Marketing

Why you should not blindly follow Google’s ‘best practices’ for Google Ads

Jonathan Holmes
Why you should not blindly follow Google’s ‘best practices’ for Google Ads

Google offers certification and resources that aim to help digital marketers and their clients achieve the best possible results with Google Ads. However, we recommend that you take Google’s advice with a pinch of salt and look to the professionals for real advice on squeezing every drop of performance you can out of Google Ads.

If you follow Google’s ‘best practices’ on Google Ads to the letter, your campaign performance will be mediocre at best–but acceptable enough that you will spend more money without realising the full potential of your account’s optimisation. Google wants you to do succeed but not with minimal cost. Google also wants to make their best practices accessible enough that people won’t be intimidated by dense instructions overflowing with acronyms.

Despite being told not to give away our secret sauce, we’re going against all common business sense and doing it anyway. Here’s our comparison on what Google’s best practices for Google Ads are versus our own well-honed methods.

Use single keyword ad groups

Google’s best practices advise you to set up your campaign/ad group/keyword hierarchy as shown below:

Do you think one single ad is best to display for each of those keywords?

Whilst this approach to the account structure is straightforward enough for most people to build in minimal time, an account should have a much more granular structure in order to raise the potential for optimization. The problem with the above structure is that all of these keywords will trigger the same ad–a search for ‘Samsung LED TV’ will be trigger the same ad as a search for ‘Sony LED TV’. Both searches should be

Google’s suggestion is fine for the time-poor or inexperienced marketer but no good for anyone who is serious about account performance. Any good marketer should use single keyword ad groups (SKAGs), which look like this:

Don’t forget that the purpose of ad groups is to control which keywords show with which ads. SKAGs give us maximum control over exactly what ad text to show a user, which should closely match their search term. Ads also contain landing pages, making SKAGs even more critical for keeping the contents of the landing page consistent with the ad text and keyword.

An old mentor once said “the scent must be consistent”, meaning that if you search for a Samsung LED TV, you should see an ad that says ‘Samsung LED TVs’, which leads to a page containing only Samsung LED TVs. Seems like common sense but if you follow Google’s generalist approach to account structure then your ads will lose relevance and you’ll waste money.

Until recently, AdWords Editor used to display warnings for ad group that contained multiple keywords of the same match type, annoying for those of us who know that SKAGs are the best ad group structure.

Use cascading bids

Once you have your SKAGs set up, you should implement a keyword structure within them that uses cascading bids.

Cascading bids are created by staggering bid intervals between keyword match types to form a waterfall bid structure within each SKAG. All three match types are used, except we use broad match modifiers (the + signs) for our broad match keyword; these modifiers prevent each word of a keyword they are attached to from being triggered by synonyms, e.g ‘+TV’ would not trigger for a search containing ‘television’.

We highly recommend you do not use unmodified broad keywords as they require an exhaustive negative keyword list and cause cross-contamination of long-tail searches triggering broader ads rather than ads tailored for those keywords, e.g. ‘Samsung 42 inch LED TV’ triggering an ad for ‘Samsung TV’, which is suboptimal. You can also insert ad group-level negative exact match keywords to further prevent cross-contamination from occurring.

The exact match keyword should always have the highest bid because it offers the most precision, with phrase second and broad third, thus the exact match keyword should trigger more often than the broad and phrase match keywords. There is no exact science behind the $0.50 intervals between the bids, it’s just a round number for the sake of example. These bid intervals could be $0.1 or $1 apart, it’s down to your informed decision-making abilities.

Avoid automatic bidding

Explaining cascading bids leads us neatly on to our next lesson: use manual CPC bidding and be cautious when testing automatic bidding options.

AdWords Editor even displays a warning when manual bidding is selected without any automated options–you can ignore this because manual CPC is the best starting point when setting up new campaigns. We don’t outright condemn the use of other bidding strategies or automated options but they require careful testing and large data samples before being rolled out across your entire account. Target CPA bidding, for example, only functions well if your account has large amounts of conversion data for the algorithm to learn from.

In order for cascading bids to function properly, you must be using manual CPC with enhanced CPC disabled. The more automated options you chose, the more control you are handing over to Google, who want you to succeed but will never do a better job than an experienced human.

Avoid mixing Search with Display

Never mix Search ads with Display ads in the same campaign. The option used to be called ‘Search with Display Select’ but now it’s called ‘Search and Display Expansion, which basically ensures that the remainder of your daily budget not spent on Search ads is automatically allocated to the Display network before the end of each day. ‘Automatically’ is the red flag here–refrain from giving automatic permission to Google Ads because it will often run amok if left unchecked.

Never tick both, use one campaign for each!

