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How to Optimize Google Ads Campaigns for Today’s Paid Search Landscape


October 29, 2021


October 29, 2021

Right Side Up recently hosted a webinar on Google Ads campaign management and how to optimize paid search led by Michael Nicholas, a strategic marketing leader with more than a decade of experience managing teams and using data to make decisions. Michael shared his expert insights on how to take a more holistic approach to paid campaign management and offered his best tips for optimizing, and we’ve recapped it all for you below. For even more detail, watch the full webinar.

Google Search ads seem like they’ve been around forever. But automated products like Smart campaigns and bid management have significantly changed the game over the past few years. To optimize paid search for today’s SEM landscape, we recommend a holistic approach that incorporates keyword expansion, strategic testing, and competitive intelligence. And with more tools and resources available than ever before, reaching your audience through Google Ads can yield great results—as long as you know what you’re doing.

Google Ads Got Smart: Automation and machine learning

“When you think about how to optimize paid search, the ultimate goal is finding a connection between what somebody is typing into the search bar and then delivering that answer in an ad,” said Michael Nicholas, a strategic marketing leader who led our SEM webinar. “And Google is going to tell you the best way to use their product to reach people with those ads.”

Connecting audiences to your Google Ads is easier than ever and marketers are increasingly relying on automation to streamline and optimize nearly all aspects of their campaigns. And when it comes to paid search, there are many ways to let automation and machine learning take your campaign to the next level.

“Automation is really the name of the game,” Nicholas said. “Paid search used to be very prescriptive, with many of us relying on third-party tools or homegrown solutions. But now Google offers products specifically tailored to make search more accessible and easier to manage at scale without a whole tech stack or army of search managers.”

Broad match lets you reach more people

Creating solid keyword lists is the backbone of a successful paid search campaign. But Google’s broad match feature opens the door to a wider audience and automatically finds new, high-performing queries and emerging trends.

“Google has great semantic matching capabilities and language processing as part of their machine learning stack,” Nicholas said. “That enables you to get visibility into changes in search trends and also understand how people that are interested in your products discuss them via search instead of just the explicit words that we use as marketers.”

A broad match strategy allows you to:

  • Spend less time building keyword lists
  • Cast a wider net of potential searches matching to broad match keywords
  • Work effectively with Smart Bidding

“This product pairs really well with Smart Bidding, giving you more flexibility to create a broad match between your keyword and what’s actually being searched,” Nicholas said. “Google can then pair that with setting an automatic bid based on that broad match.”

Although this general approach can get your ads in front of more people, there are some pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Multiple searches can trigger one broad match keyword (does only one search actually drive conversions?)
  • Casting a wider net increases exposure to emerging search trends, which may not be relevant to your product
  • There’s no means of ensuring your budget is focused on the most profitable keywords

Core benefit of Google Ads automated bidding feature

There’s no denying that Google’s AI is smarter, faster, and learning more quickly than our human marketer brains. But does that automatically mean it’s better? Well, if you use it correctly, the answer is probably yes. Smart Bidding uses what Google knows about how people search to set the right bid at the right time for the right search.

“Google’s tech can actually do a lot more than an individual paid search manager,” Nicolas said. “It’s impossible for a human to match it. Even if you have manual bidding and you make six bid changes a day, you’re probably pulling information based on imperfect data that isn’t even very recent.”

While human marketers have to rely on conversion reports to inform their bidding decisions, there’s an unavoidable delay between when the search happens and when that data hits your report. Google pulls data on a search-by-search basis, which allows Smart Bidding to reach people more effectively.

Responsive search ads test for your best copy combinations

The days of one headline that goes with one image and one CTA are gone—and have been for a long time. To get the best results from your paid search campaign, it’s best to test out several copy combinations. Google’s responsive search ads feature automatically assembles the most relevant creative to help make your keywords relevant to incremental searches.

“Google is basically giving you the opportunity to give it all of your creatives and trust that it will mix and match them in a way that makes the most sense to potential searches and potential keywords,” Nicholas said.

And whether you like responsive ads or not, get used to them. After June 30, 2022 this will be the only search ad format for new copy.

The one major downside of responsive search ads is that your winning combinations are only currently reported by impressions, not clicks or conversions.

“You just have to take Google’s word for it that the combination they serve most is actually the most productive,” Nicholas said.

