SEO strategies play a key role in the success of search engine campaigns because of the importance of relevant content in the search marketing space. If search engines find the content of a page relevant to the keywords in a campaign, they will consider the page relevant and assign the keyword a higher quality score.
In the following guide, we will introduce the most important SEM campaign types and share best practices that have been developed after advertising and testing more than 10,000 campaigns, in more than 20 countries, and more than 25 industries.
Search Network Campaigns
Search campaigns are the most common campaign type on Google and Bing and they are very effective because they are based on the concept of the pull system. A pull system is any advertising methodology that delivers ads to an existing demand in the market. Pull systems are very effective because the potential target audience is aware they have a need and is looking for an immediate solution.
Search network ads are definitely the most expensive ad type on Google and Bing and they are the most likely one to get a higher conversion rate. The main downside of search ads is that sometimes the cost per click (CPC) might end up being too expensive which makes it difficult for small businesses to compete. Additionally, some industries might have a low search volume for their products and this causes advertisers to look for additional traffic sources.
Each search network campaign includes keywords, ad groups, ads, and extensions. Using best practices during the campaign setup and optimization is key to achieving successful results.
There is a strong bond between search campaigns and SEO strategies. Optimizing your website pages for keywords that you are actually targeting in your search campaigns will help your quality score. The better the quality score is the lower the cost per click will be. If you work hard to rank a page for a specific term you will end up benefiting Google AdWords and Bing Ads which will eventually find the page relevant for that target keyword.
Let’s know have a look at the most important elements of a Google AdWords search campaigns and find out what best practices can be used to improve the overall performance of a campaign.
Introduction to Keywords
Keywords are the terms that advertisers target in search campaigns because they believe that showing an ad for them is likely to generate clicks that will eventually generate new customers. However, there are thousand of new searches each month on Google and Bing for search terms that have never been searched before. This means advertisers needs to target keyword variations as well.
This can be done using keyword match types. There are four main keyword match types in Google AdWords and Bing, and each of them retrieves different keyword variations. Here is an explanation of what they are and what they can be used for:
- Broad Match: Your keyword can be matched with the exact keyword, a similar phrase phrases, singular or plural version of the keywords, misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other variations that Google considers relevant for your business.
- Broad Match Modifier: Your keyword can be matched with any search term as long as all the words in your keyword are in the search query of the user on Google no matter in what order.
- Phrase Match: Your keyword can be matched with the keyword itself and with terms including anything before and after the keyword. If your keyword has 2 or more words, all words have to show up in the search query with the same order. Words before or after are triggered by this match type.
- Exact Match: Your keyword has to be identical to the search query, no words before or after. All words have to show up in the search query with the same exact order of your target keyword. This match type doesn’t show your ad for any variation.
Here is an example of search queries that are retrieved by each of the keyword types:
|Keyword Match Type||Keyword in Google AdWords||Triggered Search Queries|
|Broad Match||Dog Store||Dog Food|
Dog stores near me
|Broad Match Modified||+Dog +Store||Best dog store|
Stores for dog
Affordable dog stores
|Phrase Match||“Dog Store”||Dog Store Directions|
Direction to the nearest dog store
Nearby dog store
|Exact Match||[Dog Store]||Dog store|
The keyword formatting we have used in the table above is the one you will need to use in the live AdWords and Bing interface to add keywords in it.
Choosing what keywords to advertise for and what match type to use is a very important decision and will have an important role in the success of your campaigns. Here is a list of best practices for keywords:
- Limit the use of broad match keywords. They are likely to generate clicks for terms that are too broad and might end up using the daily budget with little or no results. Broad match keywords perform quite well for some companies that have had them running for some time because Google and Bing use performance indicator such as the CTR to eventually understand what search terms are good or not in your campaign and optimize traffic delivery accordingly.
- Broad match modified keywords are a good compromise between reach and targeted traffic. This is the match type most businesses decide to get started with. Another good alternative is to start advertising using targeted keyword match types at first and then broaden up the targeting later on
- Use negative keywords. These keywords limit a number of keyword variations you will show up for. For instance, if your product isn’t free, you can stop your ads to appear for all searches that include the word free in them. Negative keywords have three match types which are broad, phrase, and exact. They work the same way of keyword match types but with the opposite goal.
