Google loves automation and they have been trying to automate every facet of Google Ads since October 23, 2000, the first day of AdWords operations.They would love to have all four million advertisers just set it and forget it. Do not fall for this myth, Google Ads is and remains self-service advertising. Failing to maintain your Google Ads Account will set your credit card on fire and give your new business over to your competitors. Let’s explore the basic maintenance of a Google Ads Account running in the Search Network.
In the sequence of rolling out a digital marketing plan, what I call the “Order of Battle”, Google Ads is second only to a Website with phone and conversion tracking. The reason for this prioritization is that Google Ads starts fast and you probably want fast results. It also provides data needed to compete in the other areas such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Google Ads does not require daily maintenance but it is wise to glance at it each day. Doing this allows me to keep an eye on the spend, conversions, and share which is taking the pulse of the account. Internally, our maintenance schedule is weekly with most processes done monthly. This ensures that we touch each account each week but for different purposes. This would be the equivalent to changing the oil in your car. It is not an emergency if you delay a few days or go an extra couple of miles but the car will eventually have very expensive problems.
Change is the one constant in Google Search. To get to an expert level in Google Ads you must have a curious mind and consistently expose yourself to the latest writings of the best experts in the industry. A typical Google Ads Expert should expect to spend 4 hours a week in research just to stay up to date. You have to monitor not only the Google Ads & Commerce blog but also the ones outside of Google like Search Engine Land. These are great starting points but they are not the universe. I follow over a dozen other blogs on Ads and Search and read them on a weekly basis.
In Google Search Ads, you either experiment or die. Without well crafted continual experiments you will not learn how the system actually works. Without continual learning, your skills will degrade and your career will come to a very ugly end. I like to have at least one experiment going on in every account I manage. A good Google Search Ads Expert will spend 4-6 hours each week designing, executing, and evaluating experiments in Search Ads. The funny thing about Google Search Ads is that every account is unique but they are more alike than they are different so you can share concepts and knowledge across accounts.
Google Search Ads are an auction so the bidding is constantly changing. New competitors enter the market, existing ones launch new initiatives, and clients change strategy. All of this impacts the bidding on the account. Google has a number of automations in the area of bidding and truthfully some of them are excellent but they will rarely win over an expert human adjusting for known and unknown factors in the market. One thing we do like to take advantage of is the preference given to these automation tools when they are new. Being quick to adopt a new pricing strategy that fits the business is something that you want to go for.
Reviewing the search terms in Google Search Ads is a key process of account maintenance. You examine each search you purchased and decide if you would buy that again. Then you engineer the change to the account to include or exclude that search. This is much easier said than done but it is how you tune an account. Making those changes will not modify the past but they can correct the future. Much of what comes out of this process are negative keywords which require great care. Throwing a negative into an account can exclude searches that you really want and they can become a silent killer of the account. In our annual Xmas letter to Saint Google we have been asking for the negative search exclusions for years. Until they give that to us you have to be careful. The time spent in this task varies widely depending on account volume and complexity of the changes exposed by the process. In most accounts this takes about 2 hours, although we have seen this take days to work through.
We believe that all accounts with sufficient volume should have split tests underway at all times. With this task you call the results of tests that have reached statistical significance and create new ads to establish the next generation of tests. Calling a test takes only a few minutes but creating the next generation can consume several hours.
This task is about evaluating the budget and any share of the market you are not yet competing for. Some clients have fixed budgets and in those cases this task just takes a few minutes. Others control the account with the budget and a target CPA (Cost Per Action). An action is a “Measured Event of Value” the business approved. Common actions are Orders, Leads, Subscriptions, Engaged Readers, and Phone Calls. When an account is controlled by the CPA then the evaluation here is “Can we buy more at the same or lower cost?” When managed by CPA it is common to take this up in steps to make sure the CPA does not go sideways.
