An Agency Guide to Google Ads Optimization
Google Ads is a primary weapon in every marketer’s arsenal.
However, your search campaign will do little more than burn your budget if you don’t know how to optimize Google Ads.
Google knows this, and that’s why they provide the tools you need to test, observe, and adjust on the fly. You just need to understand better the options and metrics provided.
Below, we’re going to dive straight into our foolproof optimization process.
Google Ads Optimization Checklist:
- Keyword Planning
- Knowing Your Ad Options
- Testing & Observation
- Remarketing & Adjustments
What is Google Ads Optimization?
Google Ads optimization is the process of monitoring and adjusting campaign performance to maximize your ROI.
Optimizing an ad or ad set can be as simple as testing and adjusting ad copy, images, or headlines. But, it may also require more careful metric observation to aid you in changing your targeting, bidding, and ad type.
Furthermore, ad optimization is dynamic. For the best results, you will constantly be testing, observing, and adjusting to get the best results. Additionally, the tune-ups you implement for one campaign will not necessarily be a successful recipe for another campaign with different objectives.
When Should I Start Optimizing My Google Ads?
We get it. You’re hungry and want to see results as soon as possible.
This is especially crucial when you have an aggressive client that expects new leads quickly in exchange for their monetary investment.
It will be your job to set expectations appropriately.
Brand-new Google Ads campaigns typically begin with a learning phase. This is assuming that:
- The Google Ads account is new
- The campaign is brand-new and is not using existing or lookalike audiences
During this process, Google Ads will actively collect data from every user that sees or interacts with your campaign. You want to allow your campaign to retrieve a healthy sample size as these details will be what guides your optimization process.
This process length is wildly variable and will largely depend upon your campaign’s foundation. Factors such as campaign objective, keyword selection, and initial audience selection will all play a role.
If you’re particularly fortunate, you can start acting on the learning process in 1-2 weeks. In other cases, you may need to observe for up to a month.
It’s important to allow this process to play out uninterrupted. Making premature changes will effectively reset the learning process and send you back to square one.
If your client is confused or frustrated by this initial period, be sure to lay out the benefits. The more effectively you understand your ideal audience early on, the more efficiently you will be able to spend their ad budget when it’s time to move.
After the discovery period is over, optimization should become routine. At the bare minimum, you’ll want to revisit your settings once per month.
However, doing so more frequently allows you to keep a closer eye on positive or negative trends. The sooner you lay eyes on actionable data, the better you’re able to pivot your bids to the right areas and maximize your investment.
But, how exactly do you do that?
Let’s dive into the best Google Ads optimization strategies that set you up for success.
The Google Ads Optimization Checklist
1. Keyword Planning
How do users discover anything online? Keywords.
We utilize keyword planning in almost everything marketing from SEO to paid ads. These help us connect our ads with the users most likely to engage and convert.
If you select the right keywords, you’re going to boost your returns. Selecting the wrong keywords and finding the wrong audience is going to result in wasted ad spending.
The reason for this is that Google Ads prompts you to set budgets and bid on your targeted keywords. This is unlike your typical SEO content, which allows you to boost your ranking through content quality alone. Meanwhile, focusing copy on the wrong keywords in your ads not only is a wasted effort but burns up funds you can’t get back.
Google provides us with a tool to assist in this process.
A. Using Google Keyword Planner
You can gain access to the Keyword Planner if you have a Google Ads account here.
If you have yet to begin your campaign, it will walk you through the initial process of setting it up. It will prompt you to answer questions about your business and your goals for that particular set of ads.
You’ll then be greeted with two options:
- Discover New Keywords
- Get Search Volume & Forecasts
The first will walk you through the process of keyword discovery step-by-step. It’s going to ask you for more details about your business such as the products and services you sell.
You can also plan by entering your keywords or by entering your domain. Note that the latter is only available if you currently utilize AdWords for that website.
Regardless of the option you choose, the Keyword Planner will generate a list of viable keywords relevant to your brand. It will also reveal important details such as expected bid costs.
