In more than ten years, we’re yet to meet a brand that doesn’t want to sell more products profitably on Google Ads and so in this guide, we’re going to show you how to do that.
Let’s get down to business, this is not a guide on ‘getting started with PPC’, nor is it intended for those dipping their toes into the water of paid advertising.
This guide is for ambitious ecommerce brands looking to scale their paid media advertising on Google Ads profitably.
In this guide, we’re going to share our expertise and provide precise strategies on how to sell more on Google Ads profitably with practical, real-world examples of what we are doing right now for the brands we’re partnered with.
This guide is going to cover:
- Section 1: The commercials
- Section 2: Your business and your product(s)
- Section 3: Understanding your margins
- Section 4: Your competition
- Section 5: Trends and changes
- Section 6: Calculating ROAS
- Section 1: Choose your campaign types
- Section 2: Focus for 6 months
- Section 3: Target revenue & goals
- Section 4: The budget
- Section 1: Account structure
- Section 2: Housekeeping
- Section 3: Bid strategies
- Section 4: Keyword match types
- Section 5: Negative keywords
- Section 6: Conversion tracking
- Section 7: Audiences
- Section 1: What to analyse and when
- Section 2: Time vs performance
- Section 3: Keep, cull or consolidate
- Section 4: The art of reporting
Chapter 1: Research & ROAS
Before you delve into the Google Ad Account, you need perspective and context on the overall online performance for your brand. Some of the things that you should know in our opinion are:
- What percentage of your current sales are being generated via Google Ads?
- What is the percentage split across the other marketing channels?
- What ROI has been generated in recent years from Google Ads?
- What have you been investing in Google Ads over the past few years?
- What are the current targets being set and are they being met?
Sounds obvious enough wouldn’t you agree? Yet, we regularly see experienced brands that are not entirely clear on these fundamental commercials and this is for a number of reasons. Maybe they have an agency who takes care of all this for them and so they assume it’s already been calculated. Or possibly it was established some time ago, but hasn’t been updated to reflect the past few months/years (we see this a lot).
Understanding these numbers is vital if we want to sell more on Google, as we need to be aware of and mindful of the bigger picture for our brand.
Get that information, note it down and let’s move on.
Most brands we work with don’t necessarily want to sell all their products on Google Ads, so taking a moment to stop and think about your business goals and your products is something we insist on with every brand we support. It never ceases to amaze us how many brands have Search campaigns, Shopping campaigns and Performance Max campaigns that are targeting all products. This blanket approach is one of the best ways to limit your sales, so stop doing it.
Focus is everything with Google Ads.
I’d bet you’ll have some products that are more popular than others, some will be an ‘easier sell’ for whatever reason, maybe due to the price-point or a lack of competition and so establishing what are the best products to focus on is one sure-fire way to sell more on Google.
Some of our brands have dozens of product categories, others have just a handful. We manage product feeds with anything from hundreds of products to over 100,000 SKUs and without fail the best way to optimise performance is to establish which are the best products for Google Ads. Start on those, get them working well (at least at your ROAS – return on ad spend – target level, which we’ll come on to) and then move onto the next product category.
Top tip: Depending on your product inventory, focus on a limited number of products/product categories with a clear ROAS in mind.
Last year we took over a Google Ad account for a big retail brand who had been running ads for years via another agency. We asked the client what their target ROAS was on a per category basis and they said a minimum of 3.5 x ROAS across the board.
When we crunched the numbers with the client and factored in their margin, it soon became clear that a 3.5 x ROAS on some product categories would mean this brand would barely break even and in some cases would be losing money (especially, when factored in returns).
I recall the clients reaction when we presented the numbers:
It is vital that you’re clear on the margin you have per product / product category, so you can calculate the return on ad spend that you need for that campaign to be profitable.
Again, these are basics and I’m sure many of you reading this have these numbers at the forefront of your mind already, but we know many established and very successful brands that are using Google Ads, do not, so it’s an important reminder.
We all know who our competitors are. Do you know if they’re running Google Ads? Take a minute to do your homework on your competition, as it’ll often yield some interesting findings. Here are some of the things we do:
Visit the competitor websites for our clients and navigate multiple pages
- You will be able to see if they are doing any display or retargeting advertising, as if they are, you’ll see their ads pop up in the days thereafter.
Add a product to basket on the competitor website
- You will be able to see if they are doing dynamic retargeting (they’ll show you the product you added, but didn’t purchase).
Search for their brand name on the Google search results (Incognito search)
- You will be able to see if they are bidding on their own name and which other competitor is also bidding on their name.
