Top 14 Google Ads Search Optimization Tips

Google Ads is an extremely powerful platform to drive significant business growth. However, it comes with a caveat that you need to fully understand how to optimize a Google Ads campaign. If an advertiser is spending on Google without proper optimization, they are leaving a significantly amount of money on the table. Additionally, Google Ads is very competitive, and if you’re not taking advantage of every optimization tip, your competitors will gain an advantage.

Within this blog post, I break down my top 14 Google Ads optimization tips, based on my experience working at Google (2014 – 2018), and since managing a variety of clients’ ad spend on Google through my advertising agency, Rise Marketing Group.

Advertising Tip #1: Day Parting

This is a quick and easy optimization tip. Check when you’re spending the majority of your budget. For many clients with a low budget, you may find that you’re spending all of your budget before the normal business hours of the day. If you’re advertising too early, you’re likely reaching users who are on their phone in the middle of the night, who will likely forget about visiting your site in the morning. To check, click the segment icon, and filter out traffic by hour of the day, to see when you are serving, and performance for each hour.

Google Ads Advertising Scheduling

If you need to optimize your performance, add an ad schedule to your Google Ads campaigns.

Advertising Tip #2: Spend by Device

This is another optimization tip that is pretty easy to cut under performing ad spend. Advertising effectiveness will vary greatly by device. Generally speaking, mobile is an awareness/consideration play, where conversion rates will be low (especially if you have a poor mobile site). However, desktop is a device where conversion rates are high, given users are sitting in front of a computer, on a large screen and likely not as distracted as being in front of a phone.

I recommend to review performance by device, as listed below. Once you have performance by device, you can quickly and easily place bid modifiers by device, based on performance. For example, if desktop conversion rate is 2X of mobile, consider decreasing mobile bids by 50%. However, understand that mobile is a discovery play, given it’s role at introducing users to your brand, you may not want to cut mobile off completely, rather just skew investment towards the top performing device, and potentially have different KPI’s by device.

Google Ads Performance by Device

Advertising Tip #3: Search Query Reports

This is a big optimization opportunity. If you aren’t checking your search query logs on a weekly basis, it’s time to start. No if or buts about it. This alone will increase the effectiveness of your marketing, significantly.

While you’re likely bidding on very relevant keywords for your business, you have to check the search query logs to make sure that you’re not broad or phrase matching out to search queries that are irrelevant. Here is an article from Google on how to check your search query logs. Once you identified specific words within the search query report you need to nix, you should create a negative keyword list. I prefer setting the negative keyword list at the account level, so all campaigns will respect the negatives that are being applied.

For example, if you’re a truck dealership, and you’re advertising on the word “dealership”, and you see search queries like “car dealership”, you would want to quickly add “car” as a negative keyword across the account.

To create a negative keyword list, simply click the tools icon, then select negative keyword lists.

Google Ads Negative Keyword Lists

Advertising Tip #4: Responsive Search Ads

Google is constantly testing new ad formats, from enhanced text ads in 2017/2018 to a new format called Responsive Search Ads. Responsive search ads is in a beta, where you can upload multiple headlines and descriptions (pin specific headlines/descriptions you need to show), and Google will automatically create ads that will yield the best click through rate, based on the assets provided.

Google Responsive Ads

Upon testing on a few of our client accounts, we see some nice gains from a CTR and CPC perspective. A pro tip, when you create responsive ads, create labels of responsive ads and non-responsive ads, so you can easily review the performance of each different ad format. Also, when you create responsive ads for branded search keywords, make sure you pin your company name within the headline and description, so users know it’s your business they will go to (given they’re searching for you).

Advertising Tip #5: Google.com vs. Network Partners

This is another great optimization tip where you might be able to save some advertising dollars that may not be performing as well. When you advertise search ads on Google, Google will allow you to advertise your search text ads on a few platforms: Specifically Google.com, Google Search partners, then Google’s Display Network.

Whatever you do, do not have your search campaigns advertise on the Google Display Network. These should be setup for separate display campaigns, as the performance will vary wildly.

Now, you can advertise on Google.com and the Google Search Partners, however it’s important to review performance for each.

If you segment your campaigns by network, review performance, to see how Google.com traffic compares against Google Search Partners. If the partner network isn’t driving qualified traffic (based on cost per conversion), you may want to stop advertising on this platform.

Advertising Tip #6: Campaigns Limited by Budget

This is another big opportunity to gain some significant efficiencies. If you see an error for “limited by budget”, this means that by reducing your keyword bids, you can get more clicks for your given budget. When this error shows, it means that the clicks you can get per day multiplied by the cost per click you’re bidding, far exceeds the amount you have allocated per day. You can test decreasing bids by 10-15%, until this message goes away. This will allow you to get more traffic within the same budget.

Advertising Tip #7: Enhanced CPC

Google's enhanced CPC

When you’re advertising on Google Ads, you’ll see a bidding setting called Enhanced CPC within your Google Ads campaign settings. This is a quick and easy optimization which I recommend everyone to enable, when you’re bidding manually. By selecting this checkmark, Google will automatically adjust your CPCs (cost per click), you’re willing to pay, either up or down based on the likelihood that the user will convert. This is one of Google’s many automated bidding strategies, to focus more on users who are likely to convert, than simply driving traffic to your site. For more information on Google’s enhanced CPC, read more here.

