Enhance Your Google Ads with 6 Smart Bidding Tips: Level Up with Less Time

Optimizing Efficiency: Harnessing Automation Alongside a Strong Strategy

My 'solid strategy' entails merging data and experience for logical campaign planning. Here, 'automation' refers to Google's Smart Bidding, gradually gaining marketer acceptance for its advanced capabilities.

Over the past couple of years, I have cut down the amount of time I spend in Google Ads (previously AdWords) by 75%, and yet the results I am achieving have gotten better and better.

How?

Combining a robust strategy with savvy automation is key.

When I talk about a ‘solid strategy,’ I’m referring to my approach of blending data and experience-driven insights to shape and execute my campaigns. Essentially, it’s about having a well-thought-out plan based on past performance.

As for ‘automation,’ I’m specifically referring to Google’s Smart Bidding feature.

While Google’s automated ‘Smart Bidding’ isn’t entirely new, with Enhanced Cost Per Click (CPC) having been around for some time, its true potential is only now being fully realized by marketers. Initially met with skepticism, Smart Bidding is now being embraced and leveraged for its capabilities.

And the journey doesn’t end here.

Google Smart Bidding Strategies: The New Status Quo

Google currently offers seven Automated Bid Strategies just on the Search Network alone. When you factor in Shopping, Video (YouTube), App, Display, and potential future campaign types and updates, Automated Strategies are positioning themselves as the default choice across all Google products.

Here’s a breakdown of how each type of automated bid strategy operates:

  1. Enhanced Cost Per Click (eCPC): Automatically adjusts bids based on the likelihood of a conversion, with the option for semi-automation under ‘Manual CPC’ by enabling the ‘Enhanced CPC’ checkbox.
  2. Maximize Conversions: Automatically sets bids to maximize the number of conversions within the campaign budget, without considering the Cost Per Conversion.
  3. Target Cost Per Acquisition (tCPA): Automatically adjusts bids to achieve as many conversions as possible within a specified CPA goal, without focusing on conversion volume.
  4. Target Return on Ad Spend (tROAS): Sets bids to maximize eCommerce revenue within a specified target.
  5. Target Search Page Location: Targets ads to appear at the top of search results or on the first page.
  6. Target Outranking Share: Automatically outbids competitors to appear above their ads.
  7. Maximize Clicks: Automatically maximizes clicks within a set budget.

Avoiding Common Smart Bidding mistakes

Without the right strategy, automation can swiftly deplete your ad budgets without yielding any results. I’ve experienced this firsthand, learning a valuable lesson each time it happened.

Having extensively utilized Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) across diverse platforms and industries, and frequently fielding questions on the subject, I’m eager to share six common Smart Bidding mistakes and how to sidestep them in your campaigns.

Without delay, let’s dive right in before your automated campaigns drain any more funds.

1: Don’t Push Your Luck When Trying to Drop Your Target CPA (tCPA)

Let’s start with the basics. Google’s automation operates by analyzing the past 30 days of data while excluding the last 7 days to ensure consistency.

It’s crucial that your Target CPA or Target ROAS campaign settings align with Google’s existing performance capabilities. Google’s Machine Learning functions by learning from successful and unsuccessful outcomes to optimize your campaigns.

For instance, if you’ve consistently achieved $15 CPAs over the past month and set a $5 target CPA, you’re likely to encounter challenges.

Of course, you’re aiming for stellar results with your automated campaigns, aren’t you? Absolutely.

While Google excels at optimizing its performance, here’s the secret: aim for smaller, incremental adjustments in the Target CPA.

Here is the step-by-step breakdown of what I would do:

Step 1: Implement the Target CPA of $15 (or the suggested amount in the Google interface).

Step 2: After gathering a solid month’s worth of data and achieving desired performance (around $15 CPA), gradually reduce the target by approximately 5%, but no more than 10%. For instance, lower it to $14.

Step 3: Monitor the performance following this adjustment over another month or so and reassess campaign performance. Keep a close eye on any fluctuations as optimizations can both exceed or fall short of expectations.

Step 4: If the Target CPA/ROAS optimization doesn’t yield desired results, review potential missteps outlined in this list, particularly any significant changes that might have reset the learning phase for the campaign.

Summary: Avoid rushing adjustments. Allow Google to acclimate to the target gradually before making incremental tweaks. In campaigns with high conversion volume, adjustments can occur more frequently, but vigilance is key.

2: Don’t Focus on a Metric That Isn’t Your Goal

Are you focusing on the wrong metrics? This issue often lies with the marketer. If you’re not fully acquainted with how automation operates, you might be fixating on metrics like Average Cost Per Click (CPC), campaign Impression Share, or Average Position, which are now beyond your control.

Here’s the scoop: Google possesses a wealth of data on the users we’re targeting and utilizes this knowledge to display ads when it perceives a high level of confidence in potential engagement. Consequently, certain metrics may appear to ‘drop’ or underperform.

For instance, consider John, who’s actively researching sock retailers. Google identifies him as a promising prospect and competes aggressively in auctions to win his click.

Conversely, if Google doesn’t deem a user as qualified, it won’t display your ad, resulting in lost impression share.

Focusing on metrics like Average Position may not reflect your primary goal — conversions. With automation, you relinquish control to Google to analyze myriad signals simultaneously. Therefore, judge its performance based on conversions, your ultimate objective.

Summary: Prioritize conversions as your primary metric and trust in your automated strategy to deliver results.

3: Be Patient and Give it Time to Learn

There’s a significant element of patience required with automated bidding strategies, despite the challenge it poses with results and client satisfaction.

When implementing significant changes to a campaign, Google undergoes a ‘learning period’ to adapt to the new parameters. One common mistake marketers make is prematurely ending an automated test before Google has had adequate time to learn and optimize.

It’s essential to understand that Google typically requires 5-7 days to learn how to best allocate your budget effectively, transitioning from the testing phase to optimization mode.

If you haven’t encountered it before, hovering over the automated campaign settings in your Google Ads interface will reveal the option to access the ‘Bid Strategy Report,’ providing valuable insights like this:

This useful tool provides insight into the learning phase of your campaign, along with its performance during this period. In my example, the data is insufficient to determine effectiveness. Therefore, the best course of action is to refrain from making changes.

Summary: Allow your campaigns to run undisturbed until they exit the learning period. Any alterations reset the learning process, wasting the time Google invested in optimizing your campaigns.

4: Don’t Overlook High Conversion Delay When Analyzing Performance

If you’re unfamiliar with conversion delays and how they impact your campaigns, feel free to drop a comment below, and I’ll gladly provide a guide. Alternatively, there are numerous online resources available to assist you (crucial when running paid ads).

In essence, the default attribution window for the Google Ads conversion pixel is 30 days. This means that if a user clicks your ad today but converts three weeks later, Google attributes the conversion to the initial click, even if it wasn’t the last interaction.

If your conversion cycle is prolonged (i.e., users take multiple days or weeks to convert after clicking your ad), there’s a risk of undervaluing your campaign’s performance.

(Not sure how to find your conversion time lag? You can easily access it in the Google Ads interface: Tools > Search Attribution > Paths > Time Lag + Path Length. You can view data from the user’s first impression, first click, or last click.

Imagine you’re conducting an experiment, pitting Target CPA against Manual CPC in your best-performing campaign. After two weeks, your Manual CPC campaign boasts 10 conversions, while Target CPA lags behind with only 7.

Here’s the catch: With Manual CPC, users who clicked your ads in the past 30 days retain their ad cookie data. Consequently, when they eventually convert, the attribution goes back to that campaign. In contrast, the Target CPA campaign might have reached the most ideal leads, but if your conversion delay averages three weeks, you’ll only see these conversions trickle in later.

Summary: When comparing the performance of an automated campaign, it may not appear as robust initially because some users who clicked your ad haven’t converted yet. While these conversions will materialize later, the reported spend might suggest fewer conversions, a higher CPA, or seemingly unprofitable campaigns.

