did before going to enhanced campaigns); however, their CPAs went back to their target goals, and all the conversions were actual ecommerce checkouts

The Lesson: If you are going to add additional conversions for CPA bidding, make sure you really want the optimizer working off of those goals.

Keyword Expansion

The next lesson comes from a company who used CPA bidding for months, and they were very much enjoying the bid system. They had put so much faith in the system that they just kept adding keywords and thought Google would figure it all out.

Every month their CPAs went up; but not by enough that anyone cared enough to investigate. They just assumed it was bid pressure and kept adding more keywords.

After several months of expansion; it was time to give their quarterly report to the VP of Marketing. The CPA trend worried her, so she asked for a larger time frame for the CPA trend. Once she saw the CPA climbing for several months, she asked for a 3rd party investigation.

The answer was quite simple. They were adding keywords, but they were not paying attention to the search queries of those keywords. Just by adding a few hundred negative keywords, the CPAs quickly returned to an acceptable amount.

 The Lesson: You must still follow best practices of account organization, match type selection, query analysis, and adding negative keywords even when using CPA bidding.

Ad Copy Testing

The next example comes from a company who is great at landing page testing, but decided it was time to start doing more ad tests. So, they created a program for testing their ads, wrote lots of new ads and put them live into their account.

Their CTRs almost doubled. Their conversion rates almost dropped in half and their CPAs rose more than 30%.

The problem? They were using Google’s default ad serving option: optimize for clicks.


If you are going to test ads in CPA bidding campaigns, you have two options:

  • Control everything: Use rotate indefinitely, watch the data, pick winners, delete losers, repeat.
  • Know you’ll forget to end tests: In this case, if your are going to create multiple ads and then forget about them, use ‘Optimize for Conversions’ for your ad testing. With this method, Google will pick the ad with the best conversion rate and show it the most often.

The Lesson: CPA bidding does not serve ads – it sets bids. If you are going to test ads, and you should, make sure you are using the correct ad rotation settings.


I find that much more often than not, CPA bidding is highly effective. There are times it does fail, but that now seems to be the exception, even for low conversion accounts.

Now, CPA bidding is great when you have a static CPA target for all keywords in each ad group. For many ecommerce sites, there isn’t a target CPA; but a target ROAS. In that case, CPA bidding is rarely the best bid method to use.

However, no matter how good CPA bidding is for you; if you don’t continue to follow best practices for optimizing your account, CPA bidding will often become ineffective.

Just because you have an automatic bidding system, either Google’s CPA bidding or a 3rd party bid management system, doesn’t mean you can stop working on your account. Those systems change bids based upon the system inputs. If you give them bad  data, they will make bad decisions.

Using automated bid management is great, it gives you back the time you would have spent setting bids so you can make sure you are using all of the best practices in your account. However, you can’t abandoned your account when you use such a system – you must still continue to follow best practices.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 3: Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by netsociety

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous posts here: Introduction, Part 1: Goal setting, and Part 2: Measurement.

One of the first high level checks you should do when performing an AdWords audit is check the campaign settings. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • The default settings as suggested by Google often aren’t optimal.
  • Suboptimal settings apply to all keywords and ads in the campaign, which means it can cause a lot of (hidden) waste or missed opportunities.
  • Since enhanced campaigns a lot has changed in the settings tab, and chances are your campaigns aren’t fully taking advantage of all the new settings and options.
  • It’s relatively easy and quick to fix.

To get a quick feel for the current campaign settings, go right to the Settings tab in the interface, select All enabled campaigns and add all possible columns in this view (except campaign start & end date):


Now you can scroll through your campaigns in this view and answer the following questions:

  • Are the location and language settings as they should be?
  • Do any campaigns target all networks (search and display, which is never good)?
  • Is there any ad scheduling in place?
  • Do the bid strategies make sense?
  • Does the delivery method (standard or accelerated) make sense?
  • Which ad rotation setting is being used?
  • Are there any active bid adjustments in place?

I’ll cover the different bid strategies in the Bid Management part of this series. For the rest of the settings, how I see it, there are three kinds of campaign settings and each need their own approach to be set optimally:

  • Settings you should always apply.
  • Settings you should usually apply, but may have good reasons not to.
  • Settings where you need statistically significant data before you should apply or change them.

Let’s walk through each of these categories.

Settings you should always apply

These are the no-brainers you still want to check, just to be sure:

Use the ‘All features’ setting when selecting your Search campaign type. This will give you access to all the advanced options you really need to get the most out of your campaign settings.

