Google AdWords is a complicated beast. On one hand, advertising on Google offers unique opportunities to immediately get in front of highly targeted and motivated audiences. Conversely, the complexities of managing Google AdWords campaigns makes it easy for novice and intermediate advertisers to pay well above market rate for clicks. Even certified Google Partners (like us) frequently discover new intricacies and best practices within the platform.

We hear it all the time: “I tried Google AdWords, but it didn’t work for my business.” For some organizations, that might be true. Advertising in Google search results -- or via Google’s other ad networks -- isn’t the best way for every organization to spend their marketing budget. But before you deem AdWords unfit for your business, consider that success is highly dependent on campaign set-up and ongoing management. Just because you haven't had success with AdWords in the past doesn't mean it's impossible.

You could write a book on AdWords account management best practices, so today I’m just going to focus on five settings for Google search campaigns that can affect your return on investment (ROI).

Campaign Type: Search Network with Display Select vs. Search Network only

There are two types of search campaigns in Google AdWords: “Search Network with Display Select” and “Search Network only.” Based on their descriptions, it’s clear which one Google wants you to choose:

Search Network with Display Select provides you the “Best opportunity to reach the most customers.” Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Before making a decision, it’s important to understand what “Display Select” is and how your ads appear in the Display Network.

Display Select

You know those banner ads that show up at the top and sides of websites? Many of those are administered by Google via their Display Network. For the most part, display ads -- graphic banners with imagery and messaging -- populate Display Network ad space, but Google also allows text ads to show up as well. This makes it possible for advertisers to acquire ad space on websites without the expertise or investment needed to create and manage display ads.

Sample AdWords Text Display Ads
Sample of a text ad in the Display Network. Source: Google

It’s also a win for Google because it dramatically expands the number of potential advertisers on their network, which is why they recommend Display Select so strongly when you’re setting up an AdWords search campaign.

So should you run text ads on the Display Network? It depends on your goals and capabilities. Display Select is a slick feature because it automatically formats your text ads for use in the Display Network. If you want to dip your toe into display advertising but don’t have the time, budget, or expertise for a full display campaign, then Display Select is a good alternative.

There are downsides to Display Select, however. The visual nature of display ads is a major reason why they’re successful, and text display ads don’t allow the user to add logos, company colors, or other visual elements. If brand recognition is an advertiser’s goal, using Display Select probably isn’t a good strategy.

If you have the ability to manage a traditional display campaign, Display Select is redundant and unnecessary. Instead, keep your search and display ads in separate campaigns for better targeting and more efficient ad spend.

Finally, remember that your campaign’s budget covers ad spend for both search ads and text display ads. If your main focus is gaining visibility in top Google search results, Display Select is eating into your budget without helping you achieve your goal.

Campaign Type: Standard vs. All Features

Another component of campaign type set-up is choosing between the “Standard” or “All features” configurations. By default, search campaigns are set to “Standard,” which means that many advertisers are likely missing out on settings available only in “All features” campaigns.

Google AdWords Campaign Type Options

Some of the settings you unlock with “All features” include advanced location targeting, IP exclusions, ad scheduling, and ad rotation options. Each of these settings can be leveraged to improve the ROI of your campaign.

Unlike other settings detailed in this blog post, there is little upside to be gained by choosing the “Standard” campaign set-up. Like AdWords Express, "Standard" campaigns are meant to simplify AdWords to lower the barrier-to-entry for advertisers. In reality, "Standard" campaigns just limit the control the user has over their campaigns, and removes valuable tools an advertiser can use to customize their campaign and achieve their goals.

Google Search Partners

Similar to its Display Network, Google has a Search Network where your text ads are eligible to appear. The Search Network includes Google Search, other Google properties (such as Google Maps, Google Play, and YouTube), and “Google search partners.” Google doesn’t provide a full list of its search partners, but generally it includes similar search engine sites where your ads appear just as they would on Google.