Search for yours and their products on Google
- You will be able to see who is coming out and where they place. Are your competitors coming up in the Search Ads or the Shopping Ads? Are you seeing other competitors you haven’t anticipated? If so, repeat the above process for them.
The emergence of Performance Max, which replaced Smart Shopping in 2022, had another knock on effect of all but destroying Standard Shopping.
Now, like many agencies we had client campaigns doing very well on both Smart Shopping and Standard Shopping. However, when Performance Max became the default it monopolised the Shopping feeds for many established ecommerce brands and caused confusion and saw campaign performance reduced.
This is just one example of a change from Google, there are many and so it’s important that you analyse your account performance by zooming out and looking at the wider Google Ads landscape.
Look back a few years and build a picture of how your account performance has changed. Some of the questions we ask are:
- How has the reliance on Search ads changed over the years?
- How has branded search evolved?
- Which campaign types have proven to consistently perform best?
- Was the account affected (positively or negatively) by the Performance Max update?
- How has our ROAS changed over the years?
- Are we having to invest more to get the same ROI?
- How has our investment in Google Ads changed over the years?
- Are there any campaign types that just refuse to work?
- Are there any campaign types that we’re yet to try/need to explore?
Those are just a few questions to get you thinking about the wider trends and changes within the Google Ads ecosystem, as these will have a knock-on effect to your campaigns whether you like it or not.
We’ve seen even experienced paid media professionals get so bogged down with the performance of their accounts that they don’t remember to look at the bigger picture, so hopefully this is a gentle reminder that you can only control what you can control.
The best Google Ad managers know exactly what return on ad spend they need to achieve per campaign and that is exactly our approach. We have clients with target ROAS ranging from 3.5 up to 12+.
There is no right or wrong, you need to factor in your margin, potentially your returns rate, as well as wider operating/business cost. We’ve spoken a lot about ROAS so far in this guide and for good reason, as it is one of, if not the most important measures of success within your Google ad account.
The simplest way to think about target ROAS is this:
For every £1 you invest, it’s the amount you make back and happily Google has a column that shows you this exact figure, which is called: Conv. value / cost
You can find this column in your Google Ads account under “Columns” at the Campaign or Ad Group level. It’s listed under the Conversion metrics and you can select it to show in your columns list/reports.
It’s one of the first columns we look at when analysing campaign performance, as it gives you an immediate insight into the return you’re getting.
We highly recommend you calculate your target ROAS for your campaigns and once you have this in place, we can get into the fun stuff of planning the strategy and roadmap.
Chapter 2: Strategy & roadmap
There is an art in knowing where best to invest when it comes to Google Ads. Chapter 1 of this guide outlines the process and steps we take for our brands, which gives us insights into what is working best and therefore where to focus our efforts.
That said, brands have the following options within the Google Ad platform:
- Search: Text ads on the search results
- Shopping: Product ads on Google
- Performance Max: An AI-driven, all-in-one campaign
- Video: Video ads on YouTube
- Display: Media-rich ads on websites
Technically, we also have Apps, Local Ads, Smart Ads and the Discovery network, but, the above options represent the five most-common channels for many brands – this is certainly true for the brands we support, so we’ll focus on them.
As a minimum, most of our clients have the following campaign types running:
Search campaign (branded)
“Should we bid on our own brand terms?”
We get this question a lot and the answer is almost always: “Yes!”.
The majority of our brands have a search campaign that is specifically bidding on their brand terms, either on exact or phrase match and this is a strategic move for the following reasons:
- It ensures we own as much of the search results page (a combination of paid and organic) when someone searches for our brand.
- We’re sure to get those clicks for pennies, as our quality score will almost certainly be 10/10, so why wouldn’t we.
- Depending on the prominence of your brand, you’ll get conversions at the crazy high conv. value / cost ratio, which is great data to flow into the wider account, so Google’s AI can learn about your customers.
- You’ll generally easily outrank any competitor that has decided to bid on your brand terms (it happens).
If you’re not running a branded search campaign as a separate campaign, do it and then exclude the brand searches from your other campaigns. This will have two big benefits:
- You’ll get a cheaper CPC (cost per click) and higher score for this campaign, as it’s your drive – you own it.
- Your other campaigns will start to show their true performance, as they won’t be skewed by your brand terms, which will almost always provide inflated click and conversion data.
Shopping or Performance Max (with brand excluded)
As well as branded search, another default for our ecommerce brands is Shopping and Performance Max. We don’t mind admitting, we’re still somewhat skeptical about Performance Max as many of our clients are seeing better ROAS with Standard Shopping.