Our most important tip – be very precise with the keywords you enter into the planner. While Google can generate many different options, not all will be relevant to your campaign goals. The more precise you are when it comes to your objectives, the better you’ll be able to research alternatives that can help your campaign.
The second forecast option allows you to enter a list of keywords you already have on hand. It will then pull up a forecast of metrics such as:
- Estimated clicks
- Estimated impressions
- Estimated cost
- Estimated clickthrough rate
- Estimated average cost-per-click
You can dive even deeper and check out historical data such as average monthly searches and competition difficulty. All of these factors play a pivotal role in helping you select the most optimal keywords, not unlike what you would do for SEO.
Also, know that you need not be limited by Keyword Planner. If your company already utilizes tools like SEMRush or Moz, feel free to research and cross-reference results as needed. This phase serves as the bedrock of your campaign, so more preparation is always welcome.
B. Match Your Keywords to Search Intent
A major, and often overlooked, factor in keyword planning is analyzing search intent.
Any time an internet user enters a keyword into a search bar, they reveal the type of content they wish to see. More importantly, they tell us what they intend to do with the content they find.
To better explain this, let’s look at the four types of keywords.
The user is looking for information about a subject or an answer to a question. Their goal is to find a reputable source to educate them. Buying a product or service may be the furthest thing from their mind.
Examples of informational searches could be the following:
“Is beer bad for you?”
“Number of calories in bread”
Commercial keywords express an interest in particular products or services, most frequently regarding specific brands. While they are not yet at the cusp of making a purchase, they’ve moved from general inquiries to performing targeted research.
Examples of commercial keyword searches might look like this:
“Netflix vs Amazon Prime”
“Netflix customer reviews”
We are now at the bottom of the funnel and left with users that are ready to buy. Transactional keywords help users find the best product for their needs. They can then readily buy it at will from the provider.
They will often contain modifiers such as “best”, “cheapest”, or “affordable.” It might even be more direct and feature terms like “buy.”
Examples of transactional keywords are as follows:
“Buy Google Ads services”
“Best marketing company zipcode”
Navigational keywords simply guide users directly to a brand. The user knows where they want to go and are looking for the shortest route.
In other words, a navigational keyword might look like this:
Keyword intention matters as it helps you choose the most effective keywords for your campaign objectives.
If your express goal is to sell a particular product that’s on sale, you’re going to opt for more transactional terms. This helps you discover leads with high purchase intent instead of wasting your budget on uninterested persons.
On the other hand, informational or commercial terms may help campaigns that are built for audience discovery and lead generation. You would then use the data from that campaign to build a more effective sales funnel down the line.
B. Spying on the Competitor
The final step in keyword planning is researching competitor activities.
Your direct competitors are brands that are actively bidding on similar keywords as yours for their Google Ads campaigns.
By using the Google Keyword Planner described above, you can readily spy on your competitor’s historical keyword data. You can insightful metrics such as:
- The keywords they use
- The domains they are being used on
- The average monthly budget
- Coverage percentage
This means that not only can you track competition difficulty, but you can see exactly how competitors use these keywords in their ads. By observing their strategies, you can plan your campaigns to incorporate elements that work and modify those which you can do better.
It may also present new keyword opportunities that were overlooked in your initial planning. Likewise, be sure to avoid attractive terms that will end up costing you more than what you can afford.
2. Knowing Your Ad Options
Now that you have the correct keywords to guide your creatives, it’s time to explore how you can present them.
Google provides several different ad campaign options to provide you with flexibility. However, each ad type has its positives and negatives that can hurt or harm depending on how effectively you utilize them.
Let’s dive into what those types are and their ideal use cases.
A. SKAGs vs STAGs
When it comes to your campaign ad groups, there are two popular options:
SKAG – Single Keyword Ad Group
STAG – Single Theme Ad Group
SKAGs allows you to create an ad group that focuses entirely on one keyword. You can then create different ad groups for each keyword you want to target.
The major benefit of this is that a SKAG has a singular focus. This allows for precise targeting and easier measuring since you are only focusing on one keyword.
