The internet is full of information on pay-per-click advertising, and there’s no point in me chiming in unless I have something original to contribute. So to prepare for this article on the dos and don’ts of PPC campaigns, I naturally researched what other bloggers are saying on the topic.
While some of what I found was helpful, a lot of the advice was either too basic or else the kind of material better suited for a checklist. For example: “do perform keyword research” (too basic) and “don’t send clicks to the wrong landing page” (something to be caught with a QA checklist).
In my view, if you don’t know the very basics of PPC you should not be trying to run a paid media campaign with real dollars on the line. You are better off using Google’s training resources to study for the Google Search Ads exam.
But if you’ve already studied the basics of PPC, this article should help you raise your game to a more elite level. Truthfully if you master these concepts you will have an edge over many professional PPC specialists.
The Dos of Google Ads Campaigns
#1. Practice PPC minimalism
I have always found it mystifying that even some professional PPC specialists still build gargantuan keyword list. What do they hope to achieve?
When your web traffic is spread thin across many keywords, no individual keyword can accrue enough data to have a meaningful performance history. That causes people (and algorithms!) to make optimizations based on inadequate data.
It is far better to have a very narrow keyword list with minimal or no overlap. My approach is to distill a query down to the essential words that express the searcher’s intent, and broadmatch modify those words. Then I add negative keywords to filter out any disqualifying words.
This minimalist approach to PPC extends to bid adjustments, ad scheduling and other settings, too. Don’t ever just fiddle with knobs and buttons without a clear purpose. In most cases less is more!
#2. Align keyword, ad, and landing page text
One of the most important factors of your quality score is the relevancy of your ad and landing page to the searcher’s intent.
That means aligning your keyword, ad text, and landing page as much as possible. Ideally you will be able to build the ads with much of the same language that is on the landing page, and vice versa.
As a rule, you should include the keyword itself both in the ad text and in a significant position on the landing page, such as a heading.
Now, when Google’s own support literature says that Google Ads treats synonyms as identical, I take them at their word. So for example, I would choose “lawyer” or “attorney” but I would not build separate ad groups for both.
#3. Go for the low-hanging fruit first
In PPC you should always start narrow. Begin as if you only have enough budget to pay for one click, and think about how you might qualify that click to make it ideal.
The ideal click is probably from someone in your target demographic, with an intent to purchase, searching for exactly the product or service you offer. Target that user first.
The ideal click is like the fruit at the bottom of the tree. Until you have picked the most convenient fruit, you don’t need to climb the tree.
Likewise don’t worry yet about any traffic you are missing due to your narrow targeting settings until you have exhausted the best traffic.
Of course when you get the low-hanging fruit first, that means you will get diminishing marginal returns as you expand your Google Ads campaign. That’s a good problem to have.
#4. Qualify clicks with ad text
If you want to maximize your click through rate, offer free money in your headline. You will get lots of expensive clicks, but they are unlikely to convert.
But who wants to pay for a bunch of irrelevant clicks? Instead, you should qualify your clicks by telling people exactly what they can expect from your landing page. If it’s not what someone is looking for, you want them to pass you by instead of charging you for the click.
So for instance, suppose you are advertising a luxury product or service. Do you really want to entice bargain shoppers who have no intention of making a purchase? Probably not. So in that case, you can set the right expectation in the ad text by using terms like “luxury” and “premium”, avoiding terms like “discount” and “cheap”, and even using price extensions to give visitors an idea of what to expect.
#5. Set up a retargeting campaign
It usually makes sense to pair almost any PPC campaign with a retargeting campaign. After all, you are already paying to bring traffic to your web page, so why not make the most of that audience?
Retargeting (aka Remarketing) tends to have a relatively low cost per click, and it allows you to tailor specific messaging to specific audiences – such as people who visited your conversion page but didn’t pull the trigger.
If you’re not familiar with Retargeting, you can watch me explain it as a cartoon:
Now, don’t just duplicate your ads and change the targeting settings to re-serve the same ads to the same people. Instead, deliver a message that gives them a reason to come back. You can even send them to a completely different landing page.
One of the beauties of retargeting advertising is that it works cross-channel. That means you can retarget your Google search visitors on Facebook, or your Facebook visitors on Twitter, or your Twitter visitors on Youtube, etc.
Yes, this approach makes PPC much more complicated, but you want to win, right?
#6. Bid on your own brand name
It is an open controversy whether businesses should bid on their own brand name if their website already comes up top in the organic search results.
My view is that yes, you should bid on your own brand name. Not everyone agrees with me, but the folks at Search Engine Journal do.
First, your ad will only show if there are other advertisers competing for the same search term. Whether your competitors are trying to steal your business by bidding on your brand name (a strategy called “conquesting”), or whether your brand name simply has competitive keywords in it, their paid ads will show above your organic search results unless you bid against them. And if nobody else is bidding on your brand name, your ad won’t show anyway so you have nothing to lose.
Second, conquest keywords generally yield very low quality scores for your competitors and high quality scores for you. Consequently branded search terms are usually the cheapest clicks you will get.
