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Are Smart Goals and Smart Lists in Google AdWords Really Smart?

Google offers Smart Goals and Smart Lists that can be helpful for advertisers that are new to AdWords. Both are described below along with how they might be helpful. However, they are not recommended for advertisers who are experienced and have conversions set up on their website since advertisers do not have control over these two metrics.

Smart Goals

Smart Goals are admittedly a fuzzy metric in Google Analytics.  According to Google , they measure smart goals by applying “machine learning across thousands of websites that use Google Analytics and have opted in to share anonymized conversion data.  From this information, we can distill dozens of key factors that correlate with likelihood to convert: things like session duration, pages per session, location, device and browser.  We can then apply these key factors to any website. The easiest way to think about Smart Goals is that they reflect your website visits that our model indicates are most likely to lead to conversions.


How to Optimize your Remarketing Lists for Search Ad Campaigns

Many visitors leave a website without converting, which is why remarketing campaigns with Google AdWords are valuable.  And since these visitors also visit multiple sites before making a purchase, you want to make sure they do not forget you. As they get closer to that decision point, you want to remind them that they visited your site in the process, and bring them back to your conversion funnel.

To use RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads), start by creating remarketing lists from segments of your audience based on an attribute, such as their location in your conversion funnel or transactions. This is data you can glean from your Google Analytics account.

In your initial RLSA campaigns, bid based on audience behavior by choosing the “bid only” option rather than “target and bid”. With this strategy, you are bidding based on behaviors that are the most valuable and can adjust bids based on the performance. For example, you would bid differently for home page visitors versus those who viewed a specific product or even abandoned their cart. People who visit on a category page may be one a bucket of users with a moderate bid and a higher bid is given to those who got as far as adding something in the shopping cart. You may even want to have a group specifically for bounced traffic. Your strategy with this type of group would be less aggressive with your ad spend, and you wouldn’t aim for a direct conversion as your goal since they have not yet indicated a strong interest in what you offer.  Instead, with the bounced audience, bid lower and have a different goal, such as driving them to landing pages with a softer CTA that invites them to download a free guide rather than asking them to commit to a purchase.

Remarketing lists picture

With “target and bid”, ads are displayed only if the search is for one of your keywords and the searcher is on your remarketing list. It’s more focused because you are targeting a very specific audience. You bid differently on these users depending on which particular audience list they fell into. This could be the time to include competitor terms, higher funnel search terms and broad match types.  Although broad match can bring in a lot of irrelevant terms in your standard Search Campaigns, in this case, you are able to get in front of an previous visitors again in a broader way.  Once you’ve defined these groups, make sure your messaging speaks to them specifically rather than using one message for all your audiences.

The final step is optimizing and expanding the campaign depending on performance and after you have collected 2-4 weeks of data.  If the CPA on the RLSA list is lower than the regular search, you could be missing out on conversions, so it might help to bid more on those. Try increasing your bid to reach your CPA goal with more conversions.  With keywords that have a 1.5 position or higher, there’s really no need to increase the bid since you are already staying in those top three spots.

Some best practices with RLSA include utilizing different membership durations. You don’t need to stick with the default of 30 days because people may do research for longer than 30 days. When setting bids, look at ROAS, then optimize for that. A mistake with remarketing for Search or Display is oversegmentating – going very niche – rather than broad first and optimizing later. It can cut out too many potential buyers.  And finally, if you are unsure of your usual buying cycle for your site visitors, view the Time Lag to Conversion Report which is available in AdWords under Tools > Attribution  before creating your audiences.

Breaking Down AdWords Demographic Targeting for Search Ads

*This blog was originally posted on and can be accessed here.

Reach ideal customers in AdWords with demographic targeting

Reach ideal customers in AdWords with demographic targeting

A few months ago, AdWords demographic targeting for search ads was introduced, including the ability to segment by age and gender. This brought joy to many brands and marketers, because they could better match ads to audiences while gaining more control over who saw their ads.

It was a definitive moment for sure. Yet if your head’s still not in the game, then this quick explanation should help.

Let’s start with an example. Say your software company has a new product and you want to advertise it. In the old days, a user would type in a keyword and, if your keyword matched theirs, it could trigger your ad to appear on the search engine results page. Now, with demographics targeting you can refine who sees the search ad, based on who has the greatest propensity to buy your product. (Careful, your targeting should reflect data on user intent, not who you assume are your buyers.)