Standard Shopping is working well for many of our brands (so long as it doesn’t conflict with Performance Max at the keyword/product level). There has been some talk in recent months that Standard Shopping will eventually be phased out, and that may be true, but officially Google have gone on record and stated that “standard shopping campaigns will continue into the foreseeable future”.
Since the launch of Performance Max in late 2021 and it becoming the default for Smart Shopping in late 2022, it’s caused quite a stir in the paid advertising space. Agencies and brands alike have been experimenting with it and seeing mixed results.
We always advocate testing and experimenting any channels if a brand feels there may be potential. We have many Performance Max campaigns running and some are seeing very good results, others remain a work in progress.
As ever, Google is continuing to refine and improve the Performance Max campaign type, as it is still very new and they are (thankfully) taking user feedback onboard and improving it’s user experience.
Here is some advice from our experience when it comes to Shopping and Performance Max:
- If you’re a brand that saw a big drop in performance after your Smart Shopping campaigns were ‘upgraded’ to Performance Max, try experimenting by placing some products into Standard Shopping (and pausing the Performance Max campaigns, so they do not compete). We know lots of brands saw this in 2022, so trial this, if it’s you.
- Standard shopping campaigns typically have a learning phase of 2-4 weeks to get up to speed.
- Performance Max campaigns need much more data flowing in and at least 2-3 months to optimise and start providing results, so set it up well (take your time to get all the assets etc right) and then leave it. Patience is the key with Performance Max.
- With Performance Max campaigns, make sure your conversions are actually valuable to your business (£). As a fully automated campaign, it is vital to get the settings right, so take your time. We’ll be sharing another guide dedicated to Performance Max very soon.
Video & Display
The brands we work with tend to do less video and display campaigns as the feeling is often that they generate fewer sales and that may be the case, however, they are ideal for brand awareness, online visibility, and keeping your brand top of mind among your customers.
Great creative is essential when it comes to video and display advertising. We encourage our brands to invest in informative videos and high-quality creative content that really showcases their brands and then build out ‘Evergreen content funnels’ where video and display campaigns are used at the top of the funnel to raise awareness before the customer moves through the content towards purchase, but that is a topic for another guide.
For now, if you’re not using video and display, consider it, as it’s the direction of travel that Google is taking, no doubt about it. You’ve only got to look at your Performance Max campaigns and those (awful) videos Google has automatically created for your brand, which you cannot turn off. Eek!
Whenever we’re building a paid media strategy for our clients, we map out a detailed plan for the next 6 months. Broken down into two 90 day sprints, this is enough time to test, measure and establish what is and isn’t working.
Don’t try and run every campaign type or ads for every product category. Choose a limited number of products and 1-2 campaign types and take your time to get those right.
As we stated above, almost every single client we work with, will start with a branded search campaign and either a Shopping campaign or Performance Max (or sometimes a split of both), so if you’re unsure start there.
The key to improving the sales is to give these campaigns the time and focus they deserve. So long as you’re clear on your target ROAS and you take the time to get them set up well, you’ll be able to track their performance and watch them blossom over the first 6 months.
In the coming chapters of this guide, we’ll be sharing the daily, weekly and monthly practices we follow to optimise the account and maximise those sales, but for now, just remember if you focus on a limited number of products and campaign types and stick to it for 6 months, you’ll improve your performance almost certainly. It’s what we do and it works every time. Then we just rip and repeat the process for the next 6 months and so on.
What does success look like for your brand when it comes to your Google Ads? You want more sales, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this guide, but how many sales exactly?
We work with every one of our brands to establish clear financial targets. They don’t have to be to the penny necessarily, but ‘wanting more’ isn’t a target. If you analyse your previous years performance and think about the next 12 months, what numbers are you wanting to hit?
Some of the things to map out and have in your mind:
- What did you spend in the past year or two?
- What ROI did you get in those previous years?
- What is our revenue target for the next 12-24 months?
- What does that revenue target look like in actual sales?
- What percentage growth rate would that revenue target represent? Is that realistic?
- What is the ad budget for the next 12-24 months?
- What level of improved performance is needed based on the budget vs target? Is that realistic?
These are just a few example questions, you can (and should) go much deeper into this and think about conversion rates, new vs returning customers, average order basket, lifetime value etc. But for this guide, we’ll leave it here, as that is a topic in its own right.
“How much should you invest in Google Ads?”