Never target the Search & Display Network in the same campaign. You know this already as it’s in every best practice list and for reasons of completeness I also have to mention it in this post.
It’s quite strange Google still gives you this option, just be sure to never actually use it. Search and Display are so totally different that analyzing aggregate performance is meaningless and optimizing for both networks from a single campaign would be a huge pain without the well-deserved rewards. Even the recently launched Search Network with Display Select doesn’t convince me this campaign type should be used by advertisers that want full control and quick insights of their search & display performance.

Target the right locations. This may sound utterly obvious, but there are still many accounts out there spending money in the wrong places. So make sure the geographic locations you’re targeting are in line with the reach of your business. And if you’re an international advertiser, it’s probably best not to target multiple countries from a single campaign.
For example, the US and the UK are both English-speaking countries, but by targeting them in the same campaign, you’ll show the same ads to American and British users, which makes it impossible to create ads that take the many differences between British and American English into account.
Also, be sure to understand how ads are matched to geographic locations and how you can refine this with the advanced location options.

Target the right languages. You may be inclined to just target the language of the ads in the campaign, and this is also what Google recommends. If you’re only targeting the US, selecting English is usually good enough. However, if you’re targeting countries outside the US it’s important to know that users use as well as their local Google domain. So in those cases it’s advisable to target English (even if you advertise in the local language) as well as the native language (even if you advertise in English). Of course, keep monitoring your search queries and your geographic performance (in the Dimensions tab) to ensure you’re showing for the right queries in the right places.

Settings you should usually apply

You should usually set your delivery method to accelerated and rotate your ads. However, there are some exceptions and implications you may want to consider before blindly using these settings.

Delivery method: for mature and profitable campaigns with no budget constraints (and they shouldn’t, as they’re profitable), accelerated is the way to go. That way, you’ll be sure to capture any (temporary) increase in search volume, as long as your daily budget allows it. One such example would be your branded campaigns, always set those to accelerated with a more than high enough daily budget.
If you’re on a tight budget or just launched a new campaign, you can set your delivery method to standard to spread your ad display throughout the day.

Ad Rotation
Most experts probably expected this to be in the ‘Settings you should always apply’ section where it should say to use rotate indefinitely (or evenly).
Indeed, if you want full control of your ad testing (and you should), rotate is the way to go. This also means you’ll have the responsibility to take the time to regularly pick the winning ads in each ad group.

If you know beforehand you don’t have the time (or the click volume) to frequently do this in a specific campaign, this could be a reason to choose for one of the optimize settings. Of course, this isn’t optimal, but it’s better than letting a terrible ad run 50% of the time because you’ve set the campaign to rotate and didn’t come back soon enough to analyze the results.

Whatever setting you choose, you should regularly pause the significant worst performing ad in each ad group and write a new one to beat the control. In other words: you should always be testing.

Google could make our lives much easier by automatically treating each ad test as a campaign experiment, showing us how significant the differences in performance are and even warning us when an ad group has a significant worst performing ad (in terms of CTR or conversions per impression / revenue per impression). That way, we’ll always know when and where it’s time for a new ad. So for any Googlers reading this, feel free to consider this a feature request.
In the meantime we’ll have to do this ourselves when rotating and luckily there are some useful tools out there to help us, which I’ll cover in the Testing part of this series.

  • Optimize for clicks is usually not the way to go, as it doesn’t take conversion rate into account. Even if CTR, clicks or Quality Score is your main objective, many users feel Google chooses a winning ad before it’s really statistically significant.
  • Optimize for conversions takes both conversion rate and CTR into account to pick the ads that deliver the most conversions. However, if there isn’t enough conversion data, ads will rotate using the optimize for clicks data. So this is actually a worthwhile setting to try out in campaigns with many conversions in each ad group.
  • Rotate evenly (for 90 days). For most ad groups, you should be able to pick a winner within 90 days (often much sooner). In campaigns with enough clicks and conversions, this setting will provide you enough control, but prevent low performing ads to run evenly more than 90 days.
    If ads in an ad group are unchanged for 90 days, the campaign will automatically begin to optimize for clicks or conversions (the latter in case the Conversion Optimizer or Enhanced CPC is enabled).
  • Rotate indefinitely. This is the setting where you keep full control of the split testing process by keeping your ads delivered evenly into the auction forever. Especially in low volume campaigns, you might need more than 90 days before you can pick a winner in an ad group.

Settings that need statistical significance

Before knowing which bid adjustment to set, whether or not you should enable search partners and whether or not you should enable close variants, you need some actual data to see what works best in each campaign.
This means waiting for statistically significant performance data about mobile devices, locations, day-of-week and time-of-day for your bid adjustments. It also means trying out Search Partners and close variants and disabling them in campaigns where they significantly underperform compared to respectively Google Search and their exact and phrase match siblings.