Finding the right keywords is extremely important and requires thorough research. Google offers a great keyword research tool that can be accessed directly from the live interface in AdWords:
The tool enables users to insert a term or a group of terms and then suggests related ad groups and keywords. You can also insert terms you want to have in the suggested keywords or insert negative terms that you don’t want to be suggested:
The keyword planner is going to be the place where most of the campaign planning will start. There are a few strategies that allow the advertiser to make the most of this toll:
- Use as many negative keywords as possible. This is going to massively increase the quality of the suggested keywords.
- Research terms by related topics. Run multiple searches in the keyword tool and focus each search on a different topic to get the best amount of quality keyword suggestions
- Only select terms that indicate an intent to potentially needing your products or services. Stay away from searches that are too general such as searches including the work “picture”, “video”, “how to”, etc..
- Refine the research adding “keywords to include” to get laser targeted suggestions for terms that are extremely important for you.
- Quality is more important than quantity. Don’t add keywords to your campaigns simply because you want to have many terms.
- It is a best practice to use the keywords you research on Google in your Bing ads account. Then, optimize Bing campaigns based on the unique behavior of this platform
There are also two other ways for you to find additional terms. The first one consists of using the autocomplete function on Google.com. All you have got to do is to start a search and look at the autocomplete suggestions from Google. This will show you common combinations with the keywords you inserted in the search box and can be a gold mine for quality long tail keywords.
The second method to find additional keyword is keyword spy tools. These tools use large keywords databases to estimate with great precision the keyword being used by your competitors.
To learn more about PPC from Rocco (and his business partner and wife, Christina), check out this episode of Marketing Nerds:
Sorting Keywords in Ad Groups
Once the keywords have been found, advertisers need to sort them in ad groups. Each ad group should contain keywords that are related to each other. For instance, if you are selling animal products, ad groups could include but may not be limited to:
- Dog Food
- Hypoallergenic dog food
- Dog Puppy Food
- Cat Food
- Hypoallergenic cat food
- Rain Coats for dogs
- Dog t-shirts
As you can see above, each ad group has a theme. This theme indicates each of the keywords in a specific ad group are strictly related to each other. This carries several advantages. First of all, you will be able to have a panoramic of your performance by keyword “theme”. This is helpful to get an immediate snapshot of performance at any point in time.
Additionally, creating a structured ad group layout gives you the possibility to write laser targeted ads that are specific to the keywords in a given ad group. Including keywords in the ads is always recommendable, because it will increase the quality score of the keywords and consequently decrease the cost per click that you pay to show up in a given ad position.
Your quality score increases even more if you align keywords, ads, and landing page. This is why it is highly recommendable to optimize the content of your landing pages based target keywords the same way you do for SEO.
Getting The Hang of Ad Copywriting
Ads and extensions are the only part of your campaign set up that a potential client sees. Ads are more important than extensions because they show up on top and are seen first.
Google’s standard search ad is composed of four visible and one hidden field. The visible fields are the headline (25 characters maximum), the first description line (35 characters maximum), the second description line (35 characters maximum) and the display URL (35 characters maximum). Bing has the same structure but with one only description line of 71 characters. The display URL needs to include the root domain of your site, which is what comes after the www. All the way until the .com/ (or .org/, ./edu etc…). Anything after the “ / “ can be customized and doesn’t need to correspond to an actual page on the site.
The hidden field is called final URL and it is the actual landing page that you want to send traffic to.
Google recently starting to roll out a new, extended ad type. The new ad type will include two headlines of 25 characters each, a full 80 character description line, and two URL Paths which are nothing more than the possibility to include up to two “ / “ after the display URL as long as it won’t exceed the character limit of 35 (e.g. example.com/Buy-Now/Promo).
The final URL will be a hidden field, and this is where you will send your traffic to. The display URL will automatically pick up the root domain to use in your ad.
There are a lot of best practices that come in place with ads. Here are some of the most important ones that should help improve your performance right away:
- Test one element at the time. As we have seen before, each ad is organized in different lines of text. Each time you test ads with different elements in each line you won’t know the specific line of text that performed better because there are too many variables in the test
- Test different features and benefits of your products or services in the description lines and find the ones that earn the best CTR and conversion rate. Once you figure out the features or benefits that work best, you can test them in other marketing channels and see if they improve their performance.