If we had £1 for every time we’ve had a brand ask us that question. The truth is there is no right or wrong answer to that question. Your budget should reflect your commercial goals, the level of competition you have and the breadth of what you’re wanting to advertise.
To give some context on this, a £3,000 monthly budget is just £100 per day (30 days in an average month). Now, if you had 4 campaigns running with an equal budget, that would mean each campaign had just £25 / day.
Taking this a step further, if your average click is say £1 – £2 (not unrealistic for many commercial product terms), you could expect just 12-25 clicks per day at the very most, that is a drop in the ocean if you’re a brand targeting the whole of the UK for example.
Some brands want to test-the-water and that is perfectly understandable, this is why we have repeatedly said in this guide to be very focused with your campaigns and not spread yourself too thin. If you have £100 or less per day to spend, we would recommend no more than 2 campaigns run, so £50 per day.
Many of our brands are investing anywhere from £5,000 per month up to £50,000+ on Google Ads and are seeing excellent ROAS, with varying levels of campaigns and focuses.
So long as you have a clear ROAS per campaign type, you can quickly scale your budget based on performance while maintaining and improving that return on ad spend at the campaign level.
The purpose of this guide is to help you sell more on Google and we hope the second chapter has been useful and thought provoking with how to maximise your advertising campaigns. In the next chapter, we’re going to look at campaign optimisation and management in more detail.
Chapter 3: Optimisation & management
The amount of accounts we take over, often from other agencies and we see dozens of campaigns and sometimes hundreds of ad groups. It’s madness, yet all too common.
Our approach to account structure is one of simplicity and common sense.
Your account structure should reflect the different commercial objectives (goals) you have. For example:
If you wish to sell three different categories of products at different price points, then yes, it potentially makes sense to have three campaigns.
If, however, you have 20 products, all of which are from the same category on your website, then no, you do not need 20 campaigns, you need one campaign and you can maybe consider splitting some/all of these products at the ad group level, depending on price points and performance etc.
Let me provide another example to illustrate the point further:
If you are a brand that say:
- Sells products online (ecommerce)
- Has retail stores customers can visit
- Has a subscription service
Those are three very different commercial objectives or goals and so would warrant three different campaigns. If this brand only sold online then the overall objective would be the same and so the number of campaigns would reflect the next layer of thinking, which is price, popularity and prominence.
Rarely does a brand need dozens of campaigns, yet we see it a lot. Accounts that are needlessly overcomplicated, which only serves to make it twice as hard to analyse and see the true value being generated (or not).
Our best advice when it comes to account structure is keep it simple and think about the commercial objectives, then map it out from there with the end in mind.
To give perspective, we don’t have any client with more than 8-10 campaigns running, as very rarely would any brand have more than that many different commercial objectives from their Google advertising.
Ad groups on the other hand, these can be more plentiful, however again it’s important to maintain order and not create ad groups for the sake of it. Last year (2022) we took over an account for an online retailer that had:
- 60+ campaigns
- 400+ ad groups
After a thorough audit and clean up, today that account has:
- 7 campaigns
- 28 ad groups
And more importantly, the ROAS has jumped from an average of 4 to now almost 9 (so from £4 to £9 for every £1 they are investing in Google ads with us).
Account structure 101: keep it simple.
The Google Ads game is won or lost with the housekeeping you do in our experience. Somewhat controversially we don’t have loads of automation or fancy tools to do our housekeeping for us, we do it manually and methodically. This is something I have insisted on and it’s been a cornerstone of our Google Ads success for clients, as you cannot beat physically going into the accounts on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to check key things.
Here are some of the housekeeping checks we perform and that we would recommend you do, to maximise your performance and sell more on Google Ads.
Daily / Weekly: Check Search terms
As someone reading this guide and likely already managing established brand accounts, you will know all too well the importance of the search terms report. It is the number one place you must go as frequently as possible to see what your ads are showing for.
Depending on your keyword match type, campaign history, bid strategy and many other moving parts, you may see lots of data or very little, but make no mistake, account performance can be massively swayed by reviewing the search terms and then taking action on what it is telling you.
If you see a search term you like, consider adding it to your target keywords.
If you see a search term you do not like, because it isn’t relative, add it to your negative keyword list (remembering to reduce the search term to the core ‘issue term’ to minimise future work within the search terms report).
Good housekeeping should involve setting up alerts so that you are notified if certain key things happen, such as:
- Campaigns / ad groups or ads stop running
- Spend jumps dramatically (either positively or negatively)
- Conversion numbers changes significantly (either positively or negatively)
We have a host of alerts set up, so that we’re always aware of any fundamental changes to our client accounts, so if you don’t have these set up, do it, as the last thing you want is your boss to spot something before you do.