Let’s take a look at how AdWords breaks down demographic targets for search ads: (more…)

How to Measure Display Campaign Performance in Google Analytics

When it comes to online marketing, measuring the performance of an ad on the Display Network is similar to measuring the performance of any other traffic source, such as Search Network ads. But what needs to be considered when viewing these metrics is that display ads are often better for branding rather than a direct conversion. When you analyze your data, it is important to keep this in mind when deciding whether your display ads are worth the investment.

In general, ads on the Display Network have a slightly higher bounce rate and fewer pages per visit than other traffic sources. Users who respond to a display ad often were not looking for your product or service at the time so their response is more passive than a visitor who is actively searching for something. As a result, your visitors are somewhat interested in what you have to offer but they are not actively seeking it.  As a side note with these ads, you want to write compelling headlines, but not click-bait headlines. With a click-bait headline, visitors click only out of curiosity, not necessarily a genuine interest in what you have to offer so it is probably not worth paying for those clicks.


With the bounce rate, you may see a bounce rate for your display campaigns of 80% whereas the bounce rate for your other sources of traffic is only 50%.  Rather than focusing on that single number of 80% for display ads, drill into this and look at the specific placements, ad copy, and and targeting methods.  Google Analytics provides this granular data about behavior by each of these dimensions.  As you drill into your data, you might find there are several placements that are responsible for the highest bounce rate which you can then exclude in your Google AdWords campaign.

Also, as you review your Google Analytics data, give a little more credit to your engagement metrics, such as pages per session, for people who come from display ads. When people arrive on your site they’re passively searching somewhere else and they spend time surfing your site, it’s a good indicator of the effectiveness of your ads on the Display Network.

The value of this initial introduction, or branding, is seen when someone does make a purchasing decision. Because they saw your ad earlier, they remember what it is that you offer and are willing to visit your site again when it comes time to make a purchase. They may bookmark your site when they reach it through a display ad to revisit at a later date when it is time to buy. Or it could be they may not even remember you when they are ready to buy, but in doing an internet search at a later date, your brand does comes back to mind when they see your results again. Keep these factors in mind when you review the performance of your display ad campaigns.

Of course, everyone who runs paid ads for a site wants to see conversions in AdWords or goal completions in Google Analytics. It makes sense. When you are using cold hard cash in your marketing, you want to see results. But when you look at completed goals with display ads, look beyond just the straight conversion metrics. Make sure you set engagement related goals which include pages per session, mentioned above, or time on site. This is also when it makes sense to have a goal value set for valuable behavior that is not revenue-generating.

Remember that your metrics for display campaigns are going to be different than your metrics on your search campaigns with fewer clear-cut conversions. This is a campaign type that is still worth using because it can attract people who have an interest in what you offer and it could get you to the top of their mind when it is time for them to make a decision about their purchase. So go ahead and try the Display Network but keep these differences in mind when reviewing your results in Google Analytics.

What to Monitor with your AdWords Budget – Part I

“AdWords is a money pit”. I hear that a lot from people who are cynical about their experience with AdWords. They spend a lot of money yet do not see any sales as a result.  And I agree that it can be a money pit when it’s not monitored closely. Advertisers who set up an account, then barely look at it will find themselves maxing out their budget very quickly with little to show for those dollars spent.  But when your Adwords Budget is monitored and optimized, AdWords has the potential for great results for advertisers – both for online and brick and mortar store. The major concepts to learn and manage so AdWords does not become a money pit is the daily budget, bid strategy, keyword costs, and conversions.

Campaign Budget

The highest level is your campaign budget. A simple account for a small company may have only one campaign because they do not need to account for variation in geographic locations or language. Others may have a separate campaign for each country or each product or service. Note that you are setting a budget by campaign. If your total spend for the month is $5,000 and you have five campaigns, you might set each campaign at $1,000. If it was one campaign, then you set the one budget of $5,000 for that single campaign.  Start here when determining your maximum spend for the month.

Ad Group Budget

Next you can set a budget for each ad group within a campaign. In the below example for a florist, they bid slightly higher on their “Brand Name & City Name” ad group because it produces the most revenue. Less money is spent on RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) because the return is lower. If you are just getting started, there is no need to make edits yet at the ad group level. You may want to first collect data on how your ads perform in each group.

