How to Optimize Google Ads: A Guide for Marketers
This is a comprehensive guide for marketers who want to optimize Google Ads. It includes fundamental and advanced strategies and techniques to increase ROI.
February 13, 2024
Businesses that invest in Google PPC advertising often see remarkable return on ad spend—200 percent on average. But marketers don't achieve these results without making some effort.
Google ads optimization is an essential process that helps businesses of all sizes improve campaign performance for better results. Companies that don't optimize Google ads are wasting money and losing customers to competitors.
This post is for Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) or members of in-house marketing teams that manage digital advertising campaigns. We will share strategies and practical tips to help you optimize Google Ads and increase ROI on your ad budget.
We will begin with the key strategic elements of structure and Google Ads account campaign settings.
Focus on conversions, not clicks.
Enhancing ad group organization
Refining ad groups is one of the first steps we take to optimize Google ads. We find that, in most cases, ad groups are too general.
Ad groups are a way to organize your ads within a single search campaign. Each ad group contains one or more advertisements that share similar targets. You set a bid, or price, to be used when a consumer's search triggers an ad from one of your groups.
Ad groups also determine where your ads can appear based on the keywords assigned to each group. This structure allows you to create more targeted messaging for different market segments.
For example, if you are managing a digital bookstore, you could create separate ad groups for "Fiction Novels," "Children's Books," and "Educational Materials." Each ad group would contain keywords and ads focusing on those interests. This method ensures that when someone searches for "best fiction novels," they see your ad for fiction novels. And if the ad is good, they may click on the call to action that takes them to a landing page filled with your best-selling fiction.
Best practices to optimize Google Ads groups
Don't limit segmentation to product categories. Consider segmenting by user intent to match your messaging with the user's stage in the buying journey. For instance, you could create a separate ad group for "book reviews" or "book recommendations," targeting users who are researching and comparing options.
By organizing ads into specific ad groups, you can tailor your messaging and targeting to reach the right people at the right time. This increases the likelihood of conversions and helps you better understand your customers and their behavior.
Here are a couple of examples of user intent:
- Informational: As the name implies, searchers use these keywords when conducting research. (i.e., "causes of joint pain").
- Transactional: The keywords have the strongest buying intent (i.e., "best joint pain supplement for women").
Analyze performance data to refine and split ad groups for better targeting and ad relevance. This is an ongoing process that never ends.
Advanced keyword research
Successful keyword research blends broad search terms, phrases, and exact match options. Marketers should also use negative keywords to improve traffic quality.
Broad match keywords in Google Ads allow your search ads to appear for terms that include misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other variations.
Phrase match keywords tell the system only to show your ad when a user searches for the exact phrase or close variations of that same phrase. This allows for more targeted and relevant ad placement.
Exact match keywords are the most specific type, triggering your ad only when someone searches for the precise word or phrase. While it may have a lower search volume, exact match keywords have a higher chance to convert.
Imagine you are promoting a luxury spa retreat. Broad match keywords might capture a wide audience looking for "spa vacations." But you can refine the audience with phrase match options like "luxury spa retreats in California" to target more specific queries.
Exact match keywords (i.e., "Napa Valley luxury spa retreat") target users who have specific intentions.
Incorporating SEO tools
Leveraging SEO tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs can help you find keyword opportunities and uncover search behavior dynamics. You can also use them to analyze your competitors' keyword strategies. You can find other keywords to include in your ad campaigns through competitor analysis.
These tools also show the search volume (how many times a keyword is searched), keyword difficulty (how hard it would be to rank for a particular keyword), and the potential traffic you could gain by ranking for specific keywords.
Remember that the goal is not just to rank for keywords but to drive qualified buyers to your site, which will drive engagement and potentially convert customers.
Negative keywords help marketers refine ad targeting. They allow you to exclude ads from being displayed for irrelevant searches. Many companies forget to leverage negative keywords to optimize Google ads. But doing so can have a profound impact.
For example, if you are targeting a premium market segment, you may not want your ads to appear in searches that include "free" or "cheap." These terms suggest the searcher is looking for low-cost or no-cost options, which is not the audience you want to reach with your premium offerings.
To use negative keywords, add them to your negative keyword list in your Google Ads campaign. This tells Google not to show your ads for search queries that include those terms. Using negative keywords helps you avoid wasting your budget on clicks from people not qualified for your offerings.
Bidding strategies: Mastering efficiency
The bidding strategy you choose influences a campaign's performance. Manual bidding is like piloting a plane yourself. It gives you complete control over each maneuver. Manual bidding is ideal for campaigns with clear cost-per-acquisition (CPA) goals.