Use These Reports to Optimize Your Paid Search Success

Doing what Google wants you to do is crucial for getting the results you want from your SEM campaign. But how do you know if it’s all working? There are endless reports you could use to check yourself, but we find these three to be the most helpful:

  • Search Query Reports
  • Quality Score Components
  • Drafts and Experiments

These reports can also be used to demonstrate the value of paid search throughout your organization.

“Paid search is often overlooked,” Nicholas said. “Yes, you’re putting a cost-per-click value on a search, but these reports offer an extremely tidy, regular structured data set that literally gives you a measure of demand.”

Fine tuning broad matches through search query reports

We already know that broad match allows us to reach a wider audience with our ads, but in reaching more people, we also tend to get some less-than-helpful results in the mix. 

“If Google is recommending you use the broadest match possible, that means you don’t necessarily have explicit control of what your keywords are matching to,” Nicholas said. “You really have to pay attention to the underlying search queries that are triggering your keywords.”

To minimize that noise, you can dig through your search queries to identify the searches that actually drive conversions. And once you find them, add them as exact match keywords to your list.

The opposite also works. You can also identify non-converting searches as negative keywords to avoid wasting your budget on dead-end leads.

To make the most of a broad match approach combined with search query insights, organize your account to allow “harvester” broad match keywords to provide maximum query coverage. And then focus your budget on “producer” exact match queries.

Determine your next steps with quality score components

Quality score components can show you—on a keyword-by-keyword basis—the next step in your optimization process, along with what tests to run. 

“It gives you a really easy way to point to what to do next,” Nicholas said. “It tells you how to test what is working, what isn’t working, and what keywords are good for your account versus why those keywords aren’t serving the target conversions.”

We recommend adding these columns to your keyword reports and keyword views:

  • Expected CTR: Predicts whether your keyword is likely to lead to a click on your ads. While this is a prediction, it can help identify keywords that target searches that aren’t relevant to your products and remove them.
  • Ad Relevance: Shows you how relevant your ads are to the keywords they’re targeting. If you don’t like what you see, write new ads!
  • Landing Page Relevance: Describes whether your landing page is likely to provide a good experience to customers. Start here for identifying landing page testing opportunities.
Google ads QS components report

Test with less risk using drafts and experiments

We get it, it can be scary to trust automated features and let them loose in your campaign. But you don’t have to hand everything over, yet. There are a few ways to dip your toes into the world of automation to see what works best for your campaigns using Google’s draft and experiment features.

“It allows you to, at scale, take elements of your campaign or your campaign portfolio and try different things,” Nicholas said.

Ad variations

One way to get a better understanding of which components are driving results is to test ad copy at scale and across ad types (including responsive ads) and across ad groups and campaigns. To do this, select and replace copy lines and landing pages, and measure the cumulative effect, including conversions.

Just make sure you’re testing in a way that provides clear results of which element is impacting those results.

Smart Bidding

If you’re not sure which Smart Bidding strategy is best, try out several approaches on copies of the same campaign to get an answer. Create a draft of the campaign and apply the original bid strategy, and then apply the test bid strategy to the original campaign. 

Keep testing until you get the answers you need. Just keep in mind when you’re testing different elements that bid strategies may work differently on different campaigns or over different time periods.

Broad match keywords

If you’re concerned about getting too much exposure from adding broad keywords, follow a similar approach to what we mentioned above for Smart Bidding. Create a draft and add broad match keywords to the draft campaign.

“Ultimately, this tool allows us to validate whether Google’s best practice recommendations actually work for your business,” Nicholas said.

There’s no denying that Google’s tools and recommendations are best in class, but marketing is a combination of art and science. Understanding how to use Google’s paid search products and applying your own context can help you optimize your SEM strategy and drive conversions.

Our paid search experts can help you set up an effective SEM program or optimize an existing strategy to maximize results. Drop us a line at hello@rightsideup.com and we’ll connect you with one of our talented Right Side Up growth strategists.

Michael Nicholas is a strategic marketing leader with more than a decade of experience managing teams and using data to make decisions. He has a deep expertise in paid search, having managed $300M in ad spend. Before joining Secfi as their Director of Growth, he was a Director of Marketing at Live Nation/Ticketmaster where he managed a team of 12 search marketers and analysts.

Jes Parker is a writer and content marketer with experience creating B2B and consumer-facing assets that build brands and make complex concepts more human. She has worked with companies and nonprofits like Highstead Foundation, Trust for Public Land, Harvard University, the Museum of the City of New York, and Times Square Alliance to craft accessible and engaging content strategies.

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