A Guide to Optimal Campaign Settings for AdWords in 2014 for Savvy Advertisers

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A Guide to Optimal Campaign Settings for AdWords in 2014 for Savvy Advertisers

I have noticed that campaign settings in AdWords don’t get a lot of coverage in the PPC industry. The more extravagant subjects like remarketing tactics, Authorship removal, Quality Score or negative keywords tend to get all the attention from influencers in the industry.

However, what all these posts don’t tell you is that unless you set the right campaign settings, your campaigns will always be limited.

Compare it to running a marathon, but you forgot to put on your shoes. Yes, you can do your best to walk ahead, but you’ll never go full speed and you definitely won’t  finish first.

Today, I’m sharing the campaign settings that I use to ensure I can finish on top with all my AdWords Search campaigns.

Focus on One Network at a Time: Don’t Include Search and Display Together

One of the first tips I ever received in PPC was to not include the Search and Display Networks in the same AdWords campaign.

Today, six years later, that advice still applies. Even though you have new campaign types like Search with Display Select, which should ensure you’re only getting relevant impressions from the Display Network, you still don’t want to use the Search and Display Networks together.

Sources like Wordstream have reported decent performance with the new campaign type; however, I often compare Search with Display Select to AdWords Express Campaigns. They can be good if you have a low budget and don’t know much about AdWords; but if you want to be serious about your AdWords advertising, you need to create a separate campaign to target the Display Network.

The two best arguments for doing this are:

  1. If you don’t, your CTR and Impression trends will be impossible to see in graphs as you can’t filter the Display or Search Network out of graphs
  2. You can’t write different text ads for the Display Network. The Display Network is essentially a Push Marketing method and requires substantially different ads than the Search Network, which is Pull Marketing.

Furthermore, your Display Network campaign structure needs to be different and you must prioritize negative keywords as only 50 negative keywords are applied to a given Display campaign.

Always Include the Search Partner Network When Starting a New AdWords Campaign

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of new clients have turned off the Search Partner Network from their search campaigns. When my team asked the client about their reasoning, almost all of them answered they had read somewhere that you should only focus on Google Search.

Somehow the Search Partner Network has been given a bad reputation. I tried looking for reputable blogs that had written poorly about the Search Partner Network, but I couldn’t find anything.

On the contrary, my industry colleague Sam Owen wrote positively about it and we even have a SEJ post from this year about how to make Search Partners work for you.

I always recommend starting out with Search Partners if you have room in your budget. After a month or two, you will be able to analyze the results and make a decision based on the key performance metrics you’re seeing.

Note: If you are targeting a big nationwide audience and you don’t have a big budget, no, you might not want to include the Search Partner network from the beginning. But, if you have room in your budget to spend about 10-15 percent extra and get 10-15 percent additional revenue then I highly recommend you use the Search Partner network.

Target the Languages the Demographic in Your Location Targeting Speak

If you’re targeting an area where your target audience might be speaking a language other than English, you want to pay special attention to this section.

One of the most misunderstood parts of the AdWords campaign settings interface is the language setting. The language setting allows you to target users who have chosen a specific language as the interface language in their browser or within their Google account.

It has nothing to do with what language a person searches in – it’s all about their browser/Google account settings.

So if you’re targeting Florida and don’t have Spanish as a language, you’re missing out on a big part of your potential traffic gains. As I write in my (free) book “The Proven AdWords Strategy,” you should always target at least English and Spanish if you’re in the US.

In Canada, about 22 percent of the Canadian population speaks French. By not including French as the targeted language, you’re essentially missing out on 15-22 percent of your traffic potential.

Use Specific Areas Within the Area You Want to Target

I used to be a big fan of radius targeting for local businesses. The theory is very good:

  • You only target potential customers who are able and willing to drive to your store


  • You only target potential customers that you are willing to drive to in order to provide your service

However, as time went by, I found that solely basing my targeting on a radius is not as effective as it could be.

First of all, with the addition of Enhanced Campaigns you’re able to implement location bid adjustments according to how individual cities and zip codes perform. The way to enable this is by targeting individual cities or states within the greater area you’re targeting.

If you’re targeting the entire US, you should add all states individually to your campaign location targeting instead of just saying US. Doing so will enable you to analyze the results by state more easily and at the end, it will enable you to implement bid adjustments that will further increase your ROI:

Location targeting by state screenshot

If you’re targeting a smaller area like a 50 mile radius, you should target all the individual cities in that area. Doing so will not only help you pinpoint areas where you’re performing well, but you might have a popular local competitor in a certain city that you can’t compete with.

Excluding this city from your location targeting will enable you to focus your ad dollars where it will have the biggest returns.

Stick to Manual CPC Bidding and Potentially Enhanced Bidding

Unless you are new to AdWords and are managing an AdWords account with a lot of conversions, I don’t advise using the Google AdWords CPA bidding function.

In my experience, the Google CPA bidding is inferior to manually analyzing the data. Where the CPA bidding feature don’t take the full picture into account, a person can analyze all the necessary factors and come up with the most cost-effective solution. For example:

  • CTR: You need to balance your CTR with your conversion rate/CPA. If you have a very high conversion rate, you tend to have a lower CTR. The goal is to find the optimal balance.
  • CPA: CPA is just one piece of the puzzle. Unless you’re running a very clear-cut lead generation campaign, various conversions will have different values. If you have just one lead a month that buys ten times more than your average lead, you will be able to invest that much more in AdWords. Including all revenue generated from your AdWords campaign will enable you to increase your results further.
  • Ad Position: I’m a big fan of the top three ad positions. Within my AdWords best practices, I allow keywords that are tolerably below my CPA goal to stay in the top three. If reducing the CPC bid means reducing the ad position out of top three, I don’t change my bids, but optimize my ads to find a better way to make the position profitable.

