The other day I was on a call with a client who outsources his AdWords work to me. This guy is a big player in the medical marketing space and he outsources his clients’ AdWords accounts to me to manage on an ongoing basis.
We were doing our routine monthly call so I could catch him up on the status of some of his accounts. Things started to get very detailed as we got deeper and deeper into the accounts. And at one point he blurts out “man, Jason, I hate this sh*t! Do you do this everyday?” I laughed and said, “all day, every day.”
And it’s true. I’m in AdWords all day, every day managing my clients’ accounts. I’m in AdWords everyday so I know the technical side of AdWords like Tony Soprano knows extortion. AdWords is my racket and I know it front to back. But at the same time, I remember when I was starting out and how complex the AdWords process and dashboards seemed, so I can definitely understand my client’s frustration.
That interaction, and the countless other hours I’ve spent discussing and explaining AdWords to clients, has motivated me to write a guide that explains what things you should know about AdWords before you start advertising and spending money on AdWords. This article will lay out the 11 things you absolutely must know about AdWords before you start using it, and I’ll link to important resources that go more in depth on each topic.
1. AdWords is not a magic pill that will save your business.
Search engine marketing through Google’s AdWords platform is hands-down the absolute best, most effective form of marketing on the planet. You only pay when people click on your ads and go to your website, and more importantly, you get to advertise to people who are actively searching for exactly what you sell. All that said though, Google AdWords is not a magic pill that can save your business.
Before you have success on AdWords, you have to have a business that’s capable of being successful. You have to sell a product or services that people want to buy, you have to price your products at a level people are willing to pay, and you have to have processes in place and be able to successfully run your business. You also have to have a decent website or landing page.
If you don’t have all of the above (as Marcus Lemonis says, people, product, and process), then AdWords isn’t going to help you make money. AdWords is the best form of marketing that exists, but it isn’t a cure-all that will magically save your broken business. You have to have a successful business first, and then you can use Google AdWords to make your business even more successful.
Recommend resources on how to make your business successful:
- How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It by Mark Cuban
- The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth – James Altucher
2. How AdWords works.
The second thing to know about AdWords before you start spending money on it, is how AdWords actually works! You’d be shocked if you knew how many people start spending their marketing budget on AdWords before they even know how the platform works. To be honest, it’s probably the majority of advertisers.
But that’s okay. The more people who don’t know what they’re doing on AdWords, the easier it makes it for people who know what they’re doing to achieve AdWords success.
So how does AdWords work? At its core, AdWords is an auction system. But the auction system isn’t based solely on money and how much you bid for a keyword. The auction system is based on who has the highest Ad Rank for a given keyword auction. Whoever has the highest Ad Rank gets to the highest ad position and shows up highest in the ad rankings.
What is Ad Rank? Ad Rank is a number based on three things: your bid amount, your keyword quality score (1 to 10), and your use of ad extensions.
Ad Rank formula = Your bid amount × keyword quality score × ad extensions
That’s what we know. What we don’t know is what weight is given to each factor. But most people believe that the bid amount and the keyword quality score are given lots of weight, while ad extensions is a smaller factor in Ad Rank.
The bid amount is completely under your control. The more you bid for a keyword the higher your Ad Rank goes.
The keyword quality score is under your control, for the most part. But getting a good keyword quality score isn’t as easy as saying “okay I want to bid $5 on this keyword.” It takes a lot of knowledge and skill to raise keyword quality scores and it’s beyond the scope of this article. But just know that the more relevant your ads and landing pages are to the keyword, the higher your keyword quality score will be. Also, something to keep in mind is that clickthrough rate (CTR) is the biggest determinant of keyword quality score. The higher your CTR is, the higher your keyword quality score will be.
And the use of ad extensions is completely under your control for the most part. The more ad extensions you use, and the more effectively you use them, the higher your Ad Rank score will be.
What we’ve learned here is that AdWords is not purely based on bidding the most money. Look at the following (simplified) example.
Advertiser A bids $2 and has a keyword quality score of 5.
$2 bid × 5 keyword quality score = Ad Rank of 10
Advertiser B bids $1.50 and has a keyword quality score of 9.
$1.50 bid × 9 keyword quality score = Ad Rank of 13.5
Since Advertiser A has an Ad Rank of 9 and Advertiser B has an Ad Rank of 13.5, Advertiser B’s ad will show in a higher ad position than Advertiser A’s ad, even though Advertiser B is bidding less than Advertiser A.
