How to Focus on Efficiency in SEM Account Maintenance
By Stefanie Hoffman Nov 27 2018 Blog

Simplify Your PPC Campaigns: How to Focus on Efficiency in SEM Account Maintenance

If you’ve advertised on platforms like Google Ads or Bing Ads, you know by now that they try their hardest to make the SEM account maintenance process as easy as possible. Thanks to automation, you can easily set and forget your PPC campaigns, letting Google Ads do the heavy lifting for everything from optimization to simplifying campaigns to targeting the right prospects. But your work doesn’t stop there.

In fact, even the most experienced search engine marketers understand that their accounts often require additional maintenance—a little TLC and a personal touch—to garner the highest possible value and ROI for their advertising dollars, while ensuring their PPC campaigns remain profitable and efficient.

However, as your PPC campaign initiatives expand and evolve, so do the corresponding maintenance obligations. The more time, money and resources your marketing teams invest into SEM account maintenance, the more difficult it is to create enough efficiency and momentum to steadily increase ROI. At the same time, marketers who fail to put time and resources into campaign optimization risk falling behind competitors who do.

This post discusses the challenges around SEM account maintenance and efficiency at various points throughout your campaigns, and what PPC managers can do to strike the right balance between maintenance and momentum for their business.

SEM Account Maintenance = Managing Your Bid Strategy

It likely goes without saying that your bidding strategy is perhaps one of the biggest opportunities to improve campaign performance. Google Ads offers several main options to bid for your ads, and the one you choose is contingent upon your campaign goals and overall account strategy:

  • Clicks (for Search and Display ads)
  • Impressions
  • Conversions (for Search and Display ads)
  • Views

Clicks and conversions are the relevant bidding options for SEM. Focusing on clicks means you’ll use cost-per-click (CPC) bidding, enabling you to only pay for an ad when someone clicks on it. With CPC, you have the option to bid manually or use automated bidding. If you choose to bid manually, you have full control over the bids you set at group level, or for individual keywords or ad placements. If you choose automatic bidding, Google makes the bidding decisions for you.

If you focus on conversions, you’ll leverage a cost-per-acquisition (CPA) model, and you’ll need to set up conversion tracking so you can define the kind of on-site actions you want visitors to perform. While focusing on conversions can help you nurture leads and realize higher revenue from your PPC efforts, you also relinquish control of how your bids are set.

Google Ads Automatic Bidding

Without a doubt, Google Ads automatic bidding features make SEM account maintenance and campaign optimization a lot easier—especially for less experienced advertisers who lack the expertise or resources to make well-informed decisions based on their own insights. To garner the most relevant and strategic insights possible, Google’s automatic bidding platform leverages a machine learning algorithm in combination with behavioral and demographic data, such as location, day, time, browser and device, among other things.

Most SEM managers concerned with SEM account efficiency opt for automated bidding, in which Google adjusts CPC bids in order to maximize clicks. However, while perhaps more labor intensive out the gate, the ability to control your own bidding strategy can potentially give you the opportunity to factor in external data insights that can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your campaigns and give you a bit of an unanticipated leg up over competitors.

The reason? You can gain key insights on consumer behavior from external data that Google Ads just can’t provide or factor in, thus giving you an edge over competitors not leveraging those same insights. And when marketers make bidding choices based on an understanding of their full unique funnel, they in turn can improve conversion rates, lower their minimum bid, and improve their Quality Score.

Third-Party Bidding Solutions

While it may be a well-kept secret, third-party bidding tools combine both the efficiency of automation and the accuracy and personalization of manual bidding, truly optimizing your entire campaign strategy.

Here’s why: Third-party bidding solutions automate your bidding strategy based on a broader range of factors, allowing you to create your own unique bid policy settings to increase the performance and value of your advertising efforts based on specific factors and campaign goals. For example, third-party platforms leverage data science and machine learning technology to maximize a KPIs like conversions, profit or revenue. But you can also set them to do so within a monthly spend amount and specify minimum margins in order to maximize your revenue-based KPI within a framework that fits your broader business goals.