Weekly: Performance overview
How are your campaigns performing? Any significant changes to look into further? Comparing week to week is a great first indicator that recent changes have worked (or not).
With a few days of data you can spot the early signs, which are often indicative of what will happen in the weeks ahead (particularly with search and standard shopping campaigns).
We have ten key vitals that we monitor, check and measure against for our Google search and Shopping campaigns, they are:
- Total clicks
- Total impr
- Avg. CPC
- Total spend
- Total conv
- Cost / conv
- Conv rate
- Conv value
- Conv value / cost
- Search Impr. Share
If something changes, either positive or negative within those ten metrics, we want to know about it immediately, so we can analyse and determine if we’re happy with that change and whether any action is required.
Monthly: Reporting and reviewing
Much the same principle as the weekly housekeeping checks, with a slightly wider view lens, we look at patterns of a longer period of time and compare to the same month the previous year or two, in order to spot trends and analyse performance at both the ad level and the user level – utilising data from Google Analytics.
At the time of writing this guide there are 11 bid strategies within Google Ads that you as brand can use, they are:
- Target CPA (Cost per acquisition)
- Target ROAS (Return on ad spend)
- Maximise conversions
- Maximise conversion value
- Enhanced cost per click (ECPC)
- Maximise clicks
- Manual CPC bidding
- CPM bidding (Cost per thousand impressions)
- CPM bidding (Cost per viewable thousand impressions)
- CPV bidding (Cost per view)
- Target impression share bidding
Now, of these we tend to find most brands tend to lean towards using the following and I’ll explain why, their pros and cons:
Target CPA (Cost per acquisition)
Ideally when you have tested the water, you know what is working, what isn’t and you have a clear target in your mind of what you can ‘buy a customer for’. This strategy gives Google the autonomy it wants to go and find you customers and you’re effectively saying “so long as you can find me customers for my target cost-per-acquisition then I don’t mind”. We use this strategy for several of our accounts.
Target ROAS (Return on ad spend)
I’ve written a lot in this guide about target ROAS, so it won’t be a surprise to learn that we use this strategy quite often. It’s ideal when experimenting, as it allows you to set your expectation for ROI and factor in your margin and requirements in order to run ads profitably.
Once your account has enough conversion data flowing (ideally 50+ conversions over a 30 day period), this strategy is not only recommended by Google, but it does work fairly well in our experience. That said, we do still prefer manual strategies over Maximise conversions, but we’re coming round to this more and more.
Maximise conversion value
Similar to Maximise conversions, only this one is based on the value of those conversions, so for some ecommerce brands this is a far more useful way to optimise the account, as it’s telling Google to maximise the value of those transactions, rather than simply the number of transactions. If you are a brand with campaigns that have large variants in price, maximising conversion value can be a good strategy to try and experiment with.
If visibility and clicks is the name of the game, then this is the strategy for you. We use this strategy if we’re unsure of the keywords to target (say it’s a complex purchase funnel or very descriptive keyword terms based on product name etc) or if we just want to gather as much data as possible so we can analyse and then move to a manual strategy. Max clicks is one of our go-to campaign types, at least in the short term for client accounts.
Manual CPC bidding
We’ve saved the best for last. In this day and age of automation, we can’t pull ourselves away from the controls that we have left and as such do still love manual bidding. The majority of our best performing campaigns are on manual strategies, some of which are huge campaigns spending £10,000s per month. Manual strategies require more management no doubt about it, but it puts the control in our hands and means we can overlay onto the campaigns the wider thinking, the commercial awareness and business goals, which is difficult on automated strategies.
Those are the main 6 campaign strategies we use and our reasons why. If in doubt, compare your campaign strategies up to now, what has worked best and why?
As we all know there are three match types within Google Ads:
- Broad Match
- Phrase Match
- Exact Match
The vast majority of our clients are on phrase or exact match, but we are increasingly experimenting with broad match bidding for a couple of reasons. Firstly, broad has become much better in the past year or two, as Google’s AI has improved and secondly, it’s a great way to collect data (basically paying for really useful keyword research) and so it can provide a competitive advantage for some client campaigns.
I’ll give an example of where and when you should use each match type based on our experience:
In years past broad match keywords were the best way to completely waste budget, hence we almost never did it, however in the past 12-18 months many Google Ads experts have been reporting back and discussing how much broad match has improved and we concur. We’re seeing the search terms yield really interesting, previously untargeted search terms that we would have never found were it not for broad match keyword bidding.
If your phrase/exact match bidding isn’t bringing you the clicks and impressions you need, then consider switching to or at least testing broad match. Equally if you are out of keyword ideas and need the system to help you out, broad match is the way to go.
We were skeptical for a long time, but it’s improved a great deal, so give it a chance, before you write it off as being too, well ‘broad’.
Most Google Ads professionals’ go-to match type and ours too, we have to confess. Phrase match has historically struck that fine balance between keeping the targeting to what you want, but also allowing enough flexibility to find you related terms and synonyms.
The majority of our client campaigns are using phrase match keywords, at least in part and we don’t see that changing.
Phrase match can and should work well for your brand, you just need to ensure you’re feeding the machine enough keyword data and managing your search terms report, so the AI learns what phrase match terms are good vs those you’d rather not include.
If in doubt, go phrase match every time.
I should really rename this to “Exact Match Close Variant”, as that is what exact match is these days. We’ve all seen those ‘close variant’ terms which you stare at and think “on what planet is that a close variant?”.
It is what it is and so we have to roll with it and we can’t knock the results we’re seeing. With some of our established campaigns where we know exactly who and what we’re targeting, exact match with its close variants is working well. The close variants are actually bringing in more conversions as it casts a slightly wider net, when Google feels the ‘intent’ is the same and who are we to argue I guess.
When you know your data, your search terms are solid, then exact match should be the way to maximise performance for that campaign – just ensure you have other wider campaigns, using phrase/broad so that you’re not solely reliant on exact match campaigns only, as that alone is unlikely to help you reach your growth targets (in our experience).
Getting this right can make or break your campaign. It’s so simple, yet so often overlooked or done incorrectly. Let me be very clear: This is how you should manage your negative keywords.
- Create a Master Negative Keyword List.
- Populate it with the search terms (ideally the root terms) on broad match.
- Add in any descriptive terms that you want to exclude on phrase match.
- Add in your competitors and anyone else who you want to ensure your brand isn’t associated with on phrase match.
- Apply the negative keyword list to your campaigns.
This makes the management of negative keywords so much easier, as you have one place where they are housed.
When adding new negative keywords (from your search terms report), add them into the main list, don’t add the negative keywords at the campaign level. We have seen so many accounts look like an absolute mess, as keywords have been applied, left, right and center within the account and it makes optimising performance near impossible, as you can never tell what is and isn’t being blocked without going in and physically checking the negative keywords for that campaign.
We know through experience that we have been able to take over accounts from other agencies and massively improve them, just by consolidating dozens of individual campaign negative keyword lists into one central ‘master list’ and then removing the duplicates and those terms which shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.
We strongly recommend you go and check if your account has a Master Negative Keyword List now and if not, create one and consolidate your keywords. You’ll be amazed at what you find and the difference it can make.
This is a big subject and could be a guide in its own right, so we’ll keep this one short and to the point. Accurate conversion tracking is everything to your brand’s success.
Some important questions to ask yourself/your colleagues:
- Are we tracking the right conversions?
- How have those conversions been set up? Through GA? GTM? Natively?
- Do we have the right conversion goals correctly marked as ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’?
- Are the conversion goals correctly categorised in the Ad account?
- Have we assigned the correct value to each conversion goal?
- Is the conversion goals data flowing through to GA?
- Does the conversion data in Ads match GA? If not, why not?
- Are there any conversion goals currently tracking, which we don’t value/want?
Those are just a few of the questions we ask and you should too. We’ve taken over some huge Google Ad accounts over the years only to find the conversion goals being tracked (and therefore optimised for) were all Smart Goals or in one case were all legacy goals that were recording page views (no, we’re not joking!).
Google uses conversion data to optimise your account, if you’re telling it the wrong information from the start, then what chance do you have of scaling your Google Ad account?
Much like conversion tracking, audiences is another huge topic in its own right, but we’ll boil it down to the must-dos for your brand. Here are a handful of the things we do for our clients:
Upload your customer list
You can download a template from your Google Ads account and import that into your customer data and Google will go and match that data to its users, which instantly gives you a very targeted list.
Whether you have 500 customers or 100,000, this is a very simple and very effective exercise to do, as you can then take that data and incorporate it into a targeted audience for your campaigns.
Building audience segments from visitors to your website is a no-brainer for every brand. You work hard driving people to your website in the first place, it’s imperative you capture them into an audience segment so you can retarget them and feed the Google AI more data so it can learn who your target audience is.
You have a wealth of options at your disposal here, from creating generic ‘catch all’ audiences from all website visitors, to those who have visited a specific page. For example a common audience segment that you may like to retarget (we do for our clients) is those who added a product to basket, but did not check out (complete the sale). That is a high intent user/potential customer, so ideally we want the ability to get back in front of that person in a timely manner.
If you’re running display advertising, custom segments are vital, as they allow you to build audiences based on intentions and past search behaviour. You can get really creative here and input competitor websites and brand names, as well as list your product/product categories, brands you stock, the list goes on.
The purpose of custom segments is to build a profile of your ideal customer, so that Google’s AI can learn and try to find people that have these online behaviours. Powerful stuff if used in the right way. We’ll write a whole guide on custom segments soon.
Chapter 4: Measuring & reporting
There is an art to knowing what to analyse and with what frequency. With so much data and information at your fingertips it is easy to be overwhelmed and we regularly speak to brands who find themselves unable to see the wood through the trees within their accounts.
The key to being able to analyse the data effectively is remembering your ‘why’.
Why are you running ads in the first place? What is the goal of your campaign(s). So long as you have the conversion tracking set up correctly and it’s working, then it can be straightforward enough to zone in on what ultimately matters most, which is the conversion data – whatever your ‘conversion’ may be.
Logical enough right? Yet, all too often Google Ad professionals allow themselves to get bogged down with nitty-gritty data of clicks, impressions, search percentage share, CTR, conv. value, conv value / cost, etc.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many hugely valuable data points within your campaign that can help paint a very clear picture of what is happening with your account, but it’s important to start with your ‘why’ and build from there.
Remember the housekeeping section above, in Chapter 2 of this guide? In there we listed ten key metrics (columns) from within Google Ads, that we tend to focus on when analysing performance and we’d recommend you start with at least some of these and build out what you feel best suits your campaigns.
Here is a reminder of our ten favourite metrics to analyse and our reasons why:
Total clicks – It’s good to see how many clicks you are getting at all levels of your account, so at the campaign, ad group and keyword level. After all, no clicks, then no conversions.
Total impr – Impressions equals searches, so it’s great to know how many people are actively searching for what you’re showing up for. This helps understand the size of the market and the proportion of time your ads are showing up vs the competition
You can also enable the following for the best possible overview of your click and impression performance (we often do, when wanting to drill into the data at a more granular level):
- Search lost IS (rank)
- Search lost IS (budget)
- Search abs. top IS
- Search lost abs. top IS (rank)
- Click share
Avg. CPC – How much are you paying for those clicks? Are there any notable changes (if yes, maybe a competitor has doubled down on their advertising) and are there overarching trends? These are just some of the questions we ask when analysing the Avg. CPC.
Total spend – It’s always important to keep tabs on your account spend, on a per campaign basis.
Total conv – Invaluable to know at a glance, so long as you have the conversion data recording correctly. If you’re not sure, simply segment the data by conversion action right there at the campaign or ad group level and you’ll be able to see your conversion breakdown.
Cost / conv – How much you’re putting in vs how much you’re getting out, at the conversion level. For those accounts that have conversions based on truly valuable actions, this is a great metric to know.
Conv rate – Often improving your conversion rate is one of the best ways to get more value from those already engaging with your ads (brand). Therefore understanding what your conversion rate is today, is vital to go on and improve it.
Conv value – What is the total value of the conversions generated in your account? By pulling in accurate ecommerce data, this will give you a true representation of the total value from your campaigns. Invaluable.
Conv value / cost – One of our favourite metrics, this simply tells you how much you’re making back vs how much you’re putting in. This is the no.1 sanity check for many of the brands we work with, we agree in advance, they want say £7 back for every £1 spent, or some. It’s a simple, yet hugely informative gauge on your account performance, so if you’re not using it, start today.
Search Impr. Share – How often are your ads appearing vs the total times they could appear (if budget and quality score weren’t an issue). This metric shows you the frequency your brand is showing up in the search results based on your keywords, targeting and other settings.
As for when to analyse your data, well that is largely up to you. We’d recommend housekeeping weekly and analysis both monthly and quarterly to ensure you get the right mix of information both in the here and now, as well as the wider picture that factor in trends throughout the year.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to analysing your data, our advice is just to always focus on the commercial objectives and work from there.
Knowing how long to give a campaign, or an ad group or even a keyword to test before making a decision is often difficult to determine. Google themselves say that different campaign types need varying amounts of time for the ‘machine learning’ to do what it needs to do.