Automated bidding can be compared to using a plane's autopilot feature. Automated bidding allows Google's algorithms to make bid adjustments in real time. It does so based on your specific performance goals, such as maximizing conversions within your target CPA.
Targeting mastery: Location, device, and timing
Refining targeting settings can enhance campaign outcomes. For instance, a chain of coffee shops might use location targeting to reach potential customers within a specific radius of each shop. Device targeting could help them focus on mobile users in the morning hours to catch people on their commute. The coffee brand could use ad scheduling so ads show up during optimal times of day (i.e., business hours only). These options would help the company optimize ad spend to coincide with the highest foot traffic periods.
Using industry benchmarks
Industry benchmarks provide valuable insights and standards against which you can measure your ad performance. Benchmarks make it easier to set goals and optimize Google ads.
Here's how to use them:
- Understand average performance: Benchmarks provide information about your industry's average click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, and cost-per-click (CPC). If your metrics are below these averages, it might indicate they are not as effective as they could be.
- Identify opportunities: If the average cost-per-click in your industry is low, but you are paying more, this could indicate that your keywords aren't targeted enough. You might need to refine your keyword strategy or improve your ad relevance.
- Setting realistic goals: Benchmarks can help you set realistic expectations for your ad performance. If you are new to Google advertising, benchmarks can give you an idea of what to aim for.
- Competitive analysis: Industry benchmarks can give you an idea of what your competitors might be doing. If the average conversion rate in your industry is high, but yours is low, it could suggest that your competitors' ads are more compelling or relevant to the target audience.
- Budgeting: Knowing your industry's average cost-per-click or cost-per-acquisition can help you optimize your advertising budget.
Though benchmarks are a helpful guide, they should not be the only metric you use to evaluate your ad performance. Marketers should also consider individual business goals and target audience behavior.
Crafting compelling ad copy: Frameworks and strategies
Ad copy is one of the most effective ways to optimize Google ads. Creating compelling ad copy begins with understanding your unique selling points (USPs) and how they solve your customers' problems or improve their lives. Here is a simple framework to guide ad copy creation:
- Hook: Start with a powerful hook that captures attention. This could be a question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement.
- USPs: Clearly articulate your unique selling points. What makes your product or service better than the rest? Highlight these benefits briefly.
- Emotional connection: Weave in an emotional element that resonates with your target audience. People make decisions based on emotions and justify them with logic.
- Call to action: End with a strong CTA. What do you want the user to do next? Make it clear, urgent, and easy to take action on.
Ad quality score
Quality Score is a crucial metric used to optimize Google Ads. The score is used to determine the quality and relevance of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. It is measured on a scale from 1-10 and available at the keyword level.
Three main components are considered when calculating the Quality Score:
- Expected clickthrough rate (CTR): Estimates how likely it is that your ad will be clicked when shown.
- Ad relevance: Measures how closely your ad matches the intent behind a user's search.
- Landing page experience: Assess how relevant and useful your landing page is to people who click your ad.
A higher quality score indicates that your ad and landing page are more relevant and useful to the user, leading to a better user experience. It suggests that your keywords, ads, and landing pages are relevant and valuable to the searcher's query.
A good quality score on Google ads typically falls between 7 and 10. Achieving a higher quality score can lead to higher ad rankings, lower cost-per-click (CPC), and overall better ad performance.
A/B Testing: Methods and analysis tools
A/B testing, or split testing, is a reliable process used to optimize Google ads. It involves creating two versions of your ad (A and B) with one varying element (e.g., the headline, CTA, or image) and comparing their performance to see which one performs better.
Steps for A/B testing:
- Hypothesize: Determine which elements to test based on data and insights.
- Test one variable at a time: This makes it easier to see how one change affects performance.
- Use tools for analysis: Platforms like Google Ads and Google Analytics offer features for A/B testing and performance analysis.
Using ad extensions for enhanced visibility
Ad extensions provide additional information for potential customers as they interact with your ad. Key extensions include:
- Sitelinks: Add links to specific pages on your site beneath your ad, such as product categories, contact pages, or specials.
- Callouts: Highlight offers or aspects of your business, like free shipping or 24/7 customer service.
- Structured Snippets: Showcase a list of your products, services, or other aspects to help users understand what you offer at a glance.
These extensions can increase your ad's click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate by providing users with more relevant information and options.
How we used archetypes to optimize Google ads for a client
Our residential moving company client has been running Google Ads campaigns with moderate success.
The client needed to increase the CTR and conversion rate for their Google Ads campaign. The company's existing ad campaigns did not include messaging for specific customer personas.
We worked closely with the client to understand the problems their customers encountered when moving. We used that information to develop buyer personas based on archetypes. These included families moving to a new home, young professionals relocating for work, and older adults downsizing into smaller homes.