If you were to utilize Google’s suggested keywords, you may end up with 5, 10, or even 20 related keywords. This can help with discovery, but it can often lead to lower-quality leads. However, this can be mitigated by proactively managing your negative keywords.
The potential downside of using SKAGs lies in choosing the wrong keywords. Because you only have one avenue to target audiences, you rely entirely on that keyword. Additionally, limiting your targeting option to one can increase the length of your discovery period when your audience size is too small.
STAGs, meanwhile, focus on a target keyword and related terms to expand your reach. Google will intelligently select terms that fall within the theme of your ad group to reach different types of prospects.
Both have their merits and you can find a plethora of resources arguing for one versus the other. The reality is that both are viable and can lead to amazing results when monitored effectively.
We would recommend beginning with SKAGs to simplify your efforts at the start. They will generally keep your costs low and keep the quality of those leads high. If you need to expand your reach and are willing to experiment, STAGs can create new avenues that lead to even more audience data for future campaigns.
B. Uploaded Image Ads
For the next two ad types, we are dealing with Google’s Display Network.
Websites around the internet have the option of opting into the display network. When they do, Google is allowed to generate ads on the site based on visitor data. In exchange, the website owner generates ad revenue to fund the website.
Meanwhile, marketers can choose to opt-in to the Display Network to boost their campaign reach. You can then have your ads appear on websites and apps across any device. It still utilizes your optimized targeting data to maximize your returns.
One way to leverage the Display Network is to use uploaded image ads. This guarantees full creative control over which ads show up on the web. You choose the image, write the copy, and get the final say on the result.
The downside is that you will need to spend the overhead to publish these additional creatives. This leads us to your alternative option.
C. Responsive Display Ads
Responsive ads are becoming more prevalent than ever. However, results can still vary wildly depending on the client and the campaign goals.
Google allows you to upload your images, headlines, videos, or descriptions into your account. The AI assistant will then automatically generate new ads using those assets to display on websites, YouTube, and Gmail.
This allows you to present different types of ads within the same campaign without needing to create and upload them yourself. You can save time and potentially expand your reach as Google’s AI learns and refines its ad generation.
Responsive ads can be an amazing tool for optimizing your Google Ads campaign when it works. However, be sure to consistently monitor performance and be ready to pivot if they aren’t cutting it for your client.
D. Ad Extensions
Finally, Google provides ad extensions that can further boost campaign results depending on your objectives. There are a variety of extension types that can be installed manually or automatically.
Your Google Ads account should generate relevant extensions if the AI predicts that they can improve your performance. They can assist with the following types of objectives:
- Helping users find your physical location
- Encouraging users to call your business number or tracking number
- Getting users to click on specific domain pages
- Display predefined structured snippets
- Showcase products and pricing
- Getting users to download your app
- Getting users to fill out a form
Be sure to install any extensions that are relevant to your goals. They are free to use and you can find specific instructions for each here.
3. Testing & Observation
The next, and perhaps most critical, step in optimizing your Google Ads is through testing.
When we plan our keywords effectively, we enable our discovery stage to give us ideal results. With this newfound audience data, we can begin testing and exploring new creatives to engage with our most interested users.
From here on out, your Google Ads efforts for this brand will be a consistent pattern of testing and adjusting. The more audience data you accumulate over time, the more refined this process becomes.
Let’s start with what may be the most important testing tool for your Google Ads optimization efforts.
A. A/B Testing for Google Ads
A/B testing is the process of creating two versions of the same creative which will display at random to your audience.
These two versions will focus on the same keywords and objectives, but feature key alterations in areas such as headlines, offer presentation, or some other page element.
By allowing Google to randomly select a version to display, we can generate a usable audience sample. This sample group then tells us which version of the creative is ideal for generating more conversions.
The benefits of A/B testing are compounding as they continuously guide you to smarter creative choices. As you allow users to tell you exactly what type of content they want to see, you can then use that data to effectively create the perfect ad for that audience.
Furthermore, Google can automatically begin to redirect your target audience to the high-performing version once it completes the learning process. You can then eliminate the lower-performing creative from contention.
Your ad testing will provide you with usable demographic data that reveals details about your average audience member.