Google Search Ads consume cash and every accountant on the planet will tell you that cash should be double checked. This task verifies that the traffic that Google Ad says you bought actually showed up at the website. Google Analytics is the common tool for measuring the website. This verification only takes a few seconds to perform but it is a critical checkpoint. If these numbers are off more than normal then you need to throw a flag on the field and immediately investigate the loss. About now, some accountant is having heart failure because I just said you are verifying something with cash and it is not to the penny. They are right but you have to realize that marketing data almost never perfectly matches because there are technical flaws in all reporting. Plus or minus 10% is acceptable in many accounts but that varies from account to account so it is the variation from the historical norm that you are looking for.
Quality Score is the other form of money in Google Search Ads and you should treat it with the same respect that you give to cash. Technically, quality score is calculated from the relevancy of the keyword to the ad and the landing page and it is a very close cousin to the SEO score. Quality Score and SEO Score share 90% of the same attributes. If you have a quality score challenge in Google Search Ads then you have the same problem with your SEO score. Improving a quality score is a complex topic worthy of a whole book. The time this task consumes varies, so you have to manage your time on this. The mystic nature of this requires a cycle of adjustment, test, and adjustment. This is not an instant gratification process so you have to be smart and patient to get the job done.
Loss of market share comes in two forms, rank or budget. Fixing the budget is easy, just give the campaign more money. Loss to Rank is a complicated thought process. Rank is driven by the bid times the quality score. The easy one to change is the bid but when you do that you have to look beyond the rank and look at the impact on the CPA. If the account is budget constrained, increasing bids can reduce the total volume of traffic. The loss will flow from the rank over the budget but the net results is less traffic and less business.
Competitors are evil sneaky underhanded scoundrels that are constantly trying to take traffic that rightly belongs to your business. This task is about checking to see what the bad people are up to and reacting to what you learn. There are many signals involved in this process that have to be considered. Most Google Search Ads Experts will spend 1-2 hours per month thinking about and planning to deal with competitors although this time can vary based on the competitiveness of the market.
Bounce Rate can indicate the quality and value of the traffic that was purchased but it can also be misleading. Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that landed on the page and then left the site. For many businesses this indicates a loss of the marketing investment. In most cases, the important thing to consider here is the trend of the data. The bounce rate review itself is a fairly small task taking only a few minutes. Creating an action plan of what to do about it is where experts earn their living. Most Google Search Ads Experts will spend 1-2 hours on this task each month.
In the cycle of marketing the two steps are:
We strongly recommend that all accounts go through an Analysis and Report cycle each month. It is important to step back and look at the month over month, year over year, same month and year to date. Each of these trends helps the Google Search Ads Expert consider the trending of the account and relate that to the current plan. If you planned a 20% growth but you got 5% then you need to develop a corrective action plan. This is the time where the Expert reflects on the long term goals and reports to the entire team on results. As a minimum here, our recommendation is a report of the CPA (Cost Per Action) and VOA (Volume of Actions) comparing actual and target with monthly and year over year trending. In summary, here is what that might look like.
|Item||Target||Actual Current Month||Actual Prior Month||Actual Year Over Year|
Actual analysis can and should go on forever but you have to watch out for “Analysis Paralysis” where decisions go to never get made. Marketing is an imperfect science with variables outside of your control so you have to learn to live with that. It is common for managers from other departments to not understand the variables involved in Google Search Ads. In the example above, the reporting would need an action plan to bring the CPA back in line with the target of $25.
To outsource or not to outsource, that is the question and it’s not an easy one.
One issue that many executives overlook as they evaluate Google Search Ads as an internal or external staff is the overhead cost distribution. It takes a Google Search Ads Expert 8-12 hours a week to keep up with their rapidly changing trade. With Internal staff, this is charged to one account with Outsourced staff it is leveraged over many accounts. Google Search Ads Experts that work in an agency can leverage that overhead across 30+ accounts. Next is consideration of the task ramp-up time. There is great leverage in working on a series of accounts on the same task. Agency staff have peers they can learn from and collaborate with.
To be fair, internal staff has its advantages. They will understand the culture of the business and feel a stronger relationship to the organizational goals. They will have direct relationships with other departments and will know the current events of the business. Staff turnover is a consideration. When internal staff leave, so does 100% of the management skill. Agencies face turnover as well but since they typically have multiple people with these skills, turnover results in overtime, not complete system failure.