This is a simplified example, but the above information lays out how AdWords is run on an auction system and how Ad Rank (not just how much money you bid) is what the auction is based on.
If you know how AdWords works before you start using it, then your chances of success will go way up. Take some time to study how AdWords works before you start using it.
Recommend resource on Ad Rank:
- Ad Rank – Google AdWords Help
3. Define a “Conversion.” What’s your goal?
Before you start AdWords you should know what your goal from using AdWords is. Why are you using AdWords? What do you want to accomplish? What’s the goal?
You should absolutely have your goal from AdWords defined before you start using AdWords.
In AdWords, we call your goal a conversion. Google defines a conversion as:
A conversion happens when someone clicks your ad and then takes an action that you’ve defined as valuable to your business, such as an online purchase or a call to your business from a mobile phone.
So basically a goal is usually either a lead or a sale. Know what your goal from using AdWords is before you start using AdWords, and let that goal guide the entire process of setting up and running your account.
4. Landing pages matter.
AdWords is only half the battle in achieving success from AdWords. The other half is having a decent website that can get the job done once the AdWords traffic lands on your site.
My thinking on landing pages breaks down into three filters that you need to pass through in order to have a landing page that can get the job done for you.
a) Have a decent website.
The first filter is to have a decent website. What does decent mean? There’s no way to define decent. It’s just a judgement call and a gut feeling. Everybody knows what a horrible website looks like. And everyone knows that a good website looks like. Make sure the website you’re paying Google to send people to is closer to the good end of the spectrum than the horrible end of the spectrum. And if you don’t have a good website, you should invest in a good website before you start spending money on AdWords.
b) Make sure you take the user to the correct page.
Once you have a good website, the next filter is make sure you send the AdWords user to the correct page on your website.
The classic example is as follows. Let’s say you are a clothing website that sells socks and t-shirts, and you’re going to advertise for both products on AdWords. Some ads will promote socks, and some ads will promote t-shirts.
What you need to do is make sure that your ads for socks take people to the socks’ page, and your ads for t-shirts take people to the t-shirts’ page.
And better yet, if you advertise for “athletic socks” then that ad should take people to the athletic socks’ page, and if you advertise for “black t-shirts” then that ad should take people to the black t-shirts’ page.
Taking people to the correct landing page is crucial, and it can make or break your ability to profitably run an AdWords campaign.
c) Make it easy for the user to accomplish the goal.
Assuming you have a good website and take AdWords users to the correct landing page, the final filter to get through is to make sure that you make it as easy as possible for your AdWords traffic to convert and accomplish your goal.
Remember number 4 above, defining your conversion? Make sure that your website and landing pages are consistent with your conversion goals.
If your goal is to get phone calls, then you better have your phone number readily accessible on the landing page.
If your goal is to get sales, then you better have a quality e-commerce experience so your users can easily make a purchase.
AdWords users are Google users, and Google provides its users with millions of search results for them to choose from. When someone comes to your website from Google, they are choosing you at that moment, but they can (and will) click the back button and browse their other options if you don’t make it as easy as possible for them to convert.
Make sure your landing page is designed to help the user convert and accomplish your goal from using AdWords.
5. Search vs Display
Google has four major advertising platforms. The search network, which is your regular old Google search with text ads. Shopping ads, which are product ads that show up in the search results. The display network, which are text and display ads that show up on millions of websites and apps. And finally, the YouTube video ad network.
In 2015 as of this writing, the default campaign setting when you create a new AdWords campaign is “Search Network With Display Select.” If you leave this setting on your new campaign, you leave yourself vulnerable to showing lots of display ads.
“Search Network With Display Select” means that Google will show your ads on the search network, but they’ll also show your ads in the display network on websites and apps they deem to be highly relevant to the keywords you’re targeting.
The first thing you need to do is change the default setting to make sure you’re only advertising on the search network in your search campaign. If you want to advertise on the display network, set up another campaign for display ads.
Display advertising is very different from search advertising. It’s good for branding and retargeting, but the initial click conversion rate is much lower than search because the display ad traffic is not people who are actively searching for exactly what you sell, like it is with the search network.
Before you start advertising on Google, make sure you know which of the four Google advertising networks you want to advertise on, and then adjust your campaign settings to make sure you’re targeting the network you want to be targeting.
And keep it mind, if you’re new to AdWords and want to run ads on Google searches, then make sure you select the search network only, as the network targeting setting on your settings page.
