By Katherine Rocker

There are plenty of areas to dig into when you’re looking to improve your AdWords account, from keyword performance to on-site actions and everything in between. We’ve taken a look at just five things that could probably do with a bit of tidying up - ads, audiences, bid adjustments, display placements and search queries. With some minor changes you can see some big improvements in performance.

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Basic - Do you have three ETAs set up in each ad group (including DSAs)? Is your campaign set to ‘optimize for conversions’ or ‘optimize for clicks’? Google will be changing ad rotation options from October to only include ‘optimize’ or ‘do not optimize’; if you don’t have time to do significant analysis on performance you should be selecting the ‘optimize’ option. 

AdWords Ad Rotation Changes October 2017

Make sure that your ads are still specific to the keywords in that ad group, or your quality score will start dropping.

Advanced - Pause your poorest performing ad and replace with a variation on the top performer. If you have time on your hands it’s also worth creating a comprehensive testing schedule where you only vary one section of the ad at a time (headline 1 / headline 2 / description / paths) to create the best possible ad. Start with your highest volume ad group and apply learnings elsewhere, but bear in mind you may have different top performers in different ad groups – always check with the data first.


Basic - If you don’t have any audiences in place, add them. Basic lists would be converters (30 days), visited and not converted (30 days). You can also create them for longer durations, but if you do that make sure you don’t have overlap, so you’ll then have converters (31 – 90 days). This is done by creating a 90 day converters list, then creating a custom combination list which includes the converters (90 days) list and excludes the converters (30 days) list.

Advanced - Look at more in-depth activity, such as interactions with product pages vs category pages, or non converters with high page depth or average time on site (you’ll need to create these in your Google Analytics account first). For example, non converting visitors who visited a product page, non converting visitors who didn’t visit a product page but did visit a category page, non converting visitors who didn’t visit a product page or a category page. These people should all perform differently. This does assume that you have a relatively high volume of traffic, as otherwise there won’t be enough data to base your decisions on. 

You should also make sure you have a similar audiences for search list added to every campaign, based on your converters list if possible.

Rebekah Schelfhout wrote a blog about 10 common mistakes when setting up audiences In AdWords, which is definitely worth a review. 

Bid Adjustments

Basic - Check out this blog on how to calculate your bid adjustments

You can change bid adjustments for audience lists, locations, time of day / day of week and device.

Make sure you have your highest volume locations added as individual locations, rather than just targeting the whole country. In the UK, I usually set up England / Scotland / Wales / Northern Ireland / London / Bristol / Manchester / Edinburgh, as these have the highest volume, and then add other cities if I see that there’s significant traffic.

If you don’t have ad scheduling set up, you can review the dimensions tab to see your top performing hours of the day or days of the week. If there’s a clear schedule (e.g. 9am-6pm is great, outside of that is poor) get that set up and apply bid adjustments. If there isn’t a clear trend, just add the days of the week individually. Make sure all hours are covered – if you just add a few hours, you won’t show at any other times. 

Advanced - Get a comprehensive ad schedule set up. You can download info from the dimensions tab and create a pivot table for day of week / time of day to identify CPA / ROAS differences. You’ll be able to pick out performance differences between Monday and Friday afternoons, or identify if conversions start a couple of hours later on Sundays.

Don’t be afraid to completely exclude audience lists, locations, times or devices if they just don’t perform for you.

Display Placements

Basic - If you’re getting a load of traffic through mobile apps, and they’re accruing cost but not converting well, you can add as a negative placement. Clicks here can occasionally be due to ‘fat fingers’, but apps do sometimes convert so don’t exclude them if that’s the case for you.

Keep in mind brand safety – you don’t want to be appearing on anything dodgy. Read Aaminah's post for more information on brand safety. Make sure your content exclusions (previously site category options) are comprehensive:

AdWords display campaign content exclusions

You may also want to explicitly exclude keywords and topics that you or your clients have flagged as problematic.

Advanced - Check for suspiciously high CTRs, particularly on mobile, and often on sites with slideshow type articles. Sometimes you can get very high clickthrough rates where a text ad has been reformatted to have an arrow which looks like a ‘next’ button, and people are clicking on it unintentionally. This has decreased as an issue since the rise of responsive ads, but is still worth keeping an eye on. You can see below that the big ad button is much more obvious than the 'next' button.

Display ads can drive accidental clicks

Search Queries

Basic - Check for anything obviously irrelevant and add it as a negative keyword to the ad group / campaign. This includes things like “full length red dresses” if you only sell short red dresses, or “beard and face oil” if you only have face oil products that can’t be used on beards. If you also exclude “beard” from the ad group you will also exclude any future searches that include the word ‘beard’, not just the specific search.

You can also use this to funnel searches, so if you have separate ad groups for “full length red dresses”, “short red dresses” and “red dresses”, you can add “short” and “full length” to the “red dresses” ad group.

Advanced - Review search queries and make sure your shared negatives lists are up to scratch. You might want a couple of different ones, for example:

  • Brand terms (add to all generic campaigns)
  • Competitors (add to all generic campaigns)
  • General negatives (“free”, “fraud”, “attack”, “animal testing”) (add to all campaigns)

You may also want to create a list for product titles, to ensure specific searches go to the most specific ad groups, rather than matching to more generic terms. For example, “Sophie maxi dress” may match to “maxi dress” keywords, but you’d prefer it to go through the “Sophie dress” ad group, so add “Sophie” as a negative and add the ‘product titles’ list to your other campaigns.

If all this sounds like far too much hard work, we can do it for you – just get in touch.

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