Bid Adjustments

One of the most welcomed improvements of enhanced campaigns is that we can bid differently for different locations in the same campaign. Ad scheduling principally got a facelift and devices, well, I won’t go into the lack of control on devices as many have rightfully done before, I just hope your website is very responsive. Let’s see how you could best determine each of these bid adjustments.

Location Bid Adjustments

From the moment you have a significant amount of data on the performance of a specific location compared to the campaign average (or your target), you can set a bid adjustment for this location. What metric you compare depends on your goals, it could be conversion rate, CPA, ROAS, Revenue per Click, etc. For example, if the average CPA of your campaign is $100 (and you’re happy with that) and Chicago has a CPA of $80 you could adjust the bid for Chicago to (100/80) – 1 = +25%. You’ll find this data in Geographic view of your Dimensions tab.

For further reading, these great posts will provide you all the details you need to determine this bid adjustment: How To Determine Your Mobile & Geo Bid Multipliers For Enhanced Campaigns & Smart Geographic Segmentation & Bidding With Enhanced Campaigns by Benjamin Vigneron and Geographic Targeting In An Enhanced Campaign World by Brad Geddes.

Ad Scheduling

The idea is the same as for locations: get the campaign data from the Dimensions tab (Time: Day of the week and Hour of Day) and look for statistically significant differences from your average performance. To be even more precise you should combine the day-of-week and hour-of-day performance data by downloading a report and adding a segment like this:


With this report you’ll get a combined insight of the performance of each hour of day on each day of the week instead of the average performance of one of both which could lead to suboptimal bid adjustments.

And don’t forget: ad scheduling is based on the time zone of your account, not of the user!

Mobile Bid Adjustments

In case you have a website that provides a bad mobile experience, it’s probably best to set this adjustment to -100% and make it a top priority to create a responsive or mobile website in the meantime. While you’re at it, make sure your site provides a great experience on tablets as you’ll advertise on them anyway.
If your websites provides a decent or even great mobile experience, you’ll want to advertise on mobile devices. The hard part is gauging the full value of mobile, which is not just the macro conversion on the mobile site. Many advertisers say: “My CPA is twice as high on mobile devices, so my bid adjustment should be -50%”. That’s only the case if the only thing you care about are direct mobile online conversions.

Before applying this logic you may want to consider that mobile value is also generated by:

  • Calls: see the previous measurement post on how to track phone calls.
  • Cross-device conversions: these are now included in the recently released Estimated Total Conversions column (if Google has enough conversion data to give an estimate, currently set at 50 a day on the account level).
  • Apps: see the previous measurement post on tracking app downloads and/or use App Analytics to track in-app conversions.
  • In-store: also see the previous measurement post about tracking in-store conversions. Google will also include these as part of Estimated Total Conversions soon.

Not all of the above may apply to you, but the ones that do should be taken into account when setting your mobile bid adjustment. Google even created a fancy Full Value of Mobile Calculator to help you with this.

The best way would be to determine a value for all types of mobile conversions that apply to your business, add those values together (also see the micro conversions part in the goal setting part of this series) and use this to estimate the value from mobile devices. Then apply your mobile bid adjustment based on this total value. And just like with geo bid multipliers, Benjamin Vigneron’s post can help you on your way, even including an Excel file that will do calculations for you.

Search Partners

Search Partners, the blackest of the black boxes in AdWords. For some reason Google won’t show us performance by search partner so we can optimize based on this data. That leaves us with two options:

  • Let the Conversion Optimizer do the bidding, as the Search partner site is one of the factors the Conversion Optimizer takes into account when setting bids.
  • Simply keep Search Partners enabled when they meet your goals and disable them when they don’t.

The performance of search partners can vary strongly per campaign, sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s terrible and sometimes it’s pretty close to performance on Google (in terms of CPA or ROAS). As they can easily provide an additional 10% to 20% search volume, I wouldn’t recommending opting out by default, unless you’re on a very tight budget.

There’s an easy way to find out if you should keep Search partners enabled: choose a long time range in the AdWords interface (e.g. the last 12 months) in the All online campaigns view, sort by Cost and click on the Segment button to show the segment: Network (with search partners):


In this case we compare the CPA (this could also be ROAS) on Google search with Search partners and we see Search partners have a lower CPA, so we’ll leave them enabled in these campaigns. But if Search partners are significantly performing worse than Google search (let’s say 50% worse or more), you could improve the performance of your account by disabling Search partners in those campaigns.

Also note the much lower CTR on Search partners, this is usually the case and no reason for concern as the CTR on Search partners doesn’t influence your Quality Score on Google.

Keyword matching options

Many advertisers didn’t like the liberty Google took in May 2012 by matching phrase and exact match keywords with plurals, misspellings and other close variants and therefore disable this matching option by default to keep full control.