Ultimately the argument against bidding on your own brand name comes down to the idea that you are paying for traffic you would have gotten for free. But don’t be so sure. Your competitors wouldn’t bid on your brand name if they didn’t think they could steal some of your traffic!
Moreover the people searching for your brand specifically are likely your most qualified traffic of all. Don’t risk losing them when the cost to bid on your own brand name is low.
#7. Use bid rules
I have never understood why so many people set custom bids or use bid adjustments instead of blanket rules.
Why would you care what ad position your ad is in when it is clicked? If you want the most clicks for your budget, use the automatic bidding strategy that maximizes clicks.
Maybe you think one type of user is more likely to convert than another. Fine, use the automatic bidding strategy that maximizes conversions.
Or maybe you think some conversions are more valuable than others. Great, use the automatic bidding strategy that maximizes conversion value.
The point is, once you know what you are maximizing, you should choose the rule to maximize it and stay out of the way.
#8. Use long-form landing pages
I admit I was late to the long-form party while developing our landing page platform for Ethical Digital. My philosophy had always been that lengthy, wordy landing pages run the risk of distracting the visitor from the action you want them to take.
But after running some A/B tests, consider me converted. Landing pages with more information, that answer more questions and dispel more concerns, are more likely to persuade visitors to hand over their contact details, make a purchase or book an appointment.
Social proof like clients and testimonials, case studies, and comparison charts go a long way to improve the conversion rate of your landing pages. Yes, that means you need to write more content, but the good news is that much of the content can probably be reused across multiple landing pages (for the same client, of course).
As if a better conversion rate weren’t reason enough to use long-form landing pages, more content will also increase visitor time on the page, which can help boost your quality score too!
#9. Monitor the search terms report
The search terms report will tell you whether the traffic you are receiving is the traffic you want. Some irrelevant search terms will creep in there no matter what you do, but use the report to gain insights into negative keywords that you might add.
I am a big believer that the job of the PPC specialist is to deliver the best possible traffic at the best possible cost to the appropriate landing page.
The way to validate that you are delivering the best possible traffic is with the search terms report, which shows the actual queries that have led users to click on your ads. If the queries are irrelevant, then you have a problem with your keywords. If the queries are highly relevant, then pat yourself on the back for doing a good job.
#10. Monitor the quality score report
There isn’t really a “quality score report” in Google Ads the way there is a search terms report, but you can create one by adding the keyword performance columns that relate to quality score metrics.
These metrics will give you a clue about the strengths and weaknesses of your campaign. If you are following the other suggestions in this article, you should see your quality score metrics steadily improve as you optimize your account.
The reason you want to worry about quality score is that it impacts your ad rank and the cost you pay per click. (Okay, technically quality score is only an approximation of the true auction-time ad quality, but that’s splitting hairs.)
Along with conversion rate, quality score is one of the only metrics for which higher is always better, so it gives you a clear metric to optimize against.
For more on this topic, see my post “How to Make a Quality Score Report (and Sell It!)“
The Don’ts of Google Ads Campaigns
#1. Don’t make performance-based promises
As a PPC specialist, the only thing you should ever promise is that you will do your job. You cannot predict or control exactly how any campaign will turn out, and efforts to do so will only lead to frustration and disillusion with PPC.
When setting expectations for your client, you can look at search volume estimates with their average CPCs, and if you have conversion rate data for comparable landing pages you can make some inferences about an achievable cost per lead. But don’t promise or guarantee any metrics, because there are too many factors outside of your control.
Instead, explain that every PPC campaign is an experiment, and you need a period of time (usually 60-90 days) to run the experiment.
For my thoughts on when to call it quits with your Google Ads campaign, see my article “How to Spot a PPC Loser.”
#2. Don’t match stack your keywords
You might have been taught to “match stack” your keywords, which basically means including the same terms in different match types.
The rationale goes something like this: exact match keywords get a higher quality score (QS) than phrase match, and phrase match keywords get a higher QS than broad match, so you want to include all three versions of the keyword to ensure you get the highest possible QS.
But what is the evidence that exact match keywords get a QS boost?
People will point out studies showing that exact match keywords tend to have higher QS metrics, but remember that true QS (so-called “auction-time ad quality”) is calculated on an auction-by-auction basis. The most likely explanation for the QS boost is simply that exact match keywords are only triggered by exact match queries.
The real question is how does a lower-match keyword perform in an exact match query, and there’s no reason to think it is deemed any less relevant than the exact match variant.
Thus while each match type may show a different QS, their weighted average should be about the same as if you used a single keyword in the lowest match type. And if that is true, then you are better off letting all the data accrue to a single keyword instead of spreading it thinly across multiple variants.
This is not to say you should always use a particular match type. I am merely saying you should not stack the same keyword in multiple match types, and you should instead opt for the lowest match type that gets the traffic you want without including the traffic you don’t want. For me, that is usually broadmatch modified.
#3. Don’t be careless with DKI or responsive ads
Any time you let Google Ads generate your content dynamically, you run the risk of looking foolish. So before you implement dynamic keyword insertion into your ad text, think very hard about how it might affect the grammar of your ad.