Recommend resource on campaign types:
- Choosing the campaign type that’s right for you – Google AdWords Help
6. Advanced location targeting.
Not knowing about advanced location targeting is one of the most common problems I see when clients hire me to audit their AdWords account. People think they’re targeting certain locations without realizing they’re paying for clicks from many other locations.
For example, a moving company client in Dallas will think he’s targeting the city of Dallas, and then I’ll audit his AdWords account and show him that yes, while he is targeting the city of Dallas, he has also been paying for clicks from as far away as California and India.
When you set up a new AdWords campaign, you set your location targeting and select the cities, states, etc. that you want to target.
But there is an advanced location targeting option hidden in a drop down below the location targeting area. In this advanced location targeting area, you can choose to target either “people in my targeted location” or “people in, searching for, or viewing pages about my targeted location.” The second option is the default setting, and that is the way most AdWords advertisers are targeting their selected locations.
When you’re targeting “people in, searching for, or viewing pages about my targeted location,” you leave yourself open to having your ad shown in, and paying for clicks from, anywhere in the world. This is how a moving company in Dallas can target the city of Dallas and still get clicks from places as far away as California and India.
Some of the time the “people in, searching for, or viewing pages about…” option is preferable, but most often targeting “people in your location” is going to be the best location targeting option. Knowing about this advanced location setting before you start running your AdWords campaign can save you a lot of wasted clicks and budget.
Recommend resources on campaign types:
- Understanding advanced location options – Google AdWords Help
- 10 Tips For Making A Great AdWords Campaign (see number 8) – Rothman PPC
7. You can control mobile.
When you run ads through Google’s AdWords system, your ads can show up in any of three places: desktop computers, tablets, and mobile phones. And the performance of your ads will vary across all three device types.
Your ads will always show up on desktops and tablets in normal search campaigns. But you can control whether or not your ads show up on mobile phones. You can adjust mobile bids by up to +300% or down to -100%, and if you adjustment to -100% your ads won’t show up on mobile phones.
You make the mobile bid adjustments on the “Devices” page when you’re in the settings tab.
Should you run mobile ads?
Sometimes mobile ads work great, and sometimes they perform horribly. It just depends on the industry you’re advertising in, your AdWords goals, and your website.
I recommend leaving mobile on with no bid adjustment when you start running your campaign, and then monitor mobile results over the next few weeks. At that point you can decide whether or not mobile bids should be adjusted up or down.
In my experience, mobile ads work especially well when you need to generate calls to your business. Examples of this kind of advertising where mobile ads work great and lead to phone calls, would be moving companies advertising for moving leads and locksmiths advertising for people stranded with a car they can’t unlock.
Always try mobile out to see if it works, but understand that you have control over your mobile ads, and if you need to, you can decide to stop advertising on mobile phones.
Recommend resource on bid adjustments:
- About bid adjustments – Google AdWords Help
8. Keyword match types.
Understanding keyword match types is crucial to AdWords success. And understanding keywords match types before you start advertising on AdWords is crucial to not wasting money.
Keyword match types control what searches your ads show up on.
There are five keywords match types:
- Exact match
- Phrase match
- Broad match
- Broad match modified
- Negative match
Exact match keywords have brackets around them and are written like this:
With this targeting, your ad would only show up if someone types in the exact keyword search of moving companies.
Phrase match keywords have quotations around them and are written like this:
With this targeting, your ad would show up if someone types in a search that includes the moving companies phrase, so your ad could show up if someone searched best moving companies or moving companies near me.
Broad match keywords are targeted as is and have no other punctuation around them. They are simply the keyword you want to target and written like this:
With this broad targeting your ad would show up on relevant variations of your keyword, including synonyms, singular and plural forms, possible misspellings, and stemmings, according to Google. Broad match is the loosest form of keyword targeting and could cause your ads targeting the keyword moving companies to show up on searches like moving boxes or moving van or movers near me.
Broad Match Modified
Broad match modified keywords are broad match keywords with a plus sign attached to the front of one or more of the words in the keyword phrase. Broad match keywords are written like:
+moving companies or +moving +companies
Broad match modified keywords have the same targeting parameters as broad match keywords, but the only difference is that any words in the keyword phrase that have the + sign attached to them have to be included in the users search phrase or else your ad won’t show up. Broad match modified keywords are a great way to get the high volume benefits of broad match targeting, while also keeping your traffic quality high.
Negative keywords block your ad from showing when a negative keyword is included in a user’s search phrase. Negative keywords can be added as exact match, phrase match, or broad match. Using negative keywords can keep your traffic quality high and ensure that your budget is spent only on relevant keyword searches
The Big Mistake
The big mistake that many new AdWords advertisers make is that they don’t understand keyword match types and they overuse broad match keywords. Many new advertisers also fail to use negative keywords.
