Google AdWords is a highly effective marketing channel for brands to engage with customers.
The auction-based pay-per-click (PPC) model has revolutionized the advertising industry, but beneath the seductive simplicity of this input-output relationship lies a highly sophisticated technology.
Within this article, we round up five advanced features that can help you gain that vital competitive advantage.
Google AdWords has undergone a host of changes over the past 12 months, some cosmetic and some functional. Google’s prime revenue-driver has a new, intuitive look and feel that makes it even easier for marketers to assess performance and spot new opportunities.Under the hood, AdWords is home to some increasingly sophisticated machine learning technology. Everything from bid adjustments to audience behavior and even search intent is now anlyzed by machine learning algorithms to improve ad targeting and performance.
All of this is changing how we run search campaigns, largely for the better.
Meanwhile, there are broad trends that continue to converge with search. Voice-activated digital assistants, visual search, and the ongoing growth of ecommerce all center around Google’s search engine.
At the intersection of Google and these emerging trends, paid search will evolve and new ways to reach audiences will arise.
Though this future-gazing reveals just how exciting the industry is, marketers also need to keep one eye firmly on the present.
As it stands, AdWords provides a vast array of features, all of which can impact campaign performance. Though automation is taking over more aspects of the day-to-day running of an account, there is arguably more need than ever before for seasoned paid search experts how know how to get the most out of the platform.
Below are five advanced AdWords features that can boost any PPC campaign.
For all of AdWords’ virtues, it has not been able to rival Facebook in terms of sheer quantity of demographic targeting options.
As part of Google’s ongoing shift from a keyword focus to a customer-centric approach, demographic targeting has improved very significantly.
This feature now allows advertisers to target customers by income and parental status, along with gender and age. Targeting by income is only available for video advertising and is restricted to the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand for the moment.
Nonetheless, this is a noteworthy update and provides an advanced feature that many brand will welcome.
The available options now include:
Demographic targeting for Search, Display or Video campaigns:
- Age: “18-24,” “25-34,” “35-44,” “45-54,” “55-64,” “65 or more,” and “Unknown”
- Gender: “Female,” “Male,” and “Unknown”
Demographic targeting for Display or Video campaigns can include:
- Parental status: “Parent,” “Not a parent,” and “Unknown”
Demographic targeting for Video campaigns can include:
- Household income (currently available in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand only): “Top 10%,” “11-20%,” “21-30%,” “31-40%,” “41-50%,” “Lower 50%,” and “Unknown”
Combined with the improved user interface, this can lead to some illuminating reports that highlight more detail about audiences than we have ever seen in this platform.
It’s not perfect yet and has some drawbacks in practice, as creating audiences can be quite labor-intensive when combining different filters. Nonetheless, demographic targeting is improving and will be an area of focus for Google this year.
Our previous article on demographic targeting goes into more detail on how to set this feature up.
A very natural byproduct of the increase in mobile searches has been an explosion in the number of calls attributed to paid search.
In fact, BIA/Kelsey projects that there will be 162 billion calls to businesses from smartphones by 2019.
Search forms a fundamental part of this brand-consumer relationship, so businesses are understandably keen to ensure they are set up to capitalize on such heightened demand.
Click-to-call can be an overlooked opportunity, as it does require a little bit of setup. If advertisers want to add call extensions, report specifically on this activity, and even schedule when these extensions appear, it is necessary to do this manually within AdWords.
Helpfully, it is now possible to enable call extensions across an account, simplfying what was once a cumbersome undertaking.
This is becoming an automated process in some aspects, whereby Google will identify landing pages that contain a phone number and generate call extensions using this information. However, some manual input will be required to get the most out of this feature.
Our step-by-step guide contains a range of handy tips for marketers who woud like to enable click-to-call campaigns.
Optimized ad rotation
Google made some very notable changes to its ad rotation settings in the second half of 2017.
In essence, ad rotation constantly tests different ad variations to find the optimal version for your audience and campaign KPIs.