We then developed targeted messaging for each persona. For example, for families, we highlighted the company's expertise in handling significant moves and their special care in transporting valuable items like antiques and electronics. For young professionals, we emphasized the company's efficient, hassle-free services that minimize disrupting their busy schedules.
ROI on Google ads increased three-fold. The cost per customer was reduced by more than 50 percent. As a result, the client could reduce their annual advertising budget and reallocate the funds to other marketing activities.
This case study illustrates how companies can optimize Google ads by leveraging the audience's pain points and using A/B testing to find the most compelling message.
Conversion tracking and analytics
Conversion tracking is another reliable way to optimize Google ads.
Setting up conversion tracking to optimize Google ads
1. Define conversion actions: Identify what constitutes a conversion for your business—a product purchase, a sign-up form completion, or a download.
2. Use the Google Ads conversion tracking tool: Navigate to the "Conversions" section in Google Ads. Click on the "+" button to set up a new conversion action and select the type that matches your goal (e.g., website, phone calls, app downloads).
3. Install the tracking code: For website conversions, you will receive a unique code to add to your website's confirmation or thank-you page. This code tracks when a user completes an action that you have defined as a conversion.
Key metrics with visualization
Understanding key metrics—impressions, clicks, conversions, and costs—is fundamental. Visualization tools within Google Ads and third-party platforms can help you interpret this data more effectively:
- Impressions represent how often your ads are shown.
- Clicks measure user interaction with your ads.
- Conversions track when user interactions result in valuable actions.
- Costs indicate the financial investment for your campaigns.
Platforms like Google Data Studio can integrate with Google Ads to create customizable dashboards, making it easier to visualize trends, patterns, and performance over time.
Audience targeting and retargeting
Audience targeting and retargeting is a pivotal strategy for advertisers aiming to connect with their ideal customers.
Targeting options: Demographics, interests, in-market segments
Demographics: This option allows advertisers to target audiences based on age, gender, parental status, and more. For instance, a children's clothing brand might focus on parents within specific age groups, ensuring their ads reach the most relevant audience.
Interests: Targeting based on interests enables brands to connect with users with a propensity towards specific topics. A travel agency specializing in adventure tours could target users interested in outdoor activities, hiking, or extreme sports, tailoring their message to resonate with an audience already inclined towards their offerings.
In-market segments: This powerful targeting option identifies users actively researching products or services and is considered 'in-market' for a specific category. A home furnishing company, for example, can target individuals in the market for furniture, ensuring their ads are shown to potential customers when they're most ready to make a purchase.
Remarketing strategies: Re-engaging visitors and past customers
Remarketing is a strategic approach to re-engage users who have previously interacted with your website or mobile app but did not convert. By implementing a remarketing strategy, you can display ads to these individuals as they browse the web or use apps, reminding them of what they have left behind and enticing them to return.
For example, an online electronics retailer can use remarketing to target users who added a product to their cart but abandoned it before purchase. By showing these users ads highlighting a special discount on the products they showed interest in, the retailer increases the chances of converting these abandoned carts into sales.
Audience exclusion lists: Enhancing campaign efficiency
Creating audience exclusion lists allows you to exclude specific segments of your audience who might not be relevant to a particular campaign. A luxury car brand, for instance, might exclude current customers from their campaigns promoting entry-level models, focusing instead on new prospects.
Trends in Google advertising
As technology and consumer behavior evolve, so do the trends in Google advertising. Here are three emerging trends to watch:
Google is investing heavily in AI and machine learning to automate tasks and optimize campaigns for advertisers. This includes features like Smart Bidding, automatically setting bids for individual auctions based on real-time data, and audience targeting tools that utilize complex algorithms to reach the right users.
Expect further evolution in these AI-powered solutions, offering greater customization, deeper insights, and more effective campaign management.
Focus on omnichannel experiences.
Consumers now interact with brands across multiple channels, from online searches to social media to physical stores. Google is prioritizing solutions that help advertisers connect with users seamlessly across these different touchpoints.
This includes features like cross-device conversion tracking, which measures conversions across devices used by the same user, and Performance Max campaigns, which automatically optimize your ads across Google Search, Display, Discovery, Gmail, and YouTube.
Emphasis on privacy and responsible data practices
Growing privacy concerns and regulations impact how advertisers collect and use user data. Google is adapting its platform to comply with these changes while enabling effective advertising.
This includes features like contextual targeting, which uses website content and other contextual signals to target ads, and privacy-preserving measurement solutions that offer insights without compromising user data.
Expect ongoing developments in privacy-focused solutions and a continued emphasis on responsible data practices within the Google advertising space.
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