The Search and Display networks are very much different beasts and a one-size-fits-all approach to them both will result in mediocre performance. Google Ads Express encourages the use of both in one campaign, which is particularly worrying considering that Express caters for novices.

Use accelerated delivery

There are two delivery methods, standard and accelerated, found in the budget section of your campaign settings. Until recently Google warned against using accelerated delivery with a message stating that it can cause your daily budget to run out early, which is an accurate statement. Accelerated delivery is always superior to standard delivery and to understand why we need to compare them.

Standard delivery aims to spend your budget evenly throughout the day so that it depletes as close to midnight as possible, so that it resets again at midnight and keeps the delivery of your ads consistent to minimise downtime. However, the downside of standard delivery is that your ads will miss impressions in order to prevent your budget from running out too early.

Accelerated delivery shows your ads for every single impression until your daily budget runs out, however you must be careful not to burn your budget too quickly with it. Accelerated delivery is especially dangerous with Display campaigns because of their high impression potential–be cautious and start with extra low bids and daily budget caps when testing accelerated delivery with a Display campaign.

An optimised campaign uses accelerated delivery and runs out of daily budget as close to midnight as possible–in order to achieve this target start by lowering your bids and increasing them by small increments until you deplete your budget between 11 pm and midnight every day. The result is that your ads will gain more impressions and clicks for the same daily budget.

This lesson also applies to platforms other than Google Ads that also offer accelerated delivery, like Facebook ads.

Import Google Analytics goals

Always link your Google Ads account with Google Analytics and import your goals from there. If you don’t do this and track your goals separately you will encounter discrepancies in conversions between the two.

By default Google Ads has a ‘greedy’ attribution model meaning it takes credit for conversions that it played any role in assisting within a 30 day window, e.g. if someone clicks an ad, comes back 25 days later via a bookmark and then buys something, Google Ads registers a conversion.

Google Analytics’ default attribution method is ‘last click wins’ meaning that it credits only the last interaction in the funnel with the conversion, e.g. if someone clicks a Google ad, comes back 5 days later via a Facebook ad and then buys something, Google Analytics credits Facebook with the conversion because it was the final step in the funnel.

If you don’t link Google Analytics with Google Ads and import your conversions, you will see discrepancies between the two. Although Google doesn’t tell you that one method is better than the other, they don’t encourage the use of Google Analytics to track goals for Google Ads like they should.

Your Google Analytics tags, along with all other tags, should be installed by Google Tag Manager if possible. Google Tag Manager is a single container tag that replaces all tags from various platforms on your site, allowing you to manage them from one dashboard. It allows live debugging which is essential to ensure that your Google Analytics goals and events are being tracked correctly.

Use thank you pages

Not explicitly stigmatised by Google, but considered old-fashioned by 2019 netizens, thank you pages offer more reliable conversion tracking than tracking button clicks and form submissions as events in Google Analytics.

Button click and form submission events are difficult to configure correctly, require extensive testing and are prone to misfiring and breaking, although are elegant when deployed correctly. Thank you pages, whilst archaic, take only seconds to integrate with conversion tracking and are more reliable.

The biggest incentive for using a thank you page for counting conversions is if you are using a live chat widget; many have settings to send the user to a URL after the chat session has ended–set this to your thank you page and now you have a reliable method of recording chat sessions as conversions, which you otherwise wouldn’t if you used event tracking.

Use indefinite ad rotation

It’s best to use the ‘do not optimise: rotate ads indefinitely’ option within ad rotation in the campaign settings as long as you have the time to manually optimise your ads.

Google will attempt to convince you that automatic ad rotation is best, plus it’s default, and it may see an attractive option because ostensibly it reduces your optimisation workload. In fact, if you use the automatic options then ads that outperform others in the same ad group early on will receive more and more impressions, creating a snowball effect that rarely allows other ads to gain any impressions.

In order to avoid some of your ads never getting tested, you should set your ad rotation to ‘do not optimise: rotate ads indefinitely’ and ensure that you frequently check and pause the underperforming ads (lowest clickthrough rate, usually) and create new ones to try and beat the winners.

Takeaways

If your agency isn’t using SKAGs with cascading bids, run away. There is a reason why every Google Ads professional blogs about these methods and that’s because they are the best. Some agencies follow Google’s ‘best practices’ and believe they are doing a good job but actually leave much to be desired in terms of untapped performance.

Juice Lab is a digital marketing agency for startups based in Bangkok and our campaign optimisation work is manual and our campaign/ad group/keyword structures are as granular as possible, using the methods described above. Although we have Google Ads certification, we know better than to blindly follow the ‘best practices’ taught by Google that many digital marketers are using without knowing better.