Using too many broad match keywords, or only broad match keywords, leaves you way, way too exposed and vulnerable to showing up on and getting clicks from searches that have nothing to do with your business. This results in paying for clicks and wasting budget on people who will never become a paying customer.
A clear example is with moving companies. If a moving company targeted the broad match version of moving companies they could easily show up on searches like moving vans or even storage companies. Neither of these searches is going to ever result in a paying customer and it’s just wasted budget. But I’ve seen this scenario over and over where new AdWords advertisers only target broad match keywords and don’t include negative keywords.
Study up on keyword match types before you start running your new AdWords campaign, and make a match type plan to ensure that you don’t waste your budget on getting clicks from irrelevant searches.
Recommend resource on keyword match types:
- AdWords Keyword Match Types Explained – Rothman PPC
9. Run the search terms report.
The “search terms report” is one of the best kept secrets in the Google AdWords platform. The search terms report provides you with absolute golden information that you’ll need once you start running your AdWords campaigns. And understanding the search terms report before you start using AdWords is giving you such a leg up on your competition it’s not even funny.
The search term reports tells you what people actually searched for in Google when they saw and/or clicked on your ads.
Let me repeat that because it’s so important… the search term reports tells you what people actually searched for in Google when they saw and/or clicked on your ads.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself, but won’t my ads only show up on the keywords that I target?
The answer is yes and no. If you are just using exact match keywords like [keyword here] then yes, the searches your ads show up on will be very close to the keyword you’re targeting.
But if you’re targeting phrase match and broad match keywords then the searches your ads show up on could be searches that are very different than the keywords you’re targeting.
For example, say you are a plumbing company in Tampa, Florida and you’re targeting the phrase match keyword “plumbing companies.” With this targeting (assuming no negative keywords) your ad could show up on the search “how much do plumbing companies pay their employees.” Obviously that is not a search term that you want to pay money to run your ads on and get clicks from. The person searching that term has zero intent of hiring a plumbing company.
The point is that without reviewing the search terms report you would have never known that you were showing up (and paying for clicks) on such an ineffective search. But luckily for you, the search terms report will show you that you were showing up on an ineffective search, and then you can add a negative keyword to block your ads from showing up on ineffective searches like that one.
The search terms report is one of the most important tools you can use for managing an AdWords account, and the sooner you know about it and get familiar with it, the better.
Take some time to study the search terms report before your start running your AdWords campaign, and then review the search terms report on a regular basis once your campaign is live.
Recommend resource on the search terms report:
- Understanding the Search terms report – Google AdWords Help
10. Add the columns you want to see.
The “AdWords columns” I’m referring to are columns of data you see in the AdWords dashboard on the various tabs and pages of reporting data, like the campaigns tab, the ad groups tab, the ads tab, and the keywords tab.
In Adwords, like in many lines of business, you make decisions based on the performance data you receive, so the quality and amounts of that performance data is key.
AdWords puts in a default set of data columns on each tab, but they don’t provide enough information to make quality decisions on. I recommend adding multiple columns to your tabs. And then I recommend saving those column sets so you can easily put them back in place if your column settings get removed, which happens from time to time when AdWords gets updated by Google.
The first thing you should do after you create a campaign in Google, is to go through the campaigns tab, ad groups tab, ads tab, and keywords tab and set up the custom columns you want to see on each tab, and then save those column settings.
Recommend resource on columns:
- Use columns to find specific performance data – Google AdWords Help
11. Don’t forget about the ad extensions.
My final piece of advice on what to know before you start running an AdWords campaign is to make sure you don’t forget about the ad extensions. The ad extensions are found in the ad extensions tab, and using them can increase your Ad Rank, which can help your ads show up higher and more often without having to bid more.
The ad extensions I always like to use are the call extension, location extension, sitselinks, callouts, and the review extension.
When you use the ad extensions, you have no control over how often Google puts them in your ads. Basically, you just turn them on, and then Google decides how often they show up in your ads.
Use as many of the ad extensions as you can. Using them can make your ad area larger, they can increase clickthrough rate, and again, just using them can increase your Ad Rank.
Also, many AdWords advertisers don’t know about the ad extensions or are too lazy to use them, so it’s a great way to gain an advantage over the competition.
Don’t forget to use the ad extensions!
Recommend resource on ad extensions:
- Enhance your ad with extensions – Google AdWords Help