AdWords Automation Advice: Advantages and Annoyances
Full-blown bid automation tools are available, but they can cost too much for many businesses. But there are forms of automation available for free in AdWords. These could save you money on your advertising – but only if used correctly!
You specify a target CPA (cost per action) or a maximum CPA. AdWords then uses the CPA to calculate appropriate bids for each search auction depending on how likely it thinks a conversion is. The CPA you give may not be the actual cost per conversion, because in actual fact you are still paying per click.
To turn this on, go to ‘Bidding option’ in your campaign’s settings and select ‘Focus on conversions (Conversion Optimiser)’.
- Aside from setting the target or maximum CPA, it’s entirely automatic.
- Conversion Optimiser has access to data you don’t – such as the searcher’s location and language, the precise search query (if the keyword is broad match), and which website the ad is on (if you are on the Search Partners network). You can’t manually change bids for these different factors, but Conversion Optimiser can take them into account.
- Aside from setting the target or maximum CPA, it’s entirely automatic. There’s no transparency, and it’s easy to leave the campaign to its own devices and not notice when there are problems.
- Conversion Optimiser requires at least 15 conversions every 30 days, so it has enough data to work with. If conversions are rare for you this may not happen.
- Conversion Optimiser assumes all conversions are of equal worth. You might have different types of conversions (sales and newsletter sign-ups, for instance), or you may sell products of different value, but conversion optimiser will try to get you any type of conversion for the same price.
- If your conversions come from head terms, which get a lot of traffic, there will be a lot of data to make decisions with – Conversion Optimiser works best when you just have these head terms. But if you target the long tail there won’t be as much data on each search, so Conversion Optimiser may not work.
- Conversion Optimiser can only be switched on at campaign level. If you only have a few ad groups out of a campaign that would benefit from it, you’ll have to copy them into a new campaign, or copy the other ad groups into a new campaign – in either case you lose some ad groups’ histories.
- If the rate of conversions changes – if you make large changes to your campaign or website, say – the historical data won’t reflect the current situation, so conversion optimiser won’t work as well.
This allows you to either turn off a campaign or adjust bids for different hours of day (day-parting) or days of the week. You can turn it on in a campaign’s settings, in the Schedule section of the Advanced Settings.
- Advertising b2b is often useless at the weekend – this lets you easily turn your campaign on just for weekdays, or even just for working hours on weekdays. (Or maybe just turn bids down at weekends, if competing advertisers are switched off and there are cheaper conversions up for grabs.)
- Similarly, b2c advertising may be more profitable at weekends or evenings.
- Like conversion optimiser, this is only available at campaign level – if the ad groups in a campaign behave differently they’ll need to be split into separate campaigns.
- This setting can’t change the budget. So you can’t use this to conserve budget in the morning to spend later, say, or to spend less at the weekend.
- Reducing bids at certain times could lead to worse average position and a drop in CTR – that could affect your quality score.
AdWords lets you set up your own rules to pause or enable campaigns, ad groups, ads or keywords, or to change budgets and bids. This can be based on performance (e.g. cost per conv over the last seven days, or yesterday’s CPC) or text fields (e.g. you can pause all ads that say “book before 31/3”), and can be run at specified times (e.g. every Monday at 3pm, or on the first day of the month, or just once ever on the 21st of December 2012). You can also get the rule to email you when it runs, or just when there’s an error.
Given the simplicity of these rules, they’re unlikely to replace manual bid management, but they can be used to supplement it.
You can set rules by using the ‘Automate’ drop-down menu in the Campaigns tab, and check what rules you have set up by clicking ‘Automated rules’ in the navigation panel.
- You have complete control over what these rules affect. They can be ad group level, or just change individual ads or keywords.
- You have a lot of control over what can be done. You can use automatic rules to change daily budgets, for example, which you couldn’t with ad scheduling.
- There’s complete transparency because you’re the one making up the rules. The changes will be in the account’s change log, and the latest automated rule’s change can be undone easily.
- You can have ‘emergency’ rules in place to lower bids or pause keywords when they’re wasting too much money, as well as send you a notification, rather than just having an alert that presumes you’ll check your email in time to stop the damage.
- While you can set rules up to make changes according to time of day, this isn’t very accurate. I’ve found that if a rule is scheduled to run at a specific time it usually runs a bit after, sometimes nearly an hour later.
- Be careful changing bids based on average position – if the keyword is not exact match, a higher bid will let it enter new auctions for new search terms, so the average position might get worse and cause your rules to increase the bid again!
- Also be careful using first page bid estimates – these are only estimates for the exact match version of a keyword, so you should only apply them to broad or phrase match keywords with care.
- Because the rules are entirely up to you, the potential for screw-ups is enormous. Set rules up wrong and you could pause the wrong ad or crank bids through the roof. Always preview your rules when you set them up. And always keep an eye on the account’s performance when the rules are up.
- If you use a rule to change bids or budgets then set a maximum. Have you heard how careless use of Amazon’s algorithmic pricing lead to a book being on sale for $23,698,655.93? You don’t want that happening to your CPCs or spend.
The most important thing to remember about automation is that you should test it, rather than switching it on and forgetting about your account. Even if it performs better than manual bidding, you should still monitor it well.