On the other hand, in a purely automated scenario, Google Ads assumes advertisers want to bid with a single marketing goal in mind (i.e. clicks, conversions, etc.). In reality, advertisers working toward complex goals like performance and growth likely have several relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that determine the success of their campaigns. Google’s automatic bidding technology simply doesn’t have the sophistication, options or information to make these kinds of strategic, highly personalized decisions. And savvy advertisers who use Google automatic bidding in an effort to improve efficiency can end up sacrificing optimal effectiveness as a result.

Bid Adjustments

In today’s PPC advertising world, bid adjustments are just as important as your campaign structure and initial bidding strategy. Google now offers a variety of bid adjustment options, and they’re a standard strategy for advertisers wishing to better allocate their ad spend and improve campaign effectiveness.

You can adjust bids for the following factors:

  • Device (-100% to +900%)
  • Location (-90% to +900%)
  • Ad scheduling (-90% to +900%)
  • Call adjustments (-90% to +900%)
  • Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) (-90% to +900%)

Some advertisers use bid adjustments as a general targeting tool—doing a -100% desktop bid adjustment, for example, will prevent your ads from appearing on desktop. That said, the real value of bid adjustments is helping you target your bids more efficiently to improve performance.

Some common bid adjustment strategies include:

  • Increasing bids during peak sales hours to maximize ad visibility
  • Increasing bids for locations with high numbers of conversions
  • Decreasing bids to reflect your business capacity limitations
  • Increasing bids for devices that have a high conversion rate

While bid adjustments can help improve SEM account maintenance and campaign performance, they also increase the complexity and maintenance needs of your campaigns. Some bid adjustments are only optimal during specific market conditions, so leaving these adjustments in place unnecessarily can negatively impact campaign efficiency. Thus, marketers should be prepared to make necessary and timely adjustments to their bids, or risk hurting their campaigns. And the best way to address this issue to to strategically leverage a technology designed to automate bid adjustments in a way that automatically calculates location and device for Google or Bing based on trends and changes relevant to your unique business.

Account Structure

Many advertisers focused on maintaining the efficiency and effectiveness of their SEM account maintenance and initiatives fail to realize the critical and fundamental role of account structure. In fact, how you first establish your campaigns is one of the most significant factors impacting potential optimization down the road.

When an account is well organized, it’s also easier to systematically identify key areas, then adjust and optimize to improve efficiency. It also ensures that the search queries you’re targeting are relevant to your target audience. This in turn improves your Quality Score, which ultimately makes it easier to target your ads at lower prices.

One aspect of your account structure that you can continuously change is ad grouping. As you continue to understand and refine the keywords and market information that can improve your account’s relevance, it’s worthwhile to follow keyword grouping best practices. Among other things, you can:

Create broad, top level ad groups – Select generalized keywords that relate to the products or services you want to advertise. A clothing retailer, for example, could group keywords based on product types (e.g. “women’s boots”).

Segment your groups into targeted subgroups – Next you’ll create sub groups using keyword modifiers. These will provide more detail about user intent, whether it be transactional, investigative or instructional.

Clean up and optimize your groups – Lastly you’re ready to optimize your keyword groups by adding in synonyms and variations on your base keywords, and organize duplicate keywords into your desired groups.

Once you create your ad groups and organize your keywords within them, it’s important to take the next steps to improve your structure as your PPC campaign matures. Setting and leaving your ad groups make it impossible to keep up with competitors over the long-term, as your ad performance can degrade as competitors make small adjustments that adapt to new market trends leaving your business behind the curve.

Instead, getting ahead of the curve, so to speak, will be reliant upon how often you revisit and refine your ad groups to optimize performance and efficiency, a strategy that you will constantly hone as your business grows and as markets change.

Luckily, keyword grouping is another area of SEM account maintenance that you can automate. And by leveraging predictive analysis and machine learning, it’s also possible to improve keyword grouping beyond what PPC managers and standard automated processes provide.

Negative Keywords

Some marketers incorporate negative keywords into their PPC strategy almost as an afterthought, selecting the most obvious ones and deciding that’s all they need to truly optimize their campaigns. In reality, failing to discover and use all your relevant negative keywords can result in significant wasted ad spend.

Negative keywords can come from a variety of sources that are either irrelevant to your business or irrelevant to your PPC advertising goals. For example, keywords such as “[brand keyword] login” or “[brand keyword] order number” suggest a user has already converted into a paying customer. If your main PPC advertising goal is to drive conversions, then these are important negative keywords to add to your list.

It’s worthwhile to put extra time and effort into compiling your negative search terms list initially when setting up your campaigns. But you should also put processes in place so you continuously discover new negative search terms. For example, it’s good practice to set up Google Alerts for your branded keywords and others relevant to your industry so you can track what news and content searches could trigger your ads to appear.

That said, constantly reviewing your keyword lists for negative keywords can create monumental challenges—at the very least, this requires you to sift through thousands of keywords and make important distinctions between exact words, phrase or broad match negative. But for businesses that invest heavily in PPC campaigns, its a challenge that can’t be overlooked. And if complete, updated negative keyword lists are continually maintained, it’s possible to save up to 20% or more of your PPC budget.

The key to success is to continuously assess Google Ads performance to identify new keyword opportunities, then group keywords in a way that’s easy to asses. From there, use your search terms report, negative keyword tools, competitive research, and other sources of data insights to continuously add to and refine your negative keyword lists.

Performance and Attribution

Performance analytics is also arguably the most important aspect of SEM account maintenance, simply because it’s essential to optimizing every other aspect of your PPC campaigns. If you’re not able to fully attribute your PPC performance metrics to optimization efforts to, you’ll have no key insights for future improvements.

Accurate and full-funnel performance attribution can help with your SEM efficiency and efficacy efforts by:

  • Helping you discover what works. The goal is to match performance indicators to the marketing initiatives that drive them, whether it be paid search, organic SEO, display, social, offline, or other channels. Understanding SEM’s contribution to your overall marketing strategy makes it easier to find opportunities to combine and optimize your marketing initiatives.
  • Helping you identify growth opportunities. It’s hard to quantify your marginal gain from each dollar you spend on your SEM ad campaigns. But if you can get an idea, it’s possible to extrapolate potential growth opportunities that can improve efficiency and performance even further.
  • Helping you better allocate your budget. Better understanding the role Google Ads PPC plays in driving your overall business goals also makes it clear how much budget you should be allocating to this channel, compared to Bing Ads or other advertising options.

Google Ads offers a variety of internal features that can help you gain insights to make these important optimization decisions—for example, the Keyword Planner tool can help you identify growth opportunities based on your budget allocation. But these are generalized estimates that don’t reflect the unique market and position of your business.

Meanwhile, the same predictive analysis and bidding automation tools you use to improve efficiency can also paint a better picture of campaign performance—serious marketers will often use Google’s internal reporting features along with third-party technologies that provide deeper campaign insights. But the best advertising technologies provide flexibility so that you can make key decisions to customize your bids and budgets or automate changes to focus on efficiency. It’s never one or the other.

The Bottom Line

Despite the abundance of optimization and automation features at your disposal, creating efficient campaigns that maximise your return on ad spend (ROAS) still represents a major hurdle for marketers. Compounding this challenges is that many advertisers underestimate the range of opportunities available for them to improve their campaign structure, ads and landing pages, keywords and bidding strategy.

Those who focus on all of these unique areas are in the best position to be able to reduce wasted ad spend and maximize campaign performance. But doing so requires PPC managers invest extensively in SEM account maintenance. Only the largest, best equipped PPC management teams can attempt to keep up with the task long term. And even then, new data and market insights will always complicate the data and introduce new challenges. In short, SEM account maintenance presents a daunting and formidable task for even largest and best-supported teams—that is, unless they leverage the right tools.

Google Ads’ internal automation and optimization features are a great place to start when managing the complexity of SEM account maintenance. But it’s far from the only option. External technologies can factor in optimization points specific to your unique business and market, while giving you the ability to act on data insights from a much broader understanding of consumer behavior across the web.

At the end of the day, true SEM account maintenance is learning to strike the right balance between insights, automation and hands-on optimization. It’s about finding the desired combination of efficiency and effectiveness, personalization and profits. And then finding the right technology to get the job done.