February 9, 2018

Lessons Learned from $600K in AdWords Spend

AdWords (now called Google Ads) is one of the most effective sales-driving tactics in a marketer’s toolkit.

Just like organic traffic, what makes it so powerful is that it captures users at the moment they’re looking for something – an answer to a question, a service provider, or a product.

The difference, of course, is the pay-to-play nature of advertising. While SEO takes time to grow a sustainable source of traffic organically, PPC search ads provide an immediate return – for a cost.

If managed well, those costs can be outweighed by bringing in qualified traffic who are perfectly poised to make a conversion around a business’ goals.

We’ve had plenty of experience with managing AdWords accounts for the whole spectrum of goals for our clients – from calls to traffic to brand awareness to purchases.

In the last year, we’ve managed over $600K in Adwords spend for our clients, and we’ve defined strategies and tactics to get the most out of that investment.

Top AdWords Strategies
Choose the Right Bidding Strategy Single-Keyword Ad Groups Extensions, Extensions, Extensions Negative Keywords Don’t Set It and Forget It

Choose the Right Bidding Strategy

We’ll start with a quick win: choosing the right bidding strategy for the campaign’s goals.

This is a “quick win” because it’s one of the easiest changes you can make, and it affects your entire campaign. That said, each strategy comes with its trade-offs, so it does take consideration and planning to decide which strategy is the right one.

Bidding strategy is essentially a setting that tells AdWords how to raise and lower what you’re bidding for a click at the campaign level, to achieve a particular goal. Of course, this won’t apply if you’re spending time on manual bidding, but don’t recommend that.

Maximize Clicks will set bids to get as many clicks as possible within your budget. If your goal is traffic, plain and simple, this strategy is for you. It doesn’t take into account which clicks are likely to lead to conversions or goal completions.

Target Search Page Location will adjust bids to get your ad where you want it in Google’s results page – on the first page, in the first two, etc. This can be helpful if there’s an element of brand integrity in your name in the top spot. That said, it can drive up costs without necessarily leading to more conversions, and if your budget is limited, the higher bids will result in fewer clicks.

Target Outranking Share is similar to target search page location, but with a competitive aspect. If you want to place above a certain competitor, you can target their domain and have AdWords bid slightly higher every time your ads are both available to be shown. This may have its legitimate reasons, but be careful not to drive up costs simply for the vanity of “winning” over a competitor.

Maximize Conversions can be useful for e-commerce websites, or other sites with very defined goals, such as phone calls or downloads. AdWords will focus bidding efforts on those users who it thinks, based on your past performance data, are most likely to convert. It doesn’t take into account the value of those conversions, merely the sheer number.

Target CPA goes one step further than maximize conversions. It goes for as many conversions as possible while setting a cap of the cost-per-acquisition. Again, it goes for the quantity of conversions, not value.

Target ROAS, on the other hand, will take into account the value of conversions, and adjust bids to favor those users who are most likely to lead to high-value conversions, while considering the cost-per-acquisition (conversion value/cost = return on advertising spend). The danger here may be that you’re sacrificing potential good conversions in favor of fewer great ones.

These bidding strategies work based on past data, so a brand new AdWords account or one without much past conversion data won’t be able to take advantage of the latter three.

We’ve found that changing the bidding strategy does have a profound, almost immediate impact on performance. The difference is what kind of performance matters – in other words, which metrics are your KPIs.

Single-Keyword Ad Groups

Single-keyword ad groups lead to higher quality scores, more clicks, and lower costs.

Sound good? Great.

The best way to explain single-keyword ad groups is through an example.

Say you’re a retail store that sells women’s shoes, clothing, and jewelry. You’ve set up a campaign for your jewelry segment, and under that, ad groups for necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings.

When users search for earrings, they see your ad for earrings and click through to a page full of earrings they can shop. Great!

When a user searches specifically for stud earrings, they see your ad for earrings, and click through to a page full of earrings they can shop, including studs, hoops, dangles, and more.

Good, but we can do better.

That’s where single-keyword ad groups come in. By setting up ad groups targeting more specific keywords, using more specific language, and leading to a more specific landing page, you can increase your ad’s relevance. That means higher quality scores, more clicks, and lower costs.

In our example, we can set up a Stud Earring ad group. When somebody searches for stud earrings, they see an ad that uses the words “stud earrings”, and click through to a page with only stud earrings.

