By Julian Modiano

Managing Grants accounts isn’t always straightforward, so in this blog we’ll run through a few features and strategies that can be used to improve performance.

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A few months ago, Charlie told us all about how to make sure our Grants accounts don’t get suddenly disapproved by inadvertently breaking one of the new policies. In addition, we'll be looking at a few quick and easy wins that can significantly boost your Grants account’s performance. While some of this is specific to Grants clients, many of these tips will also be applicable to any Google Ads accounts with low volumes of hard conversions. 

The Problem

ORCA, my Grants client, had a problem: while they had set up conversion tracking, volume of conversions was disappointing. Yet the value of Google Ads was apparent: we saw huge increases in website traffic immediately following launch, with increases in membership signups through other channels as well. Such low conversion volume meant that bid strategies, ad scheduling, device adjustments, and even ad copy testing was almost impossible, and we had to rely on very indirect KPIs such as traffic and CTR.

A second problem was the artificial limit of $2 for max CPCs, which meant that for many of the most relevant and highly-trafficked keywords our bids were too low to be competitive. Combined with the lack of conversion volume, we couldn’t even use bid strategies to push our bids higher than the maximum allowed. Essentially, our account was flying blind – not exactly a PPC account manager’s comfort zone.

Enter 'Soft' Conversions

We soon realized that standard conversion metrics weren’t going to cut it, and so looked elsewhere to see what we could use as a proxy that would help us better optimize the account. What we eventually decided on was ‘soft’ conversions: conversions that don’t represent a specific action a user has taken but rather look at their behaviour. We started by looking at the average session duration and pages/session for each campaign. We then thought about creating goals for reaching a certain session duration and/or pages/session, as this would indicate users who are more engaged than the average user.

This soon proved to be lengthy, so we turned to Google’s automation features. The easiest and best way to do this is to use Smart Goals in Google Analytics – conversions which Google’s machine learning attributes based on users who, essentially, are much more engaged than average. In short, it lets you automate the process described above in which we track key engagement metrics as goals. Once you’ve got your Smart Goals set up in Analytics, import them into Google Ads and you can start optimising.

Automation is often associated with larger accounts making use of scripts, but there are several automation tools that are extremely useful for Grants accounts. The first is bidding strategies: now that you’re tracking conversions (albeit soft ones) you can set up a maximize conversions bid strategy that will allow your CPCs to increase above the $2 limit. After letting these run for three weeks on ORCA, I think the results speak for themselves:

  • 56% increase in clicks
  • 15% increase in CTR
  • 65% increase in avg. CPC
Google Grants account Improvements after strategy

Despite all this additional traffic, bounce rate decreased while pages/session increased (ever so slightly, but still). Admittedly, average session duration took a bit of a hit and decreased 26% - however, it was still at a healthy 1m50s, and some decrease should be expected considering the huge additional influx of traffic. Despite the drop in avg. session duration, the overall time spent on site still increased – and, interestingly, the proportion of users who spent over 180 seconds on site also increased.

It’s worth noting that the 65% increase in avg. CPCs wouldn’t always, or necessarily, be a good thing. However, when your bids are much lower than where they’d ideally be to maximize coverage on relevant terms, and when your bids are otherwise constrained by Grants limits, this is a key benefit of using a bid strategy.

Other less powerful tools at your disposal include Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs), which can help you automate building ads for every single corner of the website and often identifies areas that had been missed or not considered valuable initially. While volume here should be quite limited if you’ve been building out everything relevant, they do often have high CTRs and levels of engagement thanks to the highly specific and customised ads. 

Conclusion

While managing Grants accounts and other low volume accounts can be challenging, there are a wide range of tools available that can help both measure and improve performance. For any clients that can’t (or don’t) track traditional conversions, GA Smart Goals offer a convenient and useful proxy that shouldn’t be underestimated. Similarly, we should try to remember that automation is incredibly powerful (and, indeed, the future) not just for huge accounts but for any account, and can be leveraged to improve performance and free up our time to focus on more valuable activities such as planning and strategy.