So, making sure you’re giving your campaigns/ad groups a fair chance, without wasting budget on something that clearly isn’t working is something every Google Ads professional (and brand) learns through experience.
Here are some of the things we abide by on behalf of the brands we support:
Search & Standard Shopping campaigns – We always ensure we give these campaigns at least 3-4 weeks when making any significant changes. We tend not to make more than one significant change at a time.*
Performance Max campaigns – We give these campaigns 6-8 weeks minimum after each significant change and always aim to give Google autonomy of the account (after all this is the very purpose of this campaign type), but we do it by setting clear parameters at the brand level, so for example, with a shopping feed, it will contain only one type of product category.
With the assets it will be focused on one core area, which is matched to the audience signals. What we do not do is create a huge Performance Max campaign and feed it all of our information, as that is giving Google all the controls and we don’t believe that is a good thing (certainly hasn’t proved to be in our much-tested experience.*
*A significant change would include things like strategy changes, keyword match type changes, shopping feed updates, account structure changes, substantial ad changes.
Your weekly housekeeping checks will help ensure you identify any performance issues that are clearly not working fairly easily, for example a campaign getting no clicks/impressions after several days or a campaign bringing in irrelevant clicks.
There is no doubt, the best-performing Google Ads accounts are those with consistent data flowing, so where and when possible, we recommend to leave the campaigns on and stay the course. Google especially doesn’t like it when campaigns are routinely switched on and off, so do try and avoid doing that.
As you progress with your Google Ad campaign, you will regularly need to establish whether you need to keep, cull or consolidate your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, shopping feeds, asset groups, audiences – basically everything.
Here is how we determine what stays, what goes and what is merged:
Keep – If it’s working, leave it be and improve it. We aim to not over-analyse or micro-manage our campaigns, instead preferring to let Google do what it does best, not knowing we have overall control, we set the direction of travel, the pace and are focused on the destination.
Cull – Typically within 2-3 months we’ll know whether something is working or not and so should you. There is rarely an excuse to leave a campaign in limbo, running for months on end if the data doesn’t clearly show it is working. Once you’ve given a data set a good amount of time and resource, if it’s not yielding a return, then don’t be afraid to cull it. We regularly cull vast amounts of campaigns when we onboard a new brand, so don’t be afraid to be bold, so long as you have the data to back up your decisions.
Consolidate – Another favourite tactic of ours is to consolidate. Remember in Chapter 1 under Account Structure, where we looked at matching campaigns to business objectives. This is key and if you analyse your account and see you have multiple campaigns, ad groups, keywords, shopping feeds or even asset groups all effectively targeting the same thing, maybe you need to work out how best to consolidate things.
Simplicity is key when it comes to Google Ads success. Only those who don’t know the system well enough, look to overcomplicate it.
Some of our clients love to see all the data, they want graphs, charts and as many metrics and data facts as we can muster up. Others simply want to know the ROI and could care less about what was achieved, so long as they know the overall numbers.
Therein lies the art of reporting. It’s about knowing who needs awareness of the performance and understanding how much data they care about seeing.
We approach reporting in two ways and we ask our brands which they want (some have both, as they provide them to different members of their team, for example the Commercial Director may want to see the overall numbers, whereas the Head of Marketing will likely wish to go a little more granular).
Top line reporting – Looker Studio is what we use and we custom build a one-screen dashboard that typically houses the overall spend, the value generated, number of sales, avg. order value, as well as some user data, all of which is benchmarked against the previous year.
Detail reporting – Again, we use Looker Studio (this was formally called Data Studio, for anyone that doesn’t know), but this dashboard will often have anywhere up to 10 pages and include a wide variety of data (we start with top 10 metrics from our housekeeping, as well as the commercials, plus we incorporate GA sales data and plug all of this into the clients own dashboard (if they have one).
There are of course various tools out there to make your reports look pretty, they can be as manual or as automated as you wish and can showcase any amount of data that you wish. Reporting is something we strongly advise you get right, but keep as simple as possible, as we know from experience that while many agencies love to create really OTT reports, many brands (and maybe you reading this) in reality just want the key facts in the easiest, cleanest way possible.
When it comes to reporting, keep it simple and instead focus your time and energy on managing and optimising your campaigns, as that is where you add the most value.
We hope you have found this advanced Google Ads for ecommerce brands guide useful and it helps you improve your campaigns. If you need help improving your brands Google Ads performance now or in the future, please do get in touch.
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