I’d say that’s fully justified if you’re 100% certain that all your phrase and exact match keywords also have active (modified) broad variants in your account. In that case you’ll want the broad matches to catch the close variants. In other cases: data beats opinion. In many campaigns I’ve seen these close variants delivering additional conversions for an acceptable (or even good) CPA or ROAS. Besides, you can (and should) always add the unwanted queries as negatives.

If you want to know how these close variants perform on average on a campaign level, there’s a way to find out:

  • Include these variants in the Keyword matching options setting. This is the default setting.
  • Compare the performance of close variants with the performance of exact and phrase match per campaign with a Pivot Table.

To create this Pivot Table go to the Dimension tab of your account, select a long enough time frame and select view: Search Terms. Then only select the following Columns (Total conv. value if you’re an e-commerce advertiser tracking revenue with AdWords):


Now download this report and open it with Excel, if it gets too big you can add a filter before downloading it to only include search terms with at least 10 impressions (or any number higher than 1 to get rid of unique queries).
In Excel we need to re-label the match types to make a comparison on an actionable level. This means comparing the average performance of close variants (both phrase & exact) with the average performance of phrase & exact. To do this replace as following in the Match Type column:

  • Replace all ‘exact (close variant)’ by ‘Close Variants’
  • Replace all ‘phrase (close variant)’ by ‘Close Variants’
  • Replace all ‘exact’ by ‘Exact & Phrase’
  • Replace all ‘phrase’ by ‘Exact & Phrase’, make sure you only replace this in the cells that contain ‘phrase’, not in the cells that already contain ‘Exact & Phrase’

Now we can create a Pivot Table that will show us the aggregate performance of these match types (and broad match) per campaign.

The fields of your Pivot Table should be as following where CPA is a calculated field you created by dividing Cost by Conversions (and in case of ROAS you would divide Total conv. value by Cost):


Your Pivot Table should look something like this and now you can compare the aggregate performance of close variants with the aggregate performance of exact & phrase:


In the example above you can see close variants perform worse in Campaign A, but perform better in Campaign B. So we could disable them in Campaign A and keep including them in Campaign B.

Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments: Your Audit Checklist

checkboxAre the search and display network always targeted in separate campaigns?
checkboxAre all search campaigns set to include ‘All features’?
checkboxAre all campaigns targeting the right locations?
checkboxAre all campaigns targeting the right languages?
checkboxDoes the delivery setting make sense for each campaign?
checkboxIs the ad delivery set to rotate by default? You can try optimize for conversions in campaigns with many conversions.
checkboxAre location bid adjustments set based on significant performance differences?
checkboxIs ad scheduling set based on significant performance differences?
checkboxAre mobile bid adjustments set based on the full value of mobile?
checkboxHave Search partners been tried in every search campaign and have they been disabled where they significantly underperform?
checkboxHave close variants been tried in every search campaign and have they been disabled where they significantly underperform?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Paid Search Strategist at iProspect|Netsociety, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 2: Measurement

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by netsociety

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous posts here: Introduction and Part 1: Goal setting.

Once you’ve set your goals as discussed in the previous post, you have to find a way to measure them. If you can’t measure your goals, there is no way of telling if you’re reaching them and which parts of your campaigns are profitable and which parts aren’t.

In this post I’ll go into measurement best practices, which will mostly be based on AdWords conversion tracking and Google Analytics. You may use another analytics tool, and there are many great tools out there, but when it comes to integration with AdWords, Google Analytics has some unique features:

To enjoy all these features, your AdWords and Analytics accounts need to be linked, which has recently been made a lot easier. You’ll need administrator rights to link accounts, and this guide from Google will show you how to link accounts. So even if you use another Analytics tool, it’s worth installing Google Analytics alongside as it’s free and you get the extra features mentioned above.

If you want to learn more about how AdWords and Analytics work together (and how their reports are different) I’d recommend watching the Combined Power of AdWords and Analytics webinar.

How to check your current conversion tracking

To check how the account is currently tracking conversions, go to the Tools and Analysis menu and click on Conversions.

This will show you which conversions AdWords is tracking and the values and conversion pages for these conversions. In the example below of an e-commerce website, we see just 1 conversion being tracked (Sale) and that no activity has been recorded within the last 30 days:


So in this case we need to investigate if the conversion script is still placed correctly on the thank you page after a sale or maybe the account just didn’t generate any sales during the last 30 days.

Tracking the variable revenue seems to be working correctly as the value of the sales divided by the number of conversions (AdWords only shows many-per-click in this view, which often inflates the number of conversions) comes close to the average order value.

This advertiser is not tracking any other conversions with AdWords and as discussed in the previous post about goal setting, it’s very probable that there are other valuable actions on the website a visitor could perform. These actions should be valued and tracked as well.