Advertising Tip #8: Automated Bidding through Maximize Conversions

For advertising accounts that are tracking conversions, I would recommend to update your bidding strategy to maximize conversions. This is an automated bidding strategy where Google will respect your daily budget and bid accordingly to increase the amount of conversions that your account is getting. Google calculates the likelihood of conversion for each user, and for users that are likely to convert, Google will increase the bids, and likewise, for users who are less likely to convert, Google will decrease the bids.

Google will take in hundreds of signals to determine likelihood of conversion, for example:

  • Performance by device (mobile, desktop, computers)
  • Performance by time of day, day of week
  • Performance by keyword and search query

This strategy works extremely well for campaigns that have at least 3-5 conversions within the past 30 days. If the given campaign does not have at least 3 conversions, it’s not enough data to let Google bid to maximize conversion.

Once you enable this bid strategy, Google will go into “learning mode” as it’s testing different bids and will be in an optimized state within 1-2 weeks from enabling. So long as you have decent conversion volume, you should see an update in performance.

Google's Automated Bidding to Maximize Conversions

Advertising Tip #9: Automated Bidding through Target CPA

Target CPA is the next form of automated bidding. This strategy works extremely well if you have a specific cost per conversion you’re looking to achieve. If you have a cost per conversion you’re looking to achieve and the campaign you’re considering for target CPA has at least 15+ conversions over a 30 day period, this is an excellent bidding strategy.

Once you enable, Google will go into learning mode for 1-2 weeks, as it figures out the appropriate bids to hit the desired cost per conversion.

This strategy works very well, but it’s very important not to change the target CPA target frequently, as each time you change the target, it will revert back into “learning” mode, which can throw off performance.

Google Ads Target CPA Bid Strategy

Advertising Tip #9: Automated Bidding through Target CPA with Max CPCs

This is likely the most sophisticated bidding strategy, as it is target CPA, but with some control over the maximum amount you’re willing to pay per click. As mentioned, this is good for campaigns with at least 15+ conversions over a month and you’re trying to hit a specific target CPA (i.e. cost per conversion).

When Google does automated bidding, you don’t have control of CPCs within the standard settings. If you look at bidding activity, sometimes Google can get too aggressive on CPCs, and by creating a customized bidding strategy, you can set a limit on the CPC you’re willing to pay, while still targeting a cost per action.

To set this up, you need to go to tools -> bid strategies (under shared library).

Google shared library bidding strategies

From here, follow the prompts to create a target CPA bid strategy, within the advanced settings, you can set a maximum cost per click you’re willing to pay.

Google Ads Target CPA Bidding with Max CPCs

From here you have to apply these to your campaigns you would like to use this strategy.

Advertising Tip #10: Location Settings

Location targeting is pretty straight forward within Google Ads, where you can target the locations you want to serve ads within. However, there is a critical setting, that should be reviewed before you launch.

Within the location settings, click location options. From here, Google will automatically default the settings to people in, or who show interest in, your targeted location.

More often than not, this is not the recommendation I suggest. By enabling this, you can serve outside your area, if users might have expressed interest in that area. For most small businesses, you only want to reach users who are physically in your location and not want to serve to users who expressed an interest in your location (i.e. conducting searches on that location).

I would strongly suggest to only advertise to users physically in your location.

Google Ads location settings

Advertising Tip #11: Audiences for Search Ads (as observation)

Adding audience insights into your search campaigns, will provide a nice boost in performance to your efforts.

Google has a considerable amount of data on users, for example: content they’re viewing, searching for, ads they’re clicking on, if they’ve visited your website, etc.

For your search campaigns, you can add in audiences, as an observation, to see how each audiences perform.

Click on the audiences button within a search campaign.

Google's Audience Data

Then click observation, and add in as many relevant audiences as possible. This can include your remarketing lists (past site visitors), Google’s in-market audiences (users they identified as in-market for a product or service), etc.

Google Audience Targeting as Observation

Once you add in these audiences, you’ll see the performance of each audience who are clicking on your search ads. If you’re manual bidding, you can increase/decrease the bids based on the performance of each audience. If you’re using automated bidding (maximize conversion, target CPA, or target ROAS), Google will automatically factor the performance of each audience within it’s bidding.

For more information on this strategy, check out the blog post I wrote on in-market audiences for search ads.

Advertising Tip #12: Demographic Performance

As your Google search campaigns are running, I strongly suggest to check your demographic performance.

Within this view, filter performance by cost and cost per conversion, to identify the conversion performance across age, gender and household income segments. If you see segments that perform very well, you can increase your bids for these segments. Likewise, if you see segments that aren’t performing well, you can decrease your bids.

Google Demographics Performance

If you’re using maximize conversions or target CPA (or target ROAS), Google will automatically adjust performance based on these signals.

Advertising Tip #13: Reviewing Significant Data Before Making Changes

This is for any advertiser who reviews performance daily and makes changes based on the performance from the other day. While it can be tempting to have knee jerk reactions on performance from a prior day, I recommend to always look at performance over the past few days and even weeks, before making changes. The performance on one day can vary significantly, and when you’re making changes, you want to look for trends over a longer time period.

Advertising Tip #14: Google Analytics Linking

Lastly, for any account, I strongly suggest to link Google Analytics to Google Ads. By doing so, you’ll be able see what users did on your site, after they clicked your ad.

See the columns you can add to your search campaigns, so that way you can identify which keywords are driving strong site engagement (i.e. pages per session or average session duration), and keywords that are not. This unlocks a whole new level of data to optimize your campaigns.

Google Analytics linking to Google Ads

To link your Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts, here is a helpful Google Ads article.