- Tell people what you would like them to do on your site. Using a clear call to action such as learn more, buy now, and call us increases the chances of actually having people perform that action. People are subconsciously influenced by what you ask them to do.
- Use a period at the end of the description line one. It will move the first description line next to the headline creating a bigger ad. A bigger ad is going to grab more attention and generate more clicks to the website.
- Select landing pages that are relevant to the ads and keywords that you selected. If your page is not optimized for your target keywords, there is a high chance you will not perform well from a quality score standpoint
Extensions Will Increase Ads’ Performance
Google offers a lot of extension types for the search network. Extensions provide additional information about a business and help searchers make better decisions.
The most important extensions are:
- Sitelink extensions: these are additional lines of text that appear below the ad and direct people to different pages of your site other than the final URL. Searchers can use site link extensions to navigate to a page that is the most relevant to their needs
- Callout extensions: These are additional lines of text that appear below an ad and provide additional information about a product or service. They are not clickable and therefore cannot send users to a specific page of the website
- Call extensions: Your ad will display a phone number that people can call to get in touch with your business. Call extensions have a click to call function on mobile devices.
- Location extensions: This extension adds the address of your business in an ad. You cannot manually insert the address, but this is automatically picked up from Google MyBusiness.
- Review extensions: This extension provides the opportunity to showcase our product or service mentioning reliable third-party websites that are positively talking about it.
You can find a complete list of extensions here.
As a rule of thumb, extensions should always provide additional information to what you are already writing in the ad. This is going to engage the searcher and increase clicks to the website.
Choose The Right Campaign Settings
The last step in setting up a campaign on the search network is selecting the right settings for the campaign.
Here is a collection of best practices for campaigns’ settings:
- Rotate ads indefinitely: There is nothing worse than creating a lot of ad tests and not distributing traffic evenly across the different ad variations. Indefinite rotation is more work because it requires frequent tune-ups, but it’s the best way to effectively test ads.
- Show your ads for people searching for products or services in your area if they are physically located outside of your geographic target.
- Show your ads only during the days and hours you know perform well for your business. If you don’t have this information you can start advertising 24/7 and then tune it up once have data.
- Apply bid modifiers for geographic locations, hours, days, and devices. This will help you use your budget more effectively. The more data you have, the more bid modifiers you should use.
- Test search partners to check whether they are worth running or not. Search partners are high-quality search engine websites that are affiliated with Google and show ads from AdWords Accounts. You will be able to breakdown performance and see how search partners are doing at any point in time.
- Google offers a display campaign that can run a search campaign called display select. Don’t use it right away. Wait until you collect a month worth of conversion data and then test it. Over time, display select will likely become an essential component of your whole Google AdWords strategy.
- Automatic bidding is a great option if you don’t want to set up bids for each single keyword. However, you will be losing some control over keywords and won’t be able to create keyword specific bid strategies. Start with manual bidding and then switch to a cost per acquisition (CPA) bidding once your campaign has accumulated enough conversions to be able to predict how to automatically serve your ads to get more conversions at a lower cost. Google requires 15 conversions a month to be able to run CPA bidding, but the more conversions you have, the more effective this bidding strategy will be.
Maintenance and Optimization Best Practices
Having an effective optimization strategy has a huge impact on the cost per acquisition. Each account is going to need custom optimization strategies depending on performance and how it has been built out. However, there is a set of best practices that can be used in all accounts on a regular basis to maximize performance:
- Analyze search term reports with the goal of finding long tail search terms to add to your campaigns. Long tail keywords are keywords with three or more words in them. They are very targeted and usually don’t have huge search volumes but they can convert at a better CPA.
- Analyze a search term reports with the goal of finding terms to add as additional negative keywords to your account. This is going to help decrease budget that is being used on irrelevant search terms.
- Look at the geographic performance of each campaign at the city or even zip code level. Smart advertisers will apply geographic bid modifiers based on performance. This information is available in the location tab of each campaign.
- Periodically run ad tests to find out what ads perform the best. Once you find them, don’t stop testing but keep trying new variations that could improve your CTR or conversions.
- Check your performance on different devices and adjust your bidding accordingly. You shouldn’t simply turn off mobile if it is underperforming, but you should rather consider optimizing your mobile site for better performance.
- Adjust your bids based on the performance by day and hour. The more data you collect, the better it is because it allows you to take statistically relevant decisions.