So when looking at this view, check for the following:

  • Does the list of conversions look complete to you, including macro as well as micro conversions? Visit the website to get an idea of the valuable actions visitors could perform.
  • Does every conversion have a value that corresponds as closely as possible with the (eventual) revenue it’s generating? In case of e-commerce sales this revenue should come directly from the shopping cart system.
  • In the Webpages tab: do you see a complete list of the correct thank you pages corresponding to the conversions?
  • Make sure there are no goals imported from Analytics that are also tracked by AdWords conversion tracking, this will mess up your conversion data.
  • In the Advanced tab (after selecting a specific conversion): are the view-through conversion settings as you want them to be? This is only relevant if you use image or rich media ads on the Display Network and want to somehow value view-through conversions. For example, you may want to lower the conversion window (do you remember which banners you saw 3 weeks ago?) and enable search de-duplication. By the way: Google Analytics goals aren’t compatible with view-through conversion reporting, so if you want to see these conversions, you’ll need to install AdWords conversion tracking.

In the sections below, I will discuss how each conversion type could best be measured in your account.
You can find details on how to set up conversion tracking in AdWords in this guide from Google.

Need for cross-account conversion tracking?

In case you have a MCC (My Client Center) with multiple accounts all advertising for the same website and/or trying to achieve the same goals, it is recommended to use the cross-account conversion tracking Google released in late August 2013.

One of the main benefits is that you’ll more accurately track the generated conversions. The drawback of account-specific conversion tracking is that you’ll risk to count the same conversion more than once when a user clicks on ads from different accounts before converting. Each account will count this conversion as long as it happened within 30 days after the click (or another conversion window if this was customized).

So if this applies to your situation, learn more about cross-account conversion tracking and how to set it up.

Determine your conversion window

Until September 23 2013, the conversion window of AdWords was 30 days and this couldn’t be changed. But now you can set your conversion counting window from 7 to 90 days after a click.

So you definitely want to think about how many days after the last AdWords click you still want to count conversions. This could be 30 days and then you don’t have to change anything. But if it’s shorter or longer than that, you can easily change your conversion window.
Of course, you could question what role an ad click 90 days ago played in a purchase made today, but that’s actually an attribution issue I’ll touch upon later in this post.

To find out what window to choose, Google recommends to check out your search funnels time lag report, which is a good place to get this data from.

You could also take a look at Google’s Customer Journey to Online Purchase and look up your industry and country (if it’s one of the 7 countries in the list). It doesn’t show you the average number of days before a purchase, but it does show interesting multi-channel statistics and what percentage of revenue comes from purchases made in more than one day. For example, for CPG in the US this is only 20%, but for Retail it’s 50%.

Measuring a fixed (assigned) value conversion with AdWords conversion tracking

For all non e-commerce conversions that result in a thank you page (like filling in a form) you can simply create an AdWords conversion script and enter the assigned value into the Conversion value field and place the resulting snippet on the thank you page after the conversion.

Measuring variable e-commerce revenue with AdWords conversion tracking

This is similar to tracking fixed value conversions, with one important difference. You’ll need to edit the code snippet afterwards as described in the ‘Track transaction-specific values’ part by inserting the variable from your shopping cart system to get the revenue into AdWords.

If you don’t know what this variable looks like, contact your shopping cart provider and ask what variable is used for the total cost of goods (excluding taxes and shipping).

Measuring app downloads

If you have an app and consider downloads of this app as one of your goals, you can easily track these downloads as conversions in AdWords. Just choose App download as Source when creating a new conversion. You can track downloads of Android and iOS apps:

  • Android Apps: just choose Android as mobile platform and fill in the Package name, which is the part of the Google Play URL right after and before &. In the case of WhatsApp ( the package name would be: com.whatsapp. Save and you’re done. No need for scripts.
  • iOS Apps: this is a bit more work than Android Apps. After choosing iOS as mobile platform you’ll be given a snippet that needs to be installed in the app. Instructions on how to do this can be found the conversion tracking for iOS guide. Unfortunately, Google currently only tracks iOS app downloads driven by ads served in mobile apps (so no downloads from search or regular GDN campaigns). Hopefully these will be tracked as well in the near future.

Measuring Events with Google Analytics

Not all conversions lead to a thank you page. For example downloads, outbound links, likes, shares, clicking on ‘add to cart’ (but not checking out), live chat and video plays could be valuable actions you’ll want to track. AdWords conversion tracking can’t help you track these kind of interactions, but Google Analytics event tracking can. The good news is Google recently launched Auto-Event Tracking with Google Tag Manager, which means you no longer have to add custom JavaScript code to your website to track these events. To learn all about how this works and how to set it up read Justin Cutroni’s thorough walkthrough.

