Google AdWords seems a simple platform, yet it’s very complex. I have been aksed over and over
again, “What’s your secret?” Meaning, what is the secret to the exceptionally high metrics I am
able to obtain with AdWords.
The answer is much care and attention to detail and, perhaps, a more wholistic marketing metric
approach to interpreting what the numbers mean and creating a context for what a “good number” is
versus what a “bad number” is.
As you might imagine, the numbers you use for a benchmark depend on the particular market (niche or
vertical) as well as hisotrical performance of the account. The benchmark numbers also depend, in
part, on what your customer has told you is their threshhold for performance (for example, maximum
cost per converison).
When I look at an AdWords account, I take a “top down” approach. I start at the “All online
campaigns” level and I work my way down. Please keep in mind as you read this that I am employing
my own personal thresholds on metrics. What I deem acceptable or not acceptable may differ for you
– so adjust accordingly.
At the campaigns level, I look at CTR, Avg. Position, Conversions, and Cost per Conversion.
If the CTR > 3%, Avg. Position is between 2-4, and Cost per Conversion is $10 or less, I am
generally happy. I will look at these various campaigns, AdGroups, and Keywords, but they’ll take
lower priority than those that don’t meet those criteria.
In general, I don’t tolerate CTR’s of less than 3% very well. If the CTR is less than 3%, something
just isn’t right. If the campaign-level CTR is below 3%, it usually means that a number of Adgroups
in the campaign are performing well below “normal”. AdGroups tend to perform poorly if the ads are
poorly written, if the keywords within the Adgroup are too varied or too general, and if the
landing page matches poorly with the keywords and ad copy.
If I discover a campaign-level poor CTR, I click through and look at the individual AdGroups.
At the AdGroup summary level, I look at the same metrics as at the campaign level: CTR, Avg.
Position, Conversions and Cost per Conversion. I find those AdGroups that are performing below expectations, and then I click through to the
Most of the action happens at the keyword level and you’ll find a lot of AdWords optimization
tutorials that start at the Keyword level – but I don’t agree with this approach. It’s too
granular, too fast, and making carte blanche changes to keywords without first looking at the
larger picture may result in you making changes that hurt other ad groups without you being aware,
which in turn affects the overall performance of the campaign. In my mind, in order to figure out
how to treat the rash, you have to first find out where the rash came from. No sense in treating
poison ivy with eczema creme.
In my nearly 12 years of running AdWords accounts, I find that I generally encounter 2 major issues: Low CTR and Low Quality Scores. These two things are related, of course, but each is approached on a bit of a different troubleshooting level.
At the keyword level, I look at CTR, Avg. Position, Conversions, Quality Score and Estimated First
Page and Top Page bids.
Low Quality Score: If the quality score is less than 7, something needs to change. It may sound
elitist, but there is no good reason on Earth why any quality score for keywords within an Ad Group
would be less than 7.0. Quality score is determined by your bid rate, the CTR, and the landing
page. So, if something needs to change, it is one of those 3 things. If your CTR is high, you can
try adjusting the maximum CPC. Look at what you’re bidding and then look at the estimated first
page and top page bids. Is your max CPC lower than what Google is telling you it may need to be?
Trying boosting it a little bit and see if it helps. If you boost your max CPC and your CTR is
still high, but quality is still low, then look at your landing page. Does your landing page
contain products or content that relate easily and directly to your keywords and ad copy? If not,
find a way to refine your landing page so that all 3 elements (Ad copy, keywords, and landing page)
are brought into more concrete and specific alignment.
Low CTR: Low CTR’s and Low Quality Scores tend to go hand in hand, not always, but usually. It’s
why I tackled low quality scores first. When I encounter low CTR’s, almost always (read 99% of the
time) it’s because the Ad Groups are much, much too general and they contain keywords that cover a
very broad range of topics.
For example, let’s take a Jewlery Ad.
Rock Bottom Jewelry Prices
We sell jewlery at discount prices.
Order today and save tons of $$$!
The Ad Group is called “Jewlery”
And in the Ad Group we find 150 different keywords, some of which are:
Sterling silver bangles
See a problem with this? You should be knodding and saying “Yes, yes I do!”
An AdWords Ad has 5 parts:
The Header, which allows 25 characters of space.
Description line 1: Allows 35 characters
Description line 2: Allows 35 characters
Display URL: allows 25 characters
Destination URL: I.E. the landing page
How in the world are you supposed to “talk” to all those categories above in such a limited space
and have it mean anything? What can the customer expect to find on the page when they land? All of
these things on one page? Probably not.
Ideally, you’d have an Ad Group for every single item above, specifically, with an ad that talks
about only that thing, keywords which share a common base, and a healthy dose of negative keywords
which exclude other possibilities that belong to other Ad Groups (because you don’t want your Ad
Groups competing for keywords, do you??? – that dilutes your efforts!) or exclude words or phrases
that don’t apply to your products or business (for example, if you only sell plants, you don’t want
people searching for seeds to find your ad).
So, when troubleshooting low CTR’s, I look first to see how “specific” the Ad Group and it’s horde
of keywords are. If I find too broad a range, I break the Ad Group down into 2 or more Ad groups. I
use WordTracker and Google’s Keyword tool to identify “positive” keywords for the Ad Group and
“negative” keywords that I can specify at the Campaign and Ad Group levels. I then rewrite the ad
copy as needed to more closely reflect the “common” keyword phrase for each Ad Group and I ensure
that the landing page takes the visitor to the group of products they specifically searched for. If
I can, I also adjust the display URL to include, as much as possible, the common keyword base I am
targeting. The display URL can be anything you want; the only rule is that the root domain must
match the root domain in the destination URL.
In general, the higher your CTR and the better the quality score, the lower your average cost per
click will be. This allows you to sometimes achieve a higher position than your competitors while
you pay a lower price for the higher position. So it pays to optimize your campaigns.
Keeping costs as low as possible while keeping conversions as high as possible is the balance you
want to find and maintain. Ultimately, this produces the better ROAS and ROI.