This can, of course, go even further. We could set up an ad group for gold stud earrings and one for silver stud earrings for even more relevancy.

This is a powerful tactic for increased relevance – but it takes time.

Even in our example, we set up three new ad groups just around stud earrings. If we apply the same tactic to the different kinds of earrings, and the different kinds of jewelry, and our shoe and clothing lines, this quickly becomes a large account.

For that reason, this probably isn’t a one-sitting activity. But with a relevance strategy and dedication over time, it can be a highly effective tool in ad advertiser’s toolbelt.

Extensions, Extensions, Extensions


Extensions come in many different forms – simple text, extra links to secondary pages on a site, locations, call buttons, products and prices, and more.

These are, in our opinion, extremely underutilized. They’re AdWords’ worst kept secret, and yet, many search marketers seem content to write a headline and ad copy and be done with it.

Take this ad on its own, with no extensions:

The title is good, and the ad copy is compelling. When we compare it to the same ad with extensions:

It’s pretty easy to see which one is more appealing, and which one is going to win more clicks!

Ad extensions have 4 main benefits:

Altogether, extensions increase clickthrough rate.

Of course, they’re not a silver bullet. Adding extensions isn’t going to overcome poor ad copy. But they can provide an important lift.

Negative Keywords

You don’t want your ad to appear to every searcher out there. You only want it to be served to qualified users searching for a solution you can provide.

That’s why you provide Google with a list of important keywords, so you’re only shown in those and related searches.

But what if there’s a group of keywords similar to, but not the same as, the ones you’re targeting?

I’ll give you an example. The Facial Pain Association is a global nonprofit that advocates and provides support for people who suffer from trigeminal neuralgia, a rare and debilitating facial pain disease.

Because the disease is so rare, patients and even their doctors haven’t heard of it and aren’t able to diagnose it. What they can articulate very clearly is the pain that they’re in.

If this is the case for a patient, they’ll often search for their symptoms, such as simply “face pain.” The FPA uses this as one of their keywords for their AdWords campaign. It can provide a name for the searcher’s pain, resources, provider recommendations, treatment options, and a robust, global support network.

On the other hand, “tooth pain” is a common search in the US. Trigeminal neuralgia isn’t related to dental pain, but Google considers “tooth pain” and “facial pain” similar enough to show ads.

That’s bad for the FPA and for searchers. A searcher doesn’t want or need the FPA’s content. And for the FPA, showing an ad without a user clicking means a lower clickthrough rate, leading to more expensive ads. Or worse, a user clicks, realizes it isn’t what they want, backs up, and the FPA pays for that click.

That’s where negative keywords come in. By telling Google which keywords not to show their ads for, the FPA is able to limit its ad spend to only people suffering from trigeminal neuralgia.

Don’t Set It and Forget It

No matter how well you set up an AdWords account, if nobody is actively maintaining and managing it, it will deteriorate.

This happens in one of a few ways. Ads may become less relevant. An ad from a sale last year that’s still being served to searchers will frustrate anyone who clicks through to see a sale that no longer exists – leading to lower quality score, and higher cost per click.

No matter how thorough an initial negative keyword list is, searchers will always come up with searches that you don’t care about. According to Google, 15% of searches each day are brand new – they’ve never been searched before. And despite the huge volume of searches every day, that number doesn’t decrease. That means that if you’re not checking the search terms ads appear for and setting irrelevant ones as negative keywords, the quality score will slowly drop, and CPC will slowly rise.

All in all, not actively managing an account means you’ll end up paying more for lower results.

That may sound all doom and gloom, but the good news is that managing AdWords isn’t hard! The bulk of the work is in setting up the account strategically, creating great ads and extensions, and testing new strategies.

The maintenance work that’s involved in keeping an account fresh doesn’t have to take much time at all – depending on the size of the account and the level of involvement, it could account for 1-5 hours a month.

AdWords is a powerful bottom-of-the-funnel tool for capturing searchers. With an in-depth strategy and knowledge of the platform, it can drive real business success.

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Alexis Fillmer

With a strategic mind and a love for culture and leadership, Alexis spends each day working to get the most out of every idea and person on our team. As our Director of Operations, she’s responsible for creating organizational clarity, ensuring excellence in our services, and creating a culture in which our team members can flourish.

Outside of PHOS, you can find Alexis playing with her son at the park, starting a new house project (and maybe finishing it), at the nearest farmer’s market, trying a new recipe, or scoping out live music with her husband.