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Keyword Bids

You can also manage bids for keywords.  Below you see a slighter higher bid for the keyword phrase marketing conference compared to a business conference so this advertiser is bidding based on the return each of these words provides. The expectation is that searches on the phrase marketing conference will result in more ticket sales than business conference.  If you are just getting started with AdWords, bidding at the keyword level may be more granular than you need initially.  Unless you are confident that some keywords will produce a higher ROI than other keywords, allow some time for your account to collect data, then come back and adjust bids at a later date depending on how the words perform.

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Tracking Performance

Now that you have the basics of budgeting down, it’s time to track performance on your ads. While getting a click on an ad is generally a good thing, you do not know how good of a thing it is unless you measure what happens after the click. Previous articles on this blog talk about the importance of tracking conversions and how to set it up.

In Part II, we’ll review bid strategies which are a more advanced option for bidding.

How to Create Your First Video Campaign for AdWords

More people are on YouTube than any cable segment in the United States, which means there is a huge audience there that will only continue to grow. And when you create your campaign, remember that mobile is just as important with video as it is for other AdWords ads since more than half of video views are on a mobile device.

Video presents such as a unique way to connect with the right people. Since they can like, share, and subscribe to your videos – rather than simply click – it’s a much different experience than user behavior on a typical search. With keywords, demographics, and topics, you can connect with the right customers at the right time.


Getting Started with Attribution Models in AdWords

With Attribution Models in AdWords, you decide how to assign credit to keywords, ad groups, and campaigns that influenced a conversion. For this to be meaningful, you need to first start recording conversions in AdWords.  If you are unsure if conversions are recording, go to Tools > Conversions from your AdWords account. If you do not see any, you can set up conversion tracking in Google AdWords or import goals from your Google Analytics account.

If you do see conversions recording, you can then choose “Attribution” in Conversions (or by going back to the Tools menu in AdWords).  Once you are in that sub menu, you will see options for Conversions, Cross-Device Activity, Paths, Click Analysis, and Attribution Modeling.

Attribution Overview

The overview shows the average period of time it took for people to convert. In the example below, you can see that it was within a day, so a strong-call-to-action for an immediate purchase works well for this account.



An Assisted Conversion demonstrates the impacts of your AdWords account in cases where someone did not purchase immediately.  Clicks and impressions may have influenced someone’s decision to convert at another time. The table below shows metrics for impression-assisted conversions and click conversions.


To use a specific example, let’s imagine a customer clicked on two ads for the keyword “clothing” before clicking on an ad for the keyword “shirts” and making a purchase. In this situation, it would count as two assisted clicks which is the number of times the keyword “clothing” appeared in the conversion path and one assisted conversion.


Cross-Device Activity

The Cross-Device Activity shows how customers use their devices before converting. In the example below, this account has primarily same day purchases, so it is not a surprise that no cross-device activity is available.



This next screen (from a different account) shows last click and click-assisted conversions for each device used in the searcher’s journey. Even in this account, most of the conversions happened on a single device.



“Paths” looks very familiar to Google Analytics users because it shows the route people took before converting.  With the campaign, ad group, or keywords, you can see the path a user took on the way to a conversion. Below is a very small sample size but shows some things you may see in your account.



Although the details  are blurred out, you can see that some searchers clicked on the same campaign more than once on line 2 and 3. On line 1 and 4, the searcher had the same last-click campaign before conversion. With this account, it’s possible that words or groups in the earlier campaigns could be paused if the trend leans towards a specific one that influences conversions. More data should be collected, however, before account changes are made.

With next report, Path Length, you can see that it only took one click for most visitors to convert.



Click Analysis

With the Click Analysis reports, you can see which keywords introduced people to your site (first clicked) and which ones sealed the deal – meaning led to a conversion (last clicked). This is available for campaign, ad group, keyword, and match type.

The match type report is especially helpful in demonstrating the importance of targeted keywords. Although a broad match will bring in a lot of keywords, in the screen below, you can see it was the phrase match that led to more conversions.


Attribution Model

Next select “Attribution Modeling” to compare two different models next to each other. Your options are first click, last click, linear, position based, and time decay.