If you use such events as goals you can import these goals into AdWords and then you’ll measure these special clicks as conversions.

Measuring the quality of your leads

If the goal of your campaigns is to generate leads it is important to realize that leads have no intrinsic value. Of course your leads have an average value you’re probably using to calculate your CPA. But the percentage of these leads that actually converts to customers differs per marketing channel, keyword and practically every possible segment you can think of.

glengarry-leads-are-goldHow does he know the Glengarry leads are gold?

Using the average value will lead you to undervalue some marketing channels and keywords and to overvalue others which hurts your eventual profit.

Until September 2013 lead-gen websites had to use a process similar to the one described in How to measure ROI for lead-gen websites to tie the sales resulting from their leads back to the online source.

And this is still a great way to track the value of your leads, especially from your non-AdWords campaigns.

But now you can track offline conversions within AdWords. Using the Click ID as primary key, you have the possibility to import offline sales back into AdWords. It requires some implementation and additional steps to set up, but it’s an absolute must-have. Not just for lead generators but for any advertiser who wants to incorporate what happens offline (like returns) into AdWords.

Measuring phone calls

There are a couple of ways for tracking phone calls resulting from your AdWords campaigns:

  • Call Extensions with Google forwarding numbers. At the moment of writing this is only available for advertisers in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany. This is how it works: Google automatically generates unique phone numbers that are displayed with your ads. If a potential customer calls this phone number, AdWords will route the call to your business phone number. You’ll then be able to see detailed reports about calls generated from your ads. You can set a minimum call duration to make a phone call count as a conversion. If phone calls are important for your business you should absolutely set this up for your campaigns.
  • Call Extensions without Google forwarding numbers. If you’re not advertising in one of the countries that supports forwarding numbers you can still see how often mobile users clicked on the phone number in your call extensions by using the Segment -> Click type menu in the AdWords UI. Then look for the following click type: Mobile clicks-to-call (although with these clicks, we have no way of knowing how long the call lasted and what happened after the call).
    To learn all about how call tracking works in AdWords and how to make sense of the call reports (which has been made easier now phone call conversions are added to regular conversions) I can highly recommend reading Demystifying Call Tracking In AdWords by Frederick Vallaeys.
  • Third party call tracking solutions. A lot of potential customers will only call your business after having visited your website. As AdWords call extensions only track phone calls from phone numbers in the ad, they don’t help you track calls to phone numbers on your website. Call tracking vendors can help you measure these calls as well. If your campaigns generate a lot of phone calls it may be a worthy investment to use such call tracking software. You can find vendors in this comparison sheet and in the Google Analytics Application Gallery.
  • Phone calls from your mobile website. In this case AdWords can measure these calls, provided users click on your phone number with their mobile device. You can find how to set this up in the conversion tracking set-up guide by folding out the ‘Track conversions on a mobile site with a phone number’ part.
  • You can find even more inventive ways to measure phone calls in 5 Ways To Track Phone Calls Generated From PPC Clicks by Brad Geddes.

Besides the possibilities mentioned above, we can expect Google to provide us more insight in phone call conversions as part of Estimated Total Conversions: “In addition to cross-device conversions, both phone calls and store visits will be included as part of Estimated Total Conversions in the coming months.”

Measuring in-store conversions

If your website isn’t the only place where you sell your products or services, you have the additional challenge of measuring the impact of your online campaigns on the sales in your physical stores or offices.

First off, you could try out Google Offers to create coupons users can redeem in your store(s).

Another way to get an idea about online users coming to your stores is by using location extensions and look at the ‘Get direction’ click type by segmenting by click type or by going to the Dimensions tab and change the view to Free clicks (yes, these get direction clicks are free). Free clicks can also include interactions with video and image ads.

Another (high tech) way of tying online to offline behavior is using the Google Analytics Measurement Protocol (part of Universal Analytics). Justin Cutroni wrote two articles that I highly recommend to get a better idea about the possibilities with Universal Analytics: Universal Analytics: The Next Generation of Google Analytics and How Universal Analytics will Drive Strategic Marketing.

And as always, Avinash Kaushik shares great tips for measuring the offline impact of your online channels in Multichannel Analytics: Tracking Offline Conversions. 7 Best Practices, Bonus Tips. The 7 best practices mentioned are:

  • Track your online store locator, directions, other direct offline dimensions.
  • Use unique 800 (toll free) numbers on the website.
  • Use unique coupons, offers, promotions online.
  • Marry / mine online and offline data.
  • Leverage onexit online surveys (or Point Of Sale surveys).
  • Conduct controlled experiments.
  • Primary research baby!

Tracking the offline impact of your online campaigns is probably one of the hardest things to do in online marketing, but hopefully you’re now better equipped to do so.