Shopping campaigns are Google specific campaigns and are most often used by retailers. These campaigns are highly automated and advertise all or selected part of the products of a business based on a feed which can be manually or automatically uploaded in Google. This campaign type cannot be used by companies offering a service. It also doesn’t use keywords, but Google will look at the content of the feed to determine whether a search could be relevant for a business or not. Shopping campaigns are displayed on the search network together with regular search ads:
Most businesses use website plugins that automatically create product feeds based on the content of a website. This means the more each product page is optimized for the best keywords, the more impressions it will receive.
Shopping campaigns can also be organized in ad groups which can each target a specific section of the feed, such as different product categories, brands, or custom parameters. The advantage of breaking down the feed in ad groups is the possibility to easily get a snapshot of the performance of your group of products but also to assign custom negative keywords for just one ad group rather than for all products in a feed. For instance, if you are selling used and new clothes you would need to add the negative term “used” only to new products.
Shopping campaigns can assign custom bids all the way to the product level. You can decide to assign a standard bid for a product category (or brand or any other variable) and then increase or decrease the bid for the needs of a specific product.
Shopping campaigns aren’t as easy at it might seem, and optimizing the feed to appear for more searches is extremely important. Here is a list of best practices to generate better performance:
- Segment your campaign in as many product groups as possible to customize the bidding strategy accordingly to your goals.
- Create custom bids for each item in your feed. Customizing your bids is the best way to increase traffic for well performing terms and reduce it for the ones that are not profitable.
- Have keyword rich product titles and descriptions in your feed. As mentioned earlier, shopping campaigns don’t have keywords, and therefore the feed quality is extremely important. Think of a shopping feed as a piece of content that needs to be optimized for SEO purposes.
- Create one feed per country you want to advertise in.
- Segment your shopping campaigns by mirroring the structure on your website. This will also simplify your work in the account since you will know where to look for in AdWords if you need to optimize a specific item.
- Use the bid modifier as you would do for a search campaign. This is going to help improve the overall performance of the shopping campaign.
Display campaigns are another great option for advertisers that are looking to generate solid traffic at a good cost per click. Display campaigns promote text ads or banner on websites that partner with Google and agree to host ad spaces on their pages.
Advertisers can target potential clients based on four target criteria and any combination of them: Placements (which are pages you want to show ads on), keywords, topics (group of websites that have content about similar topics), and remarketing.
The Google Display Network also has a quality score metric that influences ad performance. Once again, the quality of the content plays a big role in increasing the quality score. The biggest elements influencing the quality score on display network are:
- The ad performance on similar sites
- The alignment between keywords and landing page
- The alignment between the content of a placement and the landing page
Setting up and managing display campaigns can be done much more effectively by using some best practices that will save you time and money. Let’s have a look at some of them now:
- Break down campaigns in ad groups similar to they way you would in a search network. This allows you to customize the landing pages you send traffic to and boost the quality score.
- Block ads from appearing on mobile apps. Most times these placements generate involuntary clicks due to the small dimensions of the screen. Some business types might benefit from ads in mobile apps, so you need to evaluate this best practice on a case by case basis.
- Create a list of placements that you don’t want to show up for and add them as negative placements. Also look for placements that aren’t performing well and add them to the negative placements list.
- Increase the bid for placements that are performing well. This is going to help get more traffic from websites that are generating ales.
- Use advanced remarketing targeting options and have AdWords find additional customers based on the analysis of your own conversion data.
- Test text ads and banner ads in different ad groups to have the maximum control over the performance of the campaigns.
- Always run tests at the creative level to constantly improve performance. You shouldn’t be testing more than one element at a time or you won’t be able to tell what element of the ad is helping.
There are different ways to create a search network campaign, researching the best practices that apply to your strategy is key. Analyzing your current market will bring forth crucial information needed to make your campaign a success. The most important thing is to remember there is a strong bond between search campaigns and SEO strategies.
Optimizing your website pages for keywords you are actually targeting in your search campaigns will help your quality score. The better the quality score is, the lower your the cost per click, which means you can get more clicks within your budget. Additionally, if you work hard to rank a page for a specific term you may end up benefiting Google AdWords and Bing Ads, which will eventually find the page relevant for that target keyword.
Featured Image: Image by Paulo Bobita
All screenshots by Rocco Baldassarre. Taken June 2016.