To access this data, navigate to the Audiences tab within your Google Ads account. You can then view demographic data by level: Campaign, Ad Group, or Account.
You can then segment your audience by age, gender, income, and even parental status. When you select a certain demographic, you’re able to track engagement and conversion rates for that group.
Essentially, you want to optimize your campaign efforts to focus on the highest-performing demographics. This involves going back to your ad creatives and developing new messaging that better speak to that group’s needs and desires.
If you have multiple demographics worth pursuing, you can and should create unique ad groups for each. Your messaging to middle-class parents should be different than your sales pitch to a single adult or a teenager. Determining the best way to pitch your brand to the individual is the best way to maximize your conversions.
Choosing who to advertise can help maximize your budget, but so can choosing where.
Similar to what you did with demographic segmentation, you can use your Google Ads menu to find Locations. Here, you can choose a range of geographic targeting options ranging from whole countries to specific cities.
For example, if you initially try to market to multiple southern states, but only gain traction in Florida and Georgia, you can restrict your targeting to those areas. This helps you to maximize your ROI in those areas while your team revisits how to market to underperforming ones.
D. Time of Day
The time in which you choose to display your ads can be another critical factor in amassing conversions.
If you find that your campaign is underperforming, it may not necessarily be that you’re targeting the wrong audience. Rather, that audience may not be seeing your ads as they are displaying at inopportune times.
Your Google Ads account allows you to set up a custom ad schedule for this very reason. You can select specific days and times for your ads to run throughout the week.
If you find that an overwhelming percentage of your conversions happen on weekday evenings, consider scheduling your ads to fit those periods.
Another factor to consider is when your strong competitors run their advertisements. If you’re confident that you can outpace a rival, you may choose to go head-to-head for the same display times to drown out their messaging while maximizing yours.
Conversely, if costs become unreasonable for certain periods, try to schedule your ads to avoid appearing during those days and times for a better ROI.
E. Negative Keywords
While primary keywords help you target the right customers, negative keywords help Google Ads understand what to avoid.
This is especially relevant when allowing your Google Ads account to dynamically utilize thematic keyword variants to reach new users. Some of these keywords may lead to low or unqualified users that are taking up unnecessary ad spending.
You can determine what terms you want to add to your negative keywords by keeping an eye on user behavior. Specifically, you can look at what keywords a user typed that led them to discover your ad. If you see a trend of unqualified impressions based on unrelated terms, you will then have a better idea of negative keywords to add.
As an example, let’s say that a brand focuses on selling shirts. However, they do not carry t-shirts, specifically.
If a user looking for a t-shirt enters “shirt” into Google, there’s a good chance they will find that brand. This is because Google recognizes that t-shirt is a type of shirt and can often be used interchangeably.
For the brand, however, this leads to an unwanted click that burns ad spending. They want to avoid these types of broad associations so that they don’t match up with users looking for something they do not sell.
You can use negative keywords to avoid these engagements. Specifically, you can use them to avoid broad category matches, related phrases, or exact matches.
F. Lost Impressions
Finally, your Google Ads account allows you to review impression share data. This shows the percentage of time your ads appear in comparison to other ads vying for the same audience.
You can add impression share data to your campaign by going to Campaigns > Ad Groups > Keywords. Then, click on Modify Columns > Competitive Metrics > Impression Share.
You can then review the following lost impression data:
- Search Lost IS (budget) – when your ads do not show in search due to insufficient budget.
- Display Lost IS (budget) – when your ads do not show in the Display Network due to insufficient budget.
- Search Lost IS (rank) – when your ads do not show in search due to poor Ad rank.
- Display Lost IS (rank) – when your ads do not show in the Display Network due to poor Ad rank.
Lost impressions due to budget occur due to spending all of the budget before the scheduled ad period comes to an end. This is likely due to overspending on high-cost keywords, which results in losing out on potential ad time.
Lost impressions due to rank signify that your ad quality is lower than the average competitor. If you manage to improve your headlines, messaging, or other creative properties, you can salvage more impressions with the same daily budget.