And as mentioned earlier in this post, we can also expect Google to include store visits as part of Estimated Total Conversions in the coming months.

Not to forget, it works both ways: if you’re advertising on tv, radio, in newspapers or any other offline marketing channels, this also impacts your online results (especially direct traffic and searches for your brand), so you should also track the online impact of your offline campaigns.

Attribution Modeling

The only use for last click attribution now is to get you fired. Avoid it.
Avinash Kaushik

Well, that statement might be a bit bold, but at least it forces you to seriously question last click attribution, which is still used by many advertisers. Actually, according to an Econsultancy & Adobe report, only 54% of businesses carry out any form of attribution, of whom 28% only use last click.

And that isn’t necessarily bad, as Siddharth Shah lays out in Attribution: Busting The Myths, especially if you’re primarily doing search.

But the more (paid) channels you are using to generate conversions on your website, the greater your attribution problem is.

To get a quick feel for you attribution problem you can take a look at the Multi-Channel Conversion Visualizer in Google Analytics. To see this go to: Conversions -> Multi-Channel Funnels -> Overview and select your most important (paid) traffic sources. If it looks like this:


You have less of an attribution problem compared to this situation:


But even in the first the scenario, the very least you should do is to ignore the last branded search click (paid or organic) and give credit to the keyword(s) or channel(s) that preceded this click.

There is no one perfect answer to how you should divide credit for the conversions amongst your online marketing channels. But last-click probably isn’t it and neither is first-click. So if you’re still valuing your channels based on one of these models now is the time to read this great guide by Avinash Kaushik: Multi-Channel Attribution Modeling: The Good, Bad and Ugly Models including the valuable follow up comments by Brian Clifton. As he says: “The more you think about attribution modeling, the more complicated it becomes.” But it needs to be done if you want to make smarter decisions about how much to invest in each of your channels and keywords.

Measurement: Your Audit Checklist

checkboxAre all defined macro and micro conversions tracked correctly with AdWords Conversion tracking?
checkboxIn case of conversions without a thank you page: have you set up event tracking, used them as goals and imported these into AdWords?
checkboxAre AdWords and Google Analytics properly linked (including auto tagging and engagement columns in AdWords)?
checkboxIn case of multiple accounts in a MCC advertising for the same website and/or goals: is cross-account conversion tracking installed?
checkboxDoes the AdWords conversion window make sense considering the buying behavior of your customers? Check time lag reports or research on customer journeys to gain insights.
checkboxDo the view-through conversion settings make sense?
checkboxIn case of lead generation: do you have a system in place to track the quality of your leads by source, channel or keyword (type)? For AdWords this can be done by importing offline conversions.
checkboxIn case phone calls are valuable to your business: do you have system in place to track the phone calls generated by your campaigns?
checkboxIn case you have brick-and-mortar business locations: do you use Google Offers, location extensions and other ways to gauge the offline impact of your online campaigns?
checkboxDo you have an attribution model in place that looks beyond the last (or first) click and ignores the last branded search click?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Paid Search Strategist at iProspect|Netsociety, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

Avatar of brad

by brad

Google is Sunsetting Product Extensions

12:00 pm in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by brad

I never saw this formally announced by Google; and our ecommerce clients were never notified about this change, so I just want to make sure everyone sees this update.

This is a quote from the agency newsletter:

Sunsetting Product Extensions
Product Extensions will be sunset for all enabled campaigns and will be removed from the campaign creation flow on May 20th. With increased Product Listing Ads adoption, Product Extensions have become a less relevant way to display retail products. If you have Product Extension Ad, it will continue to run as a text ad.

After PLAs were launched, Google removed the image from the extension and changed the extensions so it just showed a line of text and a price. Without the compelling image, and the additional of image filled PLAs – our CTRs on product extensions has slowly declined over the past year.

It looks like you can spend your time working on your PLA structure and making sure you are getting good PLA results as that looks like it will be the future monetization of Google Shopping. 

How to Create a State of the Art PLA Campaign

9:00 am in Google AdWords, PPC Marketing Blog by Martin Roettgerding

There was an interesting question on the forum the other day: What’s the best structure for a product listing ads (PLA) campaign? And what’s the best way to get started? As it turns out, a state of the art PLA campaign structure is very powerful, but actually not that hard to set up. All you need is the AdWords Editor, a spreadsheet, and a simple step by step process. But let’s start at the beginning…

The Default PLA Structure

Google has made sure that everyone can get started with product listing ads quickly: Create a campaign and make sure it has the product extension, add an ad group and put in the catch-all product target All products and possibly an ad. This can be done in five minutes and it’s a good way to get your first PLA campaign on the road. The resulting structure will look like this:

The default PLA structure

This setup is fairly simple and comes with some limitations. Since ads are assigned to ad groups and there’s only one ad group covering all products, this means that you can’t have different ads for different products. Bids can be applied at the product target level, but since there’s only one product target for all products the result is the same: One bid is applied to all products.

