Henry Carless, PPC and Data Science Specialist at search agency Vertical Leap, shares some advice for optimising PPC campaigns.

The UK has the most lucrative ecommerce market in Europe and consumers are doing even more of their shopping online in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Brands need to react by prioritising digital channels, and PPC is always the fastest way to get your message in front of consumers’ eyes.

In this article, we look at five expert PPC strategies that will help you maximise campaign performance and capitalise on the renewed drive behind online shopping in the UK and beyond.

1. Campaigns should never be limited by budget

One of the hardest principles for businesses and new advertisers to get their heads around is not limiting campaigns by budget. Any decent PPC campaign should be profitable and the basic premise is this: the more you put into your most profitable campaigns, the more you get out.

Limiting performance by budget means you’re limiting the profit and growth of your business.

Of course, you have a budget to stick to but it’s in your interest to keep this as flexible as possible and always keep an eye on KPIs like ROAS and attributed profit to individual campaigns. This way, you can increase or redistribute investment into your most profitable campaigns and generate more revenue.

If a campaign is limited by budget and also underperforming in terms of ROAS, it’s time to lower your bids. This will almost always produce more clicks for the same cost, thereby increasing ROAS and improving the profitability of your ad campaigns.

2. Keep a close eye on your Impression Weighted Average Quality Score

Achieving healthy Quality Scores is crucial to success in Google Ads optimisation. Higher quality scores mean a lower bid requirement for clicks at higher ad positions, driving more visibility and more sales.

Keeping tabs on your quality scores can be tricky though. Google Ads does not provide an account level quality score metric with which to judge the health of keyword quality scores across your campaigns, but you can easily create this metric yourself using a simple formula.

  1. Export all of your keywords, their quality scores, and their impressions into a Google Sheets spreadsheet (remember to remove the totals row from the bottom of the sheet).
  2. For each keyword, multiply its impressions by its quality score (if the quality score is unavailable, multiply by 6).
  3. Now add up all of the resulting values and divide by the total amount of impressions to find your Impression Weighted Average Quality Score, or ‘IWQS’.

Tracking this value over time will alert you to changes in quality score due to external factors such as landing page speed issues.

You can also use IWQS as a measure of how prospective you’re being. If your IWQS is 9/10 or higher, your campaigns are probably focused only on low hanging fruit such as brand terms, and you should test a broader range of keywords to find new revenue streams. We find that a healthy account with a range of highly optimised and newly added keywords tends to have an IWQS of between 6 and 8.

If your IWQS dips below 4, that’s a sign that you should work on optimising your existing campaigns before growing them further.

3. Time to rethink Smart Bidding?

Google’s answer to having less keyword data would be to use Smart Bidding – a set of automated bidding strategies that prioritise keywords and bids for you, based on specific goals (maximise conversions, maximise ROAS, etc).

Smart Bidding is a controversial topic among advertisers who generally want to retain as much control over impressions and, above all, ad spend.

As with anything though there are pros and cons to Google’s automated bid strategies, and it all comes down to how you do (and don’t) use them.

The benefits of Smart Bidding

  • Saves time which can be spent on creative tasks that require human input.
  • Bids are set at time of auction based on a broad range of signals.
  • Smart Bidding can tell a lot more about the user, such as their OS & browser.
  • Opens Google Ads up to smaller businesses.

The drawbacks of Smart Bidding

  • Google doesn’t know your business as well as you do.
  • You have no visibility or control over the data being used.
  • Google’s broad data might not reflect your target audience
  • It takes time for Google to “learn” how to set bids.
  • Changes in competitor bidding patterns can quickly lead to bid inflation.

You can find a breakdown of the pros and cons of each Smart Bidding strategy in this WordStream article.

Lack of control is a legitimate concern but Google has introduced a range of new controls and biddings signals over the past few years to give advertisers more influence over how their bids are optimised. You can force Google to optimise your bids for device types, location and a range of other signals.

For Search and Shopping campaigns, you can specify search queries to prioritise. Here’s the example offered by Google for this adjustment signal:

‘For a shoe retailer, bids may be adjusted if a person’s search query is ‘leather boots’ and they’re more likely to buy a new pair compared to a search for ‘boot repairs’, even if both queries broad match to the keyword ‘boots’.’

As Google gives advertisers more control over the way Smart Bidding strategies operate, the list of drawbacks gets smaller, provided you know how to use each strategy. Just be sure to set maximum bid limits, especially when operating in a competitive industry.

Here’s an example of how we use automatic bid adjustments at Vertical Leap.

4. Take control of your Google Shopping feed

Google Shopping campaigns enjoy some of the most impressive CTRs and CPCs available on Google Ads but many advertisers treat Google Shopping as a ‘set and forget’ channel.

In order to get ahead with Google Shopping, you should optimise the titles and descriptions of your products in the same way you optimise your ad copy.

One tip for optimising Google Shopping product feeds is to include information that the user can’t tell from the product photo early on in the ad. This is because the product title will appear truncated in the ad, so it’s important to ensure that key information is included early on.

For example, a product with the title ‘Brown size 7 men’s work boots (vegetarian leather)’ may appear as ‘Brown size 7 men’s wor…’ in the ad.

Instead, you should move the USP to the beginning of the title: ‘Vegetarian Leather Work Boots – Men’s – Brown – Size 7’. This will ensure that the key selling point which users cannot see from the photo – that they’re made of vegetarian leather – is visible in the ad.

Managing your product feed can be time-consuming. While it’s relatively easy to create your initial feed, things get trickier once you start testing and optimising elements like your product titles.

Manually changing product feeds via Merchant Center can get messy but there are plenty of free management tools that make life easier, allowing you to change product titles and other elements independently from your website.

Another common issue with Google Shopping campaigns is dealing with updates to pricing and product availability. Once again, manually making changes to your feed every time prices or availability change isn’t manageable and there’s also a lag between changes on your website and updates in Google Shopping.

Luckily, you can automatically update prices and availability by using automatic item updates. This gives you freedom to make changes on your landing page, knowing that users always see the current price and availability status in your listings.

5. Pay for conversions, not clicks on Display campaigns

Instead of paying for clicks on Display campaigns in Google Ads, you can select the pay for conversions model so that you’re only charged when a user converts after clicking on your ad. This is available for both standard Display campaigns and Smart Display campaigns although there are fewer eligibility requirements for the latter – you can find out more here.

This option is only available when you’re using Target CPA bidding on your Display campaign. So if, for example, you set your target CPA to £10 and you get 10 conversions during a month, you’ll be billed £100. You don’t pay for any impressions or clicks leading to these conversions.

Visit the Vertical Leap blog for more advice on PPC advertising