Google doesn’t allow you to opt out of showing ads on other Google properties, but you do have the option to exclude search partners:

Google search partners options

For advertisers who are solely focused on acquiring top positions in Google search results, un-checking the "Include search partners" box will eliminate ad impressions on non-Google sites. For advertisers who are less concerned with the exact placement of their ads, including Google partner sites can increase ad exposure, clicks, and conversions.

There is still some debate, however, over the relative value of clicks from search partner sites. If you’re unsure whether you should include search partners, conduct a short experiment to see what the data says. Keep the box checked for a few weeks (or long enough to gather a representative sample size), then segment your campaign by “Network (with search partners)”:

Segmenting Google AdWords data from Google search partners

This will allow you to evaluate the performance of your ads on search partner sites compared to Google Search.

Device Type Bid Adjustments

Too often, we see AdWords campaigns that send mobile searchers to landing pages that aren’t mobile-friendly. When a mobile searcher clicks on a search result, they expect to see a web page that’s easy to read and interact with on a small screen. If they don’t like what they see, they’re going to return to the Google search results page and choose another result (a.k.a. "pogosticking").

If your PPC campaign includes mobile-unfriendly landing pages, you have two immediate problems:

1. More than half of Google searches take place on mobile devices. That ratio fluctuates between industries, but no advertiser should assume all their ad clicks are coming from desktop users. As a temporary solution, Google allows you to adjust your bids based on the searcher’s device type. To completely exclude users on mobile devices from seeing your ads, set a -100% bid adjustment:

Google AdWords Device Type Settings
Google AdWords device type bid adjustments

2. Your lack of a mobile-friendly website isn’t just hurting your PPC campaigns. Mobile-friendly websites rank higher in organic search results, engage visitors more effectively, convert visitors into customers, and help achieve organizational goals. For all these reasons, a mobile-friendly website is a must for all organizations in 2017.

Once your landing pages are mobile-friendly, you can use device type bid adjustments in more nuanced ways to maximize the ROI of your campaign.

Advanced Location Options

Location targeting is one of the features that makes Google AdWords so appealing to advertisers because it allows them to show ads to people in specific geographic areas. Once again, however, there are several key settings that commonly trip up AdWords users.

First of all, it’s important to understand that you don’t have access to advanced locations options if you’re using a “Standard” campaign type. These advanced options are important because they directly impact where (geographically) your ads are eligible to be shown. By default, Google serves your ads to “People in, searching for, or who show interest in (your) targeted location.”

Google AdWords Advanced Location Settings

This means that if you’re targeting the state of Minnesota, a searcher does NOT need to be physically located in Minnesota to see your ad. Google will show ads to out-of-state searchers who include a Minnesota-related word or phrase in their search, or who “show interest” in Minnesota based on their browsing and search history.

For some advertisers, this default setting is a good option. Let's say you're advertising a high-end restaurant in downtown Minneapolis and you want to target local residents and business travelers. Google’s default settings allow your ad to appear to the foodie who lives in the North Loop, as well as the businesswoman in Boston who’s planning her upcoming trip to the Twin Cities.

Similarly, there are some businesses for whom it makes more sense to choose “People in my targeted location.” A flower company might want to limit their targeting to specific zip codes within their delivery area.

Finally, you have the option to target “People searching for my targeted location.” This setting is similar to the default option, but requires that the searcher shows some locational intent within their search or based on their browsing/search history. Just being in the targeted location doesn’t necessarily make you eligible to see an ad in this case.

Advertisers can also exclude locations, which comes with similar advanced location options. Once again, the default option is to exclude “People in, searching for, or who show interest in my excluded location,” which might not be the right option for all campaigns.

To fully control where (and to whom) your ads are served, advertisers must utilize targeted locations, excluded locations, and advanced locations options in tandem. This tricky web of configurations can be overwhelming and confusing, but ultimately provides advertisers flexibility to help maximize ROI.


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