Not everyone needs different ads, but having the same bid for all products is a serious limitation. With only one bid you can’t treat your best selling products any different than your slow sellers. The bid you apply will have to work for the blended average of all products, with the bestsellers’ profits offsetting the losses from the shelf warmers.

Another drawback is that AdWords won’t show any statistics beyond your product targets. You can get some of the information from other sources, but AdWords won’t tell you anything about individual products.

A State of the Art PLA Structure

To overcome these limitations, a better structure is needed. The following setup solves all of these problems:

Granular PLA campaign structure

Here, each product has its own ad group. Inside each ad group there’s a product target that is linked to a single product using the product’s id attribute in the target’s definition.

This setup allows you to bid on individual products, which you can do at product target or the ad group level. It also gives you the most flexibility to tune your ads to your products and it lets you see stats for each individual product.

How to Build a Super-Granular PLA Campaign

To build such a granular PLA campaign, you need access to your product feed and some tools. A good approach is to use a combination of Excel (or some other spreadsheet application) and the AdWords Editor.

These are the necessary steps:

1) Create a PLA campaign and add the product extension. Note: A campaign can hold up to 20,000 ad groups. If you have more products, you will need more than one campaign.

2) Download the campaign into AdWords Editor. Add an example ad group. Then put in an example product target with id=12345. Select the target, right click, and copy it.

Step 2: Copy the product target

3) Get your product feed and open it in a spreadsheet. Make sure you have a table with all of your products.

4) Paste the product target from the editor right next to the table. This should get you a column Campaign, then a column Ad Group, then Product Target Condition 1, then Product Target Value 1 and some more. This demonstrates what you’ll need.

Put the copied product target next to your products

5) Now use simple formulas to replace the example values with real values. Leave the campaign name. As ad group, use the product’s name (formula “=B2″, for example). For Product Target Value 1 put in the ID (again, use a formula like “=A2″).

Use simple formulas to create the real product targets

6) After you’ve done this for one product, do this for all the other products by copying the line with the formulas down next to all other products.

7) Select the columns with all the product targets and copy them. Go back to AdWords Editor and to the product targets tab. Click on the button Make multiple changes and then select Add/update multiple product targets.

In the AdWords Editor click Add/update multiple product targets

Check the box top left (“My product target information below includes columns for campaign and ad group names”). Paste the columns from the spreadsheet into the field below. Then click Process and accept the changes afterwards.

Import your product targets

8) This creates a lot of ad groups as well. Go to the ad groups tab and give those ad groups a bid.

9) Add an example product ad in the editor and use the same process (steps 4-7) to create ads for all of your ad groups as well. Using the same ad text for all products is perfectly fine, but you also have the flexibility to customize your ads.

10) That’s it – you’ve just created a state of the art PLA campaign. Don’t forget to upload everything. Make sure to keep the spreadsheet.

There is one downside to such a granular campaign: you have to keep it up to date. It’s no problem if a product is no longer available: If it’s dropped from the feed, AdWords won’t promote it. But if you have new products, you’ll have to update your targets. You can re-use the spreadsheet to do this quickly when needed.

A good addition to such a campaign is a catch-all target (All products). This way even new products are at least somewhat covered. Put a very low bid on it – much lower than all the other ones – to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your other bids.

Two Bonus Advantages of a Granular PLA Structure

In addition to full bidding control, individual ads, and individual statistics for each product, a granular PLA structure has a two more advantages. The first one is that it gives you the option to bid on the ad group level instead of the product target level. This allows you to use automated rules and AdWords Scripts, which can be applied to ad groups, but not to product targets.

The other advantage concerns the search query report. Especially with large and diverse feeds an account manager often struggles to make sense of search queries. For example, is the query “gel 3030″ relevant or should it be excluded? Having ad groups named after a product can provide some context since, in the report, the ad group’s name is right there next to the query. For example it would be easy to see that “gel 3030″ is indeed a relevant query for the product “Asics Gel 3030 Running Shoe”.


With the AdWords Editor, a spreadsheet and a simple step by step process it’s possible to create a state of the art PLA campaign. The process outlined here can be adapted to suit your needs. For example, you could put additional information in the ad group names, mention brands in the ads, or add custom bids depending on prices or other criteria.

So I hope this helps you build the perfect PLA campaign. If it does, or if you have questions, I’m looking forward to your feedback.

This article was written by Martin Roettgerding, Head of SEM at SEO/SEM agency Bloofusion Germany. You can read more from him at his Advanced PPC Blog PPC Epiphany, or contact him on Twitter @bloomarty.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

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