Likewise you must be careful with responsive ad formats that can shuffle the lines of your ad text. As a rule, you are safest with standalone statements that fit on one line.
#4. Don’t write for clicks
When you pay money every time someone clicks your ad, you want to be very choosy about who clicks.
That means qualifying clicks with the ad text itself by setting clear expectations about your offer. Make your writing descriptive and let the offer be compelling.
In a way, Google Ads is the opposite of journalism, where click-bait headlines will mislead people about the content of the article. That might make sense when the marginal cost per click is zero, but not when you are paying for each click.
Yes, the click-through-rate does impact your quality score, but so does landing page experience, and if disappointed visitors bounce from your site that can hurt your quality score too.
Better to optimize your for CTR by tightening up your keywords and targeting, and optimize your ad text to improve your conversion rate.
For a more extensive treatment of this subject, see my article “Stop Writing Compelling Ad Copy.“
#5. Don’t use find and replace carelessly in Google Ads Editor
Professional PPC specialists know how to use Google Ads Editor like a boss to streamline their campaign builds and edits. But even the pros can screw up disastrously with a careless find-and-replace function.
Imagine trying to make a simple edit to your ad text and accidentally replacing part of a url without realizing it. You could end up sending your ads to a 404 page without even knowing it. So be careful with find and replace!
#6. Don’t use a bid rule too soon
I am a big fan of using bid rules, but it’s important to know when to turn them on.
For example, if you launch a new campaign using the maximize clicks bid rule, in my experience it will take that campaign a long time to ramp up the bids high enough to spend your budget. It is better to start your bids high to gather data and then turn on the bid rule after a week or so.
After your account has gotten some conversions, Google Ads will recommend that you turn on the maximize conversions bid rule. Personally I think the recommendation is often a bit premature, and it would be better to gather more data before turning on the rule.
#7. Don’t compete with yourself
Hopefully you know that you cannot double serve the same web page from two different accounts. Not only is it unwise to bid against yourself, it is also against Google Ads policy and could get you penalized.
It is also not a good idea to create ad groups that essentially compete against each other. No they will not run in the same auction and drive up bids, but they will end up diluting your performance data by spreading it thin across multiple keywords and ad groups.
In my opinion it is better to only create keywords that could not possibly be triggered by the same search query. That means not match stacking, not using synonyms (e.g. “lawyer” and “attorney”), and not even using geo-modified keywords since that is what your location targeting setting is for.
#8. Don’t give distracting options on the landing page
The purpose of a PPC landing page is to convert. You are paying for each visitor, so why give them a bunch of distractions and exits that will lead them away from the conversion action you want them to take?
While I do think long-form landing pages are a good idea, that is different from a distracting landing page. A long-form page can stay focused and answer a visitor’s questions in order to lead them down the conversion funnel. A distracting landing page will send the visitor off on a tangent or back into research mode.
So when you are optimizing your landing page, ask yourself how each element serves the goal of getting conversions. If something doesn’t further that goal, cut it from the page.
#9. Don’t set it and forget it
Every one of your accounts deserves your attention. If you don’t have the bandwidth to manage an account properly, don’t take it on in the first place.
“Set it and forget it” PPC management is the bane of our industry. It dooms businesses to a slow failure, forcing them to figure it out on their own that they are wasting their money. Then they carry a negative view of Google Ads in general and are unlikely to try again.
If someone wants to pay you a one-time fee to set up a simple Smart Campaign for them, then fine, just make sure the client knows what they are getting.
But don’t collect a monthly fee for an account you’re not actively managing. It’s just unethical.
Yes, I know you may have a lot of clients and there are only so many hours in a day. But that’s why you must work smarter rather than harder. You have to be systematic.
Keep an eye on high-level metrics that will alert you if something is wrong. Pull reports that give you insight into which accounts are moving in the right direction. Build a dashboard that lets you monitor all your client accounts, and keep a schedule that makes sure each of those accounts gets touched at a reasonable cadence.
Nobody is saying you have to treat every account like an enterprise client, but have enough pride in your work not to just set it and forget it.
#10. Don’t cover up mistakes
We all bungle things from time to time, and as pay-per-click specialists a small error can be very costly.
Typos, wrong geos, broken urls, ad schedule mistakes… these things happen to the best of us. Nobody is perfect.
We all know there are ways to hide our Google Ads mistakes from clients who don’t know better. There are plenty of plausible excuses and scapegoats for our errors.
But integrity is about being honest and taking responsibility for our actions. Clients will generally understand an honest mistake if you own up to it and offer to make it right.
Of course, making things right can be expensive. It may not be enough to refund your fee; you may have to refund the ad spend as well. That’s why it’s so important to always keep ample funds in reserve to cover make-goods and refunds in the event that you waste a bunch of a client’s money.
By the way, Ethical Digital covers refunds and make-goods if one of our agents messes something up, but we have a one-strike policy when it comes to dishonesty. If you mess up, fess up. It’s that simple.