Monitoring these metrics for Google ads campaign is important and your next actions depend entirely upon the campaign performance to date.
If the campaign is continuously netting you quality results, and you have an additional budget, consider raising the daily budget to capitalize on those lost impressions. On the flip side, an underperforming campaign may not be able to compete at the current cost. You’ll need to pivot your resources and direct your PPC efforts to other areas.
Lost impressions due to rank are unfortunate, but salvageable if you act quickly. As explained above, utilize testing methods to help improve overall ad quality. When your creatives are up to snuff, you’ll reclaim that valuable display time for your client.
4. Remarketing & Adjustments
Our final Google Ads optimization checklist tips focus on making the most out of your existing audiences.
While many of us still refer to the traditional sales funnel as a guidepost, the buyer’s journey is seldom so straightforward. Users that see or click on your ad are constantly bombarded with other information that can distract or redirect.
That doesn’t mean that the lead is uninterested or unwilling to sign up for your offer. Some highly-qualified users require that extra push.
RLSA stands for Remarketing Lists for Search Ads.
Remarketing refers to serving ads or other marketing material to users with previous behaviors that expressed interest in your brand.
Creating a sizeable remarketing list gives you a large enough audience segment worthy of creating unique ads and landing pages. Just as you would with demographic segmentation, remarketing to existing customers should feature a unique approach that acknowledges their previous engagement.
Furthermore, users on your remarketing list are already qualified versus the unknowns you’re aiming to attract at the onset. You’ve essentially hit the target, and now it’s a matter of putting together the right sales pitch to get the conversion.
You can automatically create an RLSA by adding a remarketing tag to your landing page. This way, every user that clicks on your ad will automatically be added to the list. Be aware that Google requires you to have at least 1,000 unique users on the list before you can utilize it in ad creation.
B. Adjusting Keywords
When nothing in your Google Ads campaign seems to be getting results, it might be time to get back to basics.
No matter how well you plan out your keywords and offer, your potential audience will always have the final sale. That’s why it’s vital to never get too personally attached to your creatives as your PPC journey is one of constant adjustment.
The difference is that you now have a wealth of audience metrics available in your Google Ads account to work with. Use your audience data when researching alternative keyword options to see which best describes your average user’s needs and problems.
Also, be sure to revisit how competitors have changed their keyword selection and campaigns over time.
When all else fails, fall back to the rules described at the very beginning of this checklist. Use a keyword planner to research the most cost-effective keywords, be sure to match your offer to search intent, and find weak points in your competitor’s strategy to capitalize on.
C. Manual Bid Adjustments
Finally, bid adjustments allow you to explore the grey areas as opposed to ruling out segments as a win or loss.
At any point, you can manually override your Google Ads bidding based on keywords, demographics, display times, geographic region, and more. Just be wary of where you place these adjustments as even a few small overlapping changes can result in unwanted expenses that eat away at your budget.
When used effectively, manual bid adjustments can help you with your unique goals. You can direct traffic to specific devices or specific demographics for maximum results.
Keep This Google Ads Optimization Checklist Handy
Google Ads is one of the most powerful tools available whether you rely on search or the Display Network.
However, it can simultaneously eat away at your advertising budget in no time if you mistarget or misspend your funds.
Give yourself a foundation for success by taking advantage of the countless tools available for free within your Google Ads account. Take all the time that is necessary to research keywords, learn from your competitor’s best strategies, and craft the perfect offer.
Then, experiment with the different ad options that are natively available. Make sure to take advantage of any recommended extensions to help you with your ad campaign’s specific conversion goals. You can stack as many of these as necessary for optimal results.
Then, it’s time to test, test, test. A marketer’s work is never done, and consistently getting the best results requires monitoring and optimization. Rule nothing out and always be willing to change copy, headlines, images, or targeting parameters. You can utilize the audience data gathered by Google’s AI for better content creation.
Finally, never forget to take advantage of your existing audience. Getting to know a previous visitor and curating a landing page that speaks to their pain points can be the tipping point for many consumers. Once you convert a customer, it’s exponentially more cost-effective to resell to them than to acquire a new one.
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