So, if you know what you’re doing or don’t have +100 conversions per month I advise you stick to manual CPC bidding. For those new to PPC, this can be combined with Enhanced CPC bidding, but learning the basics of bid management is necessary.

Ensure Your Ads Show Every Time Users Search For Your Keywords

Depending on what ad delivery setting you choose, Google will either let your ads show every time a search query matches your keywords or they will show your ads intermittently.

The two different type of ad delivery settings are:

  • Standard delivery (Default setting): If you reach your daily budget too early one day, Google will start showing your ads intermittently other days.
  • Accelerated delivery: Google will show your ads every time a search query matches your keywords until you have no more budget that day.

In theory this is a very good mechanism. Nothing ruins your campaign performance more than only having your ads show in the morning time (unless you’re a breakfast restaurant), so having a standard feature that ensures your ads will be shown all day is a good idea.

However, the standard delivery feature can be compared to doctors only treating the symptoms and not the actual disease. If you’re reaching your budget before the end of the day, you’re paying too much per click.

Therefore, instead of letting the standard delivery feature limit your ads to only show intermittently, you should instead focus on adjusting your AdWords campaign, so you can be shown every single time instead of just being shown intermittently.

Let me show you a calculation:

Impressions limited by budget

The calculation shows how your budget limits the amount of impressions you receive every day.

By simply reducing your CPC and decreasing your ad position, you will be able to get many more clicks. Even though being in the top three provides additional branding value, the real value for businesses happens when a user clicks on your ad. That’s when a user can potentially convert into a customer – not before.

I have implemented this rule on a lot of different industries with dramatic results. Like the calculation suggests, you can actually triple your clicks (and conversions) by decreasing your CPC.

The only cases where I would recommend using Standard Delivery is when you’re in an industry with very low search volume. Low search volume industries require you to be in the top three ad positions; otherwise, you’ll simply not get any clicks.

Apply Ad Scheduling That Fit Your Business Objectives

Applying ad scheduling to your campaign is a requisite for getting the best ROI. If your call center is closed between 8 pm and 6 am, then it doesn’t make sense to run a lead generation campaign in this time-frame.

If you have statistically valid data showing people who search for your product convert at a much higher rate between 7 pm and 9 pm, increase your bidding in this time-frame.

Ad scheduling is quite simple, but many advertisers deem as too complex to implement.

The dangerous part about ad scheduling is if you don’t understand basic search behavior, you might an overly aggressive ad schedule. For instance, in some verticals users will search for products during the day at work and then finalize the purchase at home when they have their spouse or kids next to them.

Simply deeming the typical work hours as unprofitable will remove the foundation for profits at the end of the day.

Building and nurturing your sales pipeline is a big part of being a successful salesman and so is being a successful AdWords manager.

Rotate Your Ads so You Can Make a Cost-Benefit Analysis Including All Important Metrics – Not Just One

One argument that has split influencers in the last couple of years is whether to let Google choose the best performing ad or if you should do it yourself.

The biggest deciding factor for me is how quickly Google software starts showing one ad variation over another. If Google just sees a small variation in the data, the software will start showing one ad more often, and this will quickly skew the data. Because of this, I always use Rotate indefinitely in my campaign settings

I don’t quite understand why this happens. I’m sure there are a lot of very smart people at Google and I’m sure they know more about math than me, but it goes against all the best practices and knowledge being shared about split-testing.

Okay, Andrew, but why don’t you just choose optimize after 90 days in case you forget to review your split-test?

I hear you. First, you shouldn’t forget about split-tests. The reason why I don’t advise choosing Optimize after 90 days is that sometimes I simultaneously run two ads that perform the same. They might have a different message and appeal to different audiences, and thereby supplement each other perfectly. If I start letting Google rotate these after 90 days, I lose control again.

Work Smart and Let Google Worry About Misspellings, Plurals, and Close Variants

A newer setting I will touch upon briefly is the ability to let Exact and Phrase Match trigger searches that are plurals, misspellings, and other close variants.

To a large extent this is very helpful when you have a lot of low volume keywords. It can avoid making a big mess out of your AdWords campaign structure.

Just be careful if you have this setting enabled. You need to be on top of your primary keywords and make sure that plurals, singular, and misspellings convert the same.

In some verticals, you’ll see that misspellings or singular/plural convert with great variation. If you do see this trend, I suggest you create other campaigns for keywords that don’t do well with misspellings or singular/plural so that you can set the appropriate settings for these keywords alone.  

The Optimal Campaign Settings are Determined by Your Goals and Circumstances

Not all advertisers can follow these guidelines 100 percent. It’s important that you understand how the different settings interact with each other and how they can influence your campaign performance.

This goes along with many of the major best practices within Google AdWords. You can follow them and in the majority of all situations, you will be doing great.

But, if you just follow them blindly without considering your circumstances, you will undoubtedly run into trouble.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Illustration by White Shark Media. Used with permission.
Image 1: Location targeting by state screenshot, White Shark Media,  08/11/2014.
Image 2: Impressions limited by budget table, White Shark Media. Used with permission.

Andrew Lolk

Andrew Lolk

Lead PPC Manager, Founder at SavvyRevenue

Andrew is a paid search/social marketer, blogger, and entrepreneur. He's the founder of SavvyRevenue: Helping savvy eCommerce stores profit with ... [Read full bio]