Google’s machine learning technology is a natural fit for such a task, so it is no surprise that Google wants to take much of the ad rotation process out of the hands of advertisers and turn it into a slick, automated feature.
Perhaps this focus on the machine learning side of things has led advertisers to beleive that the process now requires no input from them.
A recent study by Marin Software across their very sizeable client base found that many ad groups contain fewer than three creatives:
This is very significant, as Google recommends providing at least three ads in every ad group. Their official stance is, “The more of your ads our system can choose from, the better the expected ad performance.”
Creating a range of ads provides the resources Google needs to run statistically significant tests. No matter how sophisticated the machine learning algorithms are, with only one or two ads in each group there is very little they can do to improve performance.
There is a broader lesson to be taken here, beyond just getting the most out of this AdWords feature.
Even the most advanced technology requires the right quantity and quality of inputs. Although more and more elements of AdWords management can be automated, this doesn’t mean we can leave the machines to their own devices.
There are plentiful best practices that we still need to follow. Optimizing your ad rotation by including at least 3 ads in each group certainly counts as one of these.
Custom intent audiences
Google is clearly making a play for more of the traditionally ‘top of funnel’ marketing approaches.
The launch of more granular custom intent audiences with the Google Display Network is part of a wider strategy to take on the likes of Facebook by providing greater control over target audiences.
Google’s guidelines provide clear definition over how this recently launched feature works:
For Display campaigns, you can create a custom intent audience using in-market keywords – simply entering keywords and URLs related to products and services your ideal audience is researching across sites and apps.
In-market keywords (Display campaigns)
- Enter keywords, URLs, apps or YouTube content to reach an online audience that’s actively researching a related product or service.
- It’s best practice to add keywords and URLs (ideally 15 total) that fit a common theme to help AdWords understand your ideal audience.
- Avoid entering URLs that require people to sign in, such as social media or email services.
- Include keywords related to the products and services that this audience is researching; these will be used as the focal point for building the custom intent audience.
Custom intent audiences: Auto-created (Display campaigns)
To make finding the right people easy, Google uses machine learning technology to analyse your existing campaigns and auto-create custom intent audiences. These audiences are based on the most common keywords and URLs found in content that people browse while researching a given product or service.
For example, insights from existing campaigns may show that people who’ve visited a sporting goods website have also actively researched all-weather running shoes. AdWords may then auto-create a new ‘waterproof trail running shoes’ custom intent audience to simplify the process of reaching this niche segment of customers.
Once more, we see the addition of machine learning into a core Google product.
These automated audience lists are generated based on activity across all of your Google marketing channels, including YouTube and Universal App Campaigns, along with Search and the Google Display Network.
Although this does not yet provide the level of targeting that Facebook can offer, custom intent audiences do dramatically improve the product and they move Google closer to a truly customer-centric approach.
Sophisticated advertisers will find thata this advanced feature improves performance for both prospecting and remarketing.
Smart bidding has some crossover with the other AdWords features on our list. In a nutshell, smart bidding uses machine learning to asses the relationships between a range of variables and improve performance through the AdWords auction.
It is capable of optimizing bids to ensure the best possible return on investment against the advertiser’s target KPIs. Smart bidding does this by looking at the context surrounding bids and isolating the factors that have historically led to specific outcomes. Based on this knowledge, it can automatically bid at the right level to hit the advertiser’s campaign targets.
These targets can be set based on a target CPA (cost per acquisition), ROAS (return on ad spend), or CPC (cost per click).
The latest option available to brands is named ‘maximize conversions’ and this will seek to gain the optial number of conversions (whatver those may be for the brand in question) against their set budge.
As we have noted already, these algorithms require substantial amounts of data, so this is a feature best used by this with an accrual of historical AdWords performance data.
Smart bidding is also not quite a ‘set and forget’ bidding strategy. Some marketers will still prefer the control of manual bidding and it would be fair to say that smart bidding levels the playing field somewhat across all advertisers.
Nonetheless, it is a hugely powerful AdWords feature and can create multiple account performance efficiencies.
Google provides some thorough detail on smart bidding on the Google Support blog.