5: Consider Campaign Budget Headroom or Accelerating Budget

As counterintuitive as it may seem, constraining your campaign budget can actually result in lost conversions, even at a lower cost. Consider the extreme scenario: launching a new campaign with a Target CPA of $10 but setting the campaign budget at $5. In this case, it becomes exceedingly challenging for Google to conduct the necessary daily optimizations to meet your goal.

This oversight is commonly referred to as not allowing enough budget headroom (or simply being imprudent).

Determining the ideal daily campaign budget can be challenging, as it hinges on the volume of leads your business requires. A simple approach is to divide your monthly budget by 30 (or more precisely, 30.4) to establish a starting point.

For marketers seeking more precise campaign forecasting and budgeting, tools like SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool or Google’s Keyword Planner come in handy. These tools allow you to cross-reference your targeted keywords with estimated monthly search volumes and average cost-per-clicks, enabling you to calculate the necessary monthly spend for each campaign.

Exceptions do exist, such as with Google’s newer Smart Display campaigns, which recommend a daily budget of 20 times the Target CPA. This allocation facilitates Google’s Machine Learning to conduct thorough groundwork and testing for optimal results.

The debate over accelerating budget is contentious among marketers, but Google’s best practice advises keeping all automated campaign settings to the Standard delivery method.

Why? It comes back to control.

Google doesn’t appreciate being compelled to display your ad to someone merely because you insist. It’s akin to dealing with a stubborn teenager — Google wants to operate on its terms, when it sees fit. However, unlike a teenager, Google has a wealth of data to support its decisions, making it prudent for us to heed its recommendations, at least most of the time.

Why would you want to have an Accelerated delivery method then?

Marketers often advocate for accelerated campaign settings, particularly in niche industries with well-performing existing campaigns. Accelerated settings ensure your ad reaches more available searches or users. If your current CPA is satisfactory, experimenting with this approach can be worthwhile.

Summary: Start your campaigns with the Standard delivery method and allow each campaign ample time to test its bidding strategies.

6: Avoid Continuously Making Major Changes to Campaigns

Saving the best for last: this is a critical one, and I’ve made this mistake countless times myself.

Here’s the straightforward truth: every time you make a significant change to your campaign, you reset the learning period and start back from day one.

Remember, the ‘Learning’ status indicates that AdWords is collecting performance data to optimize bids. So, if you see ‘learning’ when you hover over the bubble on your campaigns, it’s likely because you’ve:

  • Just created the strategy.
  • Changed the daily or shared budget (be cautious here; it’s an easy mistake to make).
  • Adjusted a setting in your conversion tab, such as the conversion setting or conversion action setting.
  • Modified campaigns, ad groups, or keywords related to the bidding strategy — this includes adding and removing ad groups or keywords. Yes, really.

So what are you supposed to do?

It’s straightforward: similar to Tip #3, exercise patience and allow Google time to learn your new strategy.

Summary: Frequent changes to bid strategy settings prolong the learning period, hindering Google’s ability to accurately adjust bids to meet your targets/goals. So, stay patient and let your optimizations and Google’s renowned AI do their work.

To Conclude

Here are six smart bidding pitfalls to steer clear of and strategies to optimize your Google Ads campaigns:

  1. Take a gradual approach when adjusting your Target CPA (tCPA) to avoid pushing your luck.
  2. Focus on your primary goal metric; if it’s conversions, prioritize tracking conversion performance.
  3. Exercise patience and avoid making changes to campaigns during the learning period; allow them time to optimize.
  4. Factor in high conversion delays when evaluating campaign performance.
  5. Balance campaign budget allocation and avoid excessive changes to budget settings.
  6. Refrain from making frequent major adjustments to campaigns; trust Google’s learning process.

In essence, trust in your automated strategy and decisions based on data and clear objectives eliminates the need for constant campaign tweaks and monitoring. This approach ensures you’re on the right track toward success.