Attribution is not an easy concept in Google AdWords, but is important in understanding what your ad dollars are really doing for you.  Using the above as a reference, walk through each of these steps in your account to see details about your ad performance. And remember, it all starts with conversions. If you do not have any in your AdWords account, set that up first by following the links referenced at the beginning, so you’ll have meaningful Attribution data to work from in your reporting.

Options for Device Bidding in AdWords

When Enhanced Campaigns were rolled out by Google several years ago, advertisers had less control in AdWords since they could not separate bids for mobile, tablet, and desktop. Although the intention was to make campaign creation and maintenance easier in Google AdWords, it was frustrating for advertisers who had a very different strategy for mobile versus desktop.  In the three years since Enhanced Campaigns were introduced, mobile clicks have increased significantly and some advertisers want to take advantage of that.  Fortunately, with the recent updates in Google AdWords, the ability to set bid adjustments by device is available again (to the joy of many advertisers).

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However, even though this feature is available, Google’s recommendation is to not separate campaigns by device. This means advertisers need to consider what these changes mean before implementing them in an account. Going the route of separate campaigns for each device also means managing multiple campaigns with the same messaging. This increases the amount of work required to maintain an AdWords account.  If a separate campaign is created for each device, it requires additional time to monitor keywords, ads, ad extensions, negative keywords and more work when testing ads.

Many of the things that appeal to advertisers about device specific bid adjustments are actually available by utilizing existing features in AdWords.  Instead of a separate campaign for each device in Google AdWords, bid adjustments can instead be used with tightly themed ad groups, which results in a much more manageable account. And bid modifiers now provide more options with a range of -100% to +900% for the bid amount. (With Enhanced Campaigns, the max bid adjustment was 300%). Even if ads do not perform as well on mobile devices as they do on desktops, mobile ads should not be completely removed. Instead, an adjustment can be used to decrease the amount of budget put into them.

And with AdWords Smart Bidding (previous known as automated bidding), a number of signals are considered utilizing machine learning with the optimal bid being set for each auction based on those signals. For example, a signal may differentiate behavior based on someone in New York searching during the lunch hour on his or her phone compared to someone in Los Angeles searching after 6:00pm from a desktop. As a result, device is a bidding signal in the AdWords auction. This may be enough for many advertisers who do not know how to best approach bidding for different devices. Google’s Smart Bidding does override manual bids, so there should be at least 50 conversions over the past month for meaningful results.

If you’re not sure what to do with this update on device bidding, you can do nothing! Or if you’re not clear on what makes sense for your business and like the idea of setting device bids separately for campaigns, start testing. With drafts and experiments, you can test these device level campaigns side by side with campaigns that are that are already running with bid adjustments to determine the best bid methodology.

The simplest route may be to start by segmenting performance by device in your AdWords account. The data there is based on your actual data and is probably the best route for determining how you want to address device bidding. (You can view device performance in an AdWords campaign from Settings tab > Devices.)

One final feature that can help make that decision is the cross-device attribution report. This enables you to examine the full value of a click by seeing conversions beyond the one initial conversion listed in standard AdWords reporting.  You can see how much activity happens in your account, how devices assist each other in a conversion, and the top paths for users utilizing more than one device in their search. Reported conversions and full value conversions should both be considered before deciding what to adjust in your account.

Options for device2

Like many features in Google AdWords, the fact that something exists does not automatically mean you should implement. Spend time reviewing these account options, your data, and your overall business model before making changes to your account.

How to Manage Your Google AdWords Account

Whether you are getting started with Google AdWords or are ready to bring your account management in-house instead of outsourcing it, follow these best practices to ensure that you are getting the most for your AdWords dollars. 

Create a negative keyword list 

Negative keywords are words you do not want to pay for with  AdWords. For example, if you offer a resume class for $200 with no free options, you do not want your ad to show up for a search on “free resume class”.  With that example, your negative word is free. Creating a solid negative keyword list at the very beginning of your campaigns will save you money spent on irrelevant clicks

Continue checking for negative keywords 

Even if you start out with a solid negative keyword list, you may still find negative words in your account that you did not think about when you set the account up.  Staying with the example above, let’s assume your classes are only offered in person.  Over time, you may discover a search for “online resume class” that triggered your ad. You would know to add online to your negative keyword list in order to prevent that from happening in the future. To check for negative keywords